Jon Hirschtick is a very interesting guy. He’s also a very smart guy who’s been around the CAD world for a very long time. The MIT graduate was one of the founders of SolidWorks, is now in the process of starting up a new venture called Onshape as founder and Chairman, and from what I hear is also one hell of a Blackjack player.
I had the privilege of picking Jon’s sizable brain on the state of CAD, where it might be headed in the future as well as a few hints as to what his new startup might be rolling out in the near future.
I’ll admit my evil ulterior motive was to get some inside scoop on Onshape’s new product. While he did share his vision of what role the cloud, mobile and web will play in the future of CAD, he’s not ready yet to talk specifically about the new product.
So while I didn’t necessary accomplish my mission of getting the inside scoop on Onshape, you can easily read between the lines and see that OnShape is going to shake up the status quo in the CAD industry. I won’t conjecture too much about the new product, but I assure you that when I know more about it, so will you all.
Now we’ll dive into Jon’s thoughts on how the future of computing is helping to “shape” (pun not intended) the future of CAD.
Q: What pain points were you hearing from customers that started you thinking that CAD needed to change?
A: The problems I heard continually from customers all centered around administering and accessing the CAD system and collaborating with other people. Instead of talking about the cool shapes they could now model, they were talking to me about the difficulties of installation, managing licenses with network license servers and codes, purchasing, service packs and versions of the software.
I would also hear a lot of complaints about collaboration; the “where’s the latest version?” problem. Every time someone opens a model, if they are working with other people, they have to think about whether they are opening the latest version. “Am I going to be overwriting other peoples’ changes or are other people going to be overwriting my changes?” It’s a real headache managing all of that. CAD isn’t just one file, but a whole set of files.
Accessibility and administration of CAD and collaboration; sharing, working together as a team. These are all go hand in hand because all of these factors are a tax on the team. Especially with today’s distributed design teams. Everyone on the team needs their own copy of the CAD system and that copy of that big, brittle system needs to be the identical for people to share data well.
Q: Why do you think design teams are becoming so distributed?
A: Companies have had to become more efficient. Efficiency lets people do more with smaller teams. Permanent, full-time staff can cost more, especially in the age of specialization. Specialized functions, such as industrial design, have commonly been outsourced. It’s expensive, specialized and you don’t need it all the time, so you outsource it. That’s now happening a lot with other disciplines.
Paving the road for this trend is communication tools that we didn’t have before. Improvements in communication and/or collaboration have made it much easier to work with people outside of the company. Smaller companies today are developing pretty impressive products because of all of these things.
Q: What unique challenges do these small companies and startups face when it comes to CAD?
A: When I meet with some of the people who run these start-up incubators, they will tell me CAD software is the number-one expense item for these smaller companies. They can come in here–to the incubators–and prototype their product for $5,000-$6,000, and buy a computer for $1,000-$2,000, but the CAD software is $5,000 per seat. If they have three people on their team and they need three seats of CAD, that’s $15,000. It’s the biggest line item in their cost structure and that not unusual. Also, these days a lot of small groups are distributed so they are having these same problems.
Q: What is your opinion of the cloud-based CAD solutions currently on the market?
A: What I’ve seen in the market is what I would call “partial steps” where people are taking a desktop-installed piece of software and storing files in the cloud, which is better perhaps than not storing in the cloud, or having a cloud-based viewer. Cloud-based download of software has been adopted by most vendors and that’s all good things to do.
With true cloud solutions, there is no downloading. As soon as you download and install something, you’ve got a lot of problems. As soon as you write a file to a local disk, you have other problems that are not being solved.
I have to laugh when I see “cloud-based such and such” and then it says “Go to our Download Center.” That’s not a true cloud-based tool.
Q: How will OnShape’s approach to the cloud be different?
A: We’re doing something much more comprehensive when you think of cloud, web and mobile computing, and how they will all work with CAD. We really started with a ground-up approach, with a clean sheet. We’re not doing installed software. We’re starting with a much fuller embrace of with what cloud, web and mobile can mean to CAD and teams that are using CAD. We have the advantage of a much more mature cloud. It’s about having the vision that said ‘let’s bet fully on cloud, web and mobile.’ It’s a very different vision.
Q: How does this “vision” differ from current CAD solutions?
A: We just sort of assume that CAD systems should write to files on a disk because that’s what they have always done. We don’t do that as a fundamental paradigm. We can take this new approach because we’re free of legacy constraints and have a very clear vision of what cloud, web and mobile can provide.
Q: What are the benefits of these true cloud-based solutions to users?
A: You’re going to see a different set of benefits that we can provide with a true pure Cloud solution. There’s no file with pure cloud solutions. There are lots of true cloud-based business tools that I use daily, like Google Docs. All of them have several things in common:
* No install.
* No software to download
* Easy to use
* Can be used on any computer
Q: What about cloud-based CAD? What will be the specific benefits to users?
A: The bottom line is it doesn’t matter to users where the computing is done, what matters is what are the benefits. Can people access the CAD system easily? Can people share CAD data more easily? We think we have a much easier approach to sharing than you’ll see with file-based, installed software products that try to share files in the cloud. That’s one way to do it but we think we have a better way. Users only care about is if I need a CAD system, how hard will it be to get it and administer it? How easily can I work with other people? And, what CAD functions are available—both capabilities and user experiences—and how do they suit my needs?
Another big advantage is that you can run it on any device and it has decent performance. That’s one test of a true cloud system is can you pick it up and run it on any old computer and have decent performance. CAD is like the land that time forgot. Other than CAD, if you talk to most recent university graduates about how they use computers, and they tend to be running on Mac books or tablets or their iPhones, and they expect to use software on any of these devices. They don’t even think about the kind of old issues, like how big a computer do I need to buy, how much memory do I need? They just want a fast platform.
Stay tuned for Part II of our Q&A with Jon Hirschtick, which will cover security issues with the cloud as well as the headaches around data management and how they might be solved with a cloud-based CAD solution.