Solid Edge

Solid Edge University 2013, Part 2: Q&A with Karsten Newbury

8 Aug, 2013 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Senior vice-president discusses the direction of Solid Edge under his leadership.

At its Solid Edge University (SEU) 2013 user conference in Covington, Kentucky, early this summer, Siemens PLM Software introduced Solid Edge ST6, the latest version of its midrange 3D mechanical design solution. Known for its synchronous technology, which offers fully integrated constraint-driven modeling and history-free (or "direct") modeling within the same interface, the software is now available for download.

Among its 1,300 new features, Solid Edge ST6 includes a YouTube docking pane that lets users record, upload, and directly share a modeling session on YouTube, as well as search YouTube for other Solid Edge videos. Users can also access discussions, tutorials, and expert advice via a new online Solid Edge Community. Also new is a partnership with the open engineering web site GrabCAD to facilitate real-time model sharing and review on the cloud for those users who want it. Users will be able to upload files directly from Solid Edge ST6 to GrabCAD Workbench, controlling access to those files as they see fit. (See our Part 1 report for the full overview of new features.)

At SEU 2013, I sat down with Karsten Newbury, the Siemens PLM Software senior vice-president and general manager who oversees the business segment that develops Solid Edge and other products in the Velocity Series product portfolio. In this interview (which has been edited for length), we discussed what's behind the latest Solid Edge developments.

Nancy Johnson: This morning at the Solid Edge keynote, you introduced Dan Staples [director, Solid Edge] by saying, "This is the best version of Solid Edge ever." Do you say that about every release, or is there something in particular that makes it better this time around?

Karsten Newbury: Well, it's a good question because, of course, if the next release wasn't better, why would we have done it? This is the first release I've said this about, and I've been with the business for a few releases. Although we keep improving, in this one we've really brought a lot of things together.

[As part of Siemens], we manage together as a team, and what happens there is you start having much more customer input to the product. You have more input into sales as to what the product can actually do. We market a consistent story. We spend a lot of time thinking about, Who are we? and Why are we doing this? We're all excited about developing Solid Edge because we help people do a better job designing. If you can get that into the hearts and minds of the developers, now they start thinking not about code but, How can I help the guy out there that's trying to do a job?

If you look at, for example, this in-product YouTube functionality, that's a connection now between the user community which sits outside of the actual product. And what we're driving is much more of that connectivity.

[So] we've done a lot of work on ST6, listening to users, connecting the product with the community. That's why I honestly say it is the best version. And it's like the sales manager saying, this is the most important quarter of our lives, every quarter. But it's actually the first time I've said it. Next year, you can check if say the same thing!

I'll call you on it! Can you say a little bit more about that community? That's a new direction. What's your philosophy behind building that community?

The community's a big part. We're trying to start out in a focused way. We have a very specific purpose in terms of our online community that we're working on right now, and that's learning. How do we help people get their arms around all of the functionality that's out there? It's like getting into one of these big BMWs and you don't know what all the knobs are for. It's like that in software too.

Online community is really important because it helps with in-context learning, but it also brings people together. Who knows who's going to jump in and help out with a problem. It's a much more open world now, which breaks down barriers and helps with communication and knowledge exchange. Knowledge exchange is really crucial in our field because we're not talking about widgets or commodities. It's sophisticated software, if that makes sense. And there's a lot more to the community, where I think it can go. But we're trying to really keep it focused, rather than "like us," "share us," whatever. What's the purpose? The purpose is we help you be more effective in doing your job.

This YouTube function idea that we offered, we had a lot of discussions about that because if you're in a bigger company and there's a CAD administrator, they're going to be worried about what [users are] going to do with that [YouTube access]. We actually allow companies, if they want, to just switch that off. But we think once people experience that a bit more [they will] see the value. It doesn't allow you to just search anything. It's focused on [Solid Edge].


Is it just about making people feel better about the product, or is there a business strategy there?

First of all, if we make it easier for our users to be more productive and worry less about the tool, and get more business done, people are going to want the tool because it's better for them.

Customer satisfaction …

Absolutely. Giving them a better productivity tool is absolutely a differentiator. On top of that, if you can make it a fun experience, that's even better because you're not trying to go sell. It's something people actually want to build with.

[The customers we have here this week] will tell you we're helping productivity. We truly believe that we have mechanisms that make it much easier for our customers, compared to our direct competitors. And not in any way, but in these situations where they have to make quick changes to designs and iterate. That's really the sweet spot that we're in, where we can make it much easier for our customers to drive high-quality designs.

I guess it's time for me to ask you about the cloud.

Finally — I'm wondering why I haven't gotten one question on the cloud!

I'm starting to feel like it's one of those clichéd questions now, but I'd like to understand your perspective on the cloud as it relates to product development for Siemens PLM. And how it compares with the approaches of your big competitors — in particular, Autodesk, which just today added Fusion 360 to a rapidly growing line of cloud-based services.

Yes, absolutely. What we can see from how our users work is that the intellectual property [IP] that they create is their competitive advantage. The ironic piece is they might do cloud-based banking, put their taxes on the cloud, but when it comes to earning their living, and having IP, they want control. That's one reason for us saying, we keep that data under your control on the desktop. The other thing is for CAD, for computer-aided design, there are no performance advantages in putting that up on a server. In fact, there are actually disadvantages.

We really have to look at, what are the advantages [of using cloud-based technology]? The raw computing power is one of them. But the other advantage is [collaboration].

We just today announced a collaboration with GrabCAD. They're up to 700,000 members now; that's a lot of people sharing files. They're now offering this Workbench, which allows people to collaborate visually on a 3D design, attach comments, conversation. Now, that's interesting. That's a productivity tool, because ... if I have a design and I can get multiple people to gather in one place without having to e-mail stuff back and forth, and I have a productive thread [of information] around, How do we make this better? And then I take the results back and say, Now that we've talked about this, I can run my desktop applications and work with that. By the way, when I share information into that group, first of all, I can define who I share it with. But still, it's going to go up in the cloud. What I can do is I can take my model. I can say, I'm going to take an abstraction from that …

Like a PDF?

Exactly. But the fact is, you can now collaborate on this PDF and mark it up with comments and make it a better revision. And then you can take that back and you can work on it. So, our strategy's not to say there is no purpose for PLM in the cloud. I think that would be foolish to say. There are benefits that cloud offers in terms of online collaboration and the supply chain, getting people to work together.

But the very important thing is, we have got to let our business managers, our users, be in control of what they do with their competitive advantage, their IP. And that's where we firmly believe the core CAD piece is: on the desktop.

That's how we look at the cloud. It's interesting for me to see that some other companies really put so much focus on the cloud. I guess it sounds new and exciting and "We're innovative" — that type of thing. Actually, our user base is extremely nervous. They're like, "Okay, well, if this is what you're doing — you're keeping our data under our control, you're giving us options — that's good. We're not against that. But don't force us into a direction that we're giving up what is our competitive advantage."

The answer's not black and white. The cloud is going to play a role, but unlike what some of the other guys tend to say, [it's not the] solution for everything. I just don't see it.

And your users aren't asking you for it.

No, they're not. Absolutely not.

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