The technology used to conceive, design and fabricate the objects around us is complicated. It may be difficult to understand if you're not a practitioner, yet businesses routinely entrust their most important processes to these tools. Our Hot Topics blog tries to clear up some of the confusion.

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Hot Topics

AVEVA sees challenges in oil & gas, growth in power vertical

EarningsSurprising, well, no one, AVEVA Group today said that parts of its business are “significantly more challenging due to the well-documented budget constraints among Owner Operator customers in the Oil & Gas industry”.

On the plus side, its Engineering & Design Systems division was operating to expectations — and, since it accounts for roughly 90% of AVEVA revenue, that’s a very good thing. AVEVA, in its interim management statement, also said that rental renewals are “at similar levels to last year” and that the March quarter, FQ4, “remains the most significant with a number of key rental renewals. At this point we expect these to renew in line with our historical experience”.

Outside of oil and gas, AVEVA says its other verticals are performing as planned: steady growth in Power and subdued growth in Marine.

Quite interesting to note that the sales transition mentioned a lot last year didn’t come up at all in today’s IMS. I’m taking that as a sign that the new sales leadership is settling in, transitions are complete and that it’s back to focusing on the customer.

The only real number in the statement was the cash position: net cash was £120 million on 31 December 2014. That’s up slightly from £116.4 million on September 30, 2014.

What does it all mean? There truly is no question that oil production will continue to grow — all of  the efforts to reduce reliance on hydrocarbons in the US and Europe are no match for the escalating demands of the emerging economies. Data I’ve seen show that it costs less that $60 per barrel to get most types of oil out of the ground and that producers are likely to keep producing at prices as low as $20 per barrel, the marginal cost of getting that one barrel out of the ground. So the risk for AVEVA is that producers will hold on to their cash and stall new projects long enough to create a real problem in the design/construction supply chain. Those investments have to happen; the question is, when? We’ll know more about that as the oil companies start issuing earnings announcements later this week. They’ll have to explain to investors how they plan to conserve cash given low oil prices today while still preparing to meet escalating future demand.

Buried in the economic lead are E3D and 8over8. E3D is the new design platform; the company says they’ve seen “continued traction … with continued growth in revenue during the period”. 8over8 was acquired earlier this month and enables contract management, key to keeping a handle on project cost and schedule. I’ve had a couple of presentations and demos of 8over8’s ProCon, and am impressed with its easy interaction and configuration capabilities. It’s not clear how material either E3D or ProCon will be to AVEVA’s 2014/5 revenue but both interesting additions for the future.


Graphisoft consolidates its hold on Italy

EarningsGraphisoft just announced that it has acquired the ArchiCAD distribution unit of Italy’s Cigraph, a long-time in-country reseller. The deals led to the opening of the Graphisoft’s first Italian office, made up of Cigraph people who will work with the Italian ArchiCAD resellers to further promote the brand.

This is part of Nemetscheks’s announced strategy to strengthening its position in key growth markets around the world. The company wants to be closer to customers, to get in on projects much earlier and to customize products for what it sees as a “dynamic architectural market”.

This deal also gives Graphisoft Cigraph’s Artlantis distribution business.  Artlantis is a stand-alone 3D rendering application developed especially for architects and designers by the Abvent Group. According to Abvent, Atlantis is a “cutting-edge approach to digital imagery [that] … combines the most advanced and efficient tools for fast and easy photo-realistic rendering of 3D projects”.

Graphisoft already distributes Artlantis in a number of markets, so it’s a natural extension of prior intentions. For its part, the new Cigraph will offer ArchiCAD and Artlantis training and services to the Italian market, and develop a series of verticalized additions to its ArchiSuite plugins for ArchiCAD.

This is the second channel-related announcement this week, after ANSYS‘ on Monday. I don’t think there’s a trend; both seemed opportunistic and specific to the OEM’s particular situation. But it’s also true that difficult economies put more stress on channel partners, as small business are reliant upon cash flow and have smaller cushions to see them through troughs. What do you think? Are we at the start of something channel-specific?


