Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Are you confused yet?

Ever since being formed as a new business entity under EDS, UGS has waged a relatively successful campaign of confusion. They have tried, and to a large degree I would say succeeded, to confuse everyone: customers, competitors, pundits. It began as soon as they slapped the "NX" moniker onto I-DEAS. Now in press releases and customer quotes and any other PR opportunities, they can refer to "NX software," and be otherwise vague as to whether this means the-product-formerly-known-as-I-DEAS or the-product-formerly-known-as-Unigraphics.

To be fair, some of this attitude started with SDRC, specifically with the data management products. Metaphase was easy to understand, Accelis (not sure about the spelling) was a little more obscure, but there was still an hierarchy of products. Metaphase is a more capable data manager that can sit above I-DEAS. Accelis basically enables multiple databases to talk to each other, Metaphase can be one of those databases, so it can sit above Metaphase. You don't have to know specifically what each one does to understand the general purpose. And then TeamCenter entered the picture. I'm fuzzy on the details of how it happened, but that is a pretty good point to indicate the beginning of product obscuring at SDRC/UGS. Now ALL of the data management products are a TeamCenter Something, and few but a handful of insiders truly understand what each product does anymore.

Let's look at a timely example. Ford has announced that they will rename the Five Hundred sedan to be the new Taurus. Now aside from the total lack of creativity that this represents - a FoMoCo cornerstone - what happens if we take this a step farther? Let's say that Ford renames every vehicle in the lineup to be a Taurus Something. You'd have the Taurus sedan, the Taurus minivan, the Taurus pickup, sporty car, etc. And then at the end of the next year, Ford releases a statement to the effect of "More Taurii Sold Last Year Than In The Entire History Of Ford Motor Company!" It's catchy. It sounds like Ford has really turned things around. It's certainly sexier than "Last year, the number of vehicles produced by FoMoCo was greater than the total number of Pintos ever produced." But did anything really change? Is that even a useful metric? Aside from a cute publicity stunt, was anything accomplished? I don't think so. Sure, you may fool some people, but astute observers, even the only semi-astute ones, will know what is really going on.

What does UGS gain by making things confusing? Even though the Taurus and the Sable have far more in common than I-DEAS and UG do, Ford sees fit to not only call it a different product name, but sell it under a different brand name. Ford tries to confuse people into thinking that one product is actually many. UGS tries to confuse people into thinking that multiple products are actually only one. What are some possible reasons for this? I have some theories.

1. The migration of the I-DEAS user base over to UG/NX products is progressing slower than UGS had hoped.

I have no insider numbers to back this up, so this is pure speculation. But the general sense I get is that a sizeable majority of the I-DEAS customers have remained on I-DEAS. Sure, you have some early adopters who jumped for the sake of curiosity. And there were probably some folks who were already unsatisfied with I-DEAS, and eager to go to something - anything - else. UGS hopes those people went to UG/NX or maybe SolidEdge, but some of them went to other vendors. But a lot, maybe a majority, maybe even a sizeable majority, have remained on I-DEAS.

By referring to all of us as "NX users," UGS is able to blur the actual market share for each product. Let's say that UGS and SDRC had roughly equal customer bases initially, so a 50/50 split. I don't know what the actual breakdown is, but for the sake of argument let's assume. Everybody understands that initially there will be separation. However, it has now been more than 5 years since the companies merged. In the last 5 years, Microsoft has (finally) succeeded in producing a major update to Windows. Apple has released several major iterations of OS X, and that's over and above moving their users from Classic Mac OS all the way through to the Intel processor. Impressive feats. So in that same time frame, what has UGS done with their user base? If it is still 50/50, what does that say? It isn't, but then how about 60/40? 70/30? It really doesn't matter. Until that number is 100/0 in favor of UG/NX - and it isn't - then I-DEAS remains as bad PR for UGS. If I was a PTC salesman, I would be all over that. "Hey buddy, UGS can't even convince THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS who have different software, just like you do, to go to their newest software. What does that say about their chances of satisfying YOUR needs?"

