Update to Aras Software interview

Earlier today I had a follow up conversation and demo of Aras PLM software with Marc Lind. To net it out, I asked Marc why users would buy Aras Software instead of one of their vertically integrated competitors such as Enovia, Teamcenter, or Windchill? Marc replied with three main reasons:

  • The software works. It’s reliable, it’s functionally robust, implementations are easier, users can see results faster, and its design promotes much faster upgrades to new versions.
  • The economics of the business model are so compelling. The ROI proves it.
  • Aras Innovator is the platform of the future, in terms of scalability, ability to design release independent custom processes, upgrades, and flexibility, and it’s cloud ready.

You will have to see for yourself — the company has no salesmen, because the downloads are free. Their website contains lots of good info.

Aaron Kelly explains the business model for DraftSight

What a shocker! The premier 3D MCAD software organization, Dassault Systemes, announced a pure 2D drafting product with the business side based on an open source software model that provides free software. To find out more about the why’s and wherefore’s, Ray contacted Aaron Kelly, the head of this new business unit. My explanatory comments are within the brackets [] .

Aaron Kelly

What is your new position?

My new position is to lead the DraftSight business unit. I report into the DS SolidWorks Brand and am the General manager for this business unit. [Aaron was in SolidWorks product management for many years and has been with SolidWorks virtually since its inception – 15 years. He is a well respected SW executive.]

Where does the DraftSight organization fit within the DS and SW company structure? Is DraftSight a stand-alone company? How big is it? How is it organized?

The DraftSight organization has its own P&L and is made up of DS employees around the world. The team is made up of about 24 people in training, customer support, technical support, development, QA, marketing, product marketing, and sales.

What is the sales model, considering that the product is free?

The sales model involves selling value added services and/or products that are compelling for DraftSight users. DraftSight is free, but we are offering a service called DraftSight Premium Service. The DraftSight Premium Service includes a concurrent network license, access to the API extension (and updates) and Technical Support directly from DraftSight. This service is offered through all the Dassault Systemes direct and indirect channels. [It costs $250 per user per year]

Who are the target customers?

The primary target customers are existing DS customers who have a need to work with 2D and DWG files. This is a need, up until now, we have not had a solution for.

What is the cost/benefit to proposed customers?

We are trying to make is easier for our customers to invest in 3D and related technologies. By offering a low to no cost 2D offering, our customers can invest money allocated for 2D and use it to invest in 3D. The important thing we are trying to achieve is a superior user experience. It starts with an easy to download, free to activate product, shaped by a free, vibrant community, and is rounded out by professional technical support options.

Is the DraftSight product meant to completely replace 2D software from other competitors?

No, not really. Many of our customers today use DS products and our competitor’s [2D] products side by side. We are happy we are solving our customer’s needs where we can. We want the opportunity to either offer new 2D to 3D users who need it, expand the usage of 2D to those users who need it, but maybe cannot afford it, or replace competitor’s 2D software wherever a customer sees value.

How does DraftSight interface with other DS products? With non-DS products?

Many products from 3D CAD (SolidWorks and CATIA) to PLM products from DS read DWG files that DraftSight uses.

A focus on 2D is new for DS. Why now and what’s to come?

We are trying to solve customer problems. Customers certainly need to 2D functionality and DWG file capabilities. We are trying to help our customers. I think you are going to see many improvements in terms of social innovation tools – we are going to listen to our users with better community tools, we are going to build DraftSight based on user feedback. [Aaron went on to discuss that he plans to use crowd-sourcing from customers to vote on and thus select enhancements that they want.]

Where does the underlying technology come from? Is it Graebert? What is the impact of the Ares announcement on DraftSight?

We have a partnership with Graebert to use the ARES platform with DraftSight. We are in a very close partnership with Graebert and endorse their products for sale that have a different value proposition from DraftSight. For example, ARES Commander has a richer API and 3D as well as other features that DraftSight does not include.

What is the product future of DraftSight?

DraftSight is in Public Beta today. We will be shipping a released product in the coming months as well as a Beta version of a MAC release and a Linux release. Each DraftSight version was written specifically for the platform intended – either Windows, Mac or Linux.

If it’s free, how do you make money?

We make money by enabling our customers to invest in 3D as well as offering services around the free DraftSight product (DraftSight Premium Services). [The product, released on 22 June, about two months ago, has already had in excess of 40,000 downloads. Many fewer have signed service agreements.]

Why is this different than other free CAD products that have failed to be successful?

Customers are looking for more than free software. They want a real product with a future from a solid company, along with a long-term commitment, performance, multi-language offerings, and global support. We are offering this.

