Simulating The Universe: Bernard Charlès and Dassault Systèmes

Dassault Systèmes has taken on modeling and simulating the most complex systems imaginable: living things.

I had the opportunity to chat with Bernard Charlès, the president and CEO of Dassault Systèmes, the 3DEXPERIENCE Company. I heard him speak at a recent conference in Las Vegas, and was struck by this vision, and how he and his team have moved from the world of computer-aided design and simulation, to a transformation beyond product lifecycle management into 3D product development, and now even into the realm of simulating biological processes with the new BIOVIA brand, and modeling the natural world with GEOVIA.

I wrote about Dassault Systèmes first in November, after attending one of their conferences in Las Vegas (see Leading by Thought Leadership), saying

Dassault Systèmes has a long history, starting with 3D modeling for aerospace, and through many iterations, the company became a leader in product lifecycle management, and advanced 3D modeling of the world’s most complex designed objects, like jet aircraft, assembly lines, mining, and myriad other industries.

But the company has reimagined itself as an advocate for simulating and modeling the most complex systems imaginable, which are not objects like satellites, swiss watches, or drones, but living things.

The company’s Living Heart simulation, for example, is an example of taking modeling and simulation technology developed to model products originally, and applying that to biological systems. The complex processes of the heart — the flex and contraction of muscles, the electrical properties underlying its cadence, and the flow of blood through its chambers and circulatory system — are being used to understand the heart in a deeper way than ever before. In a similar way, the company is exploring the future of cities, and the Internet of Things, applying decades of experience in modeling and simulation in the world of living — and connected — things.

About Bernard Charlès

From Dassault Systèmes site:

Bernard Charlès was appointed president and chief executive officer of Dassault Systèmes in September 1995. Today, the Company, world leader in 3D software, is a global top-ten software company.

Charlès has helped instill a culture of ongoing innovation to further consolidate Dassault Systèmes’ scientific capabilities and make science part of the company’s DNA. He joined Dassault Systèmes in 1983 to develop new design technologies. In 1986 he founded a dedicated New Technologies, Research & Development, and Strategy department. In 1988 he was appointed president of Strategy, Research & Development, helping establish CATIA as the world’s number one product design software.

He is a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure engineering school in Cachan and has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering majoring in automation engineering and information science.

A firm believer that technology should contribute to progress in society, Charlès has positioned Dassault Systèmes as the preferred partner for innovation, empowering businesses with sustainable step-changes in competitive performance.

These strategic developments reflect Charlès’ firm belief that 3D universes open up new frontiers in innovation, and that imagining sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing product, nature and life is the only way that business, science and society can co-exist in the future.

The Interview

I was very impressed with the direction Dassault Systèmes is taking, like the simulation of the human heart example that I experienced at the 3DExperience conference in Las Vegas. The company’s transition from designed objects — like cars and other complex products — into biological and ecological systems represents a long-term vision for the future.

But one of the things I didn’t hear Bernard Charlès talk about there — and which struck me as being missing — is artificial intelligence. For instance, IBM’s new initiative around Watson’s analytics. It would seem like a natural thing to include in the vision, since Dassault already deals with big data and structured information: what Dassault’s customers are using to develop complex simulations, rendings, part management or whatever. So I asked Charlès about his strategy for AI.

And he expressed real skepticism about the maturity of AI. He said, “You know that this AI topic, since you’ve been tracking the business for years, has been up and down. You remember the rules-base engines and all those kinds of technologies in the 90s and even later on. We have done a lot we have a lot of embedded rules-based techniques I would not qualify them as AI, but they provide the capacity to capitalize certain knowledge in processes that we continue to develop.”

He continued, “You remember ICAD on these kind of tools, interactive tools for modeling products. In some way you capture intent on experience on when you use them. This is very core in all the modeling technology we do: that’s one piece. The second piece we are doing now is what we call deep data science which is on the Compass as Ii [see below] — which stands for information intelligence — which goes beyond analytics.”

He discussed production systems where big data and analytics play a major role today. “We have tools now to look at the big data what you track on the shop floor level, when you do composite parts, and we do highly sophisticated analysis to find where the problems are. So we have the combination of a very high volume of data and a very limited source of disturbance for the process, so we can find resolution to those issues.”

