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Autodesk responds to Revit users; I give it a C+

