Understanding Dassault Systemes 3DEXPERIENCE


Understanding Dassault Systemes corporate brand positioning has been a real challenge for me. While I have minimal difficulties understanding their product lines—CATIA, ENOVIA, DELMIA, SOLIDWORKS, and all the rest are competent, competitive, and (so far as engineering software can be) straightforward to understand—it’s their corporate brand positioning (marketing messages) that I’ve struggled with.

Consider the following, taken from the Dassault Systemes website:

Dassault Systèmes has entered a new phase in the evolution of how we bring value to our customers – moving beyond PLM to deliver holistic, 3DEXPERIENCE to imagine sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing products, nature and life. Combining social innovation capabilities, realistic 3D Virtual experiences and intelligent search-based technologies, Dassault Systèmes is pioneering a new technological wave: a 3DEXPERIENCE platform to serve the social enterprise.

This is the clearest and most complete statement I’ve found of the current Dassault Systemes corporate vision. Yet, I’m left wondering what it all means:

  • What is a 3DEXPERIENCE?
  • What is a 3DEXPERIENCE Universe?
  • What is a 3DEXPERIENCE platform?
  • What are sustainable innovations?
  • Why do I want to imagine sustainable innovations?
  • What does it mean to harmonize products, nature and life?

To answer these questions, I traveled to Orlando last week, at Dassault Systemes’ invitation, to attend the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum (or #3DXForum, if you prefer hashtags.)

The #3DXForum is Dassault Systemes’ customer forum. They invite their most important customers to this event. Unlike, for example, SolidWorks World, which is targeted to end users, the 3DXForum is targeted to decision makers. The presentations there tend to be high-level, and tend not to get into nuts and bolts of how Dassault Systemes software works.

Though I learned quite a bit while at the 3DXForum, I didn’t get any nice closed form answers to the questions above. But I did get enough information to piece together a pretty good picture of the answers.

What Dassault Systemes does

In its first era, Dassault Systemes focused on developing 3D CAD software. Its second era was distinguished by 3D digital mock-up (or DMU.) Its third era was focused on product lifecycle management (or PLM.) Its fourth era—the one it’s in now—is post-PLM. The company is broadening its focus from an engineering-centric view of the product lifecycle, to a more enterprise-wide view.

This actually makes a lot of sense. Last year, I had a chance to sit in on a prep class for the New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification offered by the Product Development Management Association (PDMA.) I was amazed to discover how much of the new product development process happens outside the bounds of what we traditionally call PLM.

For Dassault Systemes, this broadened strategy brings new product lines (3DSWYM, EXALEAD, NETVIBES, GEOVIA), new areas of focus (social technologies, search), new target industries, and new ways of engaging their customers. It’s also likely to double their potentially addressable market, beyond the traditional PLM market.

What do you call it?

We all know what 3D CAD is. 3D DMU is pretty straightforward as well. PLM is a bit more slippery, but a reasonable definition (paraphrasing CIMdata) is that PLM software supports the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information. But what do you call this broader post-PLM strategy that Dassault Systemes is now pursuing?

Monica Menghini, EVP, Industry, Marketing and Corporate Communications, has said that she doesn’t like the term PLM, because it doesn’t describe everything Dassault Systemes does. Yet, there are no simple TLAs or names that really represent this “thing.” The closest I’ve been able to find is NPD (new product development), yet the traditional view of the NPD process glosses over the bulk of PLM, treating it as some vague step that just sort of happens somehow, somewhere.

Menghini, a heavyweight branding expert with many years experience at P&G and Saatchi & Saatchi, decided to avoid focusing on software tools, in favor of focusing on the final customer experience those tools can help create. She wasn’t looking for a term to describe Dassault Systemes offerings—she was looking for branding. The term she came up with for this is “3DEXPERIENCE”, written in caps, with no space. (It works better as a trademark that way.)

So, what’s a 3DEXPERIENCE?

The term 3DEXPERIENCE is not descriptive of Dassault Systemes software—it’s suggestive of what users may be able create using Dassault Systemes software.

