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 .

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.

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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.
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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.

SolidWorks gets unfairly blasted for cloud plans

Lately when speaking with SW competitors and users we get the impression that SolidWorks’ foray into cloud computing was a big negative.

This differs greatly from what I thought I heard at SolidWorks World 2010. What was said was that the cloud represents a perfect opportunity for product collaboration, not a change in where the application runs – at least not yet. BUT, for long running and complex calculations cloud computing could help. These should arrive early.

SolidWorks points to ENOVIA V6 for cloud support. BTW, ENOVIA V6 is also a possible upgrade path for those who invested in SmarTeam. Users with existing SmarTeam installations should definitely look at all the alternatives, including open source.

I have called SolidWorks asking them to clarify their current cloudy cloud position and will report back as soon as they respond.

SolidWorks World Day 3 – Wowed by the cloud

4 Feb 2010: Yesterday, the final day of SWW, SolidWorks demonstrated portions of what’s in SW 2011, but it paled in comparison to what they revealed about PLM in the cloud, called SolidWorks PLM. Of course, with a 20 minute staged demo, only a glimmer of the capability can be seen. Perhaps even less really understood.

I expected this to be another boring demonstration of managing data files, only on a different source. It was anything but. SolidWorkshas gone way beyond just moving PDM data to a cloud operation. They have fundamentally re-thought how such a transition might impact day-to-day engineering collaboration.

In the demonstrated example of their Data Sharing application, based on Enovia V6, a user wanted to collaborate with others. He uploaded the model and shared it with others simply by adding their id’s to a list of users. The cloud app automatically updates revision numbers as required, captures typed comments and instructions, and manages all the messy communications allowing access to anyone with a web browser. Collaborators with SolidWorks can download the files onto their local PC’s and work at a faster speed, uploading when complete. In the event a collaborator does not have SolidWorks they can use 3DLive to view, examine the model history and it’s components, and use other aspects of 3Dlive.

For external users, a new feature of SolidWorks 2011, seems to play well with SolidWorks PLM. It allows defeaturing a model, while preserving key points such as attachments needed for supplier sharing without endangering the IP.

Such cloud collaboration simply means identifying another user and giving her access to the dataset; yielding instantaneous access and no need to install any apps.

SolidWorks hinted that additional PLM apps would be available (no timeframe), adding more function in the future. This got me to thinking about some possibilities. Why not introduce PLM apps sort of like iPhone apps. Charging users for each major function, yet enabling it in the cloud? How about a document creation app, or a functional requirements app, or some mini-simulation apps, or a supplier relations app?

I’ll soon post another blog on the 2011 enhancements demonstrated.

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SolidWorks World – Day 1

1 Feb 2010: Started the day in the main tent. Shockingly, attendance was up by 20% over last year. In several discussions with others in the CAD/PLM community, it appears business was hot during the last quarter and appears to be holding up. Good news for 2010. SW weathered the storm with no layoffs and an increased R&D investment.

For the first time at a SW event, Dassault Systemes CEO, Bernard Charles spoke about his vision for the company and the tightening of the relationship between DS and SW. This became evident in the technology preview introduced by SW CEO, Jeff Ray. Basically, SW previewed their PDM software and their CAD software operating in the cloud, on almost any platform, including MAC’s, and using browsers. My guess is it was a standard browser.

It appears as if the first items to migrate to the cloud will be both PDM apps, which will use ENOVIA V6 as the cloud storage. My opinion – good riddance to local PDM apps, their servers, and the technology and personnel to install and maintain them. No pricing or migration plans were discussed. Expect to see some cloud apps available late this year!

The speaker, James McLurkin, one of the leading robotics researchers in the US, spoke about robotic swarms, his research interest. He investigates how robot algorithms work by building small limited function robots that communicate among themselves to follow goals. Imagine that instead of two costly robots exploring Mars, that there were a hundred smaller ones with specialized skills, kind of like an ant colony.

Other tidbits during the day: A conversation with Richard Allen, PDM Product Manager at SW revealed that only 30% of their customers use PDM systems, a surprisingly (to me) low number. We discussed the state of Mechatronics with Shaun Murphy, and in our opinion, for managing and simulating electro mechanical control systems, SW is far ahead of their usual competitors. We spoke with Jeff Cope, CEO of Extensible CAD about their InspectionXpert and Office2CAD products, both integrated within SW. Inspection:Expert converts drawing inspection data into more useable measurement sheets for use during CMM inspections. Simple, but a real time saver. Cad2Office adds a tab to Office documents allowing direct saves into SW PDM vaults, another useful time saver. Both seem reasonable priced. KeytechPLM, a German based company, offers one of the most comprehensive, independent multiCAD PDM-PLM systems we have seen. Federated vault servers manage worldwide access. It’s a BMW system at Toyota pricing, with typical German engineering.

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