The Open Letter to Autodesk: two years on

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Two years on from the original Open Letter to Autodesk from International architectural practices, AEC Magazine was keen to hear from the signatories, as to how well they felt Autodesk had done in meeting their requests


This summer at our NXT BLD event we were reminded that it was almost two years since the original Open Letter to Autodesk came out and rocked the architectural world.

The practices involved raised serious concerns over a number of wide-ranging issues: the lack of development of Revit, increasing cost, lack of control for managers over licences with punitive non-compliance fines, too many licence models, the cessation of network licences, the jumble of applications that were suites / collections, of which only 10% are typically installed, poor interoperability and no insight into the road ahead.

The fundamental part of this was Revit and its future. Autodesk seemed to have pivoted to fund development and acquisitions of what became the Autodesk Construction Cloud. Revit development velocity for years had failed to meet the expectations of mature users whose businesses have come to rely on the tool.

With a software architecture that did not much benefit from multi-core CPUs or powerful GPUs, and an insatiable drive to model bigger and in more detail, design IT managers were frustrated at the loss of productivity. With Revit’s code base being 20 years old, the more fundamental question was – is Revit ever going to be redeveloped from the ground up or is this it?


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As design IT directors, responsible for whole software spend, the Group was also exacerbated by Autodesk’s business practices, and was reeling from the loss of network licences, the ending of perpetual licences, and a wholesale move to Autodesk subscription.

Autodesk reacted with several public responses from Amy Bunzsel (senior vice president of Design & Creation products at the time, but made VP of AEC soon after) and Autodesk CEO, Andrew Anagnost.

Autodesk also agreed to meet the Open Letter Group (OLG) for a ‘listening session’, to hear the complaints to the C-level team at Autodesk. After this, there was ongoing engagement between the Revit development team and the OLG, with much time spent on feature requests and product roadmaps.

There were some immediate benefits, seemingly in response to the Open Letter, such as Autodesk delaying the end of Network licences and an extension to the number of versions back a company was allowed to run. But these may have coincided with changes already in the pipeline. However, we did notice Autodesk placed some job adverts around Revit and there did seem to be more budget allocated to Revit development for the subsequent releases with a considerable uptick in enhancements. Autodesk was already negotiating to join the ODA to get access to the IFC library but in answering the OLG, Autodesk highlighted this as a case in point that showed it was listening. Autodesk’s Revit team also published its roadmap on Trello.


What does AEC Magazine think? Read our analysis

Autodesk Open Letter


New statement from the Open Letter Group

The Open Letter Group (OLG) recently sent AEC Magazine this update on Autodesk’s actions to the points they raised in their 2020 open letter:

In the period since the Autodesk Open Letter, Autodesk has reached out to a wide variety of architectural customer groups. The feeling to date is that whilst Autodesk has listened, it has not heard what the architectural customer base is saying on several fronts.

On licence compliance, several Open Letter signatories have been audited, with no compliance issues found but requiring substantial non-productive effort from each practice to prove their case. The compliance model is
broken because Autodesk still fails to provide a licence model and effective administration tools that allow customers to self-audit and maintain live compliancy.

What right-minded and ethical organisation instructs its sales and support channel not to help clients with their licence compliance?

Further, the pandemic has expanded and accelerated how design software is being used in a remote, hybrid, virtual or flexible office environment. Software delivery and licensing have to keep up with the pragmatism of the age and the multiplicity of infrastructures that have been deployed.

The feeling remains that Autodesk has deliberately avoided investment in appropriate tools, instead expanding its compliance staffing and revenues. This issue is at the core of the customer-to-vendor trust relationship and fundamentally undermines the progress that may be made in other areas.

What right-minded and ethical organisation instructs its sales and support channel not to help clients with their licence compliance?

Whilst practices have been moving over to named user licensing since the letter was published, the premium subscription has added little value but a significant ill feeling.

The end of the potential price cap on subscription costs in 2026 is seeing a build-up of momentum for alternative software solutions.

The success of the USD file format in the visual effects design pipeline has highlighted the potential of new interoperability workflows. Where an industry has the power to define its own standard.

The historically poor IFC implementation in Revit has continued to drive the industry to an over-dependence on RVT, to the detriment of the industry.

In Revit 2023, we see some improvement in interoperability implementation, but it will take 12 months in most practices before production feedback on Revit 2023 is common knowledge because of the natural project cycle in practice and the hard-drop nature of the Revit release cycle.

It is clear that there are other improvements in Revit 2023, but they are not overall a strategic re-plumbing of the application. The need remains for a strategic re-boot in order to create a platform that is fit for purpose for the interoperable design and delivery of the next generation of global projects. Clearly this is a difficult thing to do whilst tied to the RVT file format.

