AU 2018 goes convergent

Nov 15, 2018 | Hot Topics

For the first time in years, I had to leave AU before the bitter end. It’s for a work commitment, so 100% necessary, but it means that this writeup doesn’t cover what will happen in the AEC and manufacturing keynotes, which took place after I left. I’ll watch the replays when I’m back in the offie –and I urge you to watch them too, if you’re interested. Even though I didn’t stay until the bitter end, I did spend nearly 2 days with Autodesk, Autodeskers and customers. Lots of customers.

Pending any awesome acquisitions or other stuff that might have been announced after I left, here are my top takeaways:
  1. Autodeskers uniformly told me that the last year has been tough, but they feel things are going in the right direction. Layoffs are never easy on anyone and the after-effects linger long after the reduction actually happens. The hangover from earlier this year doesn’t seems to be fully cured, yet people are growing into their new roles, it’s becoming clear whom to call for what kind of question — and the job now is to move forward.
  2. Customers are, as usual, happy, not happy and everywhere in between. Some love subscriptions, others don’t. Some love what Fusion/Revit/Inventor/BIM 360/Forge lets them do, others see only the gaps. AU is 11,000 people of varying skill and needs; the “genius bar”-like setup in the expo area was mobbed as users and developers nerded out together.
  3. Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost gave a keynote last year that painted a gloomy picture for workers in industries where automation is set to replace routine tasks —and therefore, eliminate the need for the humans who do those jobs. This year, he continued that theme but painted a bit more hopeful a picture. Rote jobs may disappear but new jobs are being created, for data scientists, cloud architects, BIM managers and more. Mr. Anagnost urged attendees to focus on their skill sets and said that Autodesk was committed to helping its customers skill up where needed, including changing accreditations from being product-specific to being role-specific (so from Revit expert to BIM manager), and to putting at least some of the classes and tests on the e-learning platform, Coursera.
  4. Mr. Anagnost also held a Q&A session with media and analysts. He told us that he sees Autodesk products being completely reinvented in 10 years, as the convergence of AEC products and processes merges with those of discrete manufacturing. AEC is about jobs of 1, where may things are custom. Manufacturing is about making many of the same object, with some variants. He believes (and it likely correct) that both will settle on semi-customized or configured: you’ll have a car built to your specifications from a limited menu and buy a house that’s not completely unique. Both will see manufacturing efficiencies, increased purchasing power and all of those good financial things, but will require far more data integration than is currently the case. Autodesk is working to connect these silos.
  5. And that affects Autodesk’s interest in IoT. Mr. Anagnost doesn’t see Autodesk building an IoT platform — he sees data and the decisions made from it being Autodesk’s strength. “Sensor data is just data”, nothing more or less. Where it comes from matters only in that it needs to be secure, legitimate and so on, but after that it’s just fodder for calculations.
  6. The Q&A was overwhelmingly AEC-focused. I tossed Mr. Anagnost a softball question to see if I could get comments on Fusion, Inventor, AutoCAD or anything else manufacturing-related. Nope. The message was that generative design applies broadly to all sorts of problems and that AEC and manufacturing will converge. The expo area was much more balanced, with a lot of cool Autodesk R&D projects in manufacturing from additive to generative and more.

I think that was emblematic of what I saw and experienced at AU this year. For years, Autodesk focused on makers, mostly manufacturing customers and their needs. Under Mr. Anagnost, the company is shifting back a bit towards its AEC strengths, with the full intention of roping manufacturing into that overall message. But don’t misconstrue: Fusion, Inventor, NEI Nastran, Delcam et al and all of the Forge-enabled manufacturing apps are still going strong; they’re just not being granted the same visibility.

Note: Autodesk graciously covered some of the expenses associated with my participation in the event but did not in any way influence the content of this post. The cover image is of Andrew Anagnost delivering his keynote.