AutodeskÝs yearly event for users just keeps getting bigger. This year a record 7,500 Ùbirds of a featherÝ flew to Las Vegas to watch, listen and learn. Martyn Day joined the migration.
Love it or loathe it, Las Vegas is one of the few cities that can easily play host to massive conferences. Autodesk University is now a seriously large event and the increase in numbers of attendees reflects AutodeskÝs increased presence in the market, if that was possible. It seemed only yesterday we were asking, when will Autodesk be a billion dollar company? As I write this, Autodesk is almost a $2 billion company. In the last two years AutodeskÝs growth has outpaced all of its rivals and now dominates multiple vertical markets and is at the forefront of 2D to 3D migration.
Vegas is a strange place and the Venetian hotel, where AU is now hosted, is an even stranger place. Based on, umm the whole of Venice, the hotel and casino comes complete with a replica Campanile and St MarkÝs square, canals (on the second floor, no less) and gondolas with gondoliers! As AU is such an intense experience, with lots of Autodesk info to take in, thereÝs little chance to explore, but the occasional visit to the second floor ÙindoorÝ canal area for a bite to eat or coffee comes as a welcome respite. The realistic clouds and clever, constant, ÙeveningÝ lighting does make you briefly wonder if you are indeed outside, which adds to the confusion when you are offered to eat ÙinsideÝ in a restaurant by the canal or al ÙfrescoÝ, all while deep within the hotel on the second floor. It has a touch of the Willy Wonka about the whole place.
" Jay Bahtt, of Autodesk told me that it was common knowledge that ADT would not be developed aggressively in 3D anymore and that the concentration of development would be on ease of use. "
This was the first Autodesk conference at which Carl Bass, the new company CEO and President, had full reign and the format and style had certainly changed. While typically AutodeskÝs mainstage had been a Carol Bartz sermon, followed by tantalising sneak peaks of forthcoming technology, this time around, Autodesk let its customers take centre stage. This is a risky concept as most engineers and architects donÝt regularly present to 7,500 people but in a series of informative and concise presentations we got the message of integration. Thinking beyond using one point solution to get a drawing out, and looking at way to think smarter and look for innovative approaches to design problems.
Presentations came from all corners of the design world, AEC, MCAD, Military, Civil and Mapping. We even got to wear 3D glasses! Whilst the majority were pure customer presentations, Autodesk employees were on hand to drive some demonstrations and if you looked hard enough you could see some new technology being shown. The most obvious of these was Project Freewheel, which is a web client DWF viewer, which Autodesk has available on its Autodesk Labs website. This was demonstrated several times, even within the virtual ÙSecond LifeÝ 3D environment, where one architect uses the online ÙgameÝ to walk clients through designs for their houses. Second Life is a place where people can go and interact with other ÙavatarsÝ and have another parallel life (as if one isnÝt enough!).
There was also a sneak peak of AutoCAD 2008, for those of you who are interested. I have to say that the core functionality looks to be a fulfilment of Autodesk User Group International (AUGI) wish lists which tend to be ÙbittyÝ in nature and generally hard to get excited about. Having said that the one feature that looks to be of interest but wasnÝt demonstrated was a parametric engine for AutoCAD. Autodesk Revit and Autodesk Inventor both have parametric engines and I understand that AutoCADÝs will be a different one, so integration will be an interesting problem to solve. It will also be fascinating to see if these parametrics are just for 2D or if they can apply to all the 3D functions that were added in 2007. For those who donÝt have a clue what parametrics are, itÝs essentially an ability to link geometry together using rules. This makes editing fast and you can explore the design interactively by working with whatÝs called constrained geomertry. All that was shown were the dialogue boxes which will come with the next release, no demo and just a brief verbal explanation. Autodesk was obviously trying to keep the biggest addition to AutoCAD under wraps. As usual it looks like the release of all of AutodeskÝs products will be in March.
I really do hope AutoCAD 2008 has a bit more in it than was demonstrated as this year kicks off with some bad news for Autodesk customers, as there are some pricing and policy changes coming into effect. The first effect will be hard to gauge but I believe that the street price of AutoCAD will go up between 5 and 10%, this is the net effect of changes to how much dealers have to pay for buying AutoCAD from Autodesk. This margin change will push up the street price. This has been slightly compensated with rewards for selling vertical products ± in AEC thatÝs ADT and Revit, so in the new structure ADT and Revit will appear better value than before. The next bad piece of news is that multi-copy discount ends in February. For many, many years, Autodesk has offered bulk purchasers discounted copies of AutoCAD, there were bundle prices for five and ten seats and then really big customers had a scale to work off. All that ends in February, with the official line being that itÝs to get the same policy in all countries. I have talked to several Autodeskers who say that doesnÝt mean that they wonÝt discount on multiple seats but thereÝs no automatic discount. This means that Autodesk will pander to the larger firms but mid-size companies will probably be out of luck. This news is quickly followed up with a reminder that Autodesk is about to ÙretireÝ AutoCAD 2004, meaning users of 2004 should upgrade or go on subscription if they are not to pay full price for a future release. By moving to a yearly release cycle and still retiring the third release back, Autodesk has compounded the obit time from four-five years for a release to three. Added to all this I hear that there will be incremental increases when the new releases come out in March.
