Community

When I was selling SolidWorks in the late ’90s, one of the big selling points was that SolidWorks had “community”, or whatever we called it back then. The “community” used to consist primarily of the USENET destination comp.cad.solidworks, but that has faded into irrelevance, replaced by forums and Facebook, and few rogue blogs.

On top of that, we had live local user groups. The live user groups started as just a bunch of resellers holding meetings after work, or during lunch. That evolved into users starting to take the reins of unconnected groups throughout the country. Eventually, the company started to get involved, and this made things better for a while, then like everything else, the bigger the organization, the more often it fails to connect with real people.

A real community of users is one thing that I think Solid Edge really needs in order to capitalize in the current shift in momentum in the CAD industry. I’m not saying that Solid Edge has to make everything look exactly like SolidWorks in order to succeed, in fact, there are some useful lessons SE could learn from SW failures and shortcomings. Let’s take a look at the various aspects of community Solid Edge already has in place and which areas it might need to develop.

On-line community

Solid Edge has an on-line community that appears to be driven by Siemens PLM, the larger organization that includes NX, TeamCenter, and some other things such as Femap, eFactory, I-deas, and some others. Usually you would think that’s a recipe for something that’s not-so-good, but I’ve got to say I’m impressed with the flexibility of the option they have chosen.

The Siemens PLM forums are called the GTAC Support Forums, and the software underneath is vBulletin. GTAC is Global Technical Access Center, and is the organization responsible for providing support for Solid Edge, along with other Siemens PLM products.

I haven’t checked all of this out personally, but I understand that you can read the GTAC forums using an old-school news reader. My ISP has dropped support for news servers, so I would have to pay extra for access to SuperNews to test this out. If I were a regular on the SE forums, I would certainly find a way to make use of this option. News readers are a lost art, and can be configured to sort through a lot of information to bring you what you want to hear about. It’s a great option with GTAC that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Another option is Tapatalk. You can use Tapatalk on both Android and iPhone, in addition to BlackBerry, which is a huge benefit. It is essentially a mobile forum reader app. Accessing GTAC through Tapatalk looks like this screen shot to the right.

The reason why I haven’t accessed GTAC through USENET is that access is considered a benefit of subscription. Karsten was nice enough to get me access to the main forum, which I have to admit has a very nice Solid Edge section.  But to access through USENET requires some special codes. This part of the GTAC forums bothers me a little bit. I understand that the forums are considered a value-add part of the subscription service. But the content on the forums is pretty good. It’s not like there is a lot of stuff up there that PR people would want to hide. I  mean there are complaint threads here and there, and some of them get rather involved, but really, the majority of conversations are positive. It’s a nice forum. Very informative. I asked a question one time, and got several very helpful answers. I searched for answers a couple of times and found answers sitting there just waiting to be discovered. So it’s valuable. It may not be as active as the SolidWorks forums, but the percentage of people who I would call “expert” is certainly a lot higher on the Solid Edge site.

I’m not sure what I would have SE do regarding making the forums more widely accessible. Maybe non-subscription people could have read-only access. In order to ask your own question or participate in a conversation would require subscription. I don’t know. I just know that the forum is valuable enough to be an asset – a sales tool if you will.

There is also the Eng-Tips engineering forums site which has a Solid Edge section. I tend to avoid Eng-Tips. I’ve been kicked off the site more than once for simple things like describing how to get started as a CAD contractor. (They felt I was advertising my business, which is apparently a kick-you-out-able offense.) They are a bit overzealous with the moderation, and my experience was that the information was very one-sided  because they didn’t allow a rounded conversation, and people are so busy competing for gold stars. Anyway, not a big fan.

And of course on-line means so much more than just forums. I’m a bit of a Twitter and Facebook cynic, but if you’re looking to keep up on the latest happenings, you definitely need to keep an ear to the ground in Twitter.  Facebook too lists major events and things you want to know. I admit to actually quitting Facebook two years ago, and Twitter to me is just a bunch of exhibitionists, attention addicts, and marketing people shouting inane banalities into the great void. But that’s just my opinion.

