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Synergis Q&A

By Ralph Grabowski, June 14, 2012

Scott Lamond, VP of sales and marketing, and Chris Fabri, director of solutions engineering at Synergis Software talk to us about the company, Adept, product and document management, competition and cooperation with CAD companies, more.


Chris Fabri


Scott Lamond

Q: Tell us about the history of your company. We seem to recall that Synergis has been around since the 1980s?
A: We were incorporated in 1985 after the company founders figured that AutoCAD would take off, and so we became one of the first resellers. We are based in Pennsylvania, selling to the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. As we gained customers, we found many of them were looking for a way to manage CAD drawings, as they transitioned from paper and the print room to electronic CAD documents.

Our breakthrough came when Scott Paper contracted Synergis to write version-control software for CAD drawings. We added an audit trail after another company became worried that an employee was handing drawings over to competitors. As a result, we first released the software as “Network File Manger” (later renamed Adept) in 1991. We offered Adept as an add-on for our AutoCAD clients, and over time began to see it become a larger part of our business.

In 2000, we split the company into 2 business units. Synergis Technologies, Inc. is the umbrella over 2 independent divisions housed in separate buildings within a quarter mile of each other. Synergis Engineering Design Solutions is a Platinum level Autodesk software VAR [value added reseller], while Synergis Software is responsible for Adept development, sales, implementations and support.

 Q: Adept being 20 years old, how has it changed over the decades?
A: The software has evolved a lot over time, and yet still helps customers address many of the same fundamental challenges – finding drawings and documents quickly, check-in/check-out, version control, management of CAD file relationships -- but it has grown in what it does. Today, there is a greater need for customers to share and collaborate with users in different departments and across different sites. Corporate acquisitions have resulted in disparate data sources. The biggest difference from 1991 is the need today to collaborate and share data securely and efficiently.

Another difference is that back in the 1990s, we needed to explain to customers why they needed to manage their documents; today, it is taken for granted that such software is needed, even at firms that still use Windows folders to organize their drawings. They realize it is not if, but when, they implement a system like Adept.

Another change is that customers today are looking to automate processes, because they need to become more efficient. This is especially true for manufacturers who are looking to reduce the time and expense involved with the engineering change process. They want the software to facilitate routing documents through approvals, tell them when there are delays, and notify others when the process is complete. They don't want to have to wonder where something is in the process, or to have to track it down at someone's desk.

Q: Adept works with Autodesk software, as well as those from other CAD vendors. Does Autodesk compete with you?  
A: Yes, we compete with the higher tiers of the Vault solutions, primarily when a potential customer’s primary interest is in managing their Inventor files specifically. We compete less with Vault solutions when potential customers are looking not only at the needs of the CAD department, but also at the document management needs of the rest of the organization.

We seem to compete more with Autodesk in discrete manufacturing for managing Autodesk-based product or machine design information. However, Adept is also a really good fit helping companies across many industries manage their facilities engineering information or plant floor layout and equipment maintenance.

There is certainly some overlap between the solutions, but we are also an Autodesk partner and registered developer; and we are also a SolidWorks Gold Certified PDM Partner.

Q: Is Autodesk's PLM 360 a competitor?
A: It's so new that we haven't seen much activity around it yet. In any case, PLM 360 does not address the same problems as our software; PLM 360 is not PDM [product data management] at all; that is what Vault is for.

Adept is a powerful, mature enterprise data management solution, and we have more PLM [product lifecycle management] capabilities than many competitors. However, when it comes to some tasks offered by PLM vendors, our approach is to integrate with best in class solutions already providing that functionality. We do enterprise PDM [product data management], and believe that PDM is 80-90% of PLM.

Q: How would a company prepare before taking on Adept?
A: They don't need to do a whole lot. We have a series of prepared questions from which we learn about their workflows, the folder structure; department goals; and how they interact with each other. We bring in their legacy data, and train their users.

We have tools that eliminate duplicate files; that take their existing processes and incorporate them into Adept; that automate manual processes. For some customers, we spend time helping them document and refine their existing processes. At this point, customers begin to realize that Adept's general document management is good for non-CAD areas of the business, such as purchasing, quality and human resources.

Q: How long does it take to implement Adept at a business?  
A: We’ve had some customers do it themselves with just a few days of hand-holding over GoToMeeting. It can absolutely be done, but is not generally recommended to get the best value from the solution. Many take advantage of our Quick Start program, in which we essentially get them up and running and very functional, with some or all of their legacy data imported, and a few of their processes automated with our workflow capabilities in about 5 days. A large portion of our clients will have us do a full implementation which generally begins with our administrator training class (4.5 days), which is followed by 2-3 days of implementation planning and design; the implementation, configuration and user training typically takes another 4 to 10 days -- so implementations can take anywhere from 4-5 days to 3-4 weeks.

Q: How does Adept differ from competitors?
A: Well, there are several ways. One of our biggest advantages is our vaulting method. Unlike our competitors, Adept does not scramble file names and folders. We provide all the security they need, but leave files in their native format. We’ve found that customers don't want their mission-critical, proprietary designs locked up in a in a vault that scrambles/encrypts file names and folders. By leaving them in their native format, they can be linked to by other business systems and documents – something that does not work well when documents are encrypted or scrambled. Even more important, customers want the peace of mind of knowing their documents and folders are still there in an intelligent format should they ever need to access them outside the system, or should they ever need to move them to a different system in the future.

