The Dassault Systemes Cloud Strategy – Part 2

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When I was introduced to computers, one of the first things explained to me was the concept of files and folders. From then on I began to organize everything I did in that way. I take my files wherever I go. I even have a few important files encrypted and stored on the data cards of my mobile phones. At one time even my key chain had a flash drive attached to it. Maybe not everyone is as paranoid as me when it comes to their data and intellectual property. But my point is, to an extent, we all like to have complete and sometimes sole control over our data and IP.

Things take a different color when it comes to the data and IP of an organization. Individuals don’t own the data and IP, rather the organization does. There are rules and access rights set up so that only the right people get the right access to the right data.

But what if we lived in a world where there were no files? Before you think that I have gone off my rocker, go ask a CATIA V6 user whether he saves his design data to a file. He doesn’t! Why? Because CATIA V6 does not save to files. It saves directly to ENOVIA, Dassault’s PLM solution. Even the “File” menu has been renamed to “PLM Access”. Models are not stored in files anymore. Rather they are objects in a database connected to each other at various levels.

Another example is 3D VIA Shape. This is one of the FAQ’s:

Question: Can I save models to disk?

Answer: No, you cannot save models to disk. The publish command of 3DVIA Shape stores the model in your account online only.

So as you can see Dassault Systemes is pushing people to a file-free world. Here I may not be necessarily using the word “pushing” is a negative way. Human beings, be their very nature, are highly resistant to change. So if you give people the option to do something the old way as well as the new way, they will almost always continue to do things the old way. Why? Because if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it. And they are perfectly entitled to do so. Unless they see some immediate and significant advantages in switching to the new way, they simply won’t. This can be quite challenging for companies looking to introduce new technologies and work flows, for their own good or for the good of of their customers or both. Some companies work with their customers patiently and try “nudging” them instead of “pushing” them. For example, AutoCAD still comes with the classic menu interface along with the ribbon. Others simply remove the old option altogether. Microsoft completely trashed the menu in Office 2007 with the result that everyone is now using the ribbon, whether they like it or not. As far as Microsoft is concerned the problem is solved.

In the same way, anyone using CATIA V6 and 3D VIA Shape is now going to start seeing less and less files in their work flow, whether they like it or not. It is my prediction that a not so very distant future version of SolidWorks will stop saving parts, assemblies and drawings to .SLDPRT, .SLDASM and .SLDRW files. Instead SolidWorks will directly save to SolidWorks PLM, a PLM solution for SolidWorks based on ENOVIA, which was announced at SolidWorks World 2010. “Open” will be replaced by “Search” and “Save” will be replaced by “Publish”, just like how it has happened for CATIA V6 and 3D VIA Shape.

The concepts of files on a local hard disk and data stored in the cloud are diametrically opposite to each other. Even before you start thinking of doing CAD on the cloud, you need to first completely decimate the concept of files that you have lived by all your life. I believe this will be the most difficult part and no amount of sweet talk from Dassault Systemes or SolidWorks is going to convince their customers to give up their beloved files. The only way to get users to give up files is to do something as drastic as abolishing the file option completely. And as you can see, Dassault Systemes has already put that plan into action. I am not sure how CATIA V6 users are taking this change. However, I guess for them it will not be much of a change because most of them were probably saving to ENOVIA anyways. 3D VIA Shape started out with saving (or rather publishing) to a remote server. So not many 3D VIA Shape users should have a problem doing that. It will be most interesting to see how SolidWorks users react when they find out that they cannot save to files anymore. I am almost sure that will happen. I mean if Dassault Systemes could force CATIA V6 users to give up files, I don’t think SolidWorks users stand much of a chance.

A small side note. Personally, I believe that storing design data as objects in a database is far better than having it distributed over files, for a number of reasons, especially if you are collaborating with other people using the same software. Imagine having each contact, email, appointment, note and task in Outlook (or whichever email system that you use) as a separate file organized into different folders on your hard drive. Although I guess you could still do your job, Outlook would be far more efficient if it had all the data in one Outlook PST file. Same goes with design data as well. In fact, that’s the whole point of PDM and PLM systems.

In the next part of this series I will explain why I think adoption of the cloud becomes much easier and even desirable when people give up saving their design data in files and start saving it as objects in a database.

Part 3 >>