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An Interview with CoCreate's John Alpine

The position of CTO is new at CoCreate. Why did the company create this role, and why now?

We're responding to a changing business environment where rapidly changing processes are breaking down the utility of existing solutions. For example, when companies outsource, their supplier will most likely use different tools and processes than the OEM. This drives down the value they're likely to receive from their PLM solution. Today's software technology dynamics force companies to develop products faster, so our solutions need to match this pace of change.

With this environment in mind, CoCreate divided the role of R&D into immediate and long-range customer needs. We already have teams in place to meet current customer requirements in upcoming releases. But we also need to anticipate our customers' needs, say, three years into the future. In my role, I will plan how to meet those future needs. I'll also create a bridge between our customer's future needs and their immediate needs.

Setting goals is easier than carrying through. How do you envision meeting these long-range customer needs?

Sometimes they make a CTO of a guy they don't know what to do with, some guy with wild-haired ideas who they put in a nice corner office. That's not the case here. I won't be sitting at my desk making pretty slide presentations about strategies that never get off the ground.

The title "CTO" is almost a misnomer for this role. I'm more of a CPO-Chief Problem-solving Officer for our customers. By that, I mean I will take a very hands-on approach to any practical challenges we encounter on the way to making CoCreate's goals a reality. I'm here to drive our long term strategy in a way that produces tangible, short-term results for our customers.

To do that, I have to consider the interplay of three forces: customer problems such as multiple CAD systems, outsourcing, and interoperability; business needs such as time to value and ease of deployment; and technology needs such as Web services, client deployment, security, and IT transparency. My job is to synthesize a workable strategy from these forces.

Most CTOs are in charge of IT, not R&D. But we organized this role around R&D to ensure that we can actually carry out the plans we develop. I plan for CoCreate to continue providing products to meet our customer's immediate needs. At the same time, I'll guide our development process so these products are building blocks for our long-term direction of extension and evolution.

Expand on what you mean by extension and evolution.

Understandably, customers don't like to change their processes; if something works, they want to keep it that way. But in the long-term, this can lead to a set of outdated technology solutions that fall behind changing business needs.

That's where extension and evolution comes in. We can extend by providing products that work with and add value to our customers' current solutions. But to these products, we can add functionalities that open up new ways of doing business.

I'll give you an example. CoCreate sells the best solution for real-time, fully interactive collaboration on the market today - OneSpace Collaboration. Its CAD-neutral functionality lets customers use it with all their existing CAD applications from other vendors. Yet its Web-based environment lets engineering teams design in a collaborative way that wasn't possible before.

You've mentioned other vendors. As a small company amid larger competitors, how can CoCreate distinguish itself?

We know we have competitors at our heels. However, CoCreate is uniquely positioned to hold its own among companies of any size.

We're not concerned about competing with other small vendors. The landscape is littered with smaller startups that had great ideas but couldn't deliver and support them on a global basis. CoCreate is different. More than 14,000 companies use our products. This strong customer base gives us two advantages: the experience to understand current marketplace needs, and the revenue to invest in new technology that will benefit our existing and future customers.

On the other hand, I see two reasons that our small size can in fact help us hold our own amid the larger competitors. First, our size makes us nimble. In today's business environment, companies' technology needs change at breakneck speed. Because CoCreate is not tied down by a legacy of monolithic structure, we can respond quickly to these changing needs.

Plus, our products tend to be self-deployable. We don't require customers to buy loads of consulting just to get started. In fact, our goal is for customers to start seeing a payback on investments in CoCreate products in 60 days or less.

Second, our size makes us attractive to partners. We know that we have to bring in components from others as well. Because we're not trying to directly compete with them, we represent less risk to potential partners.

And our unique niche is an advantage, regardless of company size: we don't try to do the same thing as everybody else. We know that CoCreate can't survive alone. That's why we're in the business of providing technologies that add value on top of the other solutions that customers already use.

How does CoCreate's technology fit into customers' existing needs?