Live User Groups

Live user groups are a thing I have heard of with Solid Edge, but not a whole lot. I’m sure they exist, but I’d like to learn more about them. The thing that’s hard about user groups is getting people to lead them. I’ve started or helped start at least a dozen user groups from New York to Florida. Some of them I started from a distance with the help of a local contact, and some I started myself as a local or semi-local resident. Getting a group going is a matter of having a good leader, getting the word out and having some sort of an interesting draw. Keeping a group running takes consistent meetings, always offering something of value, and not burning yourself out. Mostly, each group needs a driving force who can connect with what the users want, but still be able to deliver something (technical presentations) without much (or any) help. Usually in a group of say 20 people interested in CAD, you’ll have at least one person willing to step up and take some responsibility for leading the group. If you are just leading the group and taking care of logistics, it requires maybe 5 hours of time per meeting. That’s making arrangements for a meeting place, arranging for food, getting a speaker, making sure you’ve got the proper technology (laptop with software, projector), and coordinating the publicity effort. If you’re the one giving presentations, it might take about the same amount of time to write your presentation and more if you have to prepare special models. Coordination of food requires a phone call a couple hours before the meeting, and maybe a pick up and delivery.

Doing the publicity for the first meeting is the hardest. You might have to make a couple of big emails through a reseller, or whoever has the local customer list. This is the part people get touchy about. Customer lists are things sales guys will not part with, and will certainly not want to share with anyone who might give them to a competitor. This was a major failure point for SW, since they created this nasty environment between resellers, and they would sometimes not cooperate with user group efforts because some felt it was giving away something they should charge for, and also felt that competitors were scalping customers. Solid Edge could easily improve on this sort of thing, and get some great participation from customers and resellers.

To make a single meeting work takes a few hours effort from a handful of individuals. Each group can determine if they want to meet once a month, every other month, or quarterly. User group meetings can be a great source of information, local contacts, and for some people a leadership resume builder. Confidence in public speaking as well as some leadership and organizational skills are valuable entries on your resume.

Solid Edge University

The idea of having a large central gathering of Solid Edge users once a year is a great idea. It’s like a national or international user group, and your presentations are like a who’s who of Solid Edge tech experts both from the company and a MVP list of “civilians” from local user groups. While I’m aware of the greatness of the internet, there is nothing like meeting with people who are like you and not like you to share techniques, concepts, tips, and all sorts of ideas. This sort of event creates relationships that span the globe between developers and end users, and are continued on-line. The value comes both from technical information that helps you do your job and also from the connections with other people that you form.

Solid Edge University is a bargain compared to other CAD conferences. It’s probably a little less like a Disney vacation, and a little more like a CAD conference. I wasn’t at last year’s event, but I followed it closely. I definitely has some fun, it’s not all work, but it will certainly be worth what you spend on it. I’m looking forward to being at this year’s event. For those who can’t make it, I’ll report as much as I can.

This year, I’ll be interested to see how many non-users show up to SEU. I think a lot of people are going to be evaluating new CAD systems, and in particular Solid Edge is one of the options with the most potential out there. SEU will be a great place to evaluate SE – better than a sales demo, and more varied than a training class.

So, as Solid Edge (the product) continues to grow, one thing that Solid Edge (the company) can do to push it along is to allow the community to propel it and give it momentum. In order to do this, the community has to be as open as possible. Blogs like this one are a great step, and of course you can’t ignore all the rest of the social media venues out there. But in the end, it’s all about people. Whether those people meet face to face, or by shouting into the void every time they get a cup of coffee, it’s still just about people.

14 Comments

  1. Great post Matt.

    I was always a big fan of the regional SolidWorks Technical Summits. They would be presented once a year in different regional locations, up to 9 each year. They are a cross between SolidWorks World and a local User Group Meeting. I especially liked the presentation format of two tracks, track A & track B, where attendees have the choice between two presentation sessions. I like the one day of solid 7-8 hours a day of 60 minute technical sessions and the casual breakfast & lunch. Only one day away from work and you’re good to go.

