While flying back home from a jam-packed week at Autodesk University 2019, I thought I would write a few thoughts on this annual event.
The topics on my mind are:
- Autodesk’s continued focus on data
- Cool Technology, Partnerships and general announcements
- Cloud+ (it is not just cloud anymore)
- AutoCAD – Welcome back?
Continued Focus on Data
One of the most precious things businesses have today is data. The challenge is that there is so much data housed in so many different formats created by many different people all using different applications and located all around the world.
Autodesk’s solution, or at least their technological solution, is the Forge Platform which is focused on the visualization, collaboration and automation of data.
There were many examples throughout the entire week of 3rd party partners creating some very interesting solutions using the Forge Platform. However, the interesting part is that Autodesk is dogfooding their own platform and are coming very close to having all their own cloud applications using the Forge Platform.
The main challenge I still see for Autodesk is that many of their applications are file-centric and not data-centric. There is going to be some significant re-engineering required to how data is consumed, stored and created – mostly from their desktop applications. However, much of the functionality of their cloud solutions is also based on files.
This will be an interesting journey to watch.
Technology & Partnerships & Announcements
One of the awesome things of Autodesk University is the Expo where you get to see many cool products and gadgets that you never thought existed (but which totally make sense). For example, a dog looking robot that has a laser scanner on top of it.
There was definitely more technology related to the AEC space than manufacturing. However, I do see that the construction industry is starting to implement some strategies which were traditionally only used by the manufacturing industry.
For example, Skystone Group (https://www.skystone.com/) has implemented a modular manufacturing strategy very similar to shipbuilding, where they are fully manufacturing their rooms offsite and then installing these modules or “blocks” at the construction site. These modular rooms are fully fitted and finished including electrical, plumping, HVAC, etc. Once installed, they just need to connect the modular rooms together.
There are too many other cool technologies, partnerships and solutions to mention and discuss them all, but some of the interesting ones are:
- ANSYS and Autodesk’s improved partnership.
- Airbus’ demonstration of the next step in generative design by incorporating teams across several disciplines.
- Virgin Hyperloop and Autodesk’s attempt to optimize routes.
- Autodesk Construction Cloud.
We all know that Autodesk was the first major CAD vendor to significantly commit to creating cloud solutions. Even though back in the day many thought it was a risky move, today many are consider it a smart and ’visionary’ decision.
Once they committed to the cloud, all that was really talked about at Autodesk University was the cloud this and the cloud that. It seemed almost as though they were going to completely abandon their desktop applications in favor of only creating and supporting cloud. Obviously, this did not happen. To be honest, I had that feeling several times, but after a few discussions with Autodesk’s executive team my mind was put at ease.
What I have seen in the last few years is Autodesk reintroducing many of their desktop applications into their marketing messages and the use cases they talk about. This Autodesk University continued that trend, with many of the examples and use cases including cloud products and desktop products.
Autodesk is just as committed to the cloud as they always have been. However, since the majority of real-world workflows currently require desktop and cloud products, it is good to see them recognize this publicly. Autodesk still believes the future will be majority cloud based, but since we cannot transition overnight, there will be a gradual shift to this future world. I think Autodesk and others were stuck in the mindset of “It is cloud or desktop” and not considering the hybrid solution of “Cloud and Desktop.” During this transformation phase cloud capabilities will continue to increase, but in most complex projects such as construction and manufacturing the cloud solutions provide less overall benefit than desktop applications today. That is why a hybrid solution is what is being used in the real world.
AutoCAD – Welcome Back?
The thing that surprised me the most at Autodesk University was that there was an AutoCAD keynote. With Autodesk’s huge push for Inventor over a decade ago and then more recently the cloud solution Fusion, AutoCAD was almost never talked about. I can understand Autodesk’s position on focusing on their ‘cooler’ more ’modern’ products, but AutoCAD is still the most successful and profitable product Autodesk has today – by whatever measure you can think of.
To be honest, I am not sure what I can share as they did have the famous Safe Harbor statement and we were explicitly told not to take pictures. If you did by chance attempt to take a picture you got someone passionately telling you to put your phone away :).
I think it was interesting and good that AutoCAD had a keynote which was standing room only. It does show that Autodesk is not abandoning AutoCAD and are committed to building out the solution. This is important since so many people are using AutoCAD now and will continue to do so as people transition towards a fully cloud solution.
A very interesting stat came out from a poll of the 400-500 person audience. The poll asked “how long have you used AutoCAD?”: 2 Years, 5 Years, 10 Year, 20 Years, 25+ Years. The results (from memory) had about 23% of people responding that they have used AutoCAD for 5 years or fewer. That was way higher than I expected.
Overall, the keynote was interesting, but the conversation I had with the AutoCAD team after about their vision was even more so…in a good way.
Autodesk University is always a great event that gets your creative juices flowing in hyperdrive. Autodesk understands that data is the new oil and that almost every organization is trying to get control of their data. Autodesk is in a good and unique position to create a unified platform of data, people, and processes with their Forge Platform.
Autodesk continues to be committed to the cloud, but it feels as though there is more appreciation for how a desktop application currently contributes in most workflows. It was good to see AutoCAD is still being invested in by Autodesk, as it will need to be to maintain a smooth transition to their unified cloud platform.
We will continue seeing solutions, strategies and technologies cross pollinate between industries in a similar fashion to how the construction industry is using the modular design of rooms to enable a manufacturing process.