ANSYS tunes its channel

Earnings(I know. Terrible pun. But it’s a holiday!)

ANSYS announced today that it’s launching the ANSYS Elite channel partner program — in essence, ramping up the certification program for partners who want to move beyond “Standard” and into “Elite”. ANSYS says “Elite partners must have exceptional customer satisfaction rates as well as technical teams that are fully certified by ANSYS. Only Elite partners will be certified to sell, support and service the entire ANSYS multiphysics simulation portfolio.”

This has been a bit of a bone of contention: ANSYS keeps adding to its portfolio by acquisition. In an ideal world, someone who has sold ANSYS structural solutions for years could now also sell electromagnetics, but they’re different physics, different customers, different selling processes, so it hasn’t been easy to get the cross-selling opportunities rolling for the channel. But there are customers who can benefit from the broader ANSYS offering, and channel partners who can take advantage of that opportunity should; so the question became, how?

It sounds as though the exact requirements will vary from region to region, but the general outline is to require Elite partners to go through more rigorous sales and technical training on ANSYS solutions, as well as follow-on certification. For its part, ANSYS will offer expanded promotion and demand generation.

ANSYS’ channel director Ravi Kumar made clear that this was an expansion and not a house-clearing: “We have worked with most of our channel partners for many years, and they have been a major contributor to our success. Our investment in this program will yield increased sales and technical capacity around the world to better service our customers and enable their simulation driven product development efforts globally. This global program also enables us to provide efficient and expanded market coverage for existing customers, small and medium businesses, and emerging markets.”

Suppliers are constantly tuning their channel programs, creating bronze/silver/gold and other tier schemes, and fiddling with compensation and joint marketing programs. It’s an attempt to get businesses you don’t control but rely on to do what you want. Sometimes it succeeds, other times it doesn’t. This seems like a relatively benign, though positive change — those who want the advanced certification and access to the entire portfolio can go for it, those who don’t can continue to sell and support what they’re comfortable with. It’ll become a question of how much overhead this adds to the resellers’ workload, keeping them in the office and doing ANSYS-focused work rather than customer-focused work.

So now you know. Go celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy — here’s a piece I wrote last year about Dr. King’s impact on me.


Shakeup at SolidWorks: Sicot out, Bassi in

GianFinalWell, this is big (and surprising): Dassault Systèmes just announced that Gian Paolo Bassi has been appointed CEO of SOLIDWORKS, replacing Bertrand Sicot. M. Sicot moves on to become DS’ VP Sales of the Value Solutions sales channel, the indirect sales network serving DS customers outside of the SolidWorks universe.

Mr. Bassi has been with DS and SolidWorks since 2011, serving as SolidWorks’ VP, R&D. He’s a passionate advocate of CAD in general and SolidWorks in particular, and was, DS says, instrumental in bringing SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Industrial Conceptual to the market. He spoke to industry analysts late last year about Mechanical Conceptual and Industrial Conceptual (and many other things), and it was clear that he is committed to adding exciting new features to the brand, leveraging the 3DExperience platform where appropriate but sometimes addressing SolidWorks’ customers more directly.

“Behind every great brand is great talent, and Gian Paolo and Bertrand have been architects of change for SOLIDWORKS,” said Bernard Charlès, CEO of Dassault Systèmes. “SOLIDWORKS has developed into a comprehensive portfolio for intuitive, integrated 3D design, simulation, electrical design, product data management and technical communication and continues to thrive thanks to engineering ingenuity and user collaboration. We look forward to continued success for SOLIDWORKS under Gian Paolo’s leadership and to strong Value Solutions channel sales growth from Bertrand’s extensive sales experience.”

I’ve known Gian Paolo on and off for years as we both worked for Attilio Rimoldi at Computervision. Years later, I ran into him again when he was CTO at ImpactXoft, where he (according to DS) “co-invented three of his five patents in functional modeling”. I actually like M. Sicot very much; personable and charming but oh-so-salesy. Gian Paolo is smart and innovative and a total CAD nerd (I mean that in the most positive and respectful way); it’ll be interesting to see how he takes the stage at SolidWorks World next month.

