SolidWorks World 2015 – an ‘experience’ of community.

As one of the CAD industries larger events SolidWorks World (SWW) continues to be an event that sets a benchmark for others when it comes to community gatherings. The SolidWorks ecosystem is one that many have marvelled at over the past 20 or so years and this year’s SWW event reflected a robust and enthusiastic end-user community.

How have SolidWorks created such an enthused following, and is its brand and customer loyal enough to withstand the new breed of ‘personal/team’ tools from the likes of Autodesk and OnShape? Unclear, but when looking at the future it’s sometimes (but not always!) useful to understand what made SolidWorks what it is today.

Firstly the product (and the SolidWorks brand). Certainly a leader. Importantly one that broke the mold when it was released; personal, attractive, aggressively priced yet powerful and effective enough for the 80%. Second, their messaging. Simple yet elegant value propositions, directed and easy to disseminate. Minimal product configurations and open (free) to third parties. Third, their sales channel. Focused, incentivised and well trained. Effective through-channel messaging, elegantly disseminated and brilliant channel support and marketing mechanisms with best-in-class mediums/programs for customer intelligence, sales, support and marketing. Finally, but by no means least, their customers. Well leveraged, (on the whole) happy and engaged. Hats off to the early team of Jon Hirschtick, Mike Payne and Vic Leventhal not forgetting John McEleney (and others of course) who got it just right…at the right time.

To the future. I like Gian Poulo Bassi, the new CEO of SolidWorks. I’ve known him since the mid 90’s (unfortunately that shows how old we are 🙂 ) and I’ve a lot of respect for him and his skills. An enthusiastic and charismatic choice and one well-suited to move the sub-brand forward. For me, the future of SolidWorks isn’t one that’s defined by such things as product, customers, channels or go-to-market. It’s now more to do with how Dassault Systèmes (Dassault), and in particular Bernard Charles the CEO, define the broader strategies of the future that is now ‘Dassault’; and how these in-turn deliver to the SolidWorks users of today and incite new customers of the future.

The message at SolidWorks World was clear. The future is not the (sub) brand (or any individual product), it’s the Dassault ‘Experience’. While I applaud the sentiment and like the concept, ‘experience’ is an oft confusing term. Definitely subject to interpretation, and significantly related to your situation in the product ecosystem/design/development chain. It may also be (and was to some I spoke to) a tad alien, possibly disconnected from the language of the largely technical and reseller audience at SWW. In truth, experience is a situation that must be viewed in context and I felt that its promotion and importantly messaging still hasn’t hit its true spot. Just to be clear, I don’t see this as an unsurmountable problem, more an opportunity for Dassault to consider simpler, more audience-focused messaging that more clearly and concisely explains its situation and value proposition.

SolidWorks (as a sub-brand) will, I’m sure, continue to be a leader. It has huge momentum, great products, channels and customers. But as we know what is best today may not be that tomorrow. We saw dimensions of a ‘Cloudy’ future, with Conceptual and Industrial Designer products taking a lead, but today’s tech ‘highs’ (or hypes?) such as ‘Cloud’, ‘IoT’ and ‘Intelligent’ were somewhat low-ish profile. We saw and heard, but others make more of them. Of course SolidWorks (Dassault’s) existing customers want to talk turkey on product, but they’re equally intrigued to know more on what connects these oft heard terms to their product future.