The Dassault Systemes Success Story – Part 7

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As for CATIA, we needed to give a name to our new company, at that time a subsidiary of Dassault Aviation. It took only a few days to decide on a name, Dassault Systèmes. I sketched our first logo.

We launched the company operations in September 1981.  I was the President and 20 engineers of my team in Dassault Aviation moved along with me to Dassault Systèmes. A few people preferred to stay with Dassault Aviation because they believed that we were engaging in a too risky adventure. Charles Edelstenne was the Chairman, a position that he has still today.

Within a few months, we earned our first customers: Honda in Japan, Mercedes and BMW in Germany, SNECMA (now SAFRAN) in France and Grumman Aerospace in USA. It was a challenge for several reasons:

  1. The globalization that we experience today did not exist back then. Our customers in Germany and in Japan didn’t speak English. We ourselves spoke English very poorly. Flying to Japan was an adventure, a 20 hours flight with a stop in Anchorage (Alaska) and no English signs in Tokyo. Even a telephone call between Paris and New York was an event. And of course there was no email and no Internet. We unknowingly became the actors of globalization.
  2. The industry was still heavily using 2D drawings as its standard for design.
  3. We knew the aircraft industry well. But we didn’t know anything about automotive or any other industries.

So how did we achieve success? From our experience within Dassault Aviation, we knew that we would face a strong resistance at a time when all the CAD/CAM vendors were selling mainly 2D CAM/CAM solutions. Therefore we decided to escape from selling functions, features and discussing detailed requirements with our prospects. We decided to sell a complete business transformation – “a revolutionary new way to design and manufacture”.

With such a strategy, we escaped from fighting in a battlefield dominated by our strong competitors when we were still a start-up company. By selling a business transformation, we talked at a higher level of the organization of our customers, most of the time at the CEO and CTO level. And we were perceived more like a partner than a vendor.

Our challenge was to demonstrate very quickly dramatic innovation, with short term benefits on cycle time and quality, and mid-term benefits on cost. We established a close relationship with the customers to help them implement the business transformation, with major impacts on their way to design and build, instead of implementing only a new tool. And of course, we tried hard to meet all of our commitments on time to generate the confidence in our capabilities to execute.

We also learned fundamental lessons to manage our software development plan:

  1. A software product should not be specified only by analyzing functions and features with customers or competition analysis. That is a “me too” strategy and you run the risk of developing customers specific products instead of market specific products.
  2. Mixing innovation through research and new technologies, with a good understanding of each industry segment processes was the only way to define the specifications of the future successful software products.

Part 8 >>