The interor of a factory floor. Dassault Systèmes

At Dassault, the Platform is the Product

The French tech leaders are spreading their software message around the globe.

HOLLYWOOD, Florida — Bernard Charlès was still in his 30s when he took over as president and CEO of Dassault Systèmes, the French company famous for its 3D design software. That was 1995. Manufacturing and tech were different spaces back then, of course. Manufacturing didn’t include as much tech, for starters.

Charlès turned 60 earlier this year. During his decades at the helm, the world has embraced technology — and manufacturing has embraced the company so much that it’s right around 3 billion euros in annual revenue — and the products he sells look remarkably different. More on that in a minute.

Charlès was up on stage earlier this week at the annual 3DExperience Forum, an opportunity for employees to show off their latest developments to users, and for users to preach about the benefits of the software. Honda North America, Lockheed Martin and Cummins were just three of many.

“I think the power of engineering is not just about doing things right, but also doing the right things,” Charlès said. “What we do together is really only limited by our imagination.”

The user stories are pretty remarkable, and we’ll share some of them in the next week or two. Until then, though, a quick dive into why the company is so high on platforms — especially platforms as products.

Within the next eight years, a quarter of the world’s economy will be digital. Already, about three-quarters of all manufacturers are starting to look at or experiment with digital — mechanical products, mass assembly lines, advanced automation, of course the Industrial Internet of Things. And by the end of next year, half of all large manufacturers will likely have created an industry platform, or partnered with a company that has.

Here, Charlès turned the stage over to Monica Menghini, EVP and the company’s chief strategy officer, to dispel some myths about platforms. The first: platforms are for business process automation.

“Really?” Menghini asked. “Is a digital add-on to existing analog processes the big platform revolution? This isn’t the digital revolution. Information-intensive platforms should define the optimal business process, and each step of the enterprise value creation chain.”

The second myth: point solutions can transform into platforms. “Can a frog really become a Prince Charming?” Menghini asked rhetorically, obviously ignoring centuries of Brothers Grimm lore. “In order to be a platform, there is a multi-disciplinary process that goes up the value chain and includes open innovation, engineering, manufacturing, among other areas.”

The third myth: any platform is an innovation platform. “What’s next about product lifecycle management?” Menghini asked. “Can the departmental platforms operate the holistic process of innovation? … Platform is no more about departmental process enablement or even enterprise enablement, but rather extended enterprise process enablement.

“Let’s stop the metaphysics of platforms,” she said, “because business is a social structure. We want to reach out to companies that think in the same manner. … Platforms as an OS for your company must provide an industry solution portfolio covering all your value streams.”

Menghini, Charlès and Dassault Systèmes are high on platforms. They need to be. They have to be. Much like the late media theorist Marshall McLuhan long taught that the medium is the message, the company is spreading its message that the platform is the product.

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