For a few years now, Dassault Systèmes has been expounding on “platforms” and “experiences.” Frankly, the terms always baffled me. As an old school engineer, I needed tangible products to write about, new features and new benefits. It was hard for me to explain their 3DExperience Platform as a product when the company—and its leadership—keep discussing a nebulous “experience.” Then, I attended the company’s 2017 3DExperience Forum held in October 2017.
Now I think I get where they are coming from. I also think it matters to every manufacturing professional who reads this to at least understand their concepts. Let me explain.
The biggest challenge any manufacturer faces is understanding customer needs and communicating those to its engineers. They do this through their own product development process. But there are many issues that pop up as the company goes through its process of conceptualizing, designing, and manufacturing. This is as true for toasters as passenger jet airliners, only the scale is different.
Each company’s unique development process has similar problems. Communication is difficult. Professionals spend much of their time looking for, organizing, and validating data. Companies choose differing software tools, such as for their CAD and CAE solutions, making for heterogenous environments. Many compound the problem by using homegrown tools for specific problems. Simply moving data becomes slow and fraught with error. Companies sometimes must resort to manual methods of laboriously moving data files or use homegrown data pipes.
But, you say, this is simply an IT problem, right? A solution would be to create some data interpreters and a data architecture to seamlessly move information. “We did not think that [an IT solution] alone would solve the fundamental problem of competitiveness, differentiation, and value creation that companies are searching for,” explained Olivier Ribet, vice president, high-tech industry and IoT. “If we just provided the glue between, say, CAD and other PLM functions, sure that would be good,” he said. But not enough. That’s because it is not just moving data—products often miss the target and sell poorly. “We needed to go one step further than that, find a new way to think about product and product development.” The product in its context is the key concept to explain an “experience” in design.
A car, a smart watch, an airliner, or a toaster all must be considered in its user context. Using the product is an experience that engineers and professionals all along the product creation chain must understand. So, the tools used to develop those products must encapsulate that product-in-context design experience. That is what Dassault Systèmes seems to mean by its call for an “experience.”
There is more.
Close and rapid collaboration is required between different disciplines, such as mechanical engineers talking to electrical engineers. This is where the platform concept enters the picture. That is why Dassault is calling its flagship offering the 3Dexperience “platform.” As Monica Menghini, the company’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer explained in a plenary session, platform companies do not make things or create products, per se. “They maximize transactions rather than sell products,” she said, by finding partners who have the technology and expertise to use the platform. With a single user interface, they facilitate access to a wide variety of connected apps. A single data model (that is not based on files) provides a single source of truth. These apps are not necessarily owned by Dassault. It’s not out of pride but pragmatism that they readily accept another makers’ software. That is what a platform does. As Menghini stressed, platforms are for transactions.
Their key takeaway? Your company needs to deliver a positive “experience,” not simply a product. To do that, your company needs its own product creation “experience.” Dassault Systèmes would be happy to help you build it.