SolidWorks World 2010 (Day 4) – Cloudy SolidWorks

After the general session there was a press conference where the press asked SolidWorks and Dassault Systemes executives questions. As it turned out all the questions were about SolidWorks on the cloud (hereinafter referred to as “cloudy SolidWorks”) and nothing else. Seems like skepticism is running high in the media. Users are already skeptical and if the media adds to it, adoption of cloudy SolidWorks will only be more difficult. Little wonder that the questions put forth by the press were patiently answered by the executives. Although personally, I was not too happy with all the answers. Some were just incomplete and confusing.

I asked a couple of questions that affect my business. I asked how third party add-ins would be deployed in a cloud environment. Currently we ship add-in DLL’s which are installed on the user’s computer. When SolidWorks runs in the cloud, are third party developers going to deploy the add-in DLL’s on the servers in the cloud or on the end user’s machine as we do it now? I also asked whether add-in developers would need to piggy back on the licensing mechanism of SolidWorks or be free to license our add-ins in a manner that we found fit like how we do now. Austin O’Malley, Executive Vice President of R&D answered my questions. Austin mentioned something about an API that would be provided to add-in developers that would enable them to develop add-ins for cloudy SolidWorks. Currently, I am having a hard time imagining such an API and what it will and will not be able to do. Regarding licensing, Austin said something which probably suggests that add-in developers would need to use the licensing mechanism of SolidWorks. This makes sense because users will need to log into cloudy SolidWorks and not just fire it up by clicking an icon on their desktop like they do it now.

Later after the press conference I asked Austin when add-in developers would get a hold of cloudy SolidWorks so that we could start porting our add-ins to it. For some users add-ins are critical and if you simply gave them cloudy SolidWorks without the add-ins they need, they will simply not be able to use it. Austin pointed me to someone else at SolidWorks regarding this. I intend to follow it up.

While replying to questions something that Jeff Ray said caught my attention. Jeff was replying to a question whether users will be given a choice to go on the cloud or stay offline. Jeff gave a long winding reply explaining the benefits of cloud computing and ended by saying that the user will be offered both options. He ended by saying, “We have never forced anything on our users and never will. Ultimately our customers will decide how fast they will migrate.

I found the last part particularly interesting. Since we ran out of time I could not get the clarification that I was looking for. So after the press conference ended I met Jeff and asked him, “I couldn’t help but notice that you said that ultimately customers would decide ‘how fast’ they would migrate and not ‘whether’ they would migrate. You also said in another reply that you had invested a lot into this and there was no turning back. You likened it to standing in the middle of a bridge and setting fire to one side. This means that by some point in time your customers have to move with you to the other side of the bridge, whether they want to do it or not.” Jeff replied, “Yes, that is the way it has always been“. I am not quite sure what to make of this reply. Or maybe I caught the bull by the tail here or maybe Jeff did. Or maybe there was no bull to catch at all in the first place.

Someone asked an interesting question about how resellers fit into this whole cloud scene. Jeff Ray replied, “Resellers will be very excited since the cloud will break down the barriers to entry. Yes, there will be some disruption in the cash flow, but our resellers are extremely healthy“. I wonder if you can see the same paradox in this statement as I am seeing. Firstly the fact that resellers “will be” excited implies that they are currently not. Truth be told, apart from the CAD vendors, nobody else appears to be excited about cloud computing. And somehow I cannot see a happy connection between the health of a reseller and a disruption in his cash flow. Frankly, I don’t think I understood this one at all.

When replying to a question, Bernard Charles said, “Cloud is far less expensive”. However, when asked about how cloudy SolidWorks would be priced, we were told that it was not decided yet. So I am curious to know how they have concluded that cloudy SolidWorks will be “far less expensive” than non cloudy SolidWorks when they claim not to have done the calculations themselves. If you are going to lie then at least do it properly. Say something like ‘our pricing is confidential’. The media is used to listening stuff like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually feel that these guys know what they are doing. Otherwise they would not have given us the demo and made such a big hue and cry about the cloud at this point in time. Just that the precious little information that they are giving us only goes to add to our skepticism. For example, I have heard Jeff Ray say this twice at SolidWorks World, “The most compelling driver for SolidWorks on the cloud is its lower price.” I believe this is a fundamental marketing blunder. Basically, they are trying to sell the idea of cloud computing using price as a major factor but are not giving even a hint of how much cheaper it will be. How is someone supposed to get a sense of the benefit of something when he cannot quantify it.

In all these four days of SolidWorks World, I must have heard the word cloud a million times. But not once did I hear a dollar or cent amount mentioned as an example. I did not see a single chart or graph showing a financial benefit. Something like, “If you use cloudy SolidWorks for 8 bours a day for a year you end up paying X. But an annual subscription costs Y. X is less than Y. So cloudy SolidWorks is cheaper.” Make figures up it you have to. Nobody is going to sue you.

From the little that I know about marketing, you normally take your USP and build an iron clad case around it in order to drive the message into your target audience. I this case the USP is price and they are not giving even vague (let alone useful) information about it.

I do not have anything against SolidWorks on the cloud. I believe eventually everything will be on the cloud or somewhere else. My problem is the way SolidWorks has gone about marketing this idea of SolidWorks on the cloud for the past four days.

I would really like to write something nice about cloudy SolidWorks. But I need to be convinced first. As of now everything looks cloudy.