This news article was originally written in Spanish. It has been automatically translated for your convenience. Reasonable efforts have been made to provide an accurate translation, however, no automated translation is perfect nor is it intended to replace a human translator. The original article in Spanish can be viewed at Entrevista a Bertrand Sicot, director ejecutivo de SolidWorks
“Having customers to switch to our new platform is on us: we have to make a very compelling product and experience”
Interview with Bertrand Sicot, CEO of SolidWorks
Joan Sánchez Sabé, from San Diego, CA, USA24/02/2012
Betrand Sicot, the one year old CEO of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks spoke with us about his immediate past and future. Although he has been working for SolidWorks as employee number two in Europe, and has lived in the US for the last years, his English keeps some French subleties. The soft charming ‘h’, and the peculiar ways of saying ‘experience’ and ‘difference’ are distinctive. I'd like to be able to talk like that.
Being French, and being SolidWorks (SW) a part of Dassault Systèmes (DS), some rumours were heard about his standing. He’s doubly commited. He knows very well the company that he is leading, its heritage and its potential. And is passionate about both. He wants to make it grow but, at the same time, make sure that its entrepreneurial self-critical spirit is kept alive and well fed.
Bertand Sicot, during the first General Session of SolidWorks World 2012
Do you feel more of a ‘SolidWorks guy’ or a ‘Dassault Systèmes guy’?
Both. SolidWorks has been a part of DS for fourteen years. That's not news. DS is a group, and we are one of its brands. We do 20% of the business of DS. We continue to grow. We have our specificity, as opposed to the other activities of DS. As a group, within DS we are doing amazing things, but this is not known enough, even within the SolidWorks community. It gives also credibility, in addition to what we do, we are part of a larger organisation.
More than one year in your new position. How do you feel about it?
I stay in place [he jokes]. It has been a great year. My nomination last year has been just 3 weeks before SWW. It was little bit of a rush. After the event I could slow down a little bit and think about what I should do, and to be more pro-active than reactive. You've seen the results of the organisation [20% increase in revenue]. We have done very well. Thinking about the future: now with my team we have put together a plan for the next 3 to 5 years. We know where we want to be, and now it's all about the execution. This year I've been travelling a lot, first year you have to be where you have to be. I have been at SolidWorks for 15 years, so I knew the organisation. Sales and marketing, no problem. But R&D took me some more time. Right now I have a better feeling of being under control. I am happy to be here [at SolidWorks World] this year, and have the feeling that ‘time flies’.
Where do you want to be? Which are your visions?
We are preparing the future. There is a new CAD platform next year. We have to manage a transition at a time. Second thing: you saw last year we presented 'Live Buildings'. During 2011 we put it together and this year it's going to market. Construction will be a new market for us, totally new, with a lot of opportunities. We have a disruptive approach. Let's see how it works. It's both exciting and scary at the same time. There are a lot of unknowns, but you jump into the water if you want to swim.
What about the platform for the 21st century mentioned yesterday, during the first General Session?
It will be a platform enabling people to work on desktop, on-line or on mobile. We haven't told much detail about it, we'll show it when it's ready.
There have been many noises about changing the Parasolid kernel of SolidWorks...
We don't do the next generation to remove Parasolid and put something else. The customer doesn't care what's under the cover, as far as it works. So, we could just change the kernel to the current platform. It would just be a matter of time and people. The users expect something more. We will not recreate what we have been creating for 15 years. We will do something new. We will expand the user experience.
The rumours about the Parasolid kernel are coming from competitors that want to create a little bit of confusion or fear, and don't know what else to say. That's not my problem, we haven't lost a single deal because of that. The customers know what we have achieved, they trust us not to let them down. My personal view: I've spent 15 years of my professional life contributing to reach the current position of the company. Now that I am in charge, do you think that I am going to screw up?
We have heard for the last two days very many times the words ‘community’, ‘collaboration’, ‘communication’. Is this preparation for the new platform?
Not at all. The new platform will integrate much more the capabilities needed for this transformation. The goal of making the theme of this conference this one is to let people know that the world is changing, that the ways that people can create and innovate are changing. Until today, if you were not working within a large company, it was almost impossible to innovate. Now, as you have seen this morning [Quirky], you can have a lone young kid, not within a large plug-making company, find a way to create a new product, just by asking help from other people. This changes totally the way you look at innovation. This resonates a lot for the SW community, because we are mostly in the SMB market. The innovation in the world is not always coming from large organisations. With the new technologies available, you have things such as quirky.com happening. It's not going to replace the old way of innovation, but it will add to. And that's good, because innovating for the SMBs is difficult, because of the financial needs, or the lack of skills. If we, as a software vendor can give a media to accelerate this wave, it's fantastic. We are at the beginning of innovation: creating [a physical product] starts by defining a geometry. How do you do that? With 3D CAD software. We are the first step. But if then we can help the process further on, to communicate and seek others' participation… it's fantastic. We think this is a win-win deal. We empower our customers to innovate, and we expand the SW community at the same time. The new generation of people are connected, and it's our obligation to watch this trend.
