Social PLM and CRM - Dassault Systèmes and Netvibes (Under the Exalead Brand)

The voice of the customer (VOC) concept has been around for decades, but the Internet and social media technologies have finally enabled it to its fullest degree. We have all heard of (and perhaps even contributed to) customers venting their anger or expressing their delight with some vendor’s service or some product’s characteristics and performance via online forums.

A company’s ability to spot market trends in a timely way and find competitive info such as good or bad sentiments about its products and brands should go all the way back to the design department (and its suppliers).

Dassault V6

Over the last few years, Dassault Systèmes, a leading provider of product development software solutions, has evolved its V6 (Version 6) product lifecycle management (PLM) platform by incorporating input from many of its customers. In developing its V6 software architecture, platform, and applications, the company saw the following five key demand drivers supporting the evolution of its software:

  1. Sustainable innovation – Companies seek to maximize the use of their intellectual assets to sustain innovation (see Kurt Chen’s 2010 blog post for more details on sustainable innovation).

  2. Mass customization – The end consumer is at the center of the innovation process.

  3. Explosion of structured and unstructured data – The growing digitalization of industry creates a wealth of product-related information that must be harvested and unlocked.

  4. CollaborationThere is a growing imperative for more frequent, global, and  ad hoc collaboration throughout the lifecycle of physical goods from idea to delivery.

  5. 3D tools as a new media – Multiple opportunities for new software applications have been created in all types of businesses and users.

The biggest advancement in V6 is the introduction of an object-based approach to manage product design data. Other than Dassault Systèmes, no other major PLM and/or computer aided design (CAD) player has achieved this feat: Dassault’s previous V5 platform and all of the other current market offerings are document-based instead, which is more rigid and pedestrian. In contrast, on the V6 platform, all major Dassault Systèmes’ brands and applications (i.e., CATIA, SIMULIA, DELMIA, and ENOVIA) are based on a single data model through the company’s Virtual Product Management (VPM) engine.

Product Design of the Future

While competitors and pundits will point out to the inevitable issue of connectivity and backward compatibility (indeed, at most larger companies there are hodgepodges of PLM and CAD systems), Dassault Systèmes believes that 3-D "lifelike" experience represents how product design will be (and should be) done in the future. Dassault Systèmes’ unwavering belief is that virtual worlds can improve the real world.

Along those futuristic lines, the company has introduced software applications that now form part of what it refers as “Universal Services.” The role of these services is to enable customers to re-use and leverage the digital content created with Dassault Systèmes' PLM and CAD software solutions. As defined, these applications can be deployed and used by a wide range of non-engineering users including businesses, individuals (e.g., architects, space planners, consumers, etc.), educational institutions, and society at large.

For example, Dassault Systèmes’ customers are looking to design not only the safest, greenest, and smartest vehicle, but also the desired, valuable customer experience suiting each market need. The vendor wants to help them move from focusing on vehicle attributes (e.g., horsepower, revs per minute, etc.) to vehicle experience (i.e., the car runs smoothly, is “peppy,” handles sharp road curves, etc.).

In other words, Dassault Systèmes is trying to look at the world through the eyes of the end customers. The company hopes that the recently espoused “3D Experience” platform will help end-users create winning consumer experiences. These services include 3DVIA, for realistic 3D (“lifelike”) experiences, Exalead, for intelligent search and search-based applications, and 3DSwYm for online collaboration and social innovation.

The traditional lion’s share of the market and highest adoption of PLM and CAD solutions has been in the discrete industries such as automotive, aerospace & defense (A&D), heavy equipment, industrial machinery, and high-tech & electronics. But these solutions are now being readily adopted by a new set of industrial verticals such as medical devices, consumer packaged goods (CPG), shipbuilding, energy generation & utilities, and architecture, engineering & construction (AEC).

The adoption growth rates in these sectors reflect the trend of emerging broadened design communities that enable both professional and non-professional designers to engage and exchange concepts and designs. 3D modeling, visualization, animation, walkthroughs, and other virtual experiences have reached states where entire virtual environments can be created that represent not only products, but, say, the retail stores and shelves. Look for a separate article on more details on Dassault  Systèmes’ 3DVIA brand.

