Software bundles – stack’em high and sell’em low

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Stack it high and sell it low’ is one way of shifting software. Following the success of bundles like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite, CAD vendors are following suit. Martyn Day wonders if you can get too much of a good thing
I have recently decided to get healthier and one of the new edicts of Martyn Day 2.0 is to eat a lot less meat. Therefore I have been thinking non-stop about hamburgers, as one would.

I am old enough to remember when a hamburger would fit within the palm of my hand, nowadays it seems the super-size culture has gone into overdrive with many burgers being the size of my face, and as stacked as a game of garden Jenga.

It seems the logic to beat the competition, is simply offer more, a lot more, because bigger is better. Or is it? With recent CAD releases, I couldn’t help thinking that the same methodology is now deeply embedded in our little world of design software.

Autodesk has just launched its 2012 products and the big new thing is product suites. Coming in three sizes; Standard, Premium and Ultimate, it’s possible to get a whole load of design software at discounts up to 65%.

The Ultimate version contains the following products: AutoCAD Mechanical, Showcase, Sketchbook Designer, Vault, Mudbox, Inventor Professional, 3ds Max, Alias Designer and Fusion. That’s a whopping nine professional level packages to savour, many of which are on our ‘lust’ list. However, can you imagine the training required to be proficient enough to extract the maximum value of this £9,600 gourmet serving of design tools? And with software skills, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

While Autodesk is now undoubtedly offering the biggest designer ‘burger’ out there, other vendors have long offered bundles, such as SolidWorks, which has Premium, Professional and standard flavours of its modelling, simulation, sustainability and data management products. There is also the Velocity Series bundle from Siemens PLM that provides Solid Edge, Teamcenter Express CAM Express and Femap.

On the one hand, we have never had it so good with mature, industry-proven solutions available at a great bundle price, but as this trend appears to be on the up, I wonder if there will be a point where much of what is added becomes roughage to try and justify the purchase or ongoing subscription price. I think I’d term it ‘bloatware’.

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Pros and cons

I do feel like I am looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth when raising this issue but with an increasing trend of bundling, vendors bypass the need to actually ‘sell’ each piece of their software jigsaw. No longer does the software’s benefit need to be justified as everything is ‘in the box’. By creating big bundles at a massive discount you price-coerce purchases but don’t necessarily ensure usage.

Internally at DEVELOP3D we have been debating this for a while now. Al Dean recently said to me that there’s a huge disconnect between the sales of a bundle and adoption of the technology they contain. Al had just conducted a survey to find out more on usage and while not complete yet, the indications are that there’s a significant industry problem.

We are finding that there’s a sizable group of users that have simulation tools but don’t actually use them! The reasons given fall into three categories a) don’t have the experience or are not qualified enough to use them, b) haven’t been trained or c) simply ‘don’t need them’. This has prompted much head scratching in the office and will be food for thought for those vendors trying to sell simulation tools.

CAD vendors should not rely on their customers’ eyes being bigger than their stomachs

Bundles are awfully attractive because significant discounts always are. For the vendors, they get to ‘add value’ to their products to either better compete or feel like they are delivering something in return for subscription revenue – the rise of which now dominates the income landscape of CAD software developers.

By bundling in previously standalone products vendors can a) stave off possible penetration into their user-bases from competitors b) claim wide adoption of a technology by merely shipping it in the box and c) potentially become more influential of customer’s processes.

For customers, big bundles can increase the cost of training and may lead to future increase in subscription payments and, as we have discovered, engineers may never get around to using the more advanced features.

There are also downsides for the vendors to consider. There is no question that the added product complexity of bundling can, and has, caused instability in major releases, as the developers struggle to update huge amounts of code each year. Also when it becomes time to completely rewrite the code for the next generation of design products, it will be harder to maintain data compatibility or offer as much functionality as the previous generation’s last release.

Appternitive

Meanwhile, seemingly in a galaxy far away the complete opposite to bundling is happening.

In tablet computing and on mobile devices small, cheap, lightweight applications, like AutoCAD WS, are all the rage. These ‘Apps’ don’t really link to one another, tend to perform one task well and need no training. Users can just dip in and out, use the software and never give it two thoughts.

While tablets and app culture are quickly emerging, other potential changes in the way we use computing could have significant impact. Apparently every application in design is moving to ‘the cloud’, with different licensing and open access via the web. We may ultimately see the end of these big bundles as ‘on-demand’ is the antithesis of today’s bundle culture.

Conclusion

There are going to be many customers that are delighted with their super-sized product suites, and will attempt to make the most possible from their investment and will not mind paying for the additional training to do that.

However, I feel that the majority will use only a ‘soupçon’ of increasingly advanced bundled capabilities. CAD vendors should not rely on their customers’ eyes being bigger than their stomachs; unfortunately for me, when it comes to burgers, it’s often the other way around.

What do you think of bundles? Do you have one and how much of it do you use?

Martyn Day wonders if you can get too much of a good thing


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