How Dassault Systemes May Just Change The World – Part 1
by Olivier Blanchard | April 5, 2017
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A couple of weeks ago, I introduced you to the tech company behind (almost) everything: Dassault Systemes. In that article, I tried to give you a pretty succinct but thorough snapshot of what Dassault Systemes does, the scale at which it does it, and why what it does is important. If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out now because this post is a direct follow-up, and you will want to have the basic company background nailed down to be able to fully appreciate what I am going to share here today.

Ready? Okay. Here we go.

At the end of my first post – in what may turn out to grow into a series – I mentioned Dassault Systemes’ upcoming Design In The Age of Experience Worldwide Conference in Milan (coinciding with Milan Design Week, by the way, which is probably not an accident). Well, “upcoming” no longer applies. I flew to Milan so you wouldn’t have to, and as it turns out, after just half a day of keynotes, product demos, and the friendliest press conference I’ve ever attended at an event of this type, I already have a ton to talk about.

The good news is that I need a few days to digest some of what I took in today, so this post won’t accidentally turn into a 20,000 page essay on the shifting paradigms of experience design. The “bad” news is that I won’t be able to get to everything I want to talk about today, so you may have to wait a few days before I can properly cover it all. For now though, here is a recap of some of today’s most valuable insights from the event, in order, so the story they tell when you string them together will kind of tell itself.

1. When I say that Dassault Systemes is the tech company behind (almost) everything, this is what I mean:

A few data points to put Dassault Systeme’s relevance to Digital Transformation and business technology in general in perspective:

  • Every 2.5 seconds, and airplane takes off with an engine that was designed with Dassault Systemes technologies.
  • Over 17,000 fashion, home, and lifestyle brands use Dassault Systemes technologies to design their products.
  • More than 2/3 of the world’s consumer electronics are designed using Dassault Systemes technologies.
  • More than 90% of the cars around the world are designed using Dassault Systemes technologies.
  • 100% of the future of transportation is being invented on Dassault Systemes technologies.

Another way to look at it is how it was put to me over coffee: Dassault Systemes is basically a 3 billion-Euro company with 1.3 trillion Euros worth of business investments relying on its portfolio of technologies.

… and those numbers may be about to get a lot bigger.

2. Why this is important:

First, the meta half of this argument: Humanity isn’t just evolving and getting more technically savvy. There is more to it than that. Humanity has reached an inflection point: we are now in the process of collectively designing the future of the entire planet, because we can, and because we must.

  1. The technology at our disposal finally allows us to do this. (Opportunity)
  2. Overpopulation, stressed ecosystems and dangerously over-capacity systems of systems are creating a need for radical new ideas and effective, scalable solutions around the globe. (Need)
  3. These problems are only going to get worse. They are not going to level off or hit a wall. (Urgency and scale.)

As a result, we will build more infrastructure in the next 40 years than in the past 4,000, says Parag Khanna, Managing Partner at Hybrid Reality PTE LTD. Parag, who gave one of the most effective data-rich presentations I have seen in recent months, spent a lot of time talking about the evolution of networks, why we should rethink our approach to geography, how the rise of mega-cities will drive a new age of innovation, economic potential, and political leadership around the world. In his words, cities carry the momentum of innovation. Why? The short version is that cities think differently from countries: they are more connected, more innovative, more culturally diverse. They tend to attract enormous amounts of capital and enormous amounts of talent, and they give them more opportunities to work side by side. That creates a melting pot of opportunity.

Two mega trends jumped out at me from his presentation: The first is the rise of megacities around the world, and their transformation into innovation and technology development clusters. The second is that over the next twenty years, China and Europe will grow together on a massive scale (see the two bars on the left of the graphic below), and this will have a massive impact on global infrastructure spending.

Here are some of the future innovation clusters Parag mapped out for the audience, in case you are interested in seeing where innovation will come from next:

Second, the practical half of this argument: What does any of this have to do with a 3D design company? Well, when you’re the company whose tools are used by the majority of designers and engineers around the world to build and invent things, everything: Buildings, roads, sewers, smart grids, public spaces, smart cities, autonomous vehicles, public transportation, health services, connectivity, new materials, new collaborative models… if it can be dreamed up, it can be modeled. And if it can be modeled, it can be built. That infrastructure spending and growth Parag dove into in his keynote: guess whose solutions most of it will be designed with.

To put that in perspective, one of the first things I heard when I sat down to listen to the day’s introductory remarks was this: One of the principal goals of every designer is and has always been to shorten the distance between the imagined and the real. Today, this can be translated into shortening the distance between the virtual and the real.

Forget about digital transformation for a moment, and take in the bigger picture: What will design look like in the future? We’re already seeing it: Powerful and intuitive virtual tools that allow designers to solve problems and shorten the distance between the imagined and the real down to zero. What will it take to be a design leader in the future? Being able to take on design challenges confidently, effectively, and fluently. Again, that brings us back to tools. Da Vinci had his brushes and drawing utensils to translate vision into reality. Tomorrow’s designers will have powerful design solutions and fully customizable three-dimensional virtual environments in which to build, create, model and test anything they want. And when I say “tomorrow,” I mean today. Tomorrow is already here. The inflection point I mentioned earlier isn’t something that is coming in a few years. We have already reached it. We’re there.

So the recap here is this: The world is facing serious challenges, we are witnessing the dawn of a golden age of infrastructure projects that aim to solve these problems, and in so doing, will transform the world we live in. And Dassault Systemes is the company that will make most of that possible.


