“Demolish the silos in PLM”: Why Dassault’s Bernard Charles believes in the 3D Experience

How fast will users adopt Dassault’s new PLM platform?

Is Dassault Systems’ 3DExperience platform “the next step beyond PLM”? CEO and president, Bernard Charlès, claims it is, and many initiated observers agree. At least to the point that changing patterns of product development are driving new IT needs.
The way we realize products, use them, communicate and even the way we think is rapidly changing. Things like non-linear development processes in product development (systems engineering), the internet based interaction between producers and end-customers – even between machines – and the product-as-a-service concept creates new demands on industrial IT.
These are facts, but is 3DExperience the answer? ”Absolutely”, says CIMdata’s, Peter Bilello, “but it’s only one answer. There are others…”

Bernard Charles & Monica Menghini:
“We’re still a scientific company, but we’ve realized
there is more than just to provide tremendous
experiences and core technology to our users”.

The 3DExperience concept was presented about two years ago. The first ready to use platform on the Cloud or on premises came earlier this year. Given the cost and the complexity of migrating from any other PLM platform, even Dassault’s own V5 to V6 3DExperience cannot be expected to happen overnight. 

A couple of big companies like car manufacturers Renault and Jaguar Land Rover are enthusiastic and have given the concept their approval, as have some smaller proactive companies like architect firm SHOP, but the vast majority is still cautious. 

This leads us to wonder what to expect in terms of market penetration for this platform? How “ready” is it? How “ready” are the customers? And given the history of Dassault’s V4 and the V5 PLM solution, do they have the technological credibility to motivate a massive transition at this early stage? 

Let’s take a closer look at these issues.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Platform demands a cultural change, and that’s hard

A striking feature in Dassault’s communication around technology is the company’s visionary approach to almost everything. Bernard Charlès has developed this into an art. The upside is inspiration and a driving force that encourages daring bets on new modern technologies. The more problematic side is that things can get “blurry” in the early stages, leading to challenges in delivering on promises in the short term. The launch of 3DExperience is not immune to these risks. Like any new complex software launch, there will be things to work out. Perhaps more importantly change on this scale demands a cultural change that is often more difficult than the IT challenges. 

“Yes”, says CIMdata’s Bilello,”the platform technology isn’t necessarily the problem. I’d rather claim that it is the cultural change that has to take place in an organization to take advantage of this new way of thinking and to understand how these technologies and solutions are brought together. That’s really the issue.”

Andy Kalambi: “The zero error BOM (Bill of Materials) demands a zero file solution. 3DEXPERIENCE brings the zero file world into the engineering environment; what we do is to connect directly to product data, not to files”.

DS’ Enovia chief, Andy Kalambi, says, “3DExperience is about simulating real life experiences that you want to deliver to your customer. Every company has a promise to their customers and that promise is eventually realized through a value creation process that touches many different points within an organization. Now, to ensure that a brand promise is consistently and sustainably delivered it has to be managed across the entire enterprise, and we have assembled the necessary IT tools.” 

He adds that so far PLM has just been about helping companies to develop their products, ”But the world has moved beyond the product; the end-customers are demanding experiences around the product” and the secret of market success is to be able to innovate not only on the product, but also on the experience.

Bridging the disconnections in product development requires a rethink of work processes

According to Kalambi an experience is “an expectation that you set with the customer (in this case the end-customer) in terms of how the product will behave in the user context”. This is beyond the form and fit of the product. Regardless of whether we’re talking about a car, electronic equipment or pretty much any other product being realized today, there is generally a lot of software involved. ”The car isn’t just about the driving experience”, he adds, ”it’s also about entertainment, smart phone connections, navigation systems and stuff like that, and a lot of this is still not well integrated and managed through the design and product realization processes”. 

There are still a lot of disconnections that can eventually compromise the experience you’re delivering to the customer. 

“CAD for instance, has been a separate world all these years, where you’ve been collecting requirements from disconnected environments, and the same types of barriers surrounds the job all the way through product development to manufacturing.” 

So Dassault has set out to combine a whole range of technologies that are more commonly used separately.

The framework of the 3DExperience:

Interface: 3DEXPERIENCE – 2014X version, CATIA.


  • Everything is built on the V6 architecture. The different features that companies need for product realization are delivered as apps on the 3DExperience platform
  • The “interface” for navigation is the “3D Compass”, through which users navigate, search, and collaborate 
  • The Enovia app serves as a product data backbone 
  • There are nine apps for different purposes: CATIA (high end CAD), SolidWorks (mainstream CAD), SIMULIA (CAE, simulation), DELMIA (digital manufacturing), GEOVIA (natural resources 3D modeling), EXAlead (a search and intelligence tool), 3DVIA (visualization), Netvibes (dashboard intelligence) and the new 3DXcite (real time visualization).  
  • Based on these tools DS has created a series of industry specific packages “designed to address key business processes of individual industries that are comprised of industry process experiences”. 

The main idea behind DS’ 3DExperience is to provide the IT tools needed to break down the silos and connect the development work not only to software, electronics and manufacturing, but also to the end-customers. 

No doubt there are similarities and touch points between what this solution aims to do and Siemens PLM’s Industry 4.0 concept as well as PTC’s broader ALM, MES and SLM/IoT scope. The difference is that Siemens PLM places a higher priority on the engineering side of product realization, whereas PTC presently zooms in on the aftermarket and product-as-a-service concept.

The 3DEXPERIENCE Platform is a big marketing challenge

Peter Bilello, CIMdata: “Fully deployed
3DEXPERIENCE demands a cultural change”.

 This is not an easy message to get through to an engineering organization that is more used to dealing with technical issues like functional design issues, change management, BOM creation and so on.