AutoCAD isnÝt cheap for 2D drawing and these moves are not going to change Autodesk customerÝs negative perceptions about the companyÝs business practices. With the increased rate of development, I have seen little to say that users have deployed these new releases any quicker than before, leading to a lot of AutoCAD shelf-ware. While I have been pretty happy with the functionality thatÝs been added to AutoCAD in the last three releases, Autodesk should be concerned that end-users are not taking advantage of the updates and there is a growing disparity between the value added by Autodesk and the value perceived by customers. In response to this critique Autodesk might just point to the amazing growth in sales the company has been enjoying, as some kind of indication of the happiness of its customers. However this argument makes no sense when you look at MicrosoftÝs dominance and the negative perception of it by customers. Microsoft was so shocked at the lack of support from its customer base when the FCC decided to investigate splitting up the company due to its business practices that it initiated a multi-million dollar program to try and get in-touch with its customers.
For Autodesk, the Architectural market is a two horse race, Architectural Desktop and Revit. One is AutoCAD-based, the other is a brand new code stream. When Autodesk first bought Revit, it had spent a lot of development effort on ADT to try and make it competitive in 3D; the net result was AutodeskÝs internal teams competing with one another. ADT by far had the largest install base, and still does but Revit development has been extraordinary. At first the excitement of Revit had Autodesk all but hammering the nails in the coffin of ADT but user adoption of ADT continued to grow and Revit was struggling to gain traction. Autodesk readdressed its development and went on record to say it was spending equal amounts on each productÝs development and gave a commitment to keep producing ADT for as long as it was required.
Over the last few years the balance of marketing has certainly been tipping towards Revit again. Last yearÝs release of ADT was very disappointing, with only the new staircase routine standing out. Talking with one of the early beta testers of ADT 2008, it seems that the forthcoming release Ùhas even less in itÝ. At AU I was looking forward to finding out what pitch would be between the two products and I have to say I was quite shocked.
Autodesk is currently living and breathing the Ùmoving to 3D messageÝ. All divisions have a 3D pitch and AU was the opportunity for the AEC team to give theirs ± not an easy task. For Autodesk this has boiled the product offerings down to an AutoCAD workflow, inherently 2D and is the domain of Architectural Desktop and a 3D workflow which is Building Information Modelling and therefore Revit. This pitch rewrites history a tad as ADT has a lot of 3D built-in and quite a few customers have invested in adopting ADT as a standard and have struggled and succeeded in using ADT as a modelling tool. Added to this, a product such as Autodesk Building Systems (ABS) is sold on its ability to model HVAC in 3D, inside ADT. I discussed this change in approach with Jay Bahtt, VP of AutodeskÝs Building SolutionÝs Division. Bhatt told me that it was common knowledge that ADT would not be developed aggressively in 3D anymore and that the concentration of development would be on ease of use. He also assured me that ADT would not disappear on his watch at the company but nevertheless I suggested the new demarcation lines to be quite offensive to customers who had adopted ADT as their modelling solution. The future is 3D we are told and Revit once again is being prompted as the future and ADT is the architectural flavour for AutoCAD users.
This poses serious questions for architects that have decided to opt for the ADT route. If more 3D functionality is required over what they have today, they will obviously need to look elsewhere and Autodesk hopes that it will be Revit that they move to. If architects are using ADT as a 2D tool and were planning on investing in learning its 3D elements, would that now be a wise investment? Bhatt gave me a global view that the move to Revit was well underway and that BIM was also turning from a marketing phenomenon into reality. So, the future, once again, is Revit.
Autodesk is in a different mode. ItÝs developing new code streams, aggressively targeting competitive products and markets and acquiring plenty of new technology. It has to be said that most of this is in non-AEC areas, the task for AutodeskÝs Building DivisionÝ is still to get uses off vanilla AutoCAD and into a vertical, ADT or Revit. There is surprisingly little competition for Autodesk in the architecture market, although in the civil area, Bentley offers stiff competition. AutodeskÝs view that Revit is 3D will be unpopular with the 3D proficient ADT customers but it is true that these are the minority of ADT users. The bottom line I took away was, if you havenÝt already, start to evaluate Revit, unless thereÝs a radical change in direction, Autodesk is betting the farm on it being the solution of choice for the market.