Image of Mr. Bassi is courtesy of Dassault Systèmes.


Bentley adds C3global’s Amulet for IoT asset management

EarningsBentley Systems just announced that it has acquired C3global, maker of the web-based Amulet suite software for operational analytics. Amulet will be added to Bentley’s AssetWise offering, expanding on the Ivara acquisition by adding configurable predictive and prescriptive analytics for just-in-time maintenance and operating adjustments.

This is a big deal — knowing that something is about to go wrong in a water treatment plant, refinery or power grid, and being able to proactively do a maintenance procedure can save money and avoid pollution or other hazards while, on the positive side, protecting revenue generation and profit.

At Bentley’s Year In Infrastructure conference and other events, I’ve heard industrial companies and other asset owners talk about the importance of more closely tying predictive maintenance into their operational plans. By connecting the designed plant to the operating plant to the maintenance needs of the operators, Bentley is creating a feedback loop that can improve the asset’ performance today and inform the next set of design changes.

In the press release announcing the deal, Bentley Systems CEO Greg Bentley said, “Our acquisition of Amulet enables another cumulative BIM* advancement – beyond leveraging design modeling, construction modeling, and reality modeling – for enhancing infrastructure asset performance. With our AssetWise APM offering, we already provide comprehensive solutions for reliability-centered maintenance and risk-based inspection. By configuring Amulet’s proven, industrial-strength operational analytics with our market-leading engineering analysis portfolio, optioneering can be extended through asset performance modeling for just-in-time operational decisions, which can now predictively consider, beyond engineering, the relevant environmental and economic context.” [*Mr. Bentley isn’t using “BIM” in the building sense of the acronym; he’s extending it to all sorts of built assets. — Ed.]

C3global CEO David Smith continues, “Given the unprecedented convergence of big data from the ‘Internet of Things,’ hybrid computing, and BIM’s advancement of functional engineering models – joining with Bentley to introduce asset performance modeling for industrial-scale infrastructure was absolutely compelling.”

According to Bentley, Amulet “bridges the gap between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), enabling advanced analytics to be an integral part of all aspects of the business process … Once data from the IT and OT systems has been captured and aggregated, the software applies the users’ business rules, models, and knowledge to provide an improved view and understanding of operational performance for decision support … AssetWise Amulet will help drive the right actions at the right time, reducing operational risks and improving operational efficiency.”

C3global is new to me, though it’s been around since 1996, so I’ve asked Bentley to tell me more and show me what Amulet can do. But a quick bit of research tells me I think I’m going to like what I learn: C3global has on its website a product roadmap for Amulet, something we don’t usually see. Add that level of transparency to an impressive customer reference list (here and here), and Bentley may be onto something impressive.

Bentley didn’t disclose the price or terms of the deal but it sounds like it’s done, and like all of the key C3global employees are joining Bentley.

Were at a pace of one acquisition per week so far this year. But they’ve all been by AECish companies –albeit expanding out of traditional AEC CAD into new areas like maintenance and contract execution– so, what’s up discrete manufacturing companies? Simulation suppliers? Get moving!


PLM, the Resource Revolution and you (yes, you)

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 10.23.28 AMI gave a talk last week over at PI Live, Market Key’s online platform for all things PLM. When the Market Key team and I were brainstorming the topic for that session, they asked me to focus on something a bit “bigger picture” than implementation stories or best practices — those are important but they have a lot of other content on that already. I had some time to think over the year-end break and decided to look in more detail at research I find fascinating but that hasn’t really been applied to our PLMish world yet. Head over to PI Live to listen to the recording (details soon), download the presentation by clicking on the image above or read on for some highlights.

Economists, public policy types and others say we’re in a third industrial revolution right now. The first industrial revolution was in the late 1700s to mid 1800s,  when millions of workers left farms to find work in factories made possible by mechanization and the steam engine. The second industrial revolution ran from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, with the development of electricity, cars, railroads and the modern banking system.

