“There are domains where we as Dassault Systemes have no competitors”

The government has planned to invest $1.0-tr in developing the country’s infrastructure. That means a very significant amount of concrete, steel, and a very significant number of people will be working towards achieving this goal. Making sure that such an amount can be delivered on time is a key element. And, that is what Dassault Systemes want to support through their cloud-based 3DExperience, “which is the only software that can provide this level of change”, say Simon Huffeteau and Prasad Pandit, and the reorganising of their industry vertical into Construction, Cities and Territories is a step in that direction.


“The difference in level of details between very large scale, city scale analysis, city scale project planning, while at the same time being able to provide the level of quality required for designing a bolt in a structure, or for designing the door of an elevator, or for designing a system that has a behaviour that we can model…all of this complexity in multiple scales, we are the only company that has such a range. We have no competition.”

Simon Huffeteau, Vce President Construction, Cities and Territories Industry. 

“If you see, the last 20-25 years of this construction market, people are working on specific tools. You have a CAD tool, you have a Modelling tool, a project management tool, etc. These are all disconnected environment. And, people are trying to connect with the layer of cloud, with collaboration there, to get collaborated everything.”

Prasad Pandit, Director, Sales – Centre of Excellence WW CATIA, Construction, Cities and Territories.

A few years ago, Dassault Systemes reorganised itself into various industry verticals, such as Transportation, Aerospace, and now you have created a group called Construction, Cities, and Territories, which is vastly different from what the industry often calls the AEC group. What has brought about this shift?

Simon Huffeteau: Dassault Systemes, as you know, is a software company. And, we felt that it was necessary to look into how cities interact with their eco systems. And, so, we have created a group that takes care of Cities, Utilities (electric distribution, waste management, water management, etc.), Infrastructure, which encompasses transport infrastructure as well, Building, and as well, Supply Chain. And, last but not least, we have decided to add agriculture and forestry.

The reason for this separate group is that we no longer look at cities as single objects. But, we look at cities and how they operate in different business domains, and how they interact with the outside entities of the city. That is the purpose of why we have created this group. This will allow us to look into multiple scales, multiple stakeholders, such as the governments, citizens, and businesses, across our portfolio.

How are cities shaping up? How do you view the cities of the future?

Simon Huffeteau: In my opinion, cities will become bigger. And, what we see today is a continuous momentum for urbanisation. And, as cities become bigger, it will drive a lot of construction markets. We see this in India with a very significant growth in the construction market, which is more than 5.0 per cent.

Cities will need to become smarter. But, to be honest with you, the definition of Smart City is not yet complete. And, I think, what we are looking for is more about what really drives markets.

How do we help cities grow because they will grow anyway? How do we help cities manage their impact in terms of CO2 emission, in terms of pollution overall, and how do we help them become sustainable? And, the last element is how do we make sure that cities do provide a good quality of life, because we cannot just have cities grow and not take care of the quality of life of its citizens?

And, so, I think, in the next few years, what you will see is that, while cities will become more bigger and have more problems to address, they will need to find newer ways to collaborate with the eco-system, new ways of financing infrastructure, new ways of facilitating businesses to operate in bigger cities, which they will not be able to handle themselves, and will not be able to manage themselves all the growth that is coming forward.

That is the key element, and also the reason why we have created a specific group within Dassault Systemes making sure we can handle cities on municipality and government side together with the businesses that constitutes the main domains of the city’s traditional scope of work.


So, would ‘Living Cities’ be a more apt terminology to use rather than ‘Smart Cities’?

Simon Huffeteau: I would not vote for one term over the other. What I will say is that, clearly today, the question is not so much about whether the city is going to be smart or not; but why, what for, should the city become smart. And, what for and why are really to address the growth of the city and it is really to address the quality of life of its citizens.


With that in perspective, how do you see the construction technology market evolving? And, how will that evolve going forward?

Simon Huffeteau: From the city, we see a lot of request for infrastructure to connect cities with one another, to growth in the building domain. What we have seen in the last few years was the first arrival of very modern technology, like Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, and Virtual Reality. We saw as well connected devices arriving on the construction sites, and what we have seen over the last few years were attempts to connect all these new technologies with the traditional ways how people used to work.

