This article was first published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Prime
In his own words, Bernard Charlès is “obsessed with 3D.” When he took the helm at Dassault Systèmes in 1995, Charlès worked with his friend Alan Mulally – the recently-retired CEO of Ford was then an executive VP with Boeing – on the first-ever digitally designed plane. The pair used Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA 3D design software to create the Boeing 777. At the time, he says that many thought they were crazy, but they did it. Nearly 20 years on and Dassault Systèmes is entirely devoted to its position as a ‘3DEXPERIENCE Company’, with Charlès’ passion, energy and vision underpinning the organisation’s strong culture of innovation.
The day before we spoke, Charlès had delivered a keynote address to around 1,000 attendees at the company’s first global 3DEXPERIENCE Partner Forum in Paris. He was sharing his excitement about the ‘experience economy’. “We’ve reached a very special moment in time, not least because the economy is moving away from being product- and services-centric towards being experience-centric,” he explains. “Consumers and businesses are now looking at the value of the user experience versus the value of the product or service itself. This is profound. It is challenging the way that innovation works.”
It is this shift that led Dassault Systèmes and its partners to position themselves as new enablers to help companies change the way they innovate. “Across each world of the economy – whether you design, produce, sell or promote – there is a different set of transformations happening, driven in particular by technological advances,” says Charlès. “We at Dassault Systèmes have created an innovation platform for companies and people to take advantage of. And now we’re working with our partners to deliver a new engagement experience to help our clients succeed.”
When Dassault Systèmes made the announcement in 2012 that it planned to evolve into a ‘3DEXPERIENCE Company’ over the coming decade, Charlès admits that a lot of what he said they wanted to achieve was aspirational. “We wanted to create a new ecosystem with all the elements in place to make our 3D vision a reality, but we knew we weren’t ready yet; we knew it would take time,” he says. But their pace of change has surprised even Charlès himself. “Two years later and I would not have thought in my wildest dreams that we would have customers implementing industry solutions such as MyStore, PerfectShelf and MyCollection. I am amazed with the progress we’ve made!”
From Audi to BNP Paribas to celio*, businesses across multiple industries worldwide are choosing to put their trust in Dassault Systèmes to deliver truly amazing customer experiences. “In London, you can go to Audi City – the world’s first digital interactive car showroom – and every virtual thing you see in that showroom is powered by Dassault Systèmes software,” says Charlès. “And we could not have predicted in 2012, for example, that we would be announcing an innovation programme with BNP Paribas Securities Services to enhance its product management and accelerate product development using Dassault Systèmes software.”
At the heart of the company’s success is the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform – “technology that’s different from CAD, CAM and other traditional application portfolios that have dominated the market until now,” according to Charlès. Available on premise and in public or private clouds, the platform combines 3D modelling, simulation and information intelligence applications to enable companies to build differentiating 3D experiences in a highly collaborative manner.
Launched in February 2014, the latest version, Release 2014x, is proving that the platform has already reached a level of maturity required to power the most complex designs and operations. “Today, an architect or designer anywhere in the world can use a Surface Pro 3 to do all their designs online, in the cloud, using Dassault Systèmes software,” says Charlès. “A manufacturer can create a virtual 3D model of a plane and a retailer can digitally plan an entire store layout – it’s truly phenomenal what people can accomplish using our technology.”
Anyone keeping an eye on industry news would struggle to miss the raft of acquisition announcements that Dassault Systèmes has made in recent months – Exalead, Netvibes, Apriso, Accelrys, Realtime Technology – the list goes on. The company has also just bought Quintiq, a supply chain and operations planning and optimisation software provider, for €250 million.
“The acquisitions and developments we have made and are continuing to make are game changers,” says Charlès. Besides enriching the company’s product offering, Dassault Systèmes’ acquisitions are also enabling it to diversify and move into industries and solution areas it previously wouldn’t have served. GEOVIA, for example, which is built around the Gemcom acquisition announced back in April 2012, is aimed primarily at the mining industry. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve purposefully tried to expand our portfolio,” adds Charlès. “What we have done though is to look at the world in a different way, and that has taken us on a new path.”
He explains – without a hint of arrogance – that nobody else in the industry is doing what his company is doing at present. “This is because we have made the bet that the world is going to be different,” he says. “Everything we do supports our new school of thought, which is that everything should be seen through the eyes of usage in the age of experience.”
When asked where he believes the industry is heading, Charlès is convinced that cloud and mobile are game changers. “I think the real beauty of the cloud is going to be appreciated when you see the powerful apps you can run on it,” he says. “We can use the cloud to develop apps that have richer capabilities than ever before, and they can be offered at a price point that was previously unachievable. And then there are the social user experiences we have today, where you can share anything you want – whether it be a 3D design of your home, office, or an entire manufacturing process. No matter where you are in the world, you can click on a link, type in a password and there it is! This is where the economic and social impact of the cloud and mobility is coming.”
And, like IT, which is moving towards a service- rather than a product-centric model, Charlès believes the future of manufacturing is heading the same way too. “The future is manufacturing as a service,” he says. “The logistics of the world are going to change, not just thanks to 3D printing, but also the internet of things. It is about providing manufactured products that are assembled at home or where you consume them. Welcome to the new world!”
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