Veteran CAD CEO on Staying Relevant and Important in Today’s CAD Market
Ralph Grabowski posted on October 27, 2015 | 5261 views

Once a year, Graebert GmbH invites some of its customers and the media to its Annual Meeting in Berlin. The company's desktop CAD software is called ARES Commander; newly announced are ARES Touch for tablets, ARES Kudo for Web browsers and ARES Map.

I had the opportunity to interview the company’s CEO, Wilfried Graebert, and ask him about the software announced at the meeting. Graebert was relaxed in his fifth-floor office, even as we were interrupted many times by the business of the day finding its way to his desk.

Graebert GmbH CEO Wilfried Graebert.
Graebert GmbH CEO Wilfried Graebert.

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Ralph Grabowski: Let's begin with ARES Map, which you announced at this gathering. There must already be other solutions out there. What is the competitive landscape? Are you the low price point?

Wilfried Graebert: Not really. It looks like Autodesk is expanding into every area of graphics and Esri is feeling defensive.

Esri is a little bit like my company: CEO Jack Dangermond has always run his company himself. His feeling is that GIS [geographic information system] is everything and that CAD is not needed. But his people convinced him otherwise and so eventually we got to talking.

What Esri likes about ARES is that we include the APIs [application program interfaces] and so people can add their own things on top, taking CAD and GIS into other areas. Our first line of customers are cities, with betas running in U.S.A. and Europe.

We tested the waters with an earlier mapping add-on to DraftSight [the version of ARES Commander rebranded by Dassault Systèmes]. We wanted to see if people were interested in it. And we got pretty good numbers.

ARES Map is a desktop application with access to the cloud for data. Running it on ARES Commander desktop is a test case; if it works well, then it is a snap for us to bring it over to the cloud [ARES Kudo], as the code base is the same.

As for the price point, we are asking for the same price as Onshape and our SiteMaster Kitchen — $99 a month. Our people were told this is a reasonable price; it is not a low price. There is a heavy discount for many seats — the same discounts as Esri applies and so Esri resellers will not be surprised by our pricing schedule. We will see how the other guys react, such as Bricsys, IntelliCAD and so on. I do expect a price war to break out.

RG: How many employees do you have?

WG: We are moving towards 100 people. We are fortunate to be in Berlin with its many technical universities and so we can hire excellent programmers.

One thing we found out with our new ARES Kudo software is that the cloud process is more demanding. It is a different thing from desktop software; we need dedicated people, because it is a product that runs 24/7. Somebody has to be there if there are bugs in the Onshape implementation; we have to fix them now, not with the next release three months later.

We have to adapt to the development style of our OEM customers; they have documentation styles, release cycles, feature requests. OEM sales is a different business style from selling software ourselves.

RG: You are getting into many different areas. Are you overreaching?

WG: We try to keep our software as close together as possible: we have a single core that is used for all platforms, using the same routines and libraries that we are buying or developing. We make all of the core code independent of the operating system.

The overreach could come when we write too many add-on apps.

The big [CAD] guys buy other guys, but then have problems integrating files. I don't see why they can't fix those problems. We decided not to have those problems in the first place by not buying any companies and I don't plan to do so in the future.

Early-development image of ARES Touch on iOS. User interface designs could change. (Image courtesy of Graebert/Architosh.)

Early-development image of ARES Touch on iOS. User interface designs could change. (Image courtesy of Graebert/Architosh.)

RG: You first released ARES Touch for Android tablets and then moved quickly to iOS. Where did the demand come from?

WG: The pressure for mobile CAD on iOS came from existing customers, because in their region they use iPads. Large construction firms in Japan have begun using iPads on the job site.

RG: Last year at the Annual Meeting, you announced 2D mechanical for ARES, but nothing was mentioned this year. What is happening there?

WG: Dassault Systèmes developed a mechanical toolbox for DraftSight and our 2D mechanical is based on that. Here in Germany, there is demand for 2D factory planning. The people behind the old Genius package [which became AutoCAD Mechanical] now work as consultants for corporations here and are asking us for it. We will release it shortly for the desktop.

We have more plans for it. For instance, we will put it on mobile, we will integrate it into our survey and kitchen design software. I think the product will fly with factory planning. When you go into a factory that you want to refurbish, you have to see how the new machinery fits. The same for when remodeling a kitchen. How is this different from redoing a bathroom or an electrical room? Installation guys have a 30 percent failure rate and so they see the need for the accuracy from our solution.

We first want to get our feet on the ground in Germany, establish retail sales here, before we go worldwide.

RG: Will your relationship with Onshape weaken your relationship with competitor Dassault Systèmes?

WG: We offered ARES Kudo to all our OEMs. We went with Onshape because they were the only ones who would work with us on online CAD. We do not have an exclusive relationship with Onshape.

We ported our ARES CAD product to the cloud and offer it out there. We will do the same kind of integration with other OEM companies. But other companies want to work slowly [in the direction of the cloud], as it has to fit into their overall plans.

Onshape is unique because they can focus on the cloud; other firms have their products and their customers, which they will not scrap for the cloud. We think the desktop and cloud will coexist for a long time.

ARES Kudo is a work in progress. We will release it to the public, but we don't know when. There is interest from OEM customers, but there is no urgency, because the cloud pricing model conflicts with their desktop pricing.

For 10, 15 years I was the only guy doing mobility, driving it forward [with Windows CE-based software]. You can't believe how often our programmers scrap UIs and functions before they make it into the product.

RG: SOLIDWORKS, Onshape, Corel Corporation are your best-known OEMs. Who else is there?

WG: We have quite a bunch of small and medium OEMs. jDraft implemented a user interface that was once part of a Japanese government-sponsored product that was given away free of charge, but then was not updated. So we did that: ARES with a Japanese interface. jDraft is now in three of the five biggest construction companies in Japan.

Other OEMs include CADopia in U.S.A., 4M in Italy. There are maybe 30 to 40 in all. Some just use our CAD software to do file conversion, such as by a local electrical package. There is an architectural package from Israel that now sells in France. CNC companies put it in their machinery, but don't sell ARES separately. A firm in Korea adds intelligence to dumb total [surveying] stations with our Windows CE software. So these customers are not public in the usual sense.

I am very careful in signing white labels (people who want to just sell ARES under a different name). I don't want it to be like the ITC [IntelliCAD Technical Consortium] where members competed with each other instead of with Autodesk. So Corel does not compete with SOLIDWORKS, because they operate in a different market — people who need a CAD program alongside their CorelDRAW and Corel DESIGNER software. In contrast, SOLIDWORKS is so streamlined into the mechanical market that they would never touch a CorelCAD customer.

For more information, visit the Graebert website.

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