In June of 2010, PTC announced an announcement to come in 4 months. With bold proclamations about a new program to fundamentally change how products are developed, it unleashed the “Project Lightning” hype machine.
Intense speculation fueled by an impressive full-court press of traditional and social media marketing was finally met with the theatrical, over-the-top, on-stage spectacle of October 28, 2010. As it turned out, “Project Lightning” was the code name for a major reinvention of the PTC product line.
The oddly named “Creo” brand was unveiled.
See Deelip Menezes excellent What Exactly is Creo? series for detailed coverage.
In a nutshell, PTC announced a major overhaul of its entire product line. Most notably (to me) combining the functionality of its venerable Pro/ENGINEER and CoCreate products, and then breaking them apart into smaller “apps” to better suite a wider audience in typical product development environments.
CAD is not enough
This is an astounding move on several fronts, and PTC gets credit for finally stepping up and admitting that traditional, history-based CAD is not enough. For decades, PTC (in step with other Big CAD players) tried to tell/sell customers that CAD should be deployed on the desk of every engineer. If there were casual users struggling to learn this tool (built for detailed design and documentation), they just needed more training.
Some customers did deploy CAD on every engineering workstation, only to discover that any significant work in 3D geometry would still remain locked away within a relatively small group of CAD experts.
My company, SpaceClaim, came along 2005 to solve that problem. Since then, we’ve seen Ghandi’s old maxim in action, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Having passed through the first couple of those stages, PTC even attempted to fight by putting CoCreate (a history-free CAD tool built for detailed design and documentation) up against us for use as a Concept Modeling tool appropriate for non-CAD-experts.
So, it is a huge vindication of our vision to finally see PTC reverse itself and admit that traditional, history-based, parametric CAD does not address the needs of the entire engineering organization. Game on.
My crystal ball
But wait, now that the Creo marketing volume knob has been twisted from eleven back down to one, what will future reality hold? Jim Heppelmann and crew rightly present the Creo initiative as a long term commitment to reinvent an aging company. “The next 20 years” got tossed around quite a bit.
I think we have a clear case of The Innovator’s Dilemma here. PTC is an incumbent serving the traditional CAD market. It probably should have created a small, autonomous business unit to start building modern tools for non-CAD-users. Instead, it is attempting an all-hands-on-deck restructuring. I question PTC’s ability to pull this off from business and technical perspectives.
Old vs New revenue
While PTC is partly responding to SpaceClaim’s non-CAD-expert business focus, I believe its bigger driving motivation is a need to compete with other existing “Big CAD” incumbents for the detailed design pie.
Back in my days of selling Upfront CFD, I carried a half dozen CAD tools around on my laptop. Didn’t know much about how to use them, but it was obvious to me that Pro/ENGINEER (while very powerful) offered a comparatively clunky, outdated user experience. Siemens, Autodesk, Dassault (SolidWorks), and others are all way ahead of Pro/ENGINEER in terms of GUI.
PTC is clearly looking for a way to gain market share against other incumbents in the existing market. In my opinion, this talk of democratizing 3D outside of the CAD department is just a hook towards that goal.
Switching CAD platforms is costly
Asking customers to rip out and replace an existing (working) infrastructure to switch CAD horses is an extremely difficult sell. Many PTC customers add a harsh, seven letter adjective whenever invoking the name, “Pro/ENGINEER.” After years of displeasure, however, they still aren’t switching to CATIA, SolidWorks, or Siemens unless there is a compelling business reason to do so. Your largest customer demanding that you use its CAD platform is compelling. A little savings on annual software costs and user happiness? Not so much.
Sure, usability conversions do occasionally happen. I witnessed one very large PTC customer switch 100 seats of Pro/ENGINEER to Siemens NX for tooling design after giving up on that struggle. But, I very rarely see large customers switching to Pro/ENGINEER.
From that perspective, I find it unlikely that Creo will overcome the existing barriers in converting its competitors’ customers. To be pessimistic, let’s assume that this presumed new revenue stream doesn’t materialize. What then?
Who are the real Pro/Engineer users today? What do they want?
That leaves PTC revenue growth within its existing user base through expansion to non-CAD-experts. Is there enough business there? Yes! That’s exactly the target market SpaceClaim’s business plan is built upon. In my experience, for every CAD expert in a typical product development company, there are 4-6 employees who could truly benefit from working in 3D.
But here’s the rub for PTC: Can PTC keep its existing users (CAD experts) happy while also focusing on the development of new tools for a new market?
People who love Pro/ENGINEER don’t love change. Wildfire was the last major innovation to come from the PTC development staff. It was meant to update the GUI into a more “Windowsy” look and feel in order to compete with the likes of SolidWorks. That massive innovation looked like a minor update to my outsider’s eyes… but the existing user base went ballistic. PTC was no doubt inundated with frantic tech support calls asking for a “Pro/E classic view” option.
Now PTC says it will truly overhaul the product. I find its promises of “seamless upgrade for existing customers” less than credible. Many large PTC customers have had to customize Pro/ENGINEER to such a degree that new employees with Pro/ENGINEER experience must be retrained in the custom system. How will such corporate clients view the mountain of work to convert all these customizations and hacks to a new platform? Should be no problem, right?
PTC says Creo will be derived from the existing CoCreate and Pro/ENGINEER code bases. However, it says all of the new products will operate from a single code base. What does that mean? I don’t see how PTC could credibly merge two monolithic, 20+ year old code bases (originally written by different teams of coders, presumably in different languages) without a complete rewrite, using modern programming methods and technologies.
Have you ever seen 20 years of programming code? Imagine 4,000 band-aids holding a microwave to the front dash of a Conestoga wagon. Now think about shifting that product’s focus to air travel. Oh, and schedule your first release in less than a year.
Most Pro/ENGINEER customers have learned to stay well behind the current release, often 3 or 4 releases behind. If that is the case, will something as radically different as Creo inspire customers to wait longer than usual? I think so.
- PTC will not gain market share against Siemens, SolidWorks, CATIA, Autodesk, etc.
- Upgrades to Creo will lag even longer than traditional Pro/ENGINEER releases.
- PTC will be forced to support old Pro/ENGINEER and early Creo customers for 3-5 years.
- Dual support costs will compete with Creo development costs.
- Maintaining a focus on developing for non-CAD-users will suffer.
- The already beleaguered PTC VAR channel will take huge hits.
- Existing customers will finally have a compelling reason to switch to Siemens, CATIA, etc.
I could be wrong.
We’ll know in 20 years.
Love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.