COFES 2009 – Day 3

Keynote: Joel Orr

Joel Orr, Vice President and Chief Visionary of Cyon Research delivered a keynote speech with an interesting title: “Remembering the Future”. The idea here was to remember the future that we had envisioned in the past. Confused? I don’t blame you. That’s Joel Orr for you. I bet he could give therapy to a shrink. This is the 10th COFES and Joel spent some time remembering what it was and what they wanted it to be when they first started it. He reminded us that as engineers we are designing the future every moment of our lives. A couple of quotes to take away:

“Pyramids are things where great people are buried. The same is true for companies with pyramidal structures”.

“Stop focussing for looking for what is not working on your company. Rather focus on what is working and improve it.”

Keynote: Peter Marks

Peter Marks from Design Insight delivered a keynote speech on Blind spotting. Some pretty heavy stuff, but the gist is that the human brain processes only 1% of information consciously. The remain 99% is processed by the unconscious mind. We make most decisions on people and situations using this unconscious mind and is the reason for our unjust bias towards them. These are the blind spots in our mind. This is how I understood it. For all you know it may be something completely different. I am not very good at understanding this heavy stuff.

Discussions and Roundtables – Round 1

Meeting rooms are set up in suites around the pool where people with common interests sit down and discuss an issue that interests them. The topics of discussion were:

Channel Evolution: A discussion on the changing relationship between vendors, their go-to-market partners (the Channel) and their customers.

Collaboration 2020: A discussion on the kind of form collaboration will assume 10 years from now.

Innovating Everywhere – Helping Customers Secure Their Future: A discussion on how the engineering software world can or should help its customers struggling in this current financial crisis by means of innovation.

Is Direct Modeling the Interoperability “Holy Grail”?: A discussion on the role direct modeling will play in solving the interoperability problem. More than a year ago I published a white paper titled “CAD 2.0 – Finally a Solution to the CAD Interoperability Problem” in which I explained how direct modeling was a solution to the vexed problem of CAD interoperability.

Is SharePoint a Game Changer? – A discussion on Microsoft SharePoint and why everyone has a SharePoint Strategy or is working on one. For those who don’t know, SharePoint is a collection of products and software elements that include browser-based collaboration functions, process management modules and a document management platform. There is a view that SharePoint could be a real threat to existing PLM systems.

Jumping the Gap – A discussion on the widening gap between technology leaders (software vendors) and followers (their customers). Why do customers take time to implement new technologies invented by the vendors?

Turning BIM Towards a Handoff-Focused Data Model – A discussion on the interoperability issues plaguing the BIM world.

User Group Leadership Roundtable – A meeting of representatives of major user groups like AUGI, COE, PLM World, PTC/USER and SWUGN to discuss common issues.

During the time of these Discussions and Roundtables there were Vendor Appointments that COFES organizers arranged for attendees. I could not attend any of the roundtables as four vendors had set up meetings with me, one after another. These meetings are one on one, just you and the vendor. In my case, the vendors were PTC, Autodesk, Nemetschek and Microsoft.

Vendor Appointment – PTC

Brian Shepherd, Executive Vice President (Product Development) of PTC along with three other PTC executives briefed me about Pro/ENGINEER, CoCreate and the PTC strategy for them. Although Brian appreciates my attempts at doing my due diligence with regard to Pro/ENGINEER, he does not completely agree with my findings, some of which I have been writing on this blog. I will be writing on these issues at length after my visit to PTC Headquarters in Needham this coming Thursday, but all I will say now is that we are going to see more of parametrics in CoCreate and more of direct editing in Pro/ENGINEER. This is in complete contrast to what PTC executives told me at PTC World in Mumbai. I get the feeling that this PTC visit is going to be very interesting.

Vendor Appointment – Autodesk

Brenda Discher, VP, Industry Marketing (Manufacturing Industry Group), Hilde Sevens, Senior Product Line Manager (Manufacturing Solutions Division) of Autodesk and I sat outside their hotel suite where they presented to me the Autodesk vision of Digital Prototyping. I have written about Digital Prototyping on this blog in the past. But I would like to let you know about something that was considered classified a while back when I attended the Autodesk DevDays in Bangalore a few months ago. It’s called AIRMax and it stands for AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit and 3ds Max. The idea here is to have a unified system wherein a user is able to use Autodesk software throughout the design chain. I hope to write about AIRMax at length. I do not have enough information on it yet and do not with to speculate. Watch this space.

Vendor Appointment – Nemetschek

I had lunch with Sean Flaherty (CEO) and Jeremy Powell (Product Marketing Manager) of Nemetschek where they introduced me to the company and its products. I must admit that I do not know much about Nemetschek and its flagship product VectorWorks, but I have promised myself to change that in due course of time. Nemetschek is very excited about its adoption of the Parasolid Geometry kernel from Siemens PLM. This means that entities (walls, windows, etc.) in Vector Works are pure solids, just like any other MCAD solid modeling system and can be modified as such. Parametric modeling is being introduced as well, which should make the product extremely powerful. I intend to take VectorWorks for a test drive and at the same time, get more familiar with the AEC industry and its products.