3DSwYm – for Online Collaboration and Social Innovation

3DSwYm (standing for “See what you mean”) is Dassault’s online solution for collaboration and social (community) innovation. The goal of 3DSwYm is to enable people and businesses of any size to unleash the power of communities to collaborate and innovate simply and instantly by creating their own complete cloud-based communities and ecosystems for social innovation.

Employees, partners, suppliers, consumers, and any other stakeholders, can become active participants in the innovation process, extending and enriching the innovation ecosystem. Participants can network, explore ideas, share content, and form virtual projects and experiences spontaneously, all via online communities, in a safe and secure Web environment.

In other words,  Dassault Systèmes is offering 3DSwYm as a version of Jive Software, Yammer, or Socialtext in the virtual product design space. The capability of companies to create their private design communities, and for teams to have realistic 3D experiences (before touching the product in reality) should be a catalyst for innovation, enabling any enterprise stakeholder to participate in the innovation process and contribute to drive value for the end consumer.

Monica Menghini, recently appointed Executive Vice President (EVP), Industry, Marketing and Corporate Communications at Dassault  Systèmes, said the following:
“The way enterprises work internally and externally will change significantly in the next coming decades. Therefore, our objective is to provide our clients with a powerful platform, which uses the universal language of 3D and the Web as the user interface, to help them to connect the dots for a game-changing increase in end-user value.”

Exalead - Information Search Capabilities

Consistent with Dassault  Systèmes’ understanding of the importance of harnessing and re-using product development data, the company acquired Exalead during 2010. While this move might have caused some consternation (and perhaps even ridicule) by the company’s competitors at the time, Dassault Systèmes has since been vindicated by HP and Oracle’s similar moves and forking out hefty money amounts to acquire Autonomy and Endeca, respectively (while Microsoft had previously acquired FAST Search).

With the acquisition of Exalead, the company has not only significantly expanded its internal search capabilities technology (i.e., ENOVIA no longer needs to rely on embedding Autonomy), but it also acquired a search-based infrastructure for the development of applications designed to optimize search and the use of search results. In addition, the Dassault  Systèmes now also markets and sells search-based applications on a stand-alone basis.

Exalead’s technology offers a platform for search and search-based applications designed to optimize search and the utilization of these search-based results. The technology enables companies to undertake intuitive, search-based applications to help them access critical information whether from internal or external sources. In other words, Exalead’s applications combine the sophisticated search, access, and reporting typically associated with relational databases with the speed, scalability, and simplicity of the Web.

With Exalead, companies are able to conduct searches of information, both externally from the Internet and internally, across both structured and unstructured data. Its contextual configured search capabilities enable companies to access information in a filtered and organized manner, and to conduct searches using multi-criteria (as companies do every day in their decision-making). Exalead’s flagship product, CloudView, provides a unified platform for information search, access, and reporting as well as an infrastructure platform for search-based applications.

Netvibes – Social Monitoring and Intelligence

To further enrich its 3D Experience platform, in February 2012, Dassault  Systèmes acquired Netvibes, an Internet-based platform that delivers a holistic snapshot of key information related to ‘my company’ or ‘my personal interest.’ The product offers an easy and fast way to create personalized dashboards for real-time monitoring, social analytics, knowledge sharing, and decision support. Netvibes helps Fortune 500 brands such as the Coca-Cola Company and the US Department of Energy (DoE) or advertising agencies like Digitas and Universal McCann to monitor, analyze, and understand everything inside and outside their company in real-time with dashboard intelligence, easily connecting critical information for better decision-making.

All companies today face the challenge of adapting to the increasing speed and volume of information coming in real-time from multiple enterprise systems and the Web. Netvibes allows companies to connect internal enterprise platforms, databases or systems with external cloud apps, social feeds, and live sentiment monitoring to create a real-time dashboard.

Netvibes also helps more than four million people each month to create intelligent dashboards to manage their daily digital lives. This ‘people application’ is a free version of an award-winning, personal dashboard that helps anyone monitor and personalize everything that matters to them from the news, Facebook, Twitter, photos, videos, and an ecosystem of more than 260,000 Web apps via any desktop or device, including iPhone, iPad, and Android.

This versatility has made Netvibes one of the most recognized brands on the Web. Its consumer-friendly usability, scalability, and universal platform openness are key reasons why enterprises rely on Netvibes business solutions to deploy customizable, real-time dashboards for their organizations. For more information on Netvibes’ capabilities, see a dedicated Web page here.