Last year Jon Hirshtick and Austin O'Malley left the company. Do you have something to comment about it?
Jon left after having been a kind of consultant for ten years for SW. He said to me, it's time for me to flip the page of SW and reset. It was a personal decision, which I fully respect. We have been very lucky to have had him with us for so long. When the company was sold to DS in 1997, it could have been expected that he would have left right away. Instead, he spent with us nearly 14 years, and he resigned as CEO in 2001. The value is there. I was expecting that day to come. We keep in contact and these days have been exchanging e-mails and videos about SolidWorks World. He's not here this year, but I bet he'll come back.
Austin and I are very good friends. He realised that the way we have to work now with Dassault Systèmes was not his way. At the same time we had the opportunity to have Gian Paolo Bassi joining us, with his background and having worked already with Dassault Systèmes. This was a good timing for everybody, although, obviously, nobody leaves SolidWorks after 15 years without a very special feeling or emotion. I like Bassi's fighting spirit, his Latin passion. He is a technologist. He can challenge people because he knows very well what's inside the product: he still codes.
DS SolidWorks had a 20% increase in revenue. Which are the kind of companies newly buying your products? Are they big, small, very small?
Every year we are adding more licenses to new customers than to existing customers. We are everywhere, when we look at how many sits we've sold to different companies, and how big they are, there is about the same ratio everywhere. By the way, right today we have an executive forum for the large customers. We started to think three years ago that we had sold a lot of licenses to big groups, and that we should start to be careful with that. So we have people from GE. These are some of the big customers. And then we also have lots of SMB. SolidWorks is everywhere, from the independent designer to GE. The new licenses are coming mainly from the SMB. Right now we have sold a seat of SolidWorks to almost every big group. They are already customers.
Which areas or countries are growing more?
In 2011 the largest growth came from Asia-Pacific, America's, EMEA [Europe, Middle-East and Africa] and Japan. India and China, and also Australia were the countries growing most. In America it has been both North-America and Latin-America. EMEA is a 5 or 6% below North-America at this moment. I have to say, however, that when the crisis started, America was diving much faster and deeper than Europe. The cycle is more pronounced (quicker and deeper) in America than it is in Europe. If I look at the whole EMEA, we have had outstanding results in Russia and Turkey, and challenges in Spain. In Japan we were afraid, after the tsunamis and earthquakes that the business could be heavily affected. It was not, as the majority of our customers are SMBs. It was not the same for all Dassault Systèmes businesses. The big customers had a lot of difficulty also because of the flooding in Thailand. For the SMB, it was Ok. I hope it's quickly over for Japan.
You have said more than once that your products are not perfect. Which areas do you want to get better?
Performance and stability are critical. I can feel the frustration of the customer when the software crashes. I have not been happy when it's happened to me during a presentation. And having good performance and stability is not something that you do just once. It's a relentless effort that has to be pursued continuously. I want the R&D team to think about performance and stability when they develop.
You asserted that you weren't going to force customers to switch platforms. Does this mean your are going to have two parallel versions of the program?
First, you cannot force anyone to switch. They already have the program. And, yes, we are going to keep the two platforms. For how long, I don't know. It's going to take a while to transition from one system to another. It could take 3, 5 or 7 years. We don't known. But what I know is that if we want it to happen quickly, it's simple: we have to deliver very good compelling new software. It's on us. It has to be compelling and simple. If we do something compelling enough they will switch. We have to work hard. Gian Paolo Bassi knows what he wants, and I like it. The two platforms may be used simultaneously by some customers. It's the same as having an iPad and a desktop. You don't throw away the desktop because of the new device. You use each one for what is more convenient.
Knowing a bit of Gian Paolo's background… does this mean we can expect direct editing together with parametric modelling?
It could be.
Will PLM be able to work with both platforms at the same time?
Yes, that's the goal. I want to see it, I want to test it myself.
What stage are you in the development?
We are going to ship and deliver the first release next year. It's scaring but exciting.