One year ago at Daratech’s CAD/CAM/CAE Summit, Daratech CEO Charles Foundyller fingered the basic problem facing industry as it tries to integrate design, engineering, and manufacturing on the Internet: “We see that the Web is creating huge opportunities for productivity enhancements and collaboration,” he said, “but there is a major disconnect between what users are expecting and what suppliers are able to deliver.” (See Viewpoint, June 2000, pg. 25.)
Unfortunately, this gap doesn't appear to have narrowed during the past year. In fact, as CAD/CAM/CAE vendors invest more to develop Web-based collaboration capabilities, they seem to be satisfying users less. At least that's the conclusion we reached from our recent online survey, in which we asked: "Do you believe your CAD vendor has reduced efforts to improve your CAD software in favor of trying to enable the program for Web-based collaboration? If so, are you in favor or opposed?"
Though anecdotal rather than statistically valid-we received dozens, not hundreds of responses-the results were telling. Nine out of ten respondents were feeling seriously shortchanged. Here's an edited sample of their comments:
- It seems as though vendors spend most of their time on Internet-related additions. But Internet collaboration is low on the priority list. Most people want and need improvements to the core system. Improved speed, greater flexibility, and improved functionality are what affect the day-to-day bottom line.
- Vendors are placing too much emphasis on the Web. We need to create parts on our desktop first, and we need improvements to programs to help us achieve that end.
- The previous version of my CAD software was buggy and crash-prone. This version is almost as bad. My vendor is adding Web-based collaboration instead of fixing the underlying problems. Some may find that feature valuable. I do not.
- It seems that most all software providers are preoccupied with the Internet. Instead of taking users down a natural path toward the software's original purpose, we find ourselves entangled in the Internet.
- I won't have a need for Web-based collaboration. I've paid quite a bit to keep my software updated. I will now switch to another CAD vendor that will give me all I need and won't cost me as much as upgrading to something I don't really need.
This kind of dissatisfaction among users was also reflected in sales revenues during the past year. In fact, Daratech's latest figures show that expenditures for mechanical CAD/CAM/CAE software and services grew just over 5 percent in the year 2000, half the growth achieved in each of the two previous years.
The good news for users is that, given this revenue shortfall, vendors may be more receptive to feedback about the future direction of CAD software. Indeed, vendors may be more aware than ever that while they need to lead customers where they have never gone before, they must occasionally stop along the way to make sure their followers stay within shouting distance.
Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief