Tuesday, 9 September 2008

CAD Obsolescence - Wither Pro/Engineer?

A nondescript Russian Genius created a monster in the mid '80s - shaking the Design World with a new Paradigm called Bi-Directional Parametricity. At a time when the CAD market was ruled by the likes of IBM and EDS, along came Samuel P. Geisberg - a mathematician - from Leningrad to the Great American Promised Land - to re-write the script and re-cast the deck with all Aces up his sleeve. Rest is history. Parametric Technology Corporation, known for its Pro/Engineer came, divided and conquered, much to the chagrin of prevailing well-established CAD Software houses.

Due credit should be given to PTC for creating a new market for a new technology - driven by the passion to perform or perish. Be it Technology - Created, derived or acquired, Sales, Marketing or sheer Grit, PTC had it all. It was a great American Dream of an Enterprise that started to conquer the mind and hearts of Engineers of all hues. Sure enough, there came a time when if you were not using Pro/Engineer you were perceived as a loser or a Not-Destined-to-Succeed type.

When Success gets to the head, it starts a downslide that only self-analysis can stop. PTC was no exception. The same innovation, that helped PTC scale great heights, proved to be its nemesis. With few innovations coming in, slower adoption of, by-now-ubiquitous, Microsoft Operating System coupled with easy-to-use functional modellers (read SolidWorks) breathing down the neck, PTC had already started to show signs of cracking.

Grapevine has it that, when PTC was downsizing to stay profitable, after the acquisition of Computer Vision, a Management representative was sent to CV's not-well-known Minnesota office to close it down. Flustered by an extremely warm reception accorded to him, he reviewed the work done and was taken aback by a new product that was under development. His initiative prevented the Division closure and, surreally, PTC's own. The product ? None other than Windchill.

A re-vamped user interface (relatively easy to use toolset - much to the chagrin of the Pro/Engineer loyalists), costly re-training efforts, stability issues, loss of focus, lack of innovation and loss of marketshare, lead PTC on a downward spiral, much to the frustration of its User community and fiercely passionate loyalists who would wage a World War III in its favour.

No company that does not listen to its Customers can survive. Not an unfamiliar adage? Still PTC chose to ignore them and with them their wads of Dollars that PTC just could not get. Is it a surprise that PTC was able to add only a fraction of new users Year-on-Year while contemporary CAD software corporations continued to grow with users at many orders of magnitude? Losing new orders, a shrinking client base due to attrition by vibrant new CAD products, and increased frustration amongst its own user community (who looked, with disdain, at PTC's stock getting flogged ) is perilous, however cash-rich a company may be.

Spending hard-earned dollars on acquisitions of Abortext (just because one of its large clients wanted a synergy between Pro/E and Abortext publishing), MathCAD, NC Graphics and, now, CoCreate, while losing focus on Mainstream product that took PTC to its dizzying heights added to the ills. Nevertheless, PTC was intent on playing its own requiem.

Now, PTC is up for sale, by its looking-to-cash-on-the-last-stop operatives. A relevant message for all CAD companies is apparently written on the wall.

Innovation, Improvisation, Hearing customers and Raising the Technology Bar are the Pre-requisites for any CAD Technology Company to survive and conquer. It is not the dollars in the bank that matters in the long run. It is the place in the broad hearts of the CAD users, aspiring to create new designs, that cements a permanent position. Money will come in with popularity and acceptance.

Alas PTC is scripting its own Swan's song for Pro/Engineer.... So long comrade ....