Each industrial revolution spawns what some call a Resource Revolution:

Schnitger PI Webinar 6 January

Economic growth improves the standard of living, which drives demand as more people want the hot-ticket items of their time; today, that’s probably middle-class city living and the cars, cell phones and other goods that implies. But those goods are still manufactured the way they always have been, which leads to resource scarcity and sends prices up. We still build buildings out of steel, use rare earth elements in electronics and need oil to power electricity generation plants — all of which are in huge demand in both emerging and more established economies. That leads to innovation as business try to make more efficient use of existing resources or change products to consume resources that aren’t as scarce or invent replacement materials. Changing those products and processes creates new businesses –or at least new business models– to deploy these new methods at scale. That resets the bar and, in turn, leads to a new cycle of economic growth that starts the chain all over again.

The good news: Every single time, economists say, humans have figured out a way around or through that scarcity to create new ways of doing things. And this is where PLM comes in. We need to know what we’re using, where, in what quantitiy and how. To deal with scarcity, we can

  • make better use of the resources we do have available to us by wasting less. This ties into everything we do: more efficient manufacturing processes that waste less material and need less electricity; less product packaging; not so much over-design…
  • substitute with something more efficient. Lightweighting, perhaps with generative design, replace heavy structures with composite materials or aluminum to cut fuel consumption in automotive and aerospace ….
  • optimize both production processes and the products themselves, perhaps by using sensors or controls to improve efficiency. IoT, anyone?

There are lots of other possibilities like virtualization – designing a product to be sold online rather than via a physical store — that factor into designing product offering. But to do any of this, we need information about what our products and production processes use and, often, that’s locked into a PLM.

Not to dissuade you from tuning into the whole presentation, but the bottom line: Over and over again, as economists prove, we’ve seen industrial revolutions shake up things as they are. The first industrial revolution moved people into urban manufacturing centers and gave us the great textile, shipping, and railroad companies of the nineteenth century, many of which have since vanished. The second industrial revolution saw the rise of General Electric, Ford and General Motors – which still continue but have reinvented themselves to meet new realities. We’re now in a third industrial revolution where upheavals happen quickly and often. Think Uber and taxis, Airbnb and traditional hotel chains, cell phones and landlines. Companies that learn how to respond to these threats will survive, and those that don’t –or can’t—may not.

Don’t let someone more agile leap into your space to steal your customers and supply channels because you’re not looking at your resource usage. Technologies like 3D printing allow tiny startups to manufacture close to their customers, personalizing in ways larger more capitally-intensive companies perhaps can’t right now. Connectivity and collaboration technologies let small teams band together to appear much bigger and create reach that used to be selling point for global companies. How are you using your people, electricity, minerals, hydrocarbon derivatives and all of the other resources that go into your products? What happens to any of those inputs in case of a conflict or some other supply interruption? I have a couple of examples in the presentation of how companies are thinking about their resource usage and urge you to look into this, too.

It sounds scary, and it is in a way. BUT: you gained your competitive advantage because you were smart about what your customers wanted and how to give it to them. You’re still smart — just don’t rest on past accomplishments.


AVEVA snaps up 8over8 for contract execution management

EarningsHappy new year! It’s always exciting to start afresh and AVEVA gets 2015 off to a roaring start with the first PLMish acquisition of the year: it snapped up 8over8 Limited for its ProCon capital project risk management software platform. 8over8 says it’s helped customers save over $12.4 billion through reduced cost overruns and enhanced cost recovery on 300+ major capital projects totaling $600 billion in capital expenditures.

While that 2% savings doesn’t sound like a lot, it can make the difference between a profitable project and a disaster. For example, change requests can really spike costs since the originators often don’t realize the cost and schedule consequences of the proposed change. ProCon creates alerts that notify contract managers of these change requests so that the true impact can be assessed. Too, ProCon lets contractors prove to owners and joint venture partners that they have good governance procedures in place for the project.

Cost recovery is both a tax/accounting/depreciation thing and a real, contract thing. From a contract perspective, cost recovery means assessing the cost of an unplanned event to the appropriate party. That’s a big deal in the AEC world: the HVAC contractor must pay his workers for time on the job site, even if the air handling equipment wasn’t delivered by the equipment supplier. Creating an agreed-upon source for contracts, schedules and other relevant data can help accelerate cost recovery cycle times and smooth cash flow for the individual businesses involved in the project.

