The Dassault Systemes Success Story – Part 9

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In 1984, I hired a young engineer called Bernard Charles. He started to work in the R&D department to develop the support of the first IBM graphic terminal called IBM 5080 using the colored raster technology to realistically visualize surfaces and solids. And progressively I promoted him to become the R&D manager in 1990. In 1995, according to an agreement with our Chairman, Bernard Charles assumed the position of President, the position he still holds today. I stayed in the executive team, focusing on market development in emerging countries: China, India, South Asia-Pacific, Russia, Africa, etc.

Regarding China, I was one of the first IT businessmen flying to Beijing in 1985 to negotiate the sale of CATIA to the Ministry of Aviation. I remember the old fashioned, dilapidated and very small airport, the narrow road to go to the only hotel from the 30’s for visitors in Beijing, the “Beijing Hotel” near the Forbidden City. No cars and millions of bicycles. Some people in France joked about my trip, “What are you doing in that country?” And now China is a huge CATIA customer.

From the relationship with IBM and with our key customers we inherited a strong culture of partnership. The general idea was to extend and reinforce our strength, in term of feature coverage, technologies, customers support, research, or sales, not only with our own resources but with partners. Progressively, we built an ecosystem with hundreds of partners. For me, looking at the ecosystem of an enterprise is a key parameter to measure its strength or its weakness. We made more than 15 company acquisitions to accelerate our solution coverage. So the very small start-up with 20 people in 1981 is now a large group with more than 8000 employees, and an organization with development laboratories as well as services and sales subsidiaries in many countries.

CAD/CAM has become too restrictive to identify the Dassault Systèmes solutions. In the early 2000’s, it was replaced by PLM, the acronym for Product Lifecycle Management. And new brand names have been added to CATIA to address full PLM: DELMIA to support the manufacturing plant, ENOVIA to support the collaboration internally and with the extended enterprise of our customers, SIMULIA for Analysis and Simulation, SolidWorks for 3D modeling and 3DVIA for 3D visualization.

I retired from Dassault Systèmes in 2006. How can I conclude this article? Well, perhaps I may conclude in saying that the success of Dassault Systèmes is the combination of several fundamentals which I have drafted earlier:

  1. Being in the right place at the right time : IT revolution, globalization, Dassault.
  2. Inventing a business transformation with a long term vision: “3D for all”.
  3. Making the right strategic decisions: Dassault Systèmes creation, IBM partnership, product management, ecosystem implementation, customers, partnerships and well positioned acquisitions.
  4. A strong management and execution process.
  • Neil

    Nicely written article thank you.
    I suspect however it appears here as a promo piece in the vein of the previous 2 bio pieces out of DS. While of genuine historical interest unfortunately such articles are not the antidote or solution to the self inflicted problems DS faces at the moment.
    After such careful and progressive enterprise building its a pity DS now appears to be in a downward spiral primarily caused by a certain recklessness and a disregard for their customers real needs. Today customers dont really seem to feature as important in the list of fundamental ingredients for success.
    With globalisation is about to make a sharp turn with the global economic crisis and customers rejecting being further locked into a particular vendors clutches DS is moving in the wrong direction.
    Conspicuously a number of large players have moved away from Catia recently and probably more are to follow. Many SW users must be contemplating an exodus for similar reasons.
    Lately DS has been characterised by overly assured and misguided management fixated on market growth and domination at the expense of delivering a quality good to sell that concentrates on the purpose for which people buy it. Further it has been further characterised by poor communication and relationships with existing customers confused or concerned by large decisions apparently taken without regard to their consequences or their wishes. This must be distressing for a capable person like Francis to observe.
    I wish Francis a happy retirement. Again thanks for the article.

  • Kevin Quigley

    You know Neil, I’m not sure where you get your data from regarding the mass exodus away from CATIA and Solidworks? Maybe this is more perception from the more vocal bloggers than actual reality? I am no expert but all I do know is that there is no great shift to NX or SolidEdge here in the UK. For every reported NX win there are probably scores of other smaller businesses who are stepping onto the CATIA platform. Why? Well because they have to to get the business. CATIA is the defacto format for automotive and aerospace supply chain here. All the CATIA using companies I know have tripled their installed bases of CATIA seats in the last 2 years – yet you never hear of that. I speak to these customers all the time and nobody has ever said a bad word to me against the product – and these are guys who are using it every day all day on tight deadlines.

    Ditto for SolidEdge. For all the marketing hype that has surrounded ST for the last few years Solidworks is still the system companies tend to buy.

    • Neil

      Well if you read carefully I did not say a ‘mass ‘exodus and in fact I said SW owners may be contemplating it. Do you have shares in DS?

      I commented on this case which is maybe several thousand? seats and this represents probably more seats than exist in the whole of the UK. There have been several of these strategic defections I believe.
      This is not insignificant for the industry and Deelip chose rightly to report on it as interesting in his typical unbiased and forthright fashion.

