For Vectorworks CEO Biplab Sarkar, the Vectorworks Design Summit is about awareness, both in terms of the company’s products and users’ own design capabilities. The event, which has been taking place for the past four years, began as a means of informing the world, including potential customers and students, about the power of the firm’s software platform. By now, though, the event has become a learning opportunity for Vectorworks users.
Vectorworks CEO Biplab Sarkar giving his keynote talk at the Design Summit.
“It has evolved in the last two or three years, resulting in the tagline you see at the event: ‘the ultimate training experience.’ There’s a lot of training going on,” Sarkar said. This includes several rooms filled to the brim with attendees and computers. Some sessions are so popular that there are 150 users at 150 laptops preloaded with Vectorworks 2019.
All CAD software requires some amount of training for elements that can’t be learned just by browsing through menus and windows. While videos and tutorials are hosted online, independent classrooms and instructors teach the tools in the physical world. Vectorworks is in the process of consolidating all of its learning materials online into a single learning system, which will be launched early next year. The Learning Management System will progress over time to have its own online courses and certification process.
That will clearly assist in continuing education for existing users and onboarding new users, but also crucial to maintaining the company’s increasing customer retention rate is its quality control and customer assistance. The company formalized these areas into what it refers to as the Quality Response Team.
Participants of the Design Summit were able to attend a number of different stations where they could learn about specific new features of Vectorworks 2019. The event drew 600 registrations from 18 countries.
While the Quality Response Team tackles bugs affecting the software in general, a standout feature of the team is that it works with larger Vectorworks clients, such as those with more than 20 seats. The customer will work with the team, which determines what particular issue is burdening the business’s workflow and then actually provides a customer-specific build of the CAD software that addresses the problem.
“If [larger businesses] have a problem, they get stuck because they’re invested in Vectorworks. They want to use it and cannot because of something in the software. Then, they have to wait for the service packs to come out in six months.”
Attendees had access to laptops that were preloaded with Vectorworks 2019, which enabled them to follow along during certain session tutorials. Over 90 hours of training, including AIA and ASLA CEUs, were provided throughout 54 sessions led by 39 speakers.
Throughout his keynote at the event, Sarkar invited eight of his team members on stage to present individually on the new developments found in the 2019 version of the software and innovative features for the future. Because we’d already covered those 2019 version updates in a separate interview with Sarkar, we were most interested in the future innovations he highlighted at the end of his talk.
We learned that, in many ways, Sarkar’s company is expanding further from design and into the construction realm. For instance, Vectorworks could extrapolate its energy simulation capabilities from the design side to the construction and maintenance side of the equation. Additionally, the company could further develop the Nomad app, which already enables augmented reality applications such as capturing a 2D image of a façade and generating a mesh. In the future, Sarkar hopes to see similar technologies applied to the construction side of the industry.
“Machine learning and sensors can be used to track the progress of construction,” Sarkar explained. “We want to get into that, including whether you can not only do the tracking of the progress, but also safety requirements, such as whether or not everybody on the site is wearing a hardhat.”
Sarkar underscored the fact that entry into construction is still a long-term goal and that the company has only just begun exploring such ideas. More immediately, he hopes to see greater linkages between products from Nemetschek sister companies and Vectorworks. For example, Bluebeam is building a common data environment (CDE) using its Studio technology.
“In Studio, [Bluebeam] handles millions of transactions per day, which is big. If you can handle that many transactions, you need similar things on the CDE side,” Sarkar explained. “All of the sister companies will have a link to that CDE.”
Sarkar’s business is also broadening beyond construction and even buildings to consider entire urban environments. Citing the United Nations stat that almost 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, Sarkar explained that smart cities will be necessary for managing resources such as water and electricity.
“We have a platform called SimTread that performs simulations of pedestrian flow in a theater or enclosed spaces, such as how a crowd disperses if there’s a fire alarm,” Sarkar said. “We can extend that technology into some kind of traffic simulation condition. It’s still early, but we want to do those kinds of smart city planning activities.”
This could ultimately extend into Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications. Sarkar used the example of smart waste bins that alert the city when they have been filled and only then would the bins be picked up. This would lead to greater efficiency for waste recovery.
The IoT isn’t limited to cities. Last month, the Nemetschek Group acquired a Belgian IoT company called MCS Solutions, which has developed a workplace management system that optimizes energy usage in a facility.
One feature we noticed in our interview was how easily Sarkar was able to glide from one topic to another, taking ideas from the first and incorporating them into the next. This associative quality seems to be one that carries over to his management style, where he doesn’t see his employees as a simple means to an end, but rather valuable members of his team.
“We have people from 22 countries. Our basic policy is that we’re just open. We’re open to immigration and try to provide immigration support for people who are journeying from other parts of the world,” Sarkar said.
It is this inclusion that saw Sarkar brings eight other employees onto the keynote stage to share the spotlight with him. Similarly, this cross-pollination of ideas from a diverse set of people finds itself on display at the company’s regular Innovation Weeks. Next week, employees at Vectorworks will drop their regular business in favor of coming together to solve unique problems and envision the future of the company.
The event will take all of the issues raised at the Design Summit and seek to solve those problems. At the same time, employees from every division of the company will work with others from completely different divisions, allowing ideas to flow from seemingly disparate disciplines. In the next Vectorworks update, you might see both responses to bugs raised at the Design Summit and inspirations conjured up at Innovation Week.
In this way, Sarkar’s management style is based less on a hierarchy and more on something horizontal in nature. “The most important thing for me is people. Without people, there is nobody,” Sarkar concluded. “If we don’t include people in our decision-making process, in the culture of the company, there’s nothing else.”
Photos by Jason Dixson Photography. Images courtesy of Vectorworks, Inc.