Meeting in Las Vegas - Autodesk University Attracts 3,300

AECCafé Special Report

Meeting in Las Vegas — Autodesk University Attracts 3,300

By Susan Smith

Autodesk University attracted 3,300 attendees December 1-4 in Las Vegas, Nevada, up from last year’s attendance.

On Monday, the press were invited to a pre-conference event that offered a look at the upcoming Autodesk 2005 release, which will remain under wraps until sometime next year. Some of the other products are ones we can talk about and will cover here.

The theme this year, "See What’s Out There" attempted to encourage users to think outside the box. Buzz phrases for this year’s conference included "lifecycle management" which applied to all the industry groups and CAD + GIS interoperability. Autodesk Evangelist Lynn Allen was the moderator for the entire two hour presentation, interspersing her talk with some funny cuts from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

CEO Carol Bartz was notably absent to give her usual talk about how the company is doing. She was presenting at another conference, I was told. Instead, a video of her giving an abbreviated address on the way things are going for Autodesk, reminded us of the fact that last year’s release cycle was the most ambitious yet. We were reminded that Autodesk posted $825 million in revenues for 2003.

Autodesk announced in the past couple of weeks that revenue for its fiscal third quarter ended October 31, 2003 totaled $234 million, a 10 percent sequential increase, compared to $212 million reported in the second quarter of fiscal 2004. Compared to the same quarter in the prior year, revenues increased 24 percent, from $189 million. Other news stated that the company plans to cut almost 20% of their workforce. This perplexing bit of news didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of AU attendees, and in fact, attendance seemed to be up this year from last.

Carl Bass, Senior Executive Vice President of the Design Solutions group, talked about why we build software. Bass cited three ideas that are key to how we build software: power, simplicity, and community. Computers as tools for augmenting human intellect, can do more today than they could twenty years ago and are definitely cheaper and faster, but more needs to be done as far as making software better. "We are going to add software that can truly improve design and engineering…software that better captures and displays design intent," said Bass. "Start with digital and keep it digital throughout the lifecycle. It takes more than just raw power to be productive." Unfortunately, software is complicated, and needs to be simpler.

"We still err on the side of making software too apparent — we want software to disappear into the background. Using the ‘principle of least astonishment,’ it does what you expect it to do," Bass summed up.

Some of the improvements that Autodesk has introduced are the ability to send your error reports in, which gives the company a statistical evidence of what they need to fix. Next year, the reporting will include the ability to know the status of where those reports are, and the ability to get the appropriate updates and fixes to the user who needs them. The subscription program has added a number of new features. This is part of developing the ‘community’ that Autodesk envisions — all those who teach, write, and develop on top of Autodesk products are part of that community. Afterwards, speaking to those manning the subscription booth, I learned there was a high demand for subscriptions at the conference.

Although Bass expressed that the company wants it to be possible to maintain all aspects of lifecycle while adopting a new release, this ability is still very far away for most users that I spoke to.

Lifecycle Management

CTO Scott Borduin has made some important predictions in the past and this year spoke on "Turning Data into Information," which was essentially a talk about lifecycle management.

To turn data into information, Borduin said we need to understand data is a collection of facts about the world, and information is data which is used to make decisions, solve problems, move the process forward. To make data useful you must trust data, find data, review data, comment on the data and pass it on, track data, update data and manage data in the design process.

Technology is needed to create data, manage data, communicate through the company, and collaborate data with other companies.

Borduin said there will be some significant enhancements to DWF in the future, but he could not divulge when. What he could say was that Express View will be available to Mac users and….

Managing drawings in sets is another promised enhancement talked about by Borduin. If you want to plot a set out, or publish whole set with one click of the mouse, you will be able to do this, plus review, create markups and communicate them back.

Case Studies

Russ Lepisto, of 3M Corporation of St Paul, Minnesota offered an interesting case study of that company. With 75,000 employees 3M supports four major CAD platforms — Unigraphics, Pro/E, Ansys and a rapidly expanding installed user base for Autodesk products including 2004, Mechanical Desktop, Inventor, AutoCAD LT, Electrical, and VIA WD. The company that brings you post-it notes (which, incidentally, was accidentally invented by Dr. Art Fry, a 3M Senior Corporate Scientist) also populates our world with other products that we use daily. "When we were given the directive to support Autodesk products globally rather than just regionally, we almost quintupled our user base in four years from 1998-02. We now service an installed base of over 900 install bases. 3M outsources 80% of their work these days," Lepisto explained. "We’re not just engineering anymore — it includes R&D, 3M labs, 3M plants, 3M corporate technical marketing. The origins of the company are as a support group within the facilities group at 3M."

Ron Reim, founder of Oculus Inc., spoke of the growth of his architectural firm. Oculus will experience 90% growth this year, and is winning large national contracts such as Bank of America and Cingular Wireless.

The associative value of objects was one of the features that sold Reim and his partner on Revit. As decisions are made, the model is changed, and the designer has the ability to view the work as it is being done. Although at first they didn’t know if the product would meet their needs, they decided to test it on a real project. "We were working with building parts that behaved like building parts, and sorted all the data used all along the process. The user interface is crucial as designers can work when they don’t have all the answers upfront. We have been able to move design from paper napkins," concluded Reim.

In addition, new people could learn the software easily and quickly. Drawings, colors, etc. all resided in one place. People learned to trust the software so they could then let go of fear of uncoordinated changes. "Suddenly people were thinking about building design. Each stage of development is building on a previous stage of development." What followed was more discovery — now Oculus could present conceptual renderings, building one layer on top of another. Another example: a corporate senior director another client asked to get rid of 2,000 square feet of office space, and wanted it done fast. "In 15 business days we space planned several buildings for them," said Reim.

Emergency Responsiveness

An emergency response demo was given by John Hansen, a new employee of Autodesk, formerly Fire Chief in Oklahoma City for 27 years. Oklahoma City, Hansen reminded his audience, has hosted two of the largest disasters, Alfred P. Murrah Bombing on April 19, 1995 and the tornado of May 3, 1999.

As in the case of many disasters, the first arriving units to the Oklahoma City bombing had a nonscientific pre-fire drawing of the building in their first instant command vehicle. The scope of the damage was huge, with nearly 800 structures damaged. Coordinating the rescue effort was very difficult because they had no actual CAD drawings of the buildings to begin with. By Day 4 or 5, a Bell Telephone employee remarked that there must be a CAD drawing of this building somewhere. By Day 6 building plans from GSA were tracked down and some AutoCAD occupant maps were generated, showing just where the last known locations of workers were in the buildings. From this they were able to deduce where the victims might be located.

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