 “True”, says Peter Bilello, “engineers are used to working by themselves in their silos. The same goes for manufacturing and logistics. Okay, we tried things like concurrent and collaborative engineering, but if I really want to optimize the life cycle it’s a system of systems. It’s not just the product as a system. It’s the manufacturing systems, the support systems, the refurbishment systems… it’s all the systems that make out the whole life cycle.” 

That’s a whole mind set change, he claims, and that’s the restricting factor. The 3DEXPERIENCE platform represents a big marketing challenge for Dassault, because it requires people to shift how they think about the product information, the product and about collaboration. ”To me that’s the issue”. 

So what are the odds for a 3D Experience breakthrough? Dassault has invested a lot in 3DExperience. Bernard Charlès claims “a couple of billion dollars”. This is also what led him to change the company’s go-to-market model a couple of years ago. Going from a “science-centric approach” the company took steps to close the distance to the customers, and by doing so become more market driven.

But we are not departing from what we have done in the past. We’re still scientific, but we’ve realized that there is more than just to provide tremendous user experiences and core technology to our users. We’ve realized that it’s critical how those technologies fit together to create value for the enterprise”, says Charlès.

PDM a là Dassault hasn’t been a “straight road”

Became Enovia: MatrixOne – interface

Although 3DExperience is a great concept, the contextual challenge is to leverage Bernard’s vision with DS’ capabilities to deliver on the promise. This has been somewhat of a problem for Dassault historically. While the CAD system CATIA always been a success, the PDM hasn’t: 

  • In 1998 DS bought IBM’s PM system (ProductManager), which initially was set to become Dassault’s “high end” solution.  
  • A year later Dassault acquired SmarTeam, which was positioned as a “product data- and engineering process solution for SMBs”. It was later sold. 
  • Most recently Dassault purchased the US-developed PDM system MatrixOne, which had the best capabilities to evolve. Under the Enovia label it is the basis for the PLM and cPDM backbone. 

 Given this history, it isn’t surprising that many of the V4 and V5 customers spent up to five years to get their Enovia V5 PLM environments to work satisfactorily. Swedish truck maker Scania is one such example, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is another. 

 “We have looked at V6, but we don’t prioritize the latest version. But in time I’m sure that we will go over to V6, with the reservation that the way there is guided by the actual business value,” said Airbus PLM executive, Anders Romare, in a recent ENGINEERING.com interview.

 “Hundreds of industry leading customers” 

So, caution still characterizes the market adoption of 3DExperience. Given the “revolutionary” concept, this is to be expected. Of Dassault’s nearly 190,000 customers, the best estimate is that “a couple of thousand” have switched to this new technology. No figures are revealed by Dassault. 

The closest thing to a quantification I could find was in a recent press release (24th of April) where Dassault speaks of an adoption made by “hundreds of industry leading customers”. This might be the case depending on how you define “adoption”, but in general we’re talking about a modest 3D Experience take-up so far. 

This may be one reason why Dassault is now increasing their marketing efforts. They are now putting an emphasis on more concrete things closer to engineers every day work: case stories.

Jaguar Land Rover: A Dassault customer who bets on 3DEXPERIENCE.

Financially 2013 was not a record year for French PLM. Dassault’s revenue ended at $ 2.9 billion, only marginally higher than 2012 ($ 2.8 billion). On the other hand, the Dassault spokespeople I have talked to explain that the major revenue lift related to 3DEXPERIENCE is expected to come in couple of years. 

 Bernard, however, seems a bit more optimistic: “We are seeing many, many satisfying examples of customers developing first-to-market experiences with the 3D Experience based on the V6 architecture”, he said in the Dassault quarterly report a couple of weeks ago.
Dassault has decided to make “a concerted effort to share those implementation stories more broadly”. Charles points to examples at Jaguar Land Rover, LG Electronics and Renault. He also mentions companies such as Hyundai Heavy Industries (the Offshore & Engineering division), Bell Helicopter, NIAEP (nuclear power plants in Russia), Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. 

But clearly Bernard is not referring to all of these as complete migrations. It’s in most cases rather partial implementations or upgrades to V6 versions; and only a hand full of those ”hundreds” can be regarded as ”industry leading”. 

 The Experience Economy and a bright future 

“In recent years the digital revolution reshaped much”, Bernard says; you don´t need to extend trends such as virtual reality, the Cloud, Big Data, mobility and social platforms very far to realize what follows in its tracks. The younger generation that does not know about the old ways of working, so things can change quickly. “Just remember Apple’s Iphone.”  This is one of the reasons of why Dassault sees a bright future for the 3D Experience concept. 

 While the future may be bright for the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, it will probably take a couple of years before the business takes off.  CIMdata’s Bilello asserts that Dassault’s approach is a step function, as it was with the introduction of V5 and V4 before it. “Companies can decide to take the next step or to wait. Since Dassault Systèmes provides an extended period of overlapping support (e.g., Dassault Systèmes currently supports V5 and V6 in parallel and will continue to do so for a number of years to come) companies can safely wait. While the uptake of the new platform is slow perhaps as compared to others in the industry, many previous MatrixOne customers are actually already on the new platform, since the Matrix architecture provides much of the underlining architecture for the new platform”, said Peter Bilello, and added that the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform is a work in process. 

 Currently, Dassault is in the process of defining, developing, and delivering numerous “experiences” in support of its industry support strategy. This execution is well underway, but it will take some time to complete. The main question for Dassault Systèmes, its customers, and potential customers is how long it will take for the required capabilities to be fully available for the companies who need them. 

While waiting for this they can still become 3DExperience customers, according to Khalambi’s definition: “If you’re on V6, you’re a 3DExperience customer”.