PTC Creo: big promises, bold timelines, boatloads of risk

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.

Predictions:

  • 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.

photo by moonsheep

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  • Stan Przybylinski

    You comment about angering Pro/E power users was a point that I made to the PTC people at the event. Of course, the claim is that they will support them. Time will tell.

    The bigger problem is the financial one. In PTC four box reporting model, the Desktop box is shrinking. And it is this box that funds a lot of other stuff. If competitors can position Creo negatively enough, and provide a smooth path to migrate existing customers, this cash box could start running dry. This will take some time, of course, and as you note, switching costs (financial, technical, personal) are huge.

    Interesting times in the CAD space for the first time in a long time. The question I have is why now? Direct modeling has been around for a long time, but has gotten little traction. Is it the star power of my good friend Mike Payne? Or is it the problem cited by you, PTC, and others that more people want to create new and use existing 3D than before and most CAD tools are just too expensive/hard to learn/etc./etc/etc.?

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Thanks for the comment, Stan. Yes, I think there is huge risk that the cash box will run dry to support all of this.

      Every VP of of Engineering I’ve ever talked to has been bombarded with pitches from competing CAD vendors. I suspect PTC’s competitors are gearing up for a new level of attack on all fronts. This might be the only time in recent years where it feels good to be a CAD salesperson. Siemens, Autodesk, and Dassault must be salivating over the opportunities for enterprise conversions within the PTC user base.

  • http://www.engineering-matters.com Chad Jackson

    Hey Jeff and Stan.

    I think you bring up some valid points, but I don’t believe there will be a mass exodus of ProE customers in the short or long term to use other CAD software applications. I know predictions like that grab attention and initiate a lot of discussion, but the barriers to change are too high without enough value to justify a change to engineering executives. I posted a lot more of my thoughts on Creo at my blog: http://bit.ly/daW7T8. I think there’s some advantages and concerns.

    I think the real opportunity, and the one that Spaceclaim is pursuing too, is to provide a usable and accessible set of tools to engineers that don’t model or create drawings today. I almost see that as greenfield albeit one that has been pursued for some time without much traction or success. Here’s a post on that issue too: http://bit.ly/cUbirN.

  • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

    Chad, I do like to grab attention and initiate discussion. And, to PTC’s credit, my predictions are based on them NOT adequately executing this vision. Let me clarify: The vision itself sounds pretty darn good to me. If they can execute, my predictions go the way Mayan calendar theorists.

    Yep, in my experience, non-cad-using engineers are still a greenfield for accessible 3D modeling tools. Plus, the work they are doing more directly hits the front end of the innovation process.

  • http://www.solidsmack.com Josh M

    Just to focus on one part of your article Jeff. I don’t think they’ll be switching so much as transitioning. At least that’s the perspective of PTC and some of the pro-Creo users. But then I gotta ask, if it’s a transition is it really that different of a modeling system. I don’t think they’re being dumb about it. Likely part of the reason for the rename… creAtes the sense of a transition. In the end though, there’ll likely be a choice.

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Good point Josh. I don’t think they are dumb, either. I just think it’s tough for a company steeped in that much history and code to have the same measuring stick of “different” as a small, separate, autonomous team might have the freedom to explore.

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  • http://twitter.com/Shoe44 Tom Shoemaker

    I appreciate the post Jeff. It’s a big change for sure. Some of my thoughts — and more: http://bit.ly/dCvIlB

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Thanks Tom. That was a classy response. Classier than some parts of my post, for sure! Makes me happy that some people still know which knob goes to eleven, too!

      • http://twitter.com/Shoe44 Tom Shoemaker

        Thanks and Rock On.

  • Anonymous

    If PTC provides us with a way to readily mingle history-free CAD geometry with traditional Pro/ENGINEER geometry, it will be a valuable addition to the toolset. For those of us who already use both SpaceClaim and Pro/E, the options for managing geometry should expand. In my experience, that’s a good thing! Thanks for the posting, Jeff!

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Agreed, Noel. Openness is a good thing. I think we’re getting closer to a future where it won’t matter which brand/format/style you prefer to work with geometry- all tools will be able to edit and modify all geometry. Also lends itself to the realities of global supply chain based product development.

