"My vision is India will be a $1 billion business in five years"

Anup Jayaram talks to Sylvain Laurent, Executive Vice President, Global Field Operations (Asia-Oceania), Worldwide Business Transformation at Dassault Systemes and Samson Khaou, managing director Dassault Systemes about company's plans for India.

Dassault Systemes, a spin-off from France's Dassault Aviation has all along been among the leaders in sustainable development. As 3D design has spread across the world, Dassault provides business and people with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. Sylvain Laurent, Executive Vice President, Global Field Operations (Asia-Oceania), Worldwide Business Transformation at Dassault Systemes and Samson Khaou, managing director Dassault Systemes India spoke to Business Today's Anup Jayaram on their India plans. Excerpts:

BT: What are your immediate plans in India?

Samson Khaou: We announced the acquisition of the joint venture with Geometric, our R&D lab. We have finalised the acquisition. With this, we now have R&D capacity of 2,200 people based out of Bangalore and Pune. We are also increasing our technical force to support the digitalisation trend in India. I think India has witnessed a lot of capacity increase especially to support our customers. And this is the reason why India benefits from a lot of investments. You can expect the same of China because those are the two high growth countries. So we have R&D and technical capacity increase in India over the last three years.

Sylvain Laurent: In India, one question could be what would be the channels to use Dassault Systemes technology? That would be skills. And that's why I push from a strategic point of view here. How do we manage new co-operation with universities from different states, to bring this value and to embark? That's because we need skills here, not only from Dassault Systemes' point of view but our customers. Many customers are looking for new candidates, new talent and it's important that we teach more people.

BT: Industry says only 20 per cent of engineering students really fit into a company today. Does that need a re-drafting of the courses in universities?

Samson Khaou: We announced an Aerospace and Defence Centre of Excellence with the Government of Karnataka. The minister of IT in Karnataka wanted to have skilled engineers to reconfirm and reinforce their position as an aerospace hub in Bangalore. So the industry is looking for industry-ready engineers, trained with the latest development of technology. And what we did is that we take the solution that we provide our aerospace customers with. We take those solutions and train students. Since July 2017 we have trained two batches of 25 students. So that's 50 engineers, and the state government is asking us to accelerate this training.

We bring industry experts to provide training. Whether it's from engineering colleges, or university level, in order for them to cover the gap and to build slowly what we now call in Dassault Systemes, a life-long education programme. You need to think of this starting from high school to the engineering college and to university. At every step, you need to think about what skills and technology you need to bring to the young generation. Europe is doing very well on those terms, in India we need to do it collectively.

Sylvain Laurent: The initial cue came from the Karnataka government. It's a model that we created with the government. I think we need to do it for more industries. In this case, it is for aerospace and defence. It depends on the area in India, but I think we could use someone for shipbuilding, automotive, life-science or hi-tech industries as well. But maybe there's a way to promote it as a structure/centre of the initiative. It works very well and is a good investment and the outcome of this will be quite significant.

BT: With the world moving towards AI and robotics, a whole set of people are getting out of the job because they don't have the skills. What kind of skill development do people need in a changing world?

Samson Khaou: If you look at our 3D solution - CATIA or SOLIDWORKS -- the technology we include is what we call cognitive and AI-enabled. So we incorporate those AI solutions in the technology for the designer to be assisted in their design. That's the technology people very much know that we do. But the fact is that we incorporate those technologies inside, make them exposed to the solution. Second, what we also have as a technology and we are promoting, is old data analytics. We call it information intelligence. Our 3D Experience platform has this data science and information intelligence built in. So the fact that we also develop the skills of those generations around the 3D expense platform, they are exposed to data science, and this is the new type of technology that will make them industry-ready.

BT: In India, we've been talking about Smart Cities for some time now. How much have you been involved with and how far has it moved?

Sylvain Laurent: Over the last three years, people are talking but not really starting something. Because it was difficult for them with politics and it's different for each city. But, I trust that from this year or the next, they will make a decision based on the case of cities like Singapore, because they can look at it as a showcase. While Singapore is one of the largest, China is moving very fast now. The approach to Smart City varies.

BT: Are you working with the 100 cities in India on Smart Cities?

Samson Khaou: We have been requested to present our solution, our experience of virtual Singapore to some of those cities. We are still having expression of interest. As you know, when they talk about Smart City, every city has their own definition of what is a Smart City.

BT: Broadly it seems to be water, sewage, transportation and communications. If you look at it, these are 3-4 things that everybody talks about.