The Open Letter Group are awaiting a road map update for Revit and many of the original signatories of the letter will be in attendance at Autodesk University later in the month. We will continue to monitor Autodesk’s progress and report in more detail our understanding of the gap analysis that we perceive exists between current offerings and the customer requirements for a next generation interoperable design and documentation software infrastructure.

The Open Letter Group would ask the industry to come together to develop a common set of specifications for the development of the future software platforms for interoperable digital design and delivery in AEC.

We hope to be able to say more about this in the coming months.

The Open Letter Group – September 2022


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To delve a little deeper into the feelings of the Open Letter Group (OLG), AEC Magazine caught up with some of its members to discuss their current thoughts on the future of Revit, licence compliance and what a next generation BIM tool might look like


Now, having been through two years of engagement with the Autodesk Revit team, it was a good time to catch up with the Open Letters Group to discuss and expand on their published update.

The OLG on Revit development

In general, the OLG has been underwhelmed by the new features delivered for Revit over the last two years.

While the OLG was happy to see that work on Revit had certainly increased, the types of functionality the OLG had requested had not shown up in the releases so far and were perhaps in roadmaps still spanning many years out. The OLG infers from this that Revit is still underfunded in terms of development and there is reticence from Autodesk to do anything deep to the core of the product.

The OLG told us that the features they requested are absolute necessities, but Autodesk consistently tries to rationalise them, stretching development over many years, if at all.

While the OLG thinks the Revit product team has been trying to move in the right direction, it feels like Autodesk isn’t actually pumping in the money to make things happen in a sensible period of time. How much Revit development would the cash spent on Spacemaker have paid for?

Meanwhile, Autodesk still won’t admit that the core desktop Revit code needs a complete rewrite. The OLG believes that it could be assumed that, for every dollar Autodesk invests in Revit now, it will be worth about half of that in the future, as opposed to investing that into a new solution.

Looking at the roadmap of Revit and pondering the cost of all this work (in terms of the resources, developers and money) even if you put a random figure on it at, say $20 million, that amount could probably go further in a fresh codebase.

This is the kind of challenge which software SVPs have to consider when spending money and possibly a reason why development of Revit, as a mature product, seemingly dried up.

There is a general concern among the OLG that Autodesk doesn’t have a medium to long term solution for the Revit conundrum. Every dollar Autodesk spends on Revit, as it is today, is not going to be a great investment long term. It’s also possibly another reason why Autodesk is engaging with the new generation of BIM start-ups, possibly looking to buy or invest. It’s trying to cover all bases – the existing customer gripes and the long-term vision. Would any software firm fundamentally want to keep performing open heart surgery on its ageing flagship product, or is there a time to start anew?


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A number in the group thought that, as a subscription-based business, Autodesk has to do both short and medium development with Revit, as well as long-term planning. But the OLG explained that the long-term vision will be pointless if customers got fed up and jumped ship. One member commented, “If they keep abusing us like they have, and they’re not significantly investing in these short-term fixes and just keep presenting roadmaps of the future, I for one will be nervous about moving to any new product with them, knowing how they’ve treated us on the last series of products.

“If someone has even a slightly weaker offering, but looks as though they’re a bit more customer centric, and aren’t trying to screw me on a daily basis, I’d rather take that.

“That’s why they need to invest now. So, Autodesk needs to spend, it needs to spend on Revit and for the future, otherwise they’re not going to have a reputation left for that long-term play.”

The OLG members discussed how long-term and short-term development should probably be done separately. There is the distinct impression that Autodesk has been doggedly following an evolutionary approach, as opposed to one that is revolutionary.

“Autodesk thinks that they are trying to make Revit into the future and there’s a perception of what the future needs to be and how the present needs to improve are the same thing, when those are two totally different conversations,” said one member.

Autodesk has over 1 million Revit customers and, in the long-term, it would obviously like to keep them all in any transition, but they have to cater for customers that want to walk and those that want to run. The ones that are running tend to be the most advanced BIM firms.

As an industry we spend hundreds of millions on products every year, we should not be continuing to pour money into a company which is taping together a broken platform

The OLG feels Autodesk is trying to improve a very broken system. While the OLG will keep on engaging with Autodesk, the lack of speed in delivery of significant improvements could mean the OLG’s time would be better spent writing open letters to the industry in general, to find firms that want to start from scratch, and help the OLG spec out the core principles of a design and delivery platform for the AEC industry or the AE industry.

One member commented, “As an industry we spend hundreds of millions on products every year, we should not be continuing to pour money into a company which is taping together a broken platform.”

