3D EXPERIENCE WORLD 2021 was live earlier this week and I was watching a few sessions. Moving from products to experience – Bernard Charles, Vice Chairman and CEO of Dassault Systemes was telling it from the virtual stage of 3DX21. The grand vision of DS is to target the pain of using multiple products and disparate data sources. It all comes together to be a key element of the DS strategy – The Platform.
According to Bernard Charles, engineers don’t need various applications – Dropbox, Slack, Whatsapp, and others. They are not secured and you will spend tons of time transferring data between them. So, the solution is the 3DX platform, which will give you a single place to design and collaborate. DS spent a decade building a platform of applications and systems and now, it is time to put it at work.
As I was watching Bernard Charles and Gian Paolo Bassi speaking about the advantages of the platform and various xApps, I thought about what is the key element in the process of placing the 3DX platform to work for the company. It made me think about what will be happening next to all Solidworks users. Here is what I can see – the platform means the big “data transfer” of all files and folders to the cloud space. Actually, working from the home video at the end of the session gave you an idea of presenting how an intern is uploading an entire set of CAD folders to the 3DX Platform and secure their location, and preserve it from CAD bandits.
Two clicks and you’ve got all Solidworks files saved into 3DX Platforms.
The shift is super powerful because it gives you seamless access to many 3DX Platform applications, but at the same time will require you to rethink the way you work with all information you have.
This is actually an important moment to keep in mind. In the past CAD files were the envelope to keep data belonging to specific vendor software. CAD files are proprietary and the strategy to make data not easy transferable made CAD business secured.
This status quo was changing for the last 10-15 years. These days it is easier to transfer data between different systems. Moving CAD files to cloud storage is an interesting turn in the way engineering software space will be evolving because now we are moving to the era of platform competition. And the first step in this competition is to hunt for files. Whoever will get the first will have an advantage similar to the advantage of a specific CAD file format.
So whom is DS standing against in the competitive cloud platform game? PTC, recently acquired Onshape, is setting up their PTC Atlas platform with the foundation of Onshape and it obviously will expand to Creo and other PTC applications. Autodesk Forge and Fusion360 is another visible player providing design and manufacturing platforms with a large number of applications. Each platform is a potential acquirer of Solidworks files. Siemens, although announced Teamcenter SaaS is probably the most conservative player in the group of CAD/PLM companies.
As vendors are arming to compete with platforms, I’ve been thinking about what competitive weapon will be important in this fight of platforms. Platform competition will be different – business models are changing and the tools are different. Back in the 1990s, it was important to sell a desktop application and protect against other tools to open the same files. In the 2020s, the business model is moving to subscription, and desktop apps are becoming SaaS tools. Here are few ideas to think about when you choose the platform:
1- Storage Cost
Customers collected terabytes of the data in the engineering offices. All these files (not only CAD files) will eventually move to the “platforms” to make all work seamlessly. A question of storage cost will become a very important key differentiator. DS didn’t mention much about storage cost, but my hunch it won’t be free and will become an important decision factor.
How multiple tools will use the data stored in a single platform? How to get the data from the platform and use it in other applications. Will 3DX Drive allow access to the data from other applications? Who will control it and how much it will cost.
3- API and connectivity
The same as openness, but applies to a variety of applications that are written or will be written and will have to access design data. How will these apps access the data? Will REST API be available? How current apps will be migrated?
4- Unit economics
This one is a bit tricky and related to CAD and PLM vendors moving from the business of selling CDs/DVDs with software to the business of services, running cloud data centers with applications, and supporting them over time. What does it mean? To me it says, the cost will matter the most when you run the service. In the past applications were installed in customer data centers and they cost zero to operate. Not anymore. The cost of infrastructure at the end will become one of the competitive elements. Multi-tenancy and modern data management will start playing the key role in making platforms competitive.
What is my conclusion?
Data is the new oil and the vendors are coming after the data these days. It means the big shift. This is what I see will be coming next in the space of engineering software. Who can acquire existing engineering data, files, tons of Excels, and legacy databases? What platform is capable to keep it and turn into value? Major CAD and PLM vendors will be setting themselves up to compete in the next round of world division. In the past, features and files were ruling the world. Nowadays, platforms will be new competitive force vendors will be used to acquire customers’ data and using it to prevent others from accessing it. I know, it pictured a very gloomy world of bloody competition, but after all, the number of engineers in the world is not growing with astronomic speed. Eventually, CAD and PLM vendors will have to figure out how to displace old systems with the new ones, how to get a critical mass of applications capable to replace old desktop tools and tons of Excels – all together these are elements in the game to be competitive in the world of the platform. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.