Think of it this way: AEC projects are a maze of multi-billion dollar service agreements, with each party wanting to get the project done at greatest profit for itself, at the lowest risk (the owner wants it to be delivered on time, at the agreed-upon cost). But no one party is in total control — each can only control its own cost, schedule and work quality. Contracts are the glue that holds it all together and must be managed as the project evolves. By connecting stakeholders, ProCon gives teams visibility into legal, schedule, procurement and other aspects — as they put it, “to identify where value is leaking, and the means to put a stop to it”.

AVEVA says 8over8 had revenue of £10.0 million and profit before tax of £3.1 million for the year ended December 31, 2013 and “is expected to deliver continued growth in the year to 31 December 2014″. AVEVA paid £26.9 million in cash for the company — a revenue multiple of something less than 2.69x (since we don’t know 2014 revenue). AVEVA says 8over8 is growing nicely and is very profitable, too; 2014 figures should be in sometime soon.

8over8 has been around since 2000, when it was formed to develop software for reverse auctions. (Remember that? A big thing in 2000.) That changed when British Gas got in touch for help in managing its big contracts; that project led to ProCon, and British Gas became 8over8’s first customer. Since then, Shell, Chevron, BP and others have jumped on ProCon, in the oil and gas, shipbuilding, mining and other project-based industries.

Why would AVEVA want to get into this part of the AEC game? Because projects of the type AVEVA already plays in are only getting bigger, with more partnering, more firewalling of information and much greater risk for all involved. Everyone in that chain needs to increase visibility, improve control, prove that they are fiscally and legally responsible as the project proceeds and not content to sort it all out in court after the fact. Working on the business side of projects gives it an entry into the C-level at existing customers and prospects, access an engineering IT provider doesn’t always get.

Finally, 8over8 is a relatively small company (70-odd people) selling into industrial giants. 8over8’s core team is in Ireland; it’s satellite offices can’t support clients’ local project teams. AVEVA’s global presence, long track record and strong balance sheet can help 8over8 expand far more quickly than it could on its own.

AVEVA CEO Richard Longdon said in a press release, “By acquiring 8over8, AVEVA is uniquely placed to ensure both technical and contractual integrity changes are captured during the project life cycle and provides further proof of AVEVA’s ongoing strategy to grow its business both organically and through acquisition.” 

Mat Truche-Gordon, AVEVA’s EVP, Business Strategy and Marketing, is excited about the potential for 8over8 within AVEVA, both technologically and from a business perspective. He told me that “8over8 is a small team that is punching above their weight” as they sell into global mega-corporations, often growing project-specific installations into country or regional implementations. Mr. Truche-Gordon says 8over8 will “get a light touch”, continuing to develop ProCon as they have been but with added resources for sales, local support, marketing and other corporate functions from AVEVA. Technologically, he’s interested in seeing how ProCon’s templates and business intelligence can be worked into AVEVA Net.

It’s an exciting diversification for AVEVA and leads to all sorts of new opportunities. AVEVA had a somewhat chaotic 2014 as the falling price of oil caused a pullback in large new capital projects in oil and gas, leading to softer-than-expected sales. Not great for engineering software license sales. But even when projects are slower to materialize, they are run via contracts. Always. What better way for AVEVA to hedge risk than to expand within its core markets and customers into contracts management? And to new verticals? And to the C-level?


Happy Holidays!

Holiday 2014

Our world is a troubled place. I, for one, plan to unplug for a few days, hope for snow (but not too much) and enjoy my family and friends. And perhaps too much Stollen. We’ll see. I wish the same for you and look forward to continuing our conversation in the new year.

As in years past, we are donating our holiday card budget to Lazarus House, a local homeless shelter and food pantry. If you’d like to help, please click here to be directed to Lazarus House.