Meanwhile, the OLG’s design IT directors know moving to a new product would be a punch, and accept that there is an inherent fear that there will be a sizable overhead expense on all of their practices to retool their teams.

Even though that is a pretty scary prospect, it’s possible that Autodesk would migrate customers into something that is unpalatable for the way they want to work. AEC Magazine senses there are an increasing number of firms within the OLG bracing themselves for the prospect.



The OLG on next generation BIM

There are a number of new BIM start-ups, and several established software companies have also been encouraged by AEC firms expressing their dissatisfaction with the incumbent market leader. While most of these are embryonic and have yet to even ship a beta version, the OLG is going to change tack to engage with these firms and the industry as a whole to start the conversation about what a next generation software platform would look like.

The work is underway already and will take a month to compile an initial conversation document. The OLG will then start its outreach and the industry at large can help all the software firms, including Autodesk, to crowd source and document the issues the industry faces and will face in the medium to long term.

The OLG on licence-compliance

While talking with the group, licensing came up many times. Autodesk’s non-compliance efforts create stressful situations for design IT managers and IT leaders. While piracy is obviously illegal and should not be tolerated, there is a unanimous feeling within the OLG that the Autodesk’s non-compliance ‘sales’ team has become an industry-wide concern.

In the initial Open Letter, the OLG highlighted ‘unempathetic and aggressive business practices’. In Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost’s open reply he correctly assumed that this related to Autodesk’s licence-compliance enforcement. He acquiesced that, “If some of these efforts have become overzealous or unsympathetic to specific customer situations, then we need to address that. However, we will remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that customers pay for software that they use, which is both reasonable and fair to vendors and other paying customers alike. But we commit to do so in a respectful and reasonable way going forward.”


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Since the OLG published the letter, roughly 20-25% of the firms within the OLG have undergone Autodesk audits, which means sniffing their networks for licences and files – and, now with Covid throwing users to the wind, tracking down machines that are geographically all over the place.

Talking with the OLG, these audits have tended to come near the end of established Autodesk contracts and could take over five or six weeks to complete. Typically, Autodesk looks for over-installation of software, student versions, incorrect licence numbers and the like.

The consequences of irregularities come with big fines. The OLG says these are typically ‘paid’ for in buying software which firms don’t want, all without ever going to court. It may have been a coincidence, and we may be adding two and two together and getting eight, but holding a pending fine for non-compliance while negotiating the next year’s contract would be a disadvantage to the customer. We have not seen this replicated outside the UK but it’s something we will be watching.

As the software has moved from network licences to granular – named user licences which undoubtedly connects to Autodesk’s licence servers, surely Autodesk’s licence compliance efforts should be slowing down? After a certain point in time, the majority of customers are in on the named-user cloud-based model. There shouldn’t be any need for design IT managers to have to install Autodesk’s sniffing software on their computers. There shouldn’t be any need for Autodesk to ask firms to spend weeks at a time, trying to push something across networks and across all of their offices.

Shouldn’t Autodesk’s software pretty much ensure that non-compliance never happens by monitoring and denying over-use? As it stands, the software has hardly any controls and that is a daily pain for companies. While ‘Premium’ comes with some metrics, the OLG didn’t rate them over other third-party usage trackers.

Conclusion

The OLG seemed to be facing the same issues they complained about two years ago. The engagement with the Revit team started a dialogue, but the future of Revit still seems a mystery with many possible outcomes. On one hand the Autodesk development team is mapping out how to add value for yearly subscribers with enhancements, but these appear not to be game changing and are coming too slowly.

It seems certain that a complete re-wite of Revit is not on the cards, so no Revit 2.0. Long-term, we all know Autodesk plans to be cloud-centric but how AutoCAD, Revit, Civil 3D, Navisworks are to be eventually absorbed into that is obviously going to take many years of work. This may give competitors time to build next-generation BIM tools and we know some are already on the scene. The OLG recognises that there needs to be a change but maybe the answers will come from elsewhere and not from their current technology supplier.


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Read the Open Letter from the Nordic architectural associations

Nordic Autodesk letter


Who is the OLG?

The original signatories of the Open Letter included: AHMM | Allies and Morrison | Aukett Swanke | BVN Architectural Services | Corstorphine + Wright | Fletcher Priest Architects | Glenn Howells Architects | Grimshaw | PRP | Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners | Scott Brownrigg | Sheppard Robson | Simpson Haugh | Stephen George + Partners | TTSP | Wilkinson Eyre Architects | Zaha Hadid Architects.

After the Open Letter was posted over 200 architectural and engineering practices from around the world also signed the letter.

www.letters-to-autodesk.com

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