But, nevertheless, when we look at the productivity of the construction industry over the past few decades, it has remained more or less stagnant, whereas, at the same time, manufacturing industry was able to leverage that technology. And, we see that productivity in manufacturing has doubled whereas, at the same time, productivity in construction has remained stagnant.

And, so, I believe that in the next few years, what we will see is really a realm for this productivity. And, the productivity will not come from people working faster. It will come because the way design is done will change; because it is the only way growth that is sought, especially here in India in building affordable housing, for instance, can be addressed. How do we make sure that we build enough houses at a very competitive price for everyone?

If we do not put in place the right productivity level, we will end up having too little housing that is too expensive for the mass population to afford. So, looking for that productivity will require embracing new technologies. Not only embrace in ‘proof of concept’ type of mode, which has been done in the past, but really embrace at the core of how companies design their buildings, how companies really operate their programmes, and how they actually run their projects. And, that, for me, is a key change that still needs to happen, and we wish it happens sooner than later.


But, is technology the final solution? Aren’t we trying to take existing technologies and see how they address today’s challenges instead of seeing how technologies can lead the way to provide a better life going forward?

Simon Huffeteau: Technology is just one element of the puzzle. And, clearly, what we are talking about is not technology adoption. It is business transformation. And, when we look at the construction challenges, the product… how to switch in this productivity gap that we have between construction and manufacturing is not solely by acquiring new digital stuff. There is a significant supply chain management to change, new practices in logistics, there is probably new contract structures to put in place, etc. All these are purely business centric.

But, technology can play a role in that. The 3DExperience platform is here to foster this business transformation and bring innovation that was not able before. I would like to illustrate this further by taking the example of affordable housing.

Affordable housing, in my opinion, is a perfect example of the type of building that can be modularised. So, if you look at how we can help create a product line of houses, you will be able to get inspired by what is put in place in the automotive industry, where they have product lines. So, you can take lessons learnt from very productive companies, very productive industry, which is Automotive, and try to apply these concepts to the projects for the country, which is affordable housing. So, that is an example where technology can help foster the business transformation that is needed for the construction industry, in this case, housing, to make its transformation.

Clearly, software is key, because without the software, you cannot make the transformation. Is the software enough? No. First, you need the willingness to make the change. And, changing the design parameters, changing the design paradigm, is a big shift, deciding that you will not necessarily run one-off projects but that you will productise an offer of houses, of buildings that are created really like housing portfolio similarly with what you can do within an auto company. That, if you ask me, is a big change, and a big decision to take.

Companies that will be able to make these changes, they will be in a very good situation to actually deliver the promise of affordable housing. And, that is an opportunity that the market can actually take.


You have looked at affordable housing. But, if we were to expand it further, then is construction ahead, in tune, or behind in terms of adoption of technology?

Simon Huffeteau: Overall, what I have seen is that this market is, and remains, behind some other markets in terms of adoption of technology.


Are you referring to the Indian market in particular?

Simon Huffeteau: No, globally. Construction is behind other markets. And, there is no specificity, I think, in Indian market as compared to others. Globally, the construction market is not the first one to take on new digital technologies and adopt them at the industrial level. I think the construction markets, like all the markets, are very fast to test technologies.

I remember, some four years ago, I have seen demonstrations of augmented reality, with technology where you can see the pipes across the walls, etc. All these are very good pilots. But, going into an industrial usage of technology is more difficult in the construction markets, and that is due to several factors, one of which being the complexity of the overall value chain.

To deliver a project, you have multiple stakeholders, with multiple dependencies. We have contractual obligations that are, very often, difficult to handle and you do not have a single player, or you do not have a major player that can embrace completely a transformation. So, that is one of the differences. And, there are probably others as well.

Do you see a resistance to change, or to the acceptance of new technology?

Simon Huffeteau: There is a structural resistance to change, which is due to how the market is structured with small companies who are basically providing services to larger companies. But, I don’t think that there is a resistance in the minds of the people. I think people are working hard and are doing the best that they can to make this change. But, it takes time to make the change.


Who is going to pay for this transformation? Who is going to own this considering that there are multiple stakeholders? If you look at a much advanced country like Germany, for example, the local body municipalities are finding it increasingly difficult to fund the transformation that a concept like Smart Cities require. Do you see acceptance levels high in a country like India, then?

