Case study on usage data analysis in product development Usage Analytics for CAD / CAM software
Software developers are under pressure to provide new solutions and versions as quickly as possible. Operating and usage data help. The US manufacturer CNC Software implemented a usage analytics tool with which it aligns its CAD/CAM software more closely to customer requirements.
A usage analytics software should help to improve the CAD and CAM software Mastercam.
(Image: CNC Software, Inc.)
With over 274,000 installations, the Mastercam CAD/CAM software is one of the world’s most widely used solutions for controlling CNC machines. The modular software is used for the production of components in tool and mould making, in mechanical engineering as well as in the automotive sector and in medical technology. The software covers numerous functions, both in the field of two – and five-axis milling and turning, as well as in artistic relief processing, 2D and 3D design as well as surface and solid modeling.
The requirements and needs of users have always been the focus of Mastercam. For this reason, CNC Software has also implemented an analysis tool that collects the usage data of its software and uses it for the development of new product versions. Usage Intelligence is the starting point for software engineers to make data-driven decisions and continuously optimize the functionalities of the application.
The idea behind this is simple: who knows what users need in practice, can adapt their product portfolio accordingly and anticipate customer wishes. The analysis provides information on how users use the software and which features are used particularly frequently. This also makes it easier to identify UI/UX problems or platform-specific bugs. In the IT environment, automated usage recording has gained in importance above all with the cloud and within the framework of the IoT or IIoT.
CNC Software tried for a long time to develop such an analytics tool in-house. But without success. Because like any complex software project, the implementation of an analysis system for the use of software, a number of challenges. In addition to meticulous planning in terms of hardware infrastructure, software and backup, it is important to establish reliable and secure telemetry between client and server.
Solutions for software Usage Analytics also generally collect and process terabytes of data, so that alternative, highly scalable databases and corresponding visualization frameworks are required. Not to mention data protection and various security measures.
Setting up such a solution on your own would not only have taken up many development resources, says Russ Bukowski, Director of Product Design at CNC Software: „[Sie hätte auch] a lot of work for product management, business assistance and IT teams means. After an initial cost analysis it was clear: we drive much better if we turn to a provider.“
However, finding a commercial solution was not easy. The code of the Mastercam software is based on various programming tools. This in turn means that the software usage analytics solution must also support this heterogeneous code base with unmanaged types, here in C++, as well as managed .NET components .
After three months of intensive market research, only a few candidates were shortlisted. Finally, CNC Software opted for the usage intelligence platform from Revenera (formerly Flexera). In addition to the functionalities and support, the manufacturer was particularly impressed by the price model: compared to the in-house solution, the costs of the analytics tool were almost five times lower.
Flexibly track any features
With the usage intelligence application, CNC Software can observe virtually every single feature of its software in real time and collect important insights. The high flexibility in selecting the parameters to be observed is crucial for the manufacturer.
Screenshot Analytics tool( example): User engagement, use of functions, etc.
Bukowski reports on the scope of Mastercam. “In total, there are around 1,200 features in the application. Some include only a few control functions. Others, on the other hand, cover 24 dialog boxes and almost 500 controls and settings. With the Analytics tool, we can specifically select each of these functions and thus receive exactly the information that is relevant to us.“
Aligning sales with user behavior
After an internal test phase, the analytics tool was quickly used. And after a month, CNC software was able to rely on relevant feedback in real time. Especially with new versions of Mastercam, the data is almost irreplaceable. Thus, the manufacturer can track the adoption rate from the very first day, eliminate minor teething problems and plunge into error analysis.
Usage patterns in each of Mastercam’s 19 languages provide important clues about market trends and regional differences. On this basis, CNC software can then initiate appropriate measures together with the global sales network, notify marketing or adjust prices.
“Our CAD / CAM software covers a wide range of machining technologies. The core functions of the application can therefore be quite different for someone in Germany than for someone in the USA or Brazil,“ says Bukowski. “So if a new feature is not accepted by certain target groups, we can pursue this in a targeted manner.“
Successful redesign in 18 months
Meanwhile, the Usage Intelligence at CNC Software has a firm place in the optimization of products. The analysis of usage data already played an important role in the development of the User Interface (UI) of Mastercam 2017. The aim was to modernize the user interface as quickly and cost-effectively as possible and thus to meet customer requirements.
For the design, the developers opted for a simple ribbon that connects the various elements such as menu control, toolbars, and dialogs. This simple operating concept introduced by Microsoft Office had only one catch: how should the approximately 1,200 functions of Mastercam be arranged in it? Which groupings make sense? And which features belong in the quick start bar? The analytics tool provided the crucial data here – in terms of the most frequently used features, the most common combinations and the like.
The redesign takes a total of 18 months. According to Bukowski, the Team project would easily have taken twice as much time without Usage Analytics. Instead of providing the new user interface in phases across three releases, users benefit from better navigation right from the start. A continuous loop from beta versions could be avoided. Feedback was not only received faster, but also better, as CNC software was able to track all beta testers in a targeted manner.
Nicole Segerer (Image: Revenera)
The result was a completely successful redesign. “The surveys among users were overwhelmingly positive,” says Bukowski. “The more complex a product, the greater the risk that intuitive operation will suffer. CNC Software is heavily involved in the education sector. Therefore, it is important to us that every new software is also suitable for teaching and makes learning easier for the students. A user interface based on usage data lowers the entry barriers and thus increases our sales. And our users are happy about the simple and fast operation.“
* Nicole Segerer is VP of Product Management and Marketing at Revenera.