Integrated into Dassault Systèmes’ aforementioned 3D Experience platform, Netvibes is expected to help customers reveal critical information such as consumer sentiment, brand image, or the adherence rate of early adopters. Listening to everything and learning from everyone should allow companies to act in real-time and increase the speed of innovation. Bernard Charlès, President and CEO, Dassault Systèmes, said the following:
“Netvibes is a perfect fit for our 3D Experience platform. It will connect information related to all product, service and user experiences from internal and external data sources, all in real-time and in-context for a better, richer experience and decision-making process. The addition of intelligent information search-based technologies, social innovation capabilities, and realistic 3D virtual experiences made us ready to pioneer a new technological wave: a 3D Experience platform to serve the social enterprise of the 21st century.”

What’s the Vision Here?

I believe that the Exalead and Netvibes acquisitions reflect a great idea and vision by Dassault  Systèmes, at least on paper. As discussed in my recent blog series, without analytics, the value of PLM is diminished, and the PLM system can become just a static vault of data. While business intelligence (BI) is critical, I think that more and more of combined social analytics, monitoring, and guided search type apps will emerge. With traditional history-based BI tools, you must know what you are looking for (based on known data entity relationships), whereas with intelligent search and social listening models one can identify trends that are not readily apparent.

Exalead can search (scour) and pull together all of the relevant sources of info, while Netvibes can then produce a nifty "situation room"-like dashboard. If you could pull info together and then use astute analytic tools on the collected information, you could “continually” merge collections of information to discover issues and patterns that that were not previously “preconfigured” in a database. This would be a virtual world analogy to the enterprise big data issue.

The ability to consolidate information without complex PLM or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system re-configuration projects will be important. As users’ interests and market trends continue to evolve or may be projects-based, one cannot afford the time or cost of a big PLM project time and again. Here are some thoughts by Michael Fauscette in his Enterprise Irregulars blog post and Oleg Shilovitsky in his Beyond PLM blog post.

What Might Come Next

Traditional analytics and BI capabilities have not been Dassault Systèmes’ strongest suit, and hardly anyone would be too terribly surprised if the acquisitive company soon purchases some decent BI company, along  the lines of QlickTech or Jaspersoft (if I dare to speculate). In the ongoing arms race, a solid native BI stack will be important.

Acquisitions affect all of the PLM functionalities and enable Dassault Systèmes’ employees to acquire new skills, creating new opportunities for growth. However, Dassault Systèmes’ revenues still largely come from the company’s “mother” CAD solutions (CATIA and SolidWorks). The situation is similar at all other PLM providers that stem from the CAD world (i.e., PTC, Siemens, and Autodesk): about two third of their revenues come from non-CAD tools, i.e.  non-PLM apps. Additionally, about one fifth of PLM user licenses can be attributed to CAD requirements and users.

After following the shopping sprees of many vendors’  in the past (e.g., Infor, SSA Global, CA, etc.), it is easy for any market analyst to become a little jaded. I think that the desired acquisition targets are often not achieved. Except for the bottom feeders, most software vendors pay big multiple revenue figures for acquired companies, hoping for growth. Unfortunately, post-acquisition growth rates are typically  much lower than anticipated.

Since many large vendors cannot build solutions outside of their core competencies, acquisitions seem to be a more feasible option. By stockpiling all of these “toys,” the company looks innovative and can possibly differentiate the company (or just confuse the competition). While I believe that most vendors get more credit than they deserve, I am still happy to give Dassault Systèmes a pass when it comes to its 3D Experience platform’s blueprint.With the launch of the aforementioned 3DSwYM brand and the acquisition of Internet-based companies such as Exalead and Netvibes, the vendor has become the Social Business Apps thought leader within its 3D Experience platform. Its direct competitors currently rely on loose partnerships and/or Microsoft SharePoint’s social capabilities in this regard.

Dear readers, what are your comments and opinions with regards to this acquisition and to the product development trends? Have 3D virtual store applications, 3D visual logistics applications, and real-time-connected business dashboard apps already changed the way your companies operate? I would certainly be interested in your experiences with PLM and social product design software in general and with Dassault Systèmes and Netvibes in particular.

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