    I find monthly meetings kinda boring and stale after a while. May I never eat another cold pizza again, LOL!

    Cheers,
    Devon Sowell

     

     

     

  2. One of the great assets of SW has been the community or rather the willingness of users to share their enthusiasm and info with others. It was one of the things that caused me to choose SW over other options at the time being somewhat isolated geographically from other users as I am. Towards the end though the promotion of user groups and the like was overdone or even abused by SW marketing trying to cultivate something along the lines of Apple. Sooner or later people begin to resent encountering zombies everywhere and the no blemish reality warp they find themselves enmeshed in. So although I agree with Matt that community is very valuable I would say try to enable it but dont try to control it. Escaping the SW matrix and looking afresh at what SE has been up to and what it offers is a welcome experience.
    Having said that however I am wondering how serious Siemens are about getting their product out there and also how commited they are to pulling in SW users especially ID people. I appreciate this blog is something of an outreach for that purpose but I cant help but feel it is more of a diversion for them than something they are actively going after in an enterprising sense. I think if the tables were turned SW would be more active about growing their business by connecting with SE customers perhaps by appointing someone to be shepherd over the new found flock as it were. I know Matt has said in the past SE is a capable program hasnt been put out there enough and I would kind of agree with that. I think if Siemens decide they are serious then some sort of meeting space or spaces would help new users to find their way without disrupting the usual community too much especially if they are inclined to talk about ID stuff and compare to SW a lot. Things like that probably aren’t interesting to existing users and answering many newbie questions might be a little tiresome. Perhaps when Matt finishes his reporting he might land the job of SE ambassador to SW refugees with some responsibility for housing and feeding them and passing on their needs and wishes to the powers that be. :)

  3. Mat, I switched from Pro/e to SW about 3 years ago for I guess 2 main reasons. Both are sort of intertwined in that access to training or educational information and experienced communities that can offer advice and help you solve problems are very valuable to people learning or continuing to use a CAD system.  With Pro the user community was fractured and didn’t have a good way to connect with one another.  Mcadcentral seemed to have the most active Pro/e forum at the time and it was pretty sparse. The training material from PTC which you had to pay for was pathetic and an excellent cure of insomnia. I have worked for a number of small companies where there were at best 2 or 3 engineers or people doing CAD work, so not a very deep pool. It was fairly common to run into situations where we didn’t know how to get the software to do what we needed. Many of these small companies didn’t have current maintenance contracts with the reseller for financial reasons and so that resource wasn’t available. If it was a company that used SW then we posted to the forum and usually had an answer or at least guidance within minutes or an hour or so. If it was pro/e then may a day or two. All of us wanted to learn how to be better, faster and do more complicated or sophisticated work but with Pro/e we had no easy way of propelling forward our own knowledge. When we were hiring new engineers or CAD people the applicants were predominantly SW users and these people (most of whom were just out of school) seemed to be very skilled modelers based largely to the fact that there was so much support and they were able to draw on such an open community. When I switched I found this to the case. I think if SE wants to grow a community of enthusiastic users then open and well supported forums and access to online (well produced) training will go a long way. Reciprocal, when people are enthusiastic they write blogs, post tips and tutorials that they help get more people enthused.

    1. Peter,

      “I think if SE wants to grow a community of enthusiastic users then open and well supported forums and access to online (well produced) training will go a long way.”

      I could not agree with you more and the on-line training is already in place.

      Since November 2009 we have delivered Solid Mastermind the expert on-line resource for Solid Edge professionals. Access to the site is provided on a low cost monthly subscription basis with no long term commitment. Our subscribers vouch for the quality of the on-line training as illustrated by a recent testimonial:

      “I just wanted to let you know that I’m extremely impressed by your training program!
      It’s the best presentation and value of any on-line CAD training I’ve seen!
      Awesome job!!!”

      For whatever, although perhaps obvious reasons the Solid Edge reseller community have been reticent to promote Solid Mastermind which perhaps explains why many are unaware of it. Despite that we now have subscribers in over 20 different countries worldwide… and we have Solid Edge Learning for those in the educational sector.