Is it open source? How do third party developers work with it?

Open source is not what our customers want. We do not offer an open source version at this time. [Rather, customers under the subscription plan have access to the API’s for adding software. In my opinion, this will slow down the development since all new code has to be done by DraftSight’s limited development team. On the other hand, this allows complete control over the software for quality and makes for a simpler development process for DraftSight.]

What are the support plans?

We have free community support for all users. Users have the ability to post questions to the entire community for feedback. We also have a support offering today that will enable a user to call, e-mail or even request remote access when applicable to help them out.

For more information about DraftSight go to www.draftsight.com .

A conversation with Marc Lind of Aras Software about open PLM software

Recently we had the chance to interview Marc Lind of Aras Software of Andover, Massachusetts about their open source PLM software. Marc is Sr. Vice President, Global Marketing.

Here are my questions and his replies. I think you will find their approach to be very different. While some smaller companies use their software, their primary market is large companies.

1. What exactly is Open Source PLM?

Lind: Aras is an advanced PLM solution suite for enterprise-wide deployments that is delivered as enterprise open source. This means that there are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs). Aras personnel are executives and technologists from PTC, Dassault Systèmes, Agile-Oracle, Computer Vision and other PDM/PLM companies. The Aras scope is similar to MatrixOne and Windchill for PLM configuration management and supply chain processes with robust security and enterprise-wide scalability.

The comprehensive enterprise PLM functionality of Aras includes configuration management, engineering change workflows, document management, requirements, Bill of Materials (BOM) structure, CAD / EDA integration, costing, NPDI, stage-gate / phase-gate, project management, quality compliance, APQP/PPAP, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), dashboard analytics, reports and more.

2. How does it differ from the typical PLM offerings from DS, PTC, SolidWorks, Siemens, etc?

Lind: There are No PLM license expenses (no users or modules license costs) and provides complete control over data model, interoperability and customization of the enterprise PLM platform (puts customers in control of their own destiny). This enables easy sharing of best practices and new process innovations either within a company and/or with a larger corporate community. Participation is completely optional. There are no requirement to contribute and companies can keep proprietary practices private.

3. What are your products?

Lind: Aras Innovator solution suite. See an overview at http://www.aras.com/solutions/

4. How does Aras make money from Open Source?

Lind: Very simple. Aras is bringing the proven Red Hat open sourcve business model for Linux to the PLM market. The software is freely available with no PLM license expense. We offer optional services (consulting and training) and subscription support packages.

For an overview of services go to http://www.aras.com/services/

For a subscription package overview go to http://www.aras.com/services/support.aspx

5. Who writes the software? Who checks it all out for QC?

Lind: We accept and encourage open source contributions back from users (contributing is completely optional), but before we incorporate these as part of the Aras-managed solutions we review, spec and re-write all the code. Why? Many reasons…

We need to maintain certain coding standards and patterns for enterprise security, architectural conformance, functional consistency, performance optimization and upgradeability. We’re also better able to ensure appropriate specifications and documentation. We add test automation hooks throughout the code, so that we can conduct automatic self-testing after each nightly build and as part of our release process. And when we rewrite it, we are ensuring that there are no licensing issues for Aras or our users. By doing all this we are providing companies with the confidence they need and the predictability they require.

We believe our approach gives the corporate community the best of both worlds – the freedom and flexibility you want in your PLM solution, with the security and control you need for your mission-critical enterprise applications. For more info see this link http://www.aras.com/Community/blogs/aras_corporate_blog/archive/2010/07/08/how-the-aras-approach-to-open-source-ensures-quality-confidence-and-corporate-security.aspx

6. Can any developer contribute?

Lind: Yes, the open source community projects are available for anyone to use, modify and contribute.

7. How are the inter-program standards kept?

See the answer to question 5, above.

8. Is there documentation available?

Lind: Comprehensive documentation from installation and configuration to admin and developer guides as well as end user documentation http://www.aras.com/support/documentation/

9. What is the typical size customer?

Lind: Typically large enterprise customers with between 1,000-10,000 PLM users

10. What customer IT skills are necessary? How much customer talent is needed to install and maintain OSS?

Lind: Microsoft platform skill sets for install and configure SQL Server database, Windows Server and .NET environment. Installing the full Aras Innovator suite should take less than 1 hour. Customizing the system typically needs PDM admin level skills (no programming is required).