Before I go into specifics, I want to emphasize the importance of understanding the business plan of distributed engineering teams. Like our own customers, at CoCreate we develop our products with dispersed and international teams. We have R&D centers in Germany, Colorado and California and use outsourced software developers in India and Eastern Europe. Because we and our customers have the same challenges, we can take our plan and apply it directly to meeting their needs.

We know what our customers are facing right now. They increasingly design and manufacture in outsourced environments. They have to respond quickly to design changes. They struggle with interoperability problems. In response, we're offering them technologies that are aimed to integrate-technologies that radically improve the solutions available solutions to end users.

Integrating and adding value are our goals with all of our products. While our project data management, CAD, and collaboration tools are part of the same solution set, we have componentized them so you can take or leave any component. We wanted an open environment where any company could play.

Our customer base is in the most competitive, dynamic place in the market; they must be extremely responsive to change. It's no coincidence that our biggest market is where outsourcing, thin margins, and short life cycles are prominent.

We see a great need for the dynamic modeling approach, for instance, as more markets move into this world of monumentally rapid change. Of all the CAD tools on the market, OneSpace Designer Modeling, our dynamic-modeling based CAD offering, is by far best alternative for agile product design. In fact, it's the only available alternative to history-based systems, which makes it the best choice for team-centered design.

With the Enterprise Act of 2002, the US government committed $47 million to resolving interoperability issues in the automotive industry.

What is CoCreate doing to solve interoperability problems for its customers?

We're actually helping them stay out of the fray. That's necessary because interoperability is an intractable problem. It has no solution because the variables change faster than you can attempt to address them. With data translation solutions that typically run years behind current design technology, data loss is inevitable.

I think Evan Yares, president of the CAD Society Commitment Project, said it best: "In the past, various organizations have tried to promote interoperability by drafting data frameworks and standards, which could be used to translate data from system to system. This technological approach, now 20 years old, has been an abject failure....There are CAD vendors who compete based on trying to hamstring their competitors."

CoCreate's approach is to provide our customers with an alternative to data translation. The truth is, you only need interoperability at certain points. For instance, you design a transmission in one CAD system and design the auto body in another. You only need to understand the points where these two components of the automobile interface. Now you have a more tractable problem.

That's where our Web-based collaboration product comes in. Everyone keeps their data in their own systems. When it's time to look at those interface points, you come together in the CAD-neutral environment. Once you've understood the design issues, you can make the needed changes back in the native CAD programs.

Again, we're giving our customers a practical solution to a complex problem. Why make it harder than it has to be?

What do you predict will change most in the industry over the next three years?

Today you'll still find some vendors offering products that are massively over-complex for the current business environment. They were built around monolithic program architectures-CAD systems that try to do too much. You also see installations where companies have to pay the consultants more for deployment and training than the software itself cost. I expect that customers will refuse to play that game in the future.

I see a push for simplicity coming over the next few years. Component-based software development coupled with Web-based components will be revolutionary.

Look for CoCreate to move increasingly toward automatically integrated, updated, and distributed Web-based tools. Long-term, I want our products to be as easy to use as e-mail is today. We want all of our customers to see value from their investment in 60 days or less.  

About CoCreate

Since its inception in 1984, a singular vision -- "Innovation through Shared Minds" - has propelled CoCreate to its position as a leading provider of collaborative product design solutions that allow companies worldwide to design better products faster.

CoCreate's OneSpace Solution Suite is an integrated component of an organization's Collaborative Product Commerce (CPC) infrastructure that complements existing data and process technologies. The OneSpace Solution Suite provides a powerful, collaborative product design environment that fosters innovation and communication across the extended development team. This environment empowers people with various interests and talents to join together to explore ideas, to make more rapid and better decisions, leading to superior products and faster time to market. 

CoCreate can be found in more than 30 countries and on the World Wide Web at www.cocreate.com.

CoCreate Software Inc., 3801 Automation Way, Ste. 110  Fort Collins, CO 80525, USA Phone: (970) 267 8069

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