      We are currently actively testing an open forum, accessible to all, to sit within Solid Mastermind.

      The success of all the community initiatives mentioned within this thread will ultimately depend upon a level of openess and transparency that many within the Solid Edge community either seem uncomfortable with or are unwilling to embrace.

      The internet is an open forum. Praise is given, grievances aired, everyone has a voice and nothing can be hidden. That’s how it works.

      So whether it be user groups, open forums, social networks etc. etc. everyone within the Solid Edge community; Siemens, resellers, users, and prospects alike should actively promote and support them. It would be to the benefit of all. Ultimately everyone is capable of choosing which initiatives they wish to take part in, they just need to know the options that exist and where to find them. Not much will grow and thrive in the dark.

      1. Arthur,

        I subscribed to your website a few years back when I was learning ST2, I have to say that I found it the single best Solid Edge learning resource by a country mile. I use NX these days, but still take more than a passing interest in all things Solid Edge, so I took a look at the current Solid Mastermind syllabus. All good stuff but for many new users the update to ST2, ST3, ST4 etc. can get a bit confusing – just wondering if you have any plans to start afresh and  update all the videos to the latest and greatest?

        Hope you don’t mind the feedback, I think you’re doing a sterling job and recommend you to everybody and anybody who’ll listen.

        1. Neil,

          Thanks for the feedback. It’s always welcome… and for your kind words.

          To explain our rationale. Solid Mastermind was designed to serve; established users of Solid Edge, new users to Solid Edge and those evaluating or trialing Solid Edge.

          The update training is specifically for established users of Solid Edge, the largest proportion of our membership. From our experiences and surveys that we have conducted many Solid Edge users are not working with the latest versions of Solid Edge.  To help them, as and when they transition, we continue to keep all the update training sessions available. This training is typically not available elsewhere as Solid Edge resellers focus only on the current version.

          For new users or those evaluating Solid Edge the Fundamentals and Synchronous Migration curricula are the most appropriate. For evaluation users we deliver by email a structured curriculum outlining the Solid Mastermind sessions to view and in what order.

          As with any resource of this type the updating of videos and content is a continual and ongoing process.

          Our focus is currently with ST5 so on-line training is available when that release ships to users.

          With Siemens now standardising on an annual release cycle we will refresh certain content thereafter.

          With the introduction of this ‘On The Edge’ blog we would also like to gauge whether there is interest in a SolidWorks to Solid Edge transition course.

          Kind regards,

          Arthur

  4. This lack of community in both users and integrated aps are the chief reasons SE’s growth will be held back. When I was looking to choose between SW and SE it was better software, SE , or better community, by far SW.

    I don’t understand this near total lack of desire to see the SE community grow. And in spite of occasional words to the contrary I have to assume this is true because actions speak louder than words. SE has had one user group I know of start up since 2005 even though the base has expanded considerably. It is moribund. Last year I waited for the go ahead to have a meeting and we were asked to wait until the Rollouts were announced so it would not conflict. Then you add in 60 days before and after PLMworld for meeting embargoes. Never heard anything and I just said the heck with it. It is evidently not important to anyone but me and I gave up. I believe integrated aps are on the way but time will tell how much and how good. Last year the rollouts should have seen the startup of 17 new user groups. The individuals were there and with support leaders could have been enlisted. Instead we had nothing. No followup of an existing list of people who were shown to have an interest in SE.

    The enthused and active user community is your single biggest source of new sales as far as I am concerned. I write a blog and spend time with people in regards to SE because I am a huge fan of what I use. My words of endorsement carry far more weight than some sales shmucks speil becuase it is what I think and not what I say to profit from.

    The connected user community, if you care to create one, is the best resource for other users in tech help, jobs, work, you name it. People with a common interest and software environment will of course reach out to each other to everyones benefit. Your VAR may be good but after hours you can’t go to him with your laptop and get help nor does he get you jobs or contracts. GTAC, dittos. Community will help you with every aspect of your software use.