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  • Dean Long

    Well, where to start….
    I see Creo and all it’s “newness” as just another “avenue of revenue” for PTC. C’mon people, Creo is no different than experiencing a new car. It’s exciting and smells fresh and clean and has some neat innovation. We, as Designers and Engineers are captive audiences to our organization’s engineering software choice and platform. That choice is a mixture of factors relating to ROI (cost of purchase and maintenence, functionality and product deliverable capability). Which one is chosen is usually made by how slick the sales presentation is and how much subsidizing the Seller is willing to lay out. The rub is “what’s new is old”. We, the engineering public, forget that at the dawn of the Industrial revolution we were a group of specialists (Miller’s, Bakers, Blacksmiths etc…). We rolled for a hundred years quickly becoming a group of “Jacks of All Trades”, possibly to our detriment. (time will tell).
    The Point: Why do Engineers think they need to design and why do Designers think they need to Engineer? Not to mention the Manufacturing people. What do they need to “Creo”? As sad as it is, and equally a Fools Errand, I hold that we have collectively been duped into thinking that everyone needs the ability to push a product out the back door all by themselves in tha name of productivity?
    I am on both sides of this argument: An Engineer by Education and a Designer by Choice. I have done both and made a choice to Design. Why? I like Design a whole lot more than Engineering. I know the inverse hold true as well. There are ton of Engineers that would never want to be a Designer for the same reason. Engineer’s make functional boxes, Designers make pretty boxes! We need one another, Can’t we all just get along? In the end, every tool has a learning curve be it a Hammer, SkilSaw, Pro/E, Catia or AutoCad. We get proficient. Having the ability to create a mounting boss 0.23 milliseconds faster than your competitor is not the Holy Grail folks.
    Creo Away, everyone!

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Dean, we have to be a little careful when using Designer and Engineer out of context. I see those as a spectrum with most people bunched up on one end or the other, and few squarely in the middle. Also, the terms don’t necessarily mean the same thing in other parts of the world as they do here.

      Agreed, though, I think it is generally tough to expect 1 individual to be an expert draftsman/designer and an expert engineer.

      While all tools require a learning curve, there are certainly different levels of tools appropriate for different people.

      The fact is, most engineers do work with shapes (ie geometry) during the engineering process, even if traditional CAD tools are way too much for them. They are doing it on whiteboards and green engineering paper. I think putting a simplified set of 3D tools in front of those people for that kind of work is hugely beneficial.

      I think you might be right about the “Pro/E” side of Creo (no one knows for now)… I imagine it will remain very similar to the current implementation in order to please existing power users. But, I do think the idea of creating a separate application specifically for “non-CAD-users” is significantly different than “buying a new car” as you can start to impact a whole new set of people within the organization.

  • http://www.cloud-invent.com Nick Sidorenko

    My congratulations , Jeff.

    Your post is, perhaps, the best that I’ve read about Creo since its presentation on October (I’m sorry that I didn’t pay attention earlier on your blog).

    I 100% share your skepticism on this declared “revolution”. My own skepticism is supported by my 3 years experience of working in PTC development (in the Pro/E team). Having the inside view on Pro/E development (and this view is rather fresh – I left PTC a year and a half ago) it is even more clear that to expect some breakthrough technologies in Creo would be rather naïve.

    For me the real CAD Revolution would be in real unification of the direct modeling approach (as it is presented, for instance, in SpaceClaim) with the full range parametric modeling approach (if we’ll be able to do in 3D space the same constrained modeling that we are able to do in 2D sketchers of traditional parametric applications).

    Nothing of this kind is promised in Creo. Pro/E and CoCreate seems to remain the separate applications. Only common data model is promised and some unification of UI (to have a more Microsoft Office look and feel) will be implemented.

    You are perfectly right. It is absolutely impossible to combine two such a different application, developed during 20 years by two quite a different teams, into some revolutionary solid modeling platform.

    I’m sure that it is the job for newcomers to the CAD market, for such a dynamic start-up as our Cloud Invent.

    Please, look at the materials on our site. For me it would be very interesting to know your opinion on our vision of the Real CAD Revolution…

    Regards,

    Nick Sidorenko,
    Cloud Invent

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Nick,
      Thanks for the comment. I pride myself on staying atop the changing landscape, but you stumped me with Cloud Invent. I plan to dig in and learn more. If you’ve read my articles, you’ll know I’m a big fan of cloud based solutions, so you had me at hello.
      Jeff

  • Proximo

    Jeff,

    We switched to Creo 1.0 full time and my Pro/E veterans love it.  This does not mean that we did not find some issues with Creo, but overall the experience is much better, easier to use and productivity has increased. 

    The UI is modern but not foreign to most of our users.  We run Microsoft Office products and my users have been using the Ribbon interface for a long time already.  Jumping into the Creo UI was actually very easy and familiar to my users.