3. Very young entrepreneurs are taking on very established industries, and they will win.

I couldn’t help but notice that some of the keynote speakers and panelists looked very young: Meron Gribetz, Meta‘s CEO; Edward Stilson, Design Engineer for Joby Aviation; Monika Mikac, Rimac‘s COO; and Jon Friedman, CEO and co-founder of Freight Farms, all looked to be well under 40. In no particular order, they are taking on the aviation industry, the computer industry, the automotive industry, and farming. Just like that.

Why are they doing this? First, because they want to. They see an opportunity to make these industries better, to lead them forward, out of the past and toward a cooler, brighter future. Second, because they can. What makes them think they can? Simple: Access to platforms and technologies that will allow them to. That’s it. What they’re doing isn’t simple, but how they got here is.

And so here we are: Edward talked about Joby working on reducing travel times between San Francisco and Marin down to 5 minutes (from 80 minutes) with his company’s flying vehicles. Monika talked about the future of electric sports cars, and how separate motors and controls for each wheel will result in unlimited performance customization. Jon talked about using data and agile design software to reinvent agriculture for an overpopulated world, and help NASA get better at growing plants (presumably so we can colonize space). Meron talked about designing with SolidWorks entirely in AR and VR environments: no computer screens… which leads us to my next observation, but first, let me finish this one: Very young entrepreneurs and designers)are growing up in a world in which world-changing design tools are readily available to them, and the list of human problems to solve isn’t getting any shorter. Do you think for one moment that they aren’t going to use them?

Inflection point.

4. Chasing the ZLC (Zero Learning Curve): We are probably less than a year away from designers being able to create and design with VR and AR solutions in SolidWorks and Catia.

This is a bold thing to say, and if I hadn’t watched Meron Gribetz talk about where he is going with this project, I would have held off on making that prediction. As it stands, Meron has apparently pointed to the bleachers and set his own target: Replacing his designers’ computer screens with VR goggles sometime this year. Whether he succeeds inside of his own self-allotted time frame or not is irrelevant. The fact that he even thinks he can do it tells me that we are months away from this becoming possible. Whether that will translate into 6 months or 20 remains to be seen, but we’re here. Well… almost here.

When asked about this during the press conference, the response from Dassault Systemes executives was a little more guarded. Gian Paolo Bassi (CEO of the SolidWorks brand) and Philippe Laufer (CEO of Catia) took turns offering their insights into that suggested time frame, and it boiled down to this: Their products aren’t 100% ready for designers to truly be able to create in VR, but they are getting very close. For reference, right now, VR headsets and ARgoggles are used by designers mostly to explore, validate, and communicate complex designs, not completely create them.) What I gathered from the way they answered is not that it can’t be done, however. It’s just that the bar for a flawless experience inside their product is very high, and out of habit, they keep raising that bar. For them, it isn’t enough for users to be able to create in VR. They want the experience to be on par with their own very high expectations and standards, which is perfectly understandable.

One hurdle I see right out of the gate is that even Meta hasn’t yet perfected enough natural gesture commands that will allow designers to perform complex virtual object manipulations using their gear. The operative word however, is yet, and something tells me that a project like this could easily accelerate that process at Meta, and by default, at Dassault Systemes also. Philippe Laufer’s final comment on the question was this: “Immersive reality is now part of the design process.” It most certainly is. So yes, I think that we are probably less than a year away from designers being able to legitimately create and design in VR with SolidWorks and Catia.

In case it isn’t naturally obvious, the transition from screen to goggle will be a game-changer in the world of design. Instead of being limited to two-dimensional screen and mouse interfaces, designers will be free to create in 360-degree space, using their hands and probably voice commands, and with far fewer technical limitations than they had to endure until now. Three points:

  1. Think about how this will accelerate innovation and the design process for designers.
  2. Also think about how making design work entirely virtual and intuitive will lead to what Meron Gribetz calls a zero learning curve for design – ZLC being where an app or tool is so simple that anyone can just pick it up and know exactly how to use it.
  3. Finally, think about what that kind of democratization of design tools could mean in a world where everyone, powered by the cloud and simple interfaces, would have the ability to participate in designing or co-creating the world around them. Think about the potential talent and ideas this could unleash.

Inflection point.

5. We are far from done here, but before we go on, let this all sink in for a few days.

We also need to talk about 3D Printing, AI, the automotive industry, automation, healthcare, and a bucket of other things, but let’s stop here for now. We’ll pick this up again in a few days.

I do want to leave you with a thought though. Gian Paolo Bassi mentioned something during the press conference that I found really interesting, and it was this: Only 4% of jobs in the world involve creativity. That’s it. 4%. In a world craving new ideas and solutions to solve a multitude of problems, only 4% of jobs require human beings, who are naturally really great at being creative problem solvers, to be creative. That may just be the biggest waste of human potential I can think of… aside from a world in which only 3% of jobs in the world involve creativity.

Productivity-wise, humanity is at capacity. Now consider this: What would happen if many of the tasks people currently waste their talents on could be automated, and millions of people suddenly found themselves free and able to start working on creative solutions for many of the world’s problems, large and small? And what if at about the same time, the kinds of tools they needed to be able to solve these problems and design solutions became super powerful and very easy to use? What do you think would happen if such a tsunami of human potential and technology were to be unleashed on the world’s problems?

If your answer contained the words “inflection” and “point,” you answered correctly.

We’ll pick up where we left off in Part 2. Until then…



About the Author

Olivier Blanchard has extensive experience managing product innovation, technology adoption, digital integration, and change management for industry leaders in the B2B, B2C, B2G sectors, and the IT channel. His passion is helping decision-makers and their organizations understand the many risks and opportunities of technology-driven disruption, and leverage innovation to build stronger, better, more competitive companies.  Read Full Bio.