Trimble stretches into agricultural sales automation

EarningsTrimble announced today that it has acquired privately-held IRON Solutions to help automate farm operations by linking equipment dealers, seed and chemical providers to the grower’s ERP and CRM systems. That’s a very cool idea, and one that’s been used in the automotive and aerospace (really, any just-in-time manufacturing operation) for years — why shouldn’t agriculture employ the same principles?

Trimble’s press release says that IRON Solutions manages over 15 million data points annually from over 1,200 manufacturers and over 2,200 retail sources throughout North America, all geared towards connecting buyers and sellers. IRON Solutions publishes what sounds like the Kelley Blue Book* of farm equipment — a listing of new and used equipment with market values, from which buyer and seller can negotiate purchases.

From there, IRON seems to have spread its offerings out to create value for retailers and growers. Its IRON Guides offering tracks equipment sales, including the specifications, options and adjustments for condition and hours of use — measures of wear that would tend to lower prices and add-ons that would raise them. Then there’s IRON Search, a marketplace for where growers can sell, browse and buy equipment online.

Some of the offerings stray a bit into what we would call PLM. IRON Builder lets equipment manufacturers to manage product configuration and promotions through their dealer networks, while IRON Vector uses analytics to benchmark and forecast equipment sales across specifications and economic conditions. We also venture a bit into ERP, with IRON HQ, a cloud-based enterprise system for equipment dealers; and Precision HQ, a cloud-based enterprise system for agriculture technology dealers.

Trimble’s Joe Denniston, VP of the Agriculture Division said in the announcement, “The IRON Solutions information together with Connected Farm will provide growers with a critical element in understanding their equipment lifecycle, enabling them to more efficiently manage their fleets.”

I still tend to think of farms as relatively low-tech; I’m a city kid and the farms in my part of the US tend to be small, often family-run affairs. Trimble is trying hard to change both our perceptions of what a farm can be, and how a modern farm operates. The Connected Farm is creating the possibility of a digital enterprise for growers and has the potential to change farming, much as the advent of CNC, MRP and other digital technologies changed manufacturing.

Financial terms of Trimble’s acquisition of IRON Solutions were not disclosed.

*Back in the days before the Internet made massive amounts of information easily available, the Kelley Blue Book was the source of information for car prices in the US. Insurers used it to figure out how much a car was worth, consumers used it to figure out resale and trade-in values — it’s still a great source of information, though I don’t know if the “Book” is published today.


AU 2014: a potent mix of strategy and tactics

Carl keynoteI’ve been trying to wrap my brain around Autodesk University and am still not sure what my main takeaways are — and it ended almost two weeks ago! On the one hand, it was the most strategic and visionary AU ever, as Autodesk flexes its muscles in both technical and business directions. On the other hand, it was a typical AU with 700-odd classes targeted at users who wanted to improve their skills and certifications. It was a fascinating mix of business, technical, commercial, do-good, big company and maker.

Autodesk threw down one gauntlet after another in the keynotes, taking on everything from how and where manufacturers typically do business, what type of people and technologies would be employed in the future in discreet/process/AEC and how the world of connected products (not calling it the Internet of Things, nope) means that everything changes. Big themes:

