18 Mar 2020
Why Dassault Systèmes is Broadening Its Focus from Things to Life
by David Levin with Francis Bernard
The LEDAS team has partnered closely with Dassault Systèmes for many years in software development. From 1996 to 1999, we first worked together in the area of academic research, and then from 2000 to 2011 we developed several key modules for CATIA and SOLIDWORKS for Dassault Systèmes.
I was fortunate in this time to maintain personal relationships with several founders and managers of Dassault Systèmes, including Francis Bernard, a co-founder of the company. He was the inventor of CATIA, and held the position of CEO with the launch of Dassault Systèmes in 1981 until 1995. Francis retired from Dassault Systèmes in 2006. Now, he is the Board President in CapHorn Invest, Executive Advisor in Knowmore, and advisor in some other companies.
I will always be a fan of Dassault Systèmes and cannot be indifferent to its impressive development history.
Dassault Systèmes recently announced that 3DEXPERIENCE will be applied not only to things but also for life. However, the updated version of the company's well-known roadmap shows a running man (the virtual twin experience of humans) seemingly leaving behind not just PLM but also 3DEXPERIENCE.
This seems to me to be the most significant corporate news in CAD for the first half of 2020. I want to outline for you some of the motivations for this change in direction by Dassault Systèmes. Francis Bernard kindly provided comments on each point, shown in italics below.
1. Market Demand
It seems to me that we cannot expect to see further expansion to the classical applications of CAD and its direct neighbors (CAM, CAE, and so), and so we should instead expect new breadth to come with developments in modern, non-classical software.
One possible direction for non-classical development is its enhancement by AI (artificial intelligence) or something that behaves like AI. So far, it is still far from being applied to real industrial use-cases, but I feel the direction towards AI is inevitable and so should be supported by businesses, beginning with experimental projects.
Another direction for the fruitful (and profitable) evolution of engineering software first could be an extension to non-traditional markets, such as construction, medicine/healthcare, and more generally to things that are directly connected to us humans.
Francis Bernard comments: Yes, it appears as if solutions for industry have reached a level at which it no longer needs significant improvement. Speaking frankly, however, I doubt it. It reminds me of an executive I met in 1983 to whom I gave a CATIA demonstration. At the time, it had only black and white wireframe visualization, yet he told me: “This is quite impressive. Do you think that there will be future evolutions of your system?”
We will see the implementation of AI (as you note), massive collaboration improvements with the cloud, and many other things that we cannot imagine today. In the world of technology, the future cannot be defined beyond more than ten years. For example, in 1992, the top technology specialists did not mention Internet in their analyses of the future [even though it already existed at the time]. And, as you say, there are still several domains that are not yet properly addressed, like the construction industry.
Regarding the medical market, I believe that we cannot address it the same way as we did in industry. For me, it is a completely new domain, with a limited synergy with industry. Yes, perhaps the 3DEXPERIENCE platform can be a base, just as any IT hardware and the cloud can be, but the applications to be developed are totally new, and they address a domain with a very specific culture, organization, and methods.
2. Differentiation from Competitors
When it comes to the huge potential market in construction, the MCAD billionaire-leaders are acting sluggishly. The exception is Autodesk, which would probably not be as impressive a leader without its AEC/BIM offerings. PTC tries to differentiate itself by promoting IoT (Internet of things) and becoming the owner of Onshape. Siemens Digital Industries Software takes its own path, because it is part of the huge Siemens corporation.
Many CAD companies, including LEDAS, today deal with the healthcare sector but in a fragmented and nonsystematic way. Dassault Systèmes, by contrast, has been involved in the healthcare domain for years already, and is doing so more or less systematically. This strategic direction of Dassault Systèmes was confirmed by its recent acquisition of Medidata for $5.8 billion, the biggest acquisition in the history of the company, amounting to approximately 1/6 of its capitalization. So why not combine a human-oriented sector with the company’s current 3DEXPERIENCE system to reach the next strategic step?
Francis Bernard: I agree with your comments, except that with the medical domain, it is not a differentiation, it is a new business. Competition will come from players other than those in the PLM business.
3. Optimizing the Company’s History and Course
Market demand and market-driven differentiation are sufficient for Dassault Systèmes to make its mark on the next stage of its growth by adding the virtual human to its roadmap. It is, nevertheless, interesting for me to add another dimension, the personal motivations of Dassault Systèmes’ leaders.
Everyone can agree that role of a successful CEO in a multi-billion corporation cannot be underestimated. Bernard Charlès, who has led Dassault Systèmes since 1995 and through whom the company multiplied its revenue, is definitely an outstanding manager. But Dassault Systèmes is lucky to have a leader who is not satisfied at being merely outstanding.
Bernard Charlès is a very ambitious person who, along with his remarkable career, would love to live in an alternative timeline in which he also be known as the founder of Dassault Systèmes, the inventor of CATIA (which today brings DS about 25% of its revenue) and SOLIDWORKS (more than 20%), the man who made Dassault Systèmes a leading provider of 3D for global automotive and aircraft industries, the leader who from the scratch developed his enterprise to the level of world-famous CAD company close to its first billion.
Sometimes ambition can better explain controversial actions, such as the attempted transformation of SOLIDWORKS through what some even call “the death of this CAD program.” At the same time, ambition can become a great source of personal energy and key driver of success. Despite the market not being very accepting of 3DEXPERIENCE, Bernard Charlès is now extending the future of Dassault Systèmes with the next great leap into biology. As the legendary milestones of the founding and initial take-off of Dassault Systèmes are slowly hidden in a remote fog of the past, the whole history of the company step by step becomes looking like the current CEO’s biography.
(Picture below: Nashville, USA, February 2020, 3DEXPERIENCE World (previously called SOLIDWORKS World). Bernard Charlès talks about 3DEXPERIENCE and for the first time mentions the step Dassault Systèmes is making from things to life.)
Francis Bernard: First of all, it is important to know that the history of Dassault Systèmes began in the early 1970s at Dassault Aviation, some ten years before the establishment of Dassault Systèmes. In a paper I wrote two years ago, I described the history of Dassault Aviation and Systèmes through my own eyes. Of course, Bernard Charlès played a major role, especially after 1995, in continuing to grow the business. I agree that if Bernard Charlès succeeds in the new medical domain, then he will have written a truly significant and personal step in the company history.
(Picture below: 1980. Francis Bernard and a member of his CATIA team demonstrate CAD to Dassault Aviation founder Marcel Dassault.)
I appreciate the deliberate and systematic development made by Dassault Systèmes towards the humanitarian field. Such a direction could possibly become a primary focus in the future for almost all industries and so strategically become very pragmatic from the business point of view.
The picture below is the February cover of isicad.ru with a centaur combining a thing and a human as an illustration of recent extension of the Dassault Systèmes business.
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