Samson Khaou: Yes. Infrastructure management is actually how you will plan the expansion of the city or its renovation or refurbishment. You have all the energy which includes all utilities management and safety. Those are the very generic case of the city, but what we usually find out when we talk to the city, is that they want to cover those used cases, they want to see 3D of the city. But, what we know from different cities is that they need old data to make the right decisions. Whether it's the citizen living in the city, the government authorities, or whether it's the planner, you need to have those communities associated based on the relevant set of data information. And I think sometimes what we need to explain to those cities who express interest is that they need to consider all this community information and also how technology will benefit them.

If we are considering what will be a reality in 2050, 70% of the population will live in an urban environment. If not, I think we're going to be in front of a lot of crazy cities in some countries. It's interesting that if you are like a virtual Singapore model, you could pre-empt certain situations.

BT: What's the next big thing you see coming in the next six months to a year?

Sylvain Laurent: I'm thinking about 10 years because as you know, when we're working we have to project 10 years in the future. And if I look at the last 30-35 years, every year we opened a new capacity. If you focus on India, I think Cloud and Marketplace. 3D printing is part of the Marketplace. Cloud is a way to give access to certain new technology for all companies with less investment, less issue with infrastructure. Because the way you manage Cloud, they manage the infrastructure for the companies. So the companies will focus their investment on their knowledge, on their product that they want to develop, and less about the constraint about IT, the environment. The Cloud will bring this capacity to access in an easy way, about any technology like this. Because this technology becomes more and more complex from an IT point of view, and the Cloud will bring this easy way to give access to them.

Marketplace is a way for any company anywhere in India to access or order immediately any small product. If you look at it from an organic point of view, you have some limitations. The Marketplace is the way to inform everyone it's a way for any company to give possibility to get any product they want to manufacture. And 3D printing is one example.

BT: So do you see large companies like yours, setting up their own Marketplaces? How will it work?

Samson Khaou: Our solution on Marketplace is really to help our customer to use our platform to access or enforce their eco-system. They can leverage it through the Cloud to extend their eco-system, or to look for a partner who can actually bring them added value services.

Sylvain Laurent: Or sometimes to create innovation also. Marketplace is a way that you can lend one marketplace. Then you can say maybe with my traditional approach, I don't create new innovation capacity. With Marketplace, you can lend it outside. Sometimes we have an incredible version, we start up on something. They jump in the Marketplace saying I have an idea, etc. And they provoke and deliver immediate value, that in your own company sometimes you have difficulties to do it by yourself. It's not a way to replace jobs of people, but it's a way to provoke the fact that you create natural innovation capacity. In the future in the next 6 months, I think 3D printing will also be key. Because 3D printing or additive manufacturing, it depends on how you mention this, it's a strategic element to completely transform the way to think about the product. It could be a bottle, it could be a phone.

BT: How big a business is 3D printing globally?

Sylvain Laurent: Globally we are on double-digit growth. In the last three years, people were talking about 3D printing tests in any industry. In the next three, it will become reality and evidence. New capacity to engage with the new material, a new way to consider a new product completely differently, with a new generative design I could say. So it's now an evidence for metal, plastic, new material. It's a way to reveal the new material capacity to serve all industries.

BT: With all these new technologies coming, there will be skill development right? Will there be jobs shaping in the organisation? Do you see that? People trying to upscale within the organisation to fit in.

Samson Khaou: We launched a few initiatives with SOLIDWORKS in India. We launched the start-up initiative and are supporting start-ups. That's because start-up is the way to ramp up technology adoption quickly. We have the Aakruti Design Contest for school and university students to become entrepreneurs before they graduate. It's a contest we conduct annually to promote entrepreneurship at the university level.

Second, when you look at the traditional industry, this is the centre of excellence that industry focuses on. We are promoting the centre of excellence. At the same time, we also want to accelerate our partnership with the key university in every region. In the west, we need to develop knowledge on how to develop the electric car; in the south, it's about aerospace. If you look at the eastern side, we want to develop things around SME and in the north is where urban planning is key for us.

BT: What's the main difference you see between skilling in India v/s China? Why are they so much faster than India?

Sylvain Laurent: First of all, it's a political model, it's a social model. The discipline in China is much higher. I don't believe that in terms of skills it's much better. Except that when they make a decision they align everyone and the way they execute, that's the key. On the other hand, also because from a strategic point of view in terms of country, they have a huge vision.  

BT: What's your ambition?

Sylvain Laurent: My vision is India will be close to $1 billion business in five years.