We also offer unique vault replication capabilities, which ensure all users have fast, local access to the documents they need. This is especially important when customers are collaborating across geographies with large AutoCAD, Inventor or SolidWorks assemblies. Unlike other solutions, Adept replicates only the binary changes between documents that have changed, instead of replicating the entire file across the network. This method speeds file transfers and reduces bandwidth impact on the WAN.

We support multiple CAD systems really well, including AutoCAD-based applications, Inventor and SolidWorks. Adept is tightly integrated inside each of these applications. This allows CAD users to search for files, check them in and out, open/insert/replace and copy files, view related information, file status and much more -- without leaving the CAD application. Adept has a bi-directional link with Inventor and SolidWorks properties and AutoCAD attributes – and manages file references, like parts, assemblies, drawings, configurations and XREFs throughout their lifecycle - so as files are edited, moved, renamed, routed through workflows and so forth – Adept keeps all references intact. An audit trail is maintained for each document throughout its lifecycle. Our integration with MicroStation is also really strong, with similar property and relationship tracking capabilities, however we are not integrated inside the MicroStation window.

Every one of our licenses of Adept includes and is tightly integrated with Oracle's AutoVue 3D Professional that which offers native file visualization for hundreds of formats including AutoCAD, Inventor, SolidWorks, Pro/ENGINEER, Solid Edge, NX, CATIA, ECAD [electronic CAD], and office and graphical formats. AutoVue can do advanced markups, 2D and 3D comparisons where it highlights the changes between 2 files, sectioning, layer toggling, convert to PDF and more. It’s integrated with Adept, so administrators have control over viewer functions, like who can view, print, markup, convert, etc. And markups made in AutoVue are integrated into the Adept database, so users of Adept can quickly see what files have markups. Other PDM solutions recommend many separate viewers for each of the different formats that users need to view, and along with them being less functional, they are difficult for IT departments to deploy and maintain when compared to a centralized visualization solution.

We put a lot of effort into a transmittal automation feature that helps clients create, distribute and track document transmittals that are sent to vendors, contractors or clients. Most of our competitors don’t offer this functionality at all. Transmittals can be routed through workflows before being distributed, and files can be sent in native format or automatically converted to PDF before distribution.

Finally, a big factor is that we have a direct relationship with customers; we develop Adept, we implement it, and we support it directly. We find that clients with more complex implementations, where they have several sites, perhaps global sites - or pre-exisiting systems that need to be migrated into a new solution, feel a sense of confidence working directly with us, rather than working with a local VAR. Through talking with us, they come to realize this is our entire business, and that we have the depth of expertise and focus to make them successful.

Q: What are your target markets for Adept?
A: Well, some 65% of our sales are into manufacturing. Discrete manufacturers use it to manage product design and machine design data with Inventor or SolidWorks. Process manufacturers, such as chemical, and oil and gas companies use Adept to manage plant floor layout and equipment maintenance, and for plant design in some cases. Their EPCs [engineering procurement construction] contractors use it as well.

Another big market for us is organizations that want to manage facilities engineering information. This may include large manufacturers, universities, insurance companies, hospitals, and government agencies.

Q: Is Adept the only solution sold to large corporations, or does it coexist with other EDM systems?
A: Some large customers have local decision making, so there are different EDM solutions installed at different offices; sometimes, the central IT [information technology] office dictates one EDM company-wide, especially in the large chemical and oil and gas firms.

We can coexist and exchange data with other business systems, and so can integrate with ERP [engineering resource planning] systems, project management systems and so forth. Adept can export data on specific triggers, and we also have the ability to import data. More advanced integrations can be created using our API. Most data is in a SQL [structured query language] or Oracle database, which makes it easier to exchange than proprietary CAD data.

We have a broad range of customers: 20% in small firms (under 100 employees); 40% in mid-size (100 - 1000), and 40% in larger firms (over 1000 employees). It works well in in different sized companies and across many industries. Adept is a somewhat horizontal application – not specific to one industry or CAD application.

Q: Is it easier for a customer to go with PDM from Autodesk or SolidWorks? After all, both offer with their MCAD software a free version of PDM in the box.
A: Autodesk offers a version of Vault for free, which may be good enough for initial use if a customer just wants to manage Inventor data in a small workgroup. Free could certainly be perceived as easier, however it typically comes down to the requirements of the organization. Most companies want to find the best solution for their requirements. We have found that the more educated the buyer and the more complex the environment the client is coming from, the stronger we are. If their needs for document management span multiple departments, and they have global sites, we do especially well.

Q: Are you an EDM or a PDM system?
A: Both; some even call us "PLM" or "FEDM" [facilities EDM]. The acronym depends on the audience. On our Web site, we say, "Data management for the product, plant, and facilities lifecyle." We provide both general and CAD-specific document management capabilities. 98% of our clients do use Adept to manage CAD as part of the scope of our implementation. It is typically our entry into an organization as engineering often has the most complex and demanding needs.

Q: What is the pricing?
A: We have three clients:

Everything is included: the API [applications programming interface] is free; there is no fee for visualization; no server fee. Annual maintenance is on top of this, and includes unlimited support and all upgrades.

Q: What is the hardest part to convince a customer, the price? 
A: Price is not as much an issue as it used to be. The biggest issue is focus, where customers are busy with other projects.

Any change within an organization causes some hesitation. But when they have more than 6-7 CAD licenses, work in a couple of locations, deal with remote manufacturing plants or remote design teams, then something like Adept is a must-have to handle revisions, file relationships -- these things becomes a mess quickly if our system is not in place.

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About the Author

Ralph Grabowski, TenLinks managing editor, is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...

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