  1. Rapid prototyping (aka 3D printing) and other manufacturing technology advances are changing everything in the manufacturing supply chain. If you’re able to make something locally, you remove transit costs and time. Too, placing manufacturing close to the consumer enables you to create closer ties between designers, manufacturers and consumers. You might even customize your product to some level, which can command a price premium — and that means more data management to tie it all together. It also might mean a leveling of the playing field, removing some of the advantages seen historically by the largest manufacturers. The message: big companies, learn to be nimble or be replaced by startups that can more readily meet fickle consumer needs.
  2. The way we design today is predicated on tools that have been around for centuries. Drafting on paper turned into digital design turned into 3D modeling, but each simply documents what the designer has in her mind. Instead, what if, as CTO Jeff Kowalski postulated, we could start with the end goal and work backwards? A desk chair with legs, seat and lumbar support? How would nature create a thing to sit on, without obsessing over (and pre-selecting out) alternatives? Mr. Kowalski says his team is working on algorithms that will show us options given a series of constraints. He sees the emergence of “intelligent classification” and “generative design”, technologies that are a bit like shape optimization in CAE but also fundamentally different. In his vision, we’ll have large databases of CAD models that are searchable for commonalities in both form and function, and that can serve as the baseline for a new design. It’s cool and in Research now as Project Dreamcatcher.
  3. We should all have paid more attention in material science class. New materials are transforming everything from cars and airplanes to batteries and other power sources. By thinking in terms of “this is a metal part”, we’re limiting our creativity. A bit like generative design, think instead of what you want the part to do, then let technology tell you what it needs to be made of. A little scary, since it means letting go of the familiar (and probably over-designed), but full of possibility.
  4. Infinite computing and ubiquitous connectivity changes everything. During his keynote, CEO Carl Bass showed image after image of the company’s cloud-based products for design, simulation, reality computing and 3D printing. Of note, Mr. Bass said that Autodesk Fusion 360, the cloud-based mechanical design product will be made available at no added cost to Autodesk Product Design Suite subscribers and will, in the future, run entirely in a web browser. If it can run in a web browser, can it run on my phone? (Should it?) What else can I do once I’m able to access the cloud’s computing capacity? From anywhere at any time?
  5. Mr. Bass also announced plans for “Subscribe to Autodesk”, a new licensing scheme that will provide access to the entire Autodesk portfolio with a single subscription. After the keynote, Mr. Bass clarified that this will likely shake out to a number of subscriptions and tiers that give clients access to AEC or manufacturing subscriptions, with or without high-end simulation — but the idea of gaining access to the relevant subset of the entire portfolio is interesting and attractive to a lot of customers. They’re waiting for more details of how this will work and what it will cost but, in principle, it provides flexibility to project-based clients to use and pay for only the software they need, when they need it.
  6. Also unveiled at AU was Ember, the company’s 3D printer. At $5,995. it’s not as cheap as some had hoped but far cheaper than it might have been. If you’re anxiously awaiting one, you can apply to the Ember Explorer Program (http://spark.autodesk.com/ember-explorer) to buy an early build. Autodesk says it’s not planning to go into the hardware biz, and that Ember is intended to help Autodesk understand what 3D printer users need and want, and wade through the sea of incompatible file formats and bad models that lead to incomplete parts —all contributing to a failure rate of 25% to 75% for 3D printing projects, depending on the combination of software, materials and hardware– currently keeping 3D printing from broader adoption.
  7. Finally, Autodesk rolled its academic program worldwide, making its design, engineering and entertainment software and cloud services free** to students, instructors and academic institutions. Mr. Bass told us that he was, effectively, taking the $100 million educational revenue stream to $0 —he serves “at the pleasure of my Board and shareholders and, if they’re unhappy with this, I have other things I could do”— but with the intention of building a very large, well-trained, global user base. It’s good karma; we’ll see if it’s also smart business.

The bottom line: AU 2014 showed just how ginormous Autodesk has become. It’s got hundreds of products that are desktop/cloud/mobile, sold into AEC/manufacturing/entertainment, around the world and to all sizes of companies. That scope allows the company to take risks, such as with Ember and the education program going global, and lets it take on competitors in an almost dismissive way — but could be a bad thing, too, if it means getting too far ahead of its users with all this talk of the changing world of making things. But fear not: the users I spoke with were excited by the possibilities, even if they didn’t think their day jobs were going to change any time soon. They liked what Autodesk had to say and planned on tuning in again next year.

** Some strings attached. See http://www.autodesk.com/education/home for full details.

The image above is of Carl Bass taking the stage for his keynote. He’s not a small man, but was dwarfed by the screen behind him. If you look carefully, you can see him center stage.

Mr. Bass (pronounced like “bash” without the “h”) came out on stage to the awesome beat of “All About That Bass” (pronounced like “base” as in baseball) by Meghan Trainor. This is Ms. Trainor’s original version:

And this is NASA’s — yup, watch it. It’ll make you smile:

Note: Autodesk graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation at the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post.