11. What CAD systems do you support?

Lind: MCAD: CATIA, NX, Pro/E, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor, AutoCAD and others. Also ECAD: Cadence, Allegro, OrCAD, DxDesigner/DxDatabook, PADS, Altium, Zuken and more

12. Do you support full product structure for these CAD systems and how do you stay in sync with their software and database changes?

Lind: Yes, supports full product structure for these CAD systems. We stay in sync by using the same 3rd party CAD integration developers used by Siemens, Oracle Agile and SAP.

13. Do you support CAD system attributes such as material properties, cost, etc?

Lind: Yes, CAD integration connectors include comprehensive property extraction from CAD designs including material properties, cost, etc.

14. Are there third party add-ons available as open source also? Please name them and the functional areas they cover.

Lind: Yes, there are over 85 open source community solution projects available on the Aras open source project site and more on other sites. They range from Requirements Management and Variants and Options to Motorola NPDI process and Outlook integrations.

15 and 16. Please explain any pricing advantages of OSS PLM.
What might the customer overall costs be, compared to a standard vendor offering?

Lind: Here is a good write up that describes cost of ownership comparison between Aras and other PLM solutions. http://www.aessis.com/Blog/post/Cost-of-ownership-comparison-between-Aras-and-other-PLM-solutions.aspx

[Note that there is still a substantial cost outlay.] Here is a chart from that article:

Open software cost versus Windchill Teamcenter Envoia

17. Who maintains the software and responds to program problems and customer support problems?

Lind: Aras.

18. Are there other OSS PLM vendors? Who is your primary competition?

Lind: I am not aware of any other OSS PLM vendors. Our primary competition is PTC Windchill, Siemens Teamcenter, Dassault ENOVIA MatrixOne and Agile Oracle

19. Does OSS PLM have any functional advantages over standard PLM offerings? What are they?

Lind: Clear functional advantage is the significant flexibility over the other major PLM offerings. Aras provides an advanced model-based SOA framework technology which enables real-time customization without complex programming. This means literally drag and drop modification of workflows, lifecycles, forms, business rules… even the data schema without coding. It also means that highly customized, large scale global deployments are upgraded in 10% the total time and 1% the total person hours required for other PLM/PDM systems.

For more information go to http://www.aras.com/technology/

Ray posts whitepaper comparing Inventor and SolidWorks

10 Aug 2010: Yesterday I published a TechniCom Group whitepaper comparing Autodesk Inventor 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2010 to www.cad-portal.com. I suggest you read it carefully. The methodology used was a new research technology we have been exploring that uses our variation of the Delphi Expert Analysis. This technique has primarily been used in the past to survey experts, the aim being to predict the future. TechniCom adopted it to provide clarity in comparing complex systems such as CAD and PLM. We have also used a similar method to successfully analyze gaps in program plans that might reveal competitive opportunities.

More about this paper

This paper was not our original goal for this study. Rather, we were investigating the competitive positioning of Inventor’s upcoming (at that time) 2011 release as an internal project for Autodesk. Autodesk was particularly interested in exploring the fifteen functional areas shown in the paper, since they felt these were their strong points. Originally we proposed 24 Functional areas. I will share some of these additional areas with you below. Some of these, no doubt, would have shown SolidWorks scoring ahead of Inventor.

In any case, after the results of the expert scores were “normalized” and tallied we were surprised at the results; Autodesk also seemed surprised, but elated. Autodesk asked us to summarize and publish the results. We hesitated, but willing to stand by the results, agreed to write the whitepaper.

Other functional areas – not studied in this analysis

  • Ease of use
  • Installation
  • Third party offerings
  • No charge add-ons (not shipped with the product)
  • External user community
  • Sustainability design
  • Built in Content
  • Overall vendor support
  • Cost (initial and TCO)

Some independent comments on the web have called the report worthless. We could not disagree more. Take it for what it is – the subjective opinions of a limited number of experts familiar with the software. Several of the categories were so close that the voting could have easily gone either way.

Even more important, are that most scores of both vendors are well below the top score of 5. Reviewing these gaps shows that both of these leading vendors still have far to go before they are perfect.

11 Aug 2010: Clarification about the BIM functional area:

The study was not asking whether each system could perform BIM — rather the seven questions we asked the experts were focused on the interaction between a mechanical system and BIM. In essence, could mechanical parts be designed for use within a BIM system? Areas of focus included: managing the space requirements for the mechanical design within the building model, bi-directional data transfer, associative data management, and UI issues.


TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Analysis Compares Complex Systems

How to compare complex systems is always a challenge. Recently TechniCom has been using a technique called Delphi Expert Analysis. The idea being that asking a question of an experienced user should result in a cogent response of how well he perceives a system performs a specific task. The results depend on asking the proper questions, selecting truly expert users, and managing the process.