Charlès went on to describe the company’s work with cities, saying “We formed a cities project where you get all this massive data from energy, waste, transportation flow, you name it, all sensor data. […] Same thing for the human analysis, analysis of human cells using big data analytics or human treatment using big data analytics. We have not declared yet that we are going one step further — which is to find out how to make those systems smarter — for now, we are staying at the data science level.”

But why stop there, I asked. Charlès replied “Because for the time being we are not convinced today’s AI engines can put massive data, rules, or templates together. We don’t believe that those engines are ready: they aren’t mature, yet. So we are limited that to pure research at this time.”

I also wondered about collaboration technology, and Charlès said ”I think those tools are useful but they are just tool kits. What we are trying to solve in collaboration is to connect the social community with the data with the modeling of what the company does. I am not talking about 3D modeling. I am talking about the business modeling of what the company does. So what we are trying to solve in this social collaboration is the connection between those elements.”

When we talked about integration with other technologies, Charlès pointed out that integration with those tools is fairly easy, and many clients have done so. “If you talk about Jive or what Microsoft Office is doing, in fact it’s relatively easy to connect the communities together. What I have noticed in implementation of these communities with their clients is they start and are excited but don’t go far. And the reason is this is what we are using inside, so you can look at my communities and everything that I do but you can connect content, and these widgets are coming from all the business. […] If someone is using Microsoft Office documents, we can import them or connect them from outside just from the link. If someone is using a community and sharing content from Jive or other tools, they can easily connect their community with our communities. […] And we have never seen a situation where someone — having set up certain kind of communities for internal communication and so on — would not be able to communicate with widgets: we do that from outside. We can even create widgets from SAP or other ERP very easily: so, that’s the way we approach this.”

We also touched upon the visualization of work, which seemed to me a natural aspect the company’s modeling and simulation. Charlès shared his vision in the area of business model optimization, and the acquisition of Quintiq and Enovia. He shared this, “Quintiq is business optimization, the company does business modeling optimization. For example, the U.S. FAA uses Quintiq to plan and allocate resources and ensure a non-stop service. One model for their entire transportation flow uses Quintiq. In order to optimize a business you need a modeling and simulation engine: that is what Quintiq is doing. They really are a world leader in what they are doing. We closed the transaction on September 9th 2014, On the other hand, you remember our acquisition of Enovia? There we have project management, program management, delivery based program management, contact based program management… so we have things related to: How do we organize the job? To plan? And we use those techniques for the FAA, for automobile manufacturers, and so on. […] And the third dimension: Internally, we use the 3DExperience platform for out market analysis, portfolio analysis, how we connect marketing with sales planning and with R&D. Many of the customers using the 3DExperience Platform are using it to improve the modeling of the way they improve the way they run their business even without changing the legacy system they have.

Charlès closed that thought about business visualization saying he agreed with me, “Yes, we need new visualization tools to show graphically what has been boring for years: it’s boring.”

And we closed by touching on the Internet of Things, something I had raised at the start of our discussion. I knew that Dassault Systèmes had acquired Netvibes as a business intelligence platform, rendering all sorts of information in business dashboards. But Charlès wanted to discuss the application of Netvibes in the Internet of Things, saying “We are planning to use Netvibes in our approach to the Internet of Things or IT at large. It’s a growing trend, just like 3d printing. We have customers building and modeling all sorts of complex systems today — whether it’s military equipment, or manufacturing, or pharma. This is all about multi scale systems, where we model, for example the complete physics of a car, both electrically, mechanically, and at the level of the materials in the car’s parts. That’s really deep in modern simulation. Beyond that, we are expanding Netvibes to move into the Internet of Things, so if you have a Dropcam at home or a Nest thermostat you will be able to control them through Netvibes. That will be launched in 2015.”

So we had come full circle, starting with the company’s legacy in modeling and simulating designed objects, into the broader world of natural systems — like biology, cities, and increasingly sophisticated simulation of multi-scale business systems. While Charlès believes AI is a bit immature to roll out in production systems, today, his company is researching how best to integrate that with the big data and analytics that underlie the company’s offerings today. And then, he’s planning to start rolling out solutions in the Internet of Things realm this year, another proof of Dassault’s accelerating trajectory under Charlès leadership.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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