I suppose UGS doesn't technically need to rename the products in order to confuse things. They could simply say "We have 50 million CAD seats out there," and then I guess just hope that nobody asks for a breakdown. But I think it is more tangible to assign a name to the numbers. "We have 50 million NX seats out there," sounds a lot more satisfying, and aside from a handful of pains in the ass like me, nobody is going to probe that number further. And it helps to hide the fact that they haven't converted the entire I-DEAS user base yet, and if my grapevine impressions are correct, they haven't yet converted even a simple majority.

2. UGS doesn't want to admit publicly that I-DEAS still has a lot of life (and loyal users!).

Even in the latter days of SDRC, Metaphase was the sexy new product, but I-DEAS paid the bills. The vast majority of the employees were related to I-DEAS, and the vast majority of the income was related to I-DEAS. Sure, Metaphase got the attention, and to some degree Accelis as well. But behind the PR and the glitz, what keeps the company running? I-DEAS.

Now I'm quite certain, or at least I would certainly hope, that the percentage of revenue from I-DEAS was significantly higher for SDRC than it is for modern-day UGS. The larger product portfolio alone will cause that. But that doesn't push I-DEAS into the realm of chump change. NX may be the sexy new product, but I-DEAS still brings home at least some of the bacon.

The next time you read a PR statement from UGS regarding a sales win of CAD software, notice the terms that are used. You'll see "NX" a lot. But as you read, ask yourself if you can say for certain whether this sale refers to UG/NX, or I-DEAS. You are supposed to assume UG/NX. Then find a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who works for that company, or maybe a vendor for that company, and ask them what their plans are. Ask them what software they use today. Obviously I haven't done any exhaustive research here, but through my circle of contacts I know of at least one example where an existing I-DEAS customer has decided to.....remain with I-DEAS. This was touted as a "big win" by UGS. "Yay, they didn't go to one of our competitors!" You will not find "I-DEAS" anywhere in that PR announcement. This is pretty low for UGS to sink. They not only made an announcement about not losing a customer, they deliberately lead people to believe it was a migration to the new software, when in actuality the customer remains on the old software. Although I'm sure a creative PR writer would have found a way around it, this whole exercise would have been much more challenging if "NX" had not been appended to the I-DEAS name.

This campaign of confusion even extends to the user group, PLM World. I was not able to attend the first post-merger conference, but I've been at every one since then. And every year, they tout the record attendance numbers. Is this really a shock to anyone? First, take two separate entities and combine them into one. The result is almost guaranteed to be bigger. I don't know if the data management folks had their own conferences previously, but I do know that ICCON used to be a pretty CAD-heavy conference. Today's PLM World is very PLM-centric. So whether it was a combination of conferences or just a merging of focus, either way that's another set of people who weren't attending before. Then they added the SolidEdge folks, and hey attendance is higher again! Woo! We sold more Taurii last year than....

Whose interests are served by all of this confusion? Am I, as a customer, benefiting in any way from the "NX" that started appearing in my I-DEAS windows? Am I benefiting from a confusing product line? Not at all. It's pretty commonly accepted throughout the rest of the software industry that a name change ought to come with some pretty key fundamental changes; things that go beyond a simple version update. Has that happened to I-DEAS? Nope. Is it going to happen to I-DEAS? Nope. But here we sit with the new name. (Oh, and pay close attention to the announcements at the conference this year). If anyone benefits - if it can be called that - from this confusion, it is UGS, and UGS alone. So why are we, the customers, falling for it? We pay UGS to serve our interests, not theirs.

Given that, it will be interesting to see what happens now that UGS has been acquired by Siemens, a company with a vested interest in both I-DEAS and whatever TeamCenter product that Metaphase is called today (Enterprise?). Even if Siemens changes nothing else about UGS, I hope they will at least return the naming conventions to some form of sanity.

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