Those of us who are nerdy engineers know that Dassault Systemes software supports 0D, 1D, 2D, 3D, and 4D representations of artifacts. (Systems models are 0D or 1D, drawings are 2D, parts and assemblies are 3D, and manufacturing or construction models are 4D.) Rather than merely allowing users to observe or participate in 3D virtual spaces (experience them, in other words), Dassault Systemes software provides users with tools that let them use those multi-dimensional artifacts to create interactive 3D virtual spaces.

Ever since I first heard about 3DEXPERIENCE last February (at SolidWorks World), I’ve wondered why I haven’t been able to find a nice clean definition for the term. It is because 3DEXPERIENCE is a brand name. If it were defined in reference to characteristics of Dassault Systemes software (e.g., CATIA provides a 3D experience), then it wouldn’t be a brand name. It would be merely descriptive of those products.

Conversely, PLM is not a brand name. It is a descriptive term. While you can get PLM software and services from Dassault Systemes, Siemens PLM, or PTC, you can only get 3DEXPERIENCE software and services from Dassault Systemes. You can no more get 3DEXPERIENCE software and services from Siemens PLM or PTC than you could get a Camaro car or Goodwrench repair services from Ford or Chrysler. (Sometimes mechanics are called “wrenches.” Ford and Chrysler mechanics may be good wrenches, but that doesn’t make them Goodwrenches.)


So, for now, the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform includes ENOVIA, Dassault SystemesWYM, EXALEAD, NETVIBES, 3DVIA, DELMIA, SIMULIA, CATIA, GEOVIA, and SOLIDWORKS brand name applications. (You might notice that Dassault Systemes tends to capitalize their trademarks.) In the future, it may very well include other applications.

Some astute observers have pointed out that these applications don’t comprise a platform, they comprise a portfolio. That’s technically right. They’re integrated only to varying degrees, and so they don’t really meet the definition that most people use for platform software.

Yet, Dassault Systemes does use these products as a platform, to create something they variously call social industry experiences, industry solution experiences, or 3DEXPERIENCE solutions. (They’ve not been really consistent about this naming.) These are bundles of software, services, processes, and best practices, designed to address specific industry needs. Dassault Systemes is building a variety of these, for important workflows, in all of the industries they serve. One good example is “Winning Program,” which is intended to optimize early program phases and program development in the aerospace and defense industries.

What about the rest?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to put some context to 3DEXPERIENCE and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. But what about universes, imagining sustainable innovations, and harmonizing products, nature and life?

I think these are, possibly a bit easier. Here’s my take, based on reading far too many web pages and pdf files:

  • Bernard Charlès, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Systemes, used the term “3DEXPERIENCE Universe” in an earnings call last February, and it’s been used a few scattered places since. It’s reasonable to assume that it means everything (products, services, etc.) that could be associated with the 3DEXPERIENCE brand.
  • The term “imagine sustainable innovations” is the result of some sloppy French to English translation. The original French is “conception d’innovations durables,” which translates more accurately to “create sustainable innovations.” Beyond this, I believe that Charlès, when he first used this phrase, was talking about driving a sustainable innovation process (rather than talking about an individual innovation being sustainable.) Dassault Systemes could have saved themselves a bit of ribbing from competitors (“while Dassault is imagining innovation, we’re doing it.”) had they vetted their marketing through a native English speaker.
  • If you consider the full range of Dassault Systemes products, they are capable of modeling not just products, but also geology (e.g., mines), and biology (e.g., bones, muscle, nerves, etc.) So, “harmonizing products, nature, and life” refers to this. (Personally, I consider life to be part of nature, but that’s just me.)

Do I understand Dassault Systemes now?

Not entirely, though I understand the company better than I did before I went to the 3DXForum. It’s a big and occasionally enigmatic company, and its approach to the market sometimes seems foreign to me—particularly the reticence to talk about detailed software features. Yet, Dassault Systemes does have some exceptionally good software, and some exceptionally good people. And there are a lot of companies that create great products with its software. So, it’s worth the effort to keep trying.

Dassault Systemes www.3ds.com

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