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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Carl Bass Q&A at AU 2011

November 29th, 2011 by Susan Smith

One of the best parts of Autodesk Media Day yesterday was the Q&A conducted with CEO Carl Bass.

A question was asked software licensing, to which Bass replied: “The political legal infrastructure often trails behind where technology is. The question of whether software can be licensed – it was fortunate we prevailed because it took thirty years to decide whether this is the thing, and the cloud may take just as long.

Big issues remain as far as delivery of products into parts of the world where there is no legal infrastructure. The Chinese government doesn’t want outsiders to run that infrastructure inside the country. There are issues around privacy, and issues around industry and commerce. We’re very much at the crawling stage as far as this goes.”

Another question focused on the Maker movement, with consumers making things using 3D printing. Bass talked about an interview he did with Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine in New York City. Bill Gates was also there and was dismissive of the Maker movement. “Martha Stewart was there and she totally gets it – the desire to make a cake or rebuild your house is the same instinct of how you control your environment,” said Bass.

He pointed out that “the Sketchbook product shows us that 7 million people have decided to fingerpaint on a compact device.”

“Whatever business we have in consumer will look incredibly different than our current business,” said Bass. “The whole idea of the paying software business model is not going to be it.

It’s amazing what it takes to build products for consumers 7-70 years old, what it takes to make them captivating and engaging. I get more email from consumers, why doesn’t Sketchbook do this, when are Tinkerbox puzzles coming, more people writing about their 99 cent app than a several thousand dollar software. Sketchbook is a pretty sophisticated app, but how do you make it accessible to that audience?

The model of charging a lot for really hard to use stuff and giving free easy to use stuff just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

The resurgence of making things is quite an anomaly, according to Bass. With computers you can now make things at an affordable cost in less time than it took to perhaps use hammer and nails or other craft objects.

“We’ve dealt with the fact that our software is stolen- in China, 90% of our software used there is not paid for, in the U.S. about 30% of it is not paid,” said Bass. “Despite 20 years of trying to fix this through technological means, there’s not a good answer. Countries will do more sociological and cultural things to remedy the situation.”

In response to a question about platforms, Bass said:
“We’re trying to move to platform agnostic, i.e., getting people tools they want when they need them in the right form.”

Regarding rate of adoption: “We’re more interested in seeing what the take up of the cloud is,” Bass continued. “The government and others are really concerned with certain aspects of security, or we may end up with private clouds, or others concerned with maintenance of really secure data.
We have more software running on iOS devices than other devices, at least the ones that are paid for. That’s maybe because there is not as much stolen on the Mac.”

Re: democratization of the design process –
“As a closet libertarian I’m not sure how much I want the government regulating things either. When we look at a broader base of people involved in design and engineering things, even in a hobby or non-professional setting, I’d rather see more people going into manufacturing and reinventing what post industrial manufacturing looks like rather than going into financial services. YouTube is where people go to get help to use their products. Crowdsourcing is great for sharing information. Instructables is a place where people share information about how to make things.”

Is Autodesk prepared for the cost of software to go down?
“Yeah. One of the leaders of the companies trying to commoditize is Apple. We’re selling software cheaper. When you see business models such as Google giving away plenty of software as a service, it’s monetizing enormously in different ways. But that’s the change that’s coming for everybody, when you look at moving technology forward. I think we spent a lot of time designing business models in which people do diffent things to pay for things. Software won’t be bought the same way or delivered the same way. If you look back ten years, software was deployed and paid for differently.”

Re: Last quarter you bought about 12 companies – are you being pushed by that fact there’s so much innovation out there you have to stay on top of it?

“The ability to change what you can do for customers most often comes when there’s a technology platform shift as well as a business model shift,” said Bass. “This is an incredible opportunity right now. I’m much more interested in what the startups are doing. They’re like the fruitflies fo the industry, the established companies don’t have the agility and freedom to move and experiment the same way. The new understanding of market comes from startups.”

Bass said, “One of real tricks when you look at new technology is to figure out what problem are you trying to solve? Delivery on the cloud through a variety of devices is a way.”

AutoCAD has gone from “one size fits all,” according to an audience member to an “an increasingly segmented product line.”

“I think the real opportunity on the cloud is to provide more services,” said Bass. “We have the opportunity to take more work from our customers is maintenance of software as well as cost of hardware. Providing a large part of computing infrastructure allows us to be more flexible in the way we reach our customers. It allows access other people within the organization who weren’t the right customers for full desktop products especially as we enter the PLM market,” said Bass.

Re: Autodesk spends $½ billion on R & D. How are you feeling about the efficiency of R &D and the company’s commitment to it?

“We are at an inflection point,” said Bass. “We’re going from almost entirely desktop-centric to the cloud. For awhile we have investments in both camps – desktop requires more maintenance and we’re building out infrastructure for the future.”

“We do R&D over a denominator that is about ½ user spend, and we’re thinking about end user spend in R&D,” Bass explained. “Our partners don’t do R&D; they do sales and marketing.” He added that there is always room for improvement in the operations of a company.

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Category: Autodesk

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