      I was under the impression the UK is not really a manufacturing centre any longer for automotive or aviation? I dont know how relevant or influential the decisions made in the UK are to the global situation.

      It seems times-are-a-changing and companies may be willing to consider other options, even ones that involve considerable transitions. Moving forward Catia and SW may not be in the same position they have been in the past. If more large players like DaimlerAG change camps to NX and/or Solidedge user pyramids might form under that banner instead.
      Nothing is set in stone. CAD vendors like anyone else have to meet their market or lose business.

      • Kevin Quigley

        No Neil I don’t have any shares in DS 🙂 Wish I did!

        It is a great misunderstanding that the UK is no longer a centre of manufacturing – don’t believe everything the politicians and media tell you. There are a huge number of smaller, specialist companies working in areas that are genuinely state of the art. I have a few customers like that – they really are world leaders in what they do. Some of us here still believe in making things and designing things but hey, we need to pay homage to the twatish “b”ankers that got greedy. But that’s another story I think?

        No idea how many seats of CATIA there are in the UK. But there sure as hell are not 8000 seats of CATIA at Mercedes in Germany either. It is not numbers that matter so much as influence on the supply chain. It is those guys I feel sorry for. Having had to buy into CATIA to do the work no doubt someone will be telling them to buy into NX now.

        • Neil

          I could be wrong but I think the decline of UK manufacturing goes back quite a bit further than the casino bandit banking crisis.
          Out here in the colonies 😉 a lot of our stuff used to come from the UK of course. Today its virtually zero in fact looking around now I cant actually see anything that I have that is made in the UK. If you are still making stuff then may be UK industry needs to get out and promote it more. It seems to have disappeared off the radar screen.
          Out here we would like to make things – we have never really developed the manufacturing sector of our economy – but globalisation makes it pointless. Its not an uncommon problem 🙁

  • Thank you Deelip and Mr. Bernard for your effort in providing this pocket history lesson. As one lucky enough to have been around long enough to witness the entire cycle it is interesting to see it summarized.
    For those of us who have just read these articles, the opening statement about our ‘peace full world’ struck a cord as we see it differently. As for globalization, I think it is more accurate to see it as the re-opening of borders. The history of our globe clearly demonstrates trade and culture mixes have been an integral part of human existence – boundaries have also long existed but borders needing re-opening are a relatively modern restriction.
    One important point emphasized by Mr. Bernard was the EARLY use and application of 3D. This was what got me interested – in what we have now – back in 1970 and why I wanted to be a part of the ‘game’. However unlike many – who are more besotted with the technology – I always saw CAD as a tool. More importantly I saw the importance and reason(s) for (significant) 2D functionality along side and as an equal partner to 3D functionality. A fact still not fully appreciated by many protagonist of CAD and those hell bent on pushing those who have no need for 3D into using tools which add very little to the profitability of their businesses. Hopefully this will change one day 😉
    One of the best ‘things’ to have appeared on your blog Deelip. Thank you and thank you Mr. Bernard for talking the time to share your memories in this way.

  • Big Walter

    The past is in the past.

  • M. Bernard has an amazingly clear perspective of the reasons for DS’s success. The courage and vision to spin off DS gave them a clear lead in the field, then their association with IBM gave them market dominance. Imagine how different things might have been if Citroen or Renault had leveraged de Casteljau’s and Bezier’s work with that sort of imagination, separately from their car-building enterprises?

  • Nainar

    History teaches a few lessons and when summarized by people who had been there, did it, it gives even more compelling reason to learn. And the fact that Citroen and Renault missed those opportunities choosing the first option should be an eye opener for all decision makers.

    A piece that will be read and cherished by people. Thank you Deelip and and Thank you Mr.Bernard.

  • J. Paul Grayson

    Who knew? I have never read an in-depth history of CATIA, especially straight from the authors mouth. Perhaps it has been covered many times, but it is news for me. I especially enjoyed the photos of CATIA being used with a light pen. My first company, Micrografx, first product used a light pen. It was the first 2D drawing program available for a PC when it shipped in early 1983.

    Congratulations Deelip, this is real journalism.

  • Thank you Deelip,

    I was not having any good CAD article from any blogger to read because of ‘thanks giving’ holiday in US. I think interesting series here would make my weekend worth. It’s like reading some book on history of CATIA.


  • Jim Anders

    It would be great if there was a consolidated PDF of this article available to download and/or read online.


  • Alberto Savelli

    Thank you Mr. Bernard.

    I’m working in CAD sw since 1987, and what happened in the years before was little bit obscure.
    This article is something that I’d like to keep in my library!

  • Amit

    I was about to share this same link … very nice compilation of all the major players.

  • Mandar

    So clear vision and execution. Also very crisp analysis and learning for the next generations. Thanks a lot.