Vendor Appointment – Microsoft

This appointment kept me guessing till the last minute. I kept wondering why on earth would Microsoft want to meet me. As it turns out at the hotel suite, Peter Schroer, President of Aras Corporation, was waiting to introduce me to something I knew absolutely nothing about. Aras is a PLM software provider that turned its business model upside down in January 2007. As Peter put it, “I fired my sales staff and made my software open source“. I thought to myself, “Wow! I sure hope I don’t have to do that one day“. Here is why Aras did it. They found that the cost of selling their PLM solution to companies was way too large. So one fine day Aras went open source and began charging for implementation and support. They changed the business model “to grow faster” and in the first year their revenue increased 62%. The reason Peter was sitting in the Microsoft Suite was because his PLM solution is built around Windows Server, SQL Server and SharePoint.

I really like these Vendor appointments where vendors request COFES organizers to arrange one on one meetings with peopl
e they find interesting. Now I have been fed with just the right amount of information to start investigating these companies and their products. The CAD, PLM, AEC, MCAD and whatever acronym you may find out there is just so large that it is almost impossible to know and understand everything. I am sure as hell going to try.

Discussions and Roundtables – Round 2

The Discussions and Roundtables in round 2 were:

Abstract Modeling and Optimization: The Next Wunderkinds of CAE: A discussion on abstract modelling, basically a modelling technique where you play around with meshes and fiddle width polygons. This is a good example of Abstract Modeling in Cinema 4D.

Blurring Corporate Boundaries: A discussion on “coopetition”, a cross between “cooperation” and “competition”, basically how vendors license and use each others technologies in competing products and the implications of doing so.

Dealing with the Harsh Realities of our Customers: A discussion on whether vendors are listening to their customers. Are vendors actually solving their customers’ specific problems?

Leveraging Gaming and Social Networking in Business: A discussion on how Gaming and Social Networking can be used in business.

Putting a Stake in the Ground: Visions of Future Interfaces: A discussion on how today’s futuristic thinking play a role in providing a vision for stuff that we will actually end up doing in the future.

The Next Big Thing – Making Current Building Inventory Less Inefficient: A discussion on how the operation of buildings, as opposed to automobiles, is a major sustainability concern, especially since they were built at a time when energy conservation was not considered a serious issue.

Where AEC and MFG Meet – A discussion on the increasing blurring of the line dividing the AEC and Manufacturing segments as both sides begin to use each others software tools to get their job done.

I attended the roundtable on “Leveraging Gaming and Social Networking in Business”. Sparks flew all around the room. All throughout COFES 2009, I heard just about everyone use the word “Twitter”. I believe there are three kinds of people (1) people who think they get it (2) people who don’t know whether they get it, and (3) people who don’ t get it. I belong to the second. The room was filled with people from all three categories. So you can imagine what it must have been. We also discussed other forms of social networking such as Second Life. Finally a wise man who sat silently in the corner for the entire discussion got up and suggested that we start using fax machines.

Congress – The Business of Design and Engineering: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

This was basically an open forum with the aim of discussing current issues and explore future opportunities. I missed a major part of this because Chris Williams was giving me a demo of Vuuch in the lobby. More information here. The congress discussion was about the economy. As expected the discussion was very lively. At one point someone stood up and said that nobody in the room knew a damn thing about the economy and when it would get fixed. But I guess the telling moment was when one very wise old man stood up and very calmly said that the people who were going to end up actually solving the problem were all seated in that room. There was a momentary silence as this simple yet profound statement sank into everyone seated there. Incidentally this person was Jack Ring of Kennen Technologies LLC, the same guy who yesterday gave the presentation titled “Transforms and Transformations”, the one that went right over my head. But I am pretty sure that what he articulated today was absorbed by everyone in that room and they understood exactly what he meant.

Dinner & Awards

After dinner, there was an award ceremony for the and CAD Society awards. The CAD Society is a not-for-profit industry association with the goal of fostering a community and encouraging open communication among those who make their living within the CAD industry including AEC, mechanical, manufacturing, and GIS. Every year they felicitate people for their outstanding achievements. This year Richard Doyle of SolidWorks received the 2009 CAD Society Community Award for his role in building a vibrant and open community for SolidWorks users worldwide. Bill McClure and Dan Staples of Siemens PLM Software were joint winners of the 2009 CAD Society Leadership Award for their vital role in developing Solid Edge. Richard Sowar, co-founder of Spatial, was the winner of the 2009 CAD Society Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in development of the ACIS 3D geometric kernel, which forms the backbone of a large CAD system today, 20 years after it was first introduced in 1989. The award for Innovation went to Chris Williams for Vuuch.

In his acceptance speech, Richard Doyle said something that I am not going to forget in a hurry: “You cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone using 140 characters or shake the hand of an avatar”.