    The search functionality in Creo is amazingly user friendly and can locate just about any command you can’t find in seconds.  This has cut down the learning curve to almost nothing.  Creating features and doing the actual work has not changed much.  Nobody has to learn anything new here, but there are some added functionality that make things easier to work with.  Many steps have been removed, things just work the way you would expect them too and the unified UI makes the experience more enjoyable. 

    Only time will tell what truly will happen with Creo moving forward, but our experience has been very positive.  Some of my users who always talked bad about Pro/E have great things to say about Creo.  Creo needs to iron out some things and fix some bugs but that’s expected.  The one disappointment I have with Creo is that some of the old Pro/E code or UI is still present.  It’s harder to find in most cases but they are converting things over fast.  Since we started to use Creo, we had 3 maintenance builds and the fourth is due out in 10 days.  Each build has converted some things left over and they are ironing out the rough edges.  Nothing is free of bugs but I do wish that PTC would have cleaned up some of these rough edges before going live with it.  Time will tell if PTC continues to quickly clean up the UI elements left over from the old system, but It sure looks like they are on the right track.

    I train Engineers and Designers on using 3D CAD software and I recently trained a new user with no prior Pro/E experience on Creo.  The response I got from them was fantastic and the user though Creo was very easy to learn and use.  In many areas the user said that Creo does it much easier than SolidWorks which he had over 12 years experience with.  This was great for me to hear because I am getting a former SolidWorks user telling me that Creo is easier to use.  So it is possible for any company to correct their mistakes and make positive changes.

    PTC did not hide the fact that they dropped the ball on CAD when they focused on PLM.  They claim that the time has come to get the crown back in the CAD market and this is where Creo came from.  PTC invested over 100 Million dollars in making Creo and several years to development it.   Will this pay off?  Only the future can tell, but I do believe they have made a dramatic change in the right direction.

    • http://lifeupfront.com/ Jeff Waters

      Proximo, if there’s one guy’s opinion I’d have to respect on this point– it’s yours! I originally speculated this article in November 2010… at the time. It looks like my speculations of gloom and doom were wrong.

      I will say, however, that I worked for SpaceClaim at the time. And I was totally focused on getting 3D concepting capability into the hands of non-CAD experts. SpaceClaim delivered very nicely on that front (best I’ve seen to date). Your 12 year SolidWorks veteran wouldn’t fall in this category.

      So, I’m curious… does the Creo Anyrole app that was meant to target conceptual 3D users deliver on that promise?

      In any case, I’ve not heard of a max exodus from PTC… so they’ve apparently done a good job of keeping the existing base happy through these changes. Kudos to PTC.

  • Proximo

    Jeff,

    The Any role app model is still being implemented.  Many apps are ready and running while several others are still a few months away.  The idea behind the Creo platform is like that of an iPhone.  You install the software platform and then only install the app that the current user needs.  This eliminates the need for me to install a full blown 3D solution for a Marketing guy when he only needs to Render things and make Illustrations.  Now I can install the Creo platform on the Marketing guy’s computer but only install the Illustrate app which is made for Marketing people.  Now this person only needs to learn the Illustrate app and the features with in that app to do their job which eliminates the complexity of the 3D functions they don’t require.
    With that said, the idea of having something that will target conceptual 3D users should be easy to accomplish.

    Creo now has the capability to do Freestyle modeling without the need of another app.  Freestyle is similar to polygon based modeling like 3D Studio.  It has a limited set of tools but it’s actually nice for concept modeling.

    PTC also has a full blown Freestyle app coming out that gives you the full power of Polygon based modeling like 3D Studio.

    They also have the Direct modeling app which will cater to certain type of user and then the Parametric app which is the Parent Child based modeling style. 

    Because Creo is a platform that allows you to install the app you need, I think they could actually create an app that caters to different type of users to include conceptual or industrial designers.   
    When I was in Las Vegas attending the Planet PTC conference.  I saw a PTC employee build an entire mountain bike frame from a 2d concept image into a full model in about 4 minutes from start to finish using the Freestyle (Concept) app.

    I do not use this app myself but from what I have seen, it works.  I also saw a Parametric model get passed to a Direct modeling person, they added Direct modeling features, passed it back to the Parametric modeling person and the direct modeling features showed up in a light orange color.  Once the parametric modeling person accepted the changes, they converted the features into parametric features with one click and it added them to the history tree as you would expect.  The idea here is that you can go from one to the other with little effort.

    Only time will tell how this all works out once thousands of users get their hands on it, but Creo sure does show some promise and we are enjoying it.

    P.S.  I think the name Creo is brilliant.  :-)   Creo is Spanish for “I create, I believe and I design”.  This one word means all 3 phrases depending on how it’s used in a sentence.   Kinda cool if you ask me.