Simon Huffeteau: If we talk of the construction markets, what we have seen is, today, there is a big difference between what we see in the mature economies and what we see in the growing economies. Mostly in the growing economies, the infrastructure and overall construction continues to be driven by the Public Sector. So, there remains a very strong pull from governments or municipalities to create infrastructure, to provide incentives, building of new roads, and so on.

In western economies, the financing of the projects can be very different. Sometimes, it relies more on private investments. And, what I don’t know is, in the next five years, the model that we see today in India where public money is vastly funding the project investments will continue, or will it evolve into something that might be inspired by what we see today in more mature economies.

If that were to happen, it would change how projects are driven as well, because as you could see, the arrival of the private investors, or you could see companies who are developing for themselves some housing programmes, for instance, this will drive new methodologies, new approaches to project management and to requirements into the execution of the projects. So, that is, for me, one of the openings of the next few years and part of what makes Indian market, like other Asian markets by the way, very interesting.

So, is that the way the Jaipur project was worked upon?

Prasad Pandit: The vision for the Jaipur project was very different. They wanted to have the digital twin and the physical twin. This is what they wanted to make it, and have the virtual infrastructure engine going on the backside of the digital part of it, where they can get the typical population data, or the civil data, and then they analyse it and find new infrastructure ways, how they do it and how they would like to do the new township, or probably the new roads, or bridges, etc., and what is the cost of it.

At the municipal level, or the government level, there is the will to change, to transform the country. But, their biggest challenge is the approval process. Through this, they wanted to have the approval process much faster, and have more clarity over the projects they plan for the city. There are multiple aspects to the Jaipur project. So, as Simon mentioned, it is an evolving process, and it is the first step taken by Jaipur government to move forward. They are the first ones to take such a decision.

Of course, you can see the buzz now, as 20 Smart Cities have been announced out of the 100. And, other governments and municipalities are looking at Jaipur as a model to replicate.

Simon Huffeteau: Jaipur is a very good example of what we were just discussing. Today, in India, initiatives come from the government, which wants to be in the best possible position to take decisions. And, that is why, that is the purpose of Jaipur 3D city to have been put in place, because they wanted to make sure that they had the good business insight, they had the good understanding of the location of the projects. So, they really want to take control of the decision making.

And, decision making in cities are very complex. And, that is really the objective of this Jaipur project to make sure that we, as a company, can provide them with software to help them make the best enlightened decisions. So, making these enlightened decisions is what we are here for when we have projects such as with Jaipur.

And, of course, the way we address, or the way we work in the context of Jaipur is different as the one we have when we work in Europe. And, that is for the reason I mentioned before, that the role of the public authority is not necessarily the same in both the countries.


What about resilience of the software and the technology? Does the technology that is available today offer enough resilience to different climatic necessities, like earthquakes, floods, etc., and also provide for a new need in the market in terms of providing some service, for example?

Simon Huffeteau: The 3DExperience platform is here not only for the 3D. Let me get back to the Jaipur project. What we provide to Jaipur is this very robust decision making software. And, the foundation of it is, of course, the 3D. But, the other elements behind it is the collaboration, making sure that we can help people take decisions based on discussions they have with one another, based on consultation, so how we help Jaipur communicate with another entity. So, that is the core of the 3DExperience platform.

Another pillar of the 3DExperience platform is the simulation. Being able to provide simulation results in the model, being able to fuel simulation inputs into a simulation engine is actually a key element of what we can provide. And, so the 3DExperience platform can provide that, either natively or by importing simulation results that are computed elsewhere. And, so it helps provide the visibility we need for decision making.

And, so resilience is one of the elements. We have worked with diverse solution providers providing complex simulations. So, we have our own. But, sometimes, there are simulations that are performed at the level of a city, like flooding, for instance. And, so, we have done some partnerships with a third party to make sure we can be resilient.

The goal is to make sure that we can provide the simulation results in the 3D. And, that helps in the decision making process.

The companies that you speak about are stand-alone third party IT solution providers who are not part of Dassault Systemes.

