Autodesk and Solidworks seem to have different views on what is “platform”

Autodesk and Solidworks seem to have different views on what is “platform”


Everyone wants to build a platform. It is such a nice sweet word. It sounds well. It smells good. It gives you a feeling you do something important and significant. So, “platform” marketing is trending. Leading PLM consulting outfit CIMdata even introduced a new trend in PLM called “platformization”. Read more about CIMdata platformization here.

Vendors are racing towards creation of platforms. I shared some examples of this trend in my earlier article – The race towards engineering platforms. But, vendors are using the word platform differently. The definition of what is “platform” remains very buzzwordy.

I shared some of my thoughts about Solidworks and Autodesk platform perspective in my earlier article  – CAD, PLM and platform litmus test. I captured the following explanation of why and how Solidworks is becoming a platform. According to Gian Paolo Bassi, size and collection of features are two main reasons why Solidworks is becoming a platform. Here is the passage from Graphic Speak article about that:

In the last couple of years, SolidWorks has expanded dramatically — the company has added on multiple modules. Rather than bulking up the core SolidWorks program, the company has been concentrating on building complementary modules for specific tasks. These modules are being built on Dassault’s 3DExperience technology, which is also at the core of Dassault’s enterprise products including Catia. At the company’s introduction of SolidWorks 2016, Bassi said they no longer look at Solidworks as a product, they look at SolidWorks as a platform. It would not be inaccurate to describe the Dassault/SolidWorks vision as becoming something of a continuum as products are built on the 3DExperience base.

Yesterday, I was reading Tech-Clarity article Autodesk PLM Vision 2016+. It a very informative write-up by Jim Brown can shed lights on the recent development of design, manufacturing, simulation, PLM, IoT and other related technologies and products at Autodesk. There are quite a few “platform” words in the article. Here is one example:

Autodesk’s goal is to “bring continuity across different stages of design and manufacturing in a common platform.” This Product Innovation Platform Approach is delivered via their Forge Platform, which integrates design data with APIs that are intended to be used by both internal and partner applications. Fusion 360, Autodesk’s cloud-based design solution providing online CAD, CAM, and CAE capabilities, plays a pivotal role in the Product Innovation Platform.

My special attention was caught by the following explanation about platform and how product boundaries are blurring by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass:

We’ve already seen that Autodesk is starting to blur the lines between products. Carl Bass, in fact, said “In 2020, I think it will be less distinguishable what our products are. It will be more of a platform. People will be able to access ready made solutions, along with some things from partners, and customers will construct their solutions. And it will happen in the cloud.” There’s a lot in that statement (and I may not have caught it verbatim, although I tried). The key point is that Autodesk will be providing a backbone on which design data rests across the product lifecycle. It can be acted on and utilized by many different applications, including those that aren’t built by Autodesk. To start, the Forge Platform will be more focused on integrating design and engineering data, and does not reach out to PLM 360. I expect that will change over time.

So, to create end-to-end platform connecting design, engineering and PLM360 is a end goal for Autodesk for 2020. Products will be blurred and Autodesk will provide a unified cloud based environment for everyone.

Here is the thing…. What makes Solidworks a platform (multiple application) is actually different from the vision presented Autodesk platform future (to blur products and make them less distinguishable).

So, what is the criteria for a platform? I found an interesting definition of platform in TechCrunch article – Why Clayton Christensen Is Wrong About Uber And Disruptive Innovation.  The following passage can give you platform definition disconnected from software applications and cloud. The article is using Uber and Apple as examples.

A platform has at least two distinct customer groups: its consumers and producers.

Uber is an excellent case in point. The company expends considerable resources to market to potential drivers and retain existing ones. In this, Uber is very different from the linear businesses on which disruption theory was based. For a platform like Uber, its producers are a customer group, too.

Christensen hints at this difference in his use of Apple as an example, but doesn’t apply it equally to Uber. “By building a facilitated network connecting application developers with phone users, Apple changed the game,” Christensen says.

In other words, one of the reasons Apple was so disruptive was that it added a second customer group: app developers. The same is true with Uber and drivers. Treating these examples as equivalent to changing a traditional, linear supply chain –– as Christensen does with Uber — shows a lack of understanding of how platform businesses work.

The point about two groups of customers is important in my view. It can help to clarify CAD / PLM definition of platforms as well as to define some levels of maturity for vendors to compare their race towards future “platformization”.

What is my conclusion? The word “platform” sounds sweet and powerful. However, the way it comes out from CAD vendors today is still very buzzwordy. The transformation of existing CAD and PLM product into platform can happen, but it will require a complete re-thinking how these platforms will serve two group of customers – developers and manufacturing companies. Maybe future CAD / PLM businesses models will discover new type of customers and revenue streams too?  The company that will make it happen will succeed in the competition of future CAD / PLM platforms. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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