    This whole user community disconnect is so baffling to me. After ST4 launch and the ST3 rollouts I thought the user community was going to happen and then just nothing for a whole year. NOTHING!!!.  Don’t misunderstand me here insofar as the Huntsville ST4 launch and the upcoming Nashville ST5 launch. These are big deals to SE users and are generating excitement and are a key event towards building a user community. But a once a year trek to Mecca is not enough.

    I am really glad you bring this topic up. I have been saying this for some time and perhaps they will listen to you. I have asked for instance for things of interest to post on my blog for SE. I am willing to spend some time here but I have quit asking because it is futile. I expect this will be read here and not responded to again. But you see this is the way it is and is an indicator of their interest in the user community. Heck I don’t care who the blogger is just do something for crying out loud.

    SE is going to find out that the best software can lose out to the lesser if the lesser brings lots of other goodies to prospective user tables. You know what, you can serve mediocre food and still pack your restaurant full with the right atmosphere. You can serve the best Prime Rib on paper plates at Joe Blows Bistro where you have to enter the shabby foyer from the alley entrance and the guy with the crummy food will put you out of business because he knows happy motivated customers create business.

    I am terribly frustrated over all this nonsense and just don’t understand any of it. If community does not happen neither will the SE jugernaut.

    http://solidedging.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/solid-edge-needs-a-user-community-to-thrive/?postpost=v2#content

     

    1. Dave, first I can assure you that I/we agree and believe in the importance of the user community. Without going into too many details, you do know that we tried an experiment immediately following last year’s event in Huntsville, which you were involved in. We also did the productivity summits a while back. The summits were a great success, the other exercise not, although we certainly learned from it. So while I appreciate your input, as always, I am a bit surprised to hear you state there has been nothing. Anyway, I am not a fan of sweet talk, as you know, and we do need to accelerate user group and community development. There is a lot to do. As you know, I am in the process of organizing a get together with selected users in Nashville to discuss what we can jointly do and do now. The great news is that there are several very passionate users as yourself who are willing to actively support an ongoing community. Siemens needs to take the lead for sure, but execution will only be successful together with our users.
      I also hope to leverage Matt’s extensive experience in this area. Not only is he helping develop our community with this blog, he’s also been there/done that with the regional user groups. ;-)
      We are really excited about the building momentum of Solid Edge and it’s absolutely clear that our success not only depends on the product, but the whole experience. Let’s get it done together!
      Best regards, Karsten

      P.S.: request for open forum access noted.
      P.P.S: For those who don’t know me, I am globally responsible for the Edge business for Siemens.

  5. SE should open the forums to non-subscribers. Perhaps a middle ground would be to open the form to CAD users who have tried the SE demo .I hope that they do not emulate the DS corporate attitude. I am waiting to see how SE responds when Matt says something critical.

    I will probably jump from SW to SE when surfacing matures. Now I get my smooth shapes in SW from the Geometry Works add-in. Clunky, but the shapes are smooth second order.

  6. ENG-TIPS.com has many issues but it is the only resource in English outside of Siemens for folks who are not on maintenance.  There is a part of the Siemens forums that is open to the public for the users of the free student addition.

    I don’t want to drag things too far off from the user community discussion but another thing we have found lacking with SE is a community of resources to draw on when we need work from outside. We struggle to find contractors or outside design firms that can work in SE. I know a company that bought a license of SE for a design firm they were so desperate.  If anyone knows where to find SE contractors or design firms please speak up.

    1. HDS,

      I work for a Siemens VAR and engineering consulting/contracting/services is about half our business. We do quite a bit of this kind of work. I think most people wouldn’t think to look to their software reseller for this kind of work but it makes sense.

      -Ben Sampson

  7. Hi Mat,

    I used to work for SolidWorks, and I am a long time user of the system.

    I have just bought SolidEdge for my consultancy http://www.thebigconsultant.com … and especially as I had a problem with the surfacing technology in SolidWorks.

    I am about to embark on learning the system. And I will look forward to reading and contributing to your new blog! … What a great and welcome surprise to find you using the system!!

    Here’s to learning and evaluating SolidEdge!

    Kind regards,

    John Biddleston

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