Simon Huffeteau: Yes. In which case, we integrate…we do two things. We basically help structure the input data we need and we get the output data back for visualisation purposes.  So, that is the overall input-output, and visualisation engine. And, we manage as well the simulation process. So, we bring the quality assurance. So, there is a good level of quality of the simulation itself and that allows to embed external software when we do not have the technology. That is the openness that we can provide for such type of cases.


To what extent does Dassault Systemes’ solutions factor in open data, which is dynamic and constantly changing rather than being static?

Simon Huffeteau: In the type of data that we can handle, it is very diverse. And, of course, open data can be a part of it. We can leverage it and help create new data that can be published. But, more importantly, we can help in managing what type of data has to be public.

For example, if a city is currently working on an economic development plan, and has an objective to develop a new district, then during the first year or 18 months, probably the city doesn’t want to publish the studies. It could be because it is part of their internal initiative and they want to make sure that they can work, not in a confidential manner but without any outside interference. And, so, in due time, they will probably publish their results

But, there is a moment where the data has to remain part of their organisation and so, being able to give access to given entities or to even specific people, is actually a key element to what we are providing, which is an approach based on the role of everyone in an organisation and to make sure that the data can be shared with everyone that needs access to this data, and only these people. That is the part of the collaboration aspect that I was mentioning.

Collaboration includes as well protecting the intellectual property of the given project or given entity.


What about data breaches? The more important and confidential the data you generate, the higher the changes of it impacting your city, or your business when it is hacked. And, here, we are talking about governments, and local bodies, and city development plans, etc. So, how can Smart Cities really be smart? And, what role can Dassault Systemes play in this regard?

Simon Huffeteau: The domains where we are today can require us, or can actually require cities to handle data that might represent some confidential input, or confidential knowledge. As a corporation, we work worldwide, at an international level. And, as a company, we are able to work with different nationalities, and we are able to work with organisations that deal in defence matters, from different countries, in different places in the world. And, I think, we are really investing a lot in the 3DExperience platform to make sure it reaches the highest level of possible standard in terms of security.

And, the fact that we are able to work with such diverse set of customers in different domains, in different places in the world, sometimes who are in a situation where they would probably not accept that data could be shared between companies is, I think, proof that this data management can be handled with the 3DExperience.

Prasad Pandit: Today, for example, you can find people in certain chat groups using it for project management discussions, or construction management discussions. Don’t these chats on a group pose a threat? We can discuss issues regarding a given project on a chat group, which is prone to get leaked, whereas the 3DExperience platform is far more secure. It is more driven towards being engineering specific where you can have data relevant to your project management and you can see the charts, etc., so quickly.


What are some of the common barriers to the adoption of technology and digitalisation?

Simon Huffeteau: Today, for business transformation, a company needs to align people, processes, and technology. So, clearly when you look at it, at the core of it, helping change people’s mind is one of the most challenging part of business transformation initiative. And, the change needs to be handled well.

And, I think, in transformation programmes, the human side of it is very important. And, because there are a lot of opportunities that people can bring, there are a lot of ideas that people have for their own productivity, and, there is a balance to find in these programmes to make sure that the overall benefits that can be found from the top-down approach does take into account what people are ready to accept, but as well what people might think in terms of their daily improvements that they can derive from themselves. So, the people part is very important. And, it is not specific to India.

But, if I may say, there is a specificity to India. And, that is due to this market. And, again, that comes back to the way the market is structured. That comes back as well to the existence of the public authority where it might create difficulty to bring about the changes within the organisation.


Considering that we have home-grown IT solutions, do you find it difficult to penetrate the local market here?

Prasad Pandit: That depends, how Indians are considered to be adaptable to change. Look at the era that we are living in today. It is more of a social era; a collaborative era. And, that is the key, and the number one focus of Dassault Systemes, which is to be more social, collaborative, in design way.

If you see, the last 20-25 years of this construction market, people are working on specific tools. You have a CAD tool, you have a Modelling tool, a project management tool, etc. These are all disconnected environment. And, people are trying to connect with the layer of cloud, with collaboration there, to get collaborated everything. That is the transformative stage, or transformation Step One.