Our experience using TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Analysis shows that this is a solid way to perform market research on technical software. Instead of a simple feature and function analysis, the Delphi expert approach relies on the opinions of independent external expert users who rate and comment on a series of questions prepared by TechniCom. Developing the most appropriate questions ensures that our analysis is correct. We recruit a number of experts for each system being evaluated. Ideally each group of experts has correspondingly similar backgrounds. We provide a series of detailed questions to each expert, closely monitoring their progress and working with them to insure similar levels of evaluation to those of the other experts. The detailed questions are each rated subjectively for each system along with each expert providing comment that justifies each rating. For instance, if the expert rated that the question scored a 2, then the comment explains why. The scores range from 0 to 5, with 5 being the best, and 0 depicting no capability. A rating of 5 could be considered perfect — the question being evaluated meets all requirements and can expand to meet future needs. Very few 5’s are awarded. Out of range ratings are explored individually with the expert.

Each expert gets a final pass at their evaluation after receiving a report showing the results of their peers. This proves highly effective in normalizing the results.

We then accumulate all answers and summarize the results.

On Monday, 9 Aug 2010, a summary of our most recent analysis using this technique to compare Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks will be posted to http://www.cad-portal.com .

Rich Allen talks about SolidWorks’ cloud plans

Lately I have seen a lot of rumors about SolidWorks (SW) plans for placing their software in the cloud. I spoke to Rich Allen, SolidWorks Manager of PDM Product Management, to clarify what was announced and to explore where SolidWorks might be going. I advised Rich of the questions in advance. These and his replies follow below.

Q. Please describe, as best you are able, SW’s plans for enabling Cloud computing. What apps? At what cost?
A. The only application we have announced to date is our upcoming data sharing application to be called SolidWorks Connect. We have not established firm pricing for this product yet, as it will not ship until next year, but we expect a cost under $100/user/month. This is a data sharing product that will allow users to manage and share SolidWorks and related files both internally and with users around the world. The benefit to smaller companies that may not have large IT staffs can be significant as users will be able to enjoy data management benefits without upfront purchases of hardware, software, services and very little ongoing service/maintenance.
We will continue to look at all applications where we think the cloud can offer our clients value and solve real problems. Cloud apps might not be for everyone and we won’t be forcing users to move to the cloud, but our cloud offerings will enhance our current on-premise offerings if and where it makes sense.

Q. AT SWW2010 plans for Cloud computing seemed to be limited to PDM access only. Has that changed? Are there any plans for interactive apps on the cloud?
A. The only application we have announced to date is our upcoming data sharing application to be called SolidWorks Connect.
We will continue look at all applications where we think the cloud can offer our clients value. We will not be forcing our users onto the cloud, but will continue to listen to our users and offer solutions that make sense for them, whether they are on-premise or on-the-cloud. Our goal, as always, is the help solve real problems for our users and customers.

Q. What is the precise status of cloud apps at SW in terms of working or Beta testing?
A. We are in development with SolidWorks Connect and expect to have working Beta testing in Q4 of this year. [It is expected to ship 1Q2011] We do not have any other timeframes or announcements on additional applications at this time.

Q. Will users be required to use Enovia to get to/from the cloud? Or will SW’s existing PDM products support it? What might be the differences?
A. We will base all of our future cloud applications on the ENOVIA V6 infrastructure. This will help us leverage our own technology across all the brands. It should be noted that with cloud computing, the engine is on the cloud –- end-users only will be concerned with the client they use to access the application, so we don’t expect users to have to install ENOVIA servers at their site to benefit from cloud computing.

Q. Looking to the future – where do you see cloud computing at SW?
A. We believe that we are at the forefront of a revolution in the CAD/PLM/Simulation/Engineering Tools industry and that cloud computing will play a large role.
There are economies of scale that the cloud can offer in terms of massive computing capabilities (simulation, rendering, translation), scalability (start with 1 user migrate to many); reduction in upfront costs – whether it is a CAD or PDM or PLM system, imagine not having to buy a lot of hardware and software and implementation up front, your initial costs are very low; and, upgrades may also be easier and faster as things are done on the cloud.
We also discussed how to protect intellectual property. SW plans to add some limited access control, but not much more than is available to users that e-mail SW files. We would prefer to see some sort of Rights Management control.

My opinion is that this is an excellent approach, particularly for users that do not have or want to have their own IT staffs. The cost seems reasonable and the benefits large, offering instant-on PDM data sharing worldwide.