Step two will be that people would like to discard everything and have one single platform. So, thinking is more of a platform specific, and we are walking towards it without knowing exactly what we want. And, that is the state of construction if you look at it, specifically to India per se.

At the same time, there is an outbreak that there is a need for rapid construction. There is a need for having cost-effective construction for the community. And, that is where the first step towards the social and collaborative environment that people would like to take.

So, if somebody would like to develop something on the 3DExperience platform, which is home grown, we welcome it. But, if you look at the existing disconnected environments, they might go off very soon, probably in the next 2-3 years. People will ask for end-to-end entire process on one single platform. So, the construction industry is now really ripe for change. And, India is the correct market for that.

Simon Huffeteau: I would like to add two points here. Firstly, Dassault Systemes has a very significant footprint of employees in India. And, India is the third country in terms of the number of employees. So, I would safely say that the 3DExperience has some roots here in India.

Secondly, this is a generation of digital natives coming, with many digital natives already present here in India. And, let us not forget that India, today, is very globalised in its economy. So, I don’t think that there is a specific challenge that cannot be addressed here more than in any other country for this transformation and people aspect of it.

I would say that, like any other country, any business transformation project, there is a people element. And, we could even say that, knowing that digital natives are making more presence in India than in some of the other places elsewhere, the challenge here is a little lesser than elsewhere.


There is a lot of buzz around Cloud solutions. How is Dassault Systemes working towards providing the cloud services in India?

Simon Huffeteau: The 3DExperience, which is the main platform, the main product for Dassault Systemes, is available on the cloud. For Dassault Systemes, the cloud is the major growth opportunity for our organisation. But, it is also a major growth opportunity for our customers, because it can really facilitate the adoption.

The vast majority…almost all electric vehicle companies in the world are using the 3DExperience. How did we achieve that? We managed that precisely because 3DExperience is available on the cloud. So, the adoption by the people was straightforward, easy, very fast, and people can get connected, they log in and start working.

And, that level of simplicity is what we want to give to our customers to make sure that they can provide the inclusiveness they want to provide for their organisations, and also for the eco-system that they operate in. Of course, it is rather easy to bring in new employees on the 3DExperience on the cloud. It is very easy even to bring in a supplier, or to bring the new contractor who has been brought in for a project, on the cloud and give them access. That level of involvement is why we have made this switch to the Cloud with our cloud offering.


You started off this conversation by stating that Dassault Systemes set up an altogether new vertical on Cities. This shows that the company sees a lot of potential for its services in that vertical going forward. But, you do have competition in that segment, some very large companies who are buying out smaller ones offering tailor-made solutions. How do you see the way forward for that vertical that you are heading?

Simon Huffeteau: Yes, it is a growth opportunity for Dassault Systemes. And, we have created this group to help change the way this market is looked at. And, I think that AEC – and, even the terminology AEC – is part of a bygone world. And, that is why we are looking into this ‘Cities and Construction’ view of the world where we can really help companies project their initiatives, their development programmes into a bigger context, which is the city. So, that is the first framework why we have created this group.

In terms of development, clearly, there are domains where we as Dassault Systemes have no competitors. And, so, we will drive the market. Earlier, I had mentioned affordable housing. I said then that, not only because it is a huge market when we make a reference to India, but because of what I said just after, which is that it is the opportunity to drive modularity in the design.

So, going from a project to a project approach, and I am not the one saying it, can really give a double-digit improvement in productivity. Some will say that they see 30 per cent improvement, while others will say 60 per cent, and so on. The truth lies somewhere in between. Helping companies, we think, create their offering, their product portfolio of buildings in the modular manner, or in modules that can be assembled to create buildings, is definitely something where we will drive and where we will continue to grow in a very significant manner.

Why? Because, as I said of our experience, with this type of approach in the automotive industry, in the aerospace industry, and because at the very core, we are the only company who can handle that level of details. And, that difference in level of details between very large scale, city scale analysis, city scale project planning, while at the same time being able to provide the level of quality required for designing a bolt in a structure, or for designing the door of an elevator, or for designing a system that has a behaviour that we can model…all of this complexity in multiple scales, we are the only company that has such a range. We have no competition.

And, if the market embraces such a type of change, we will be leading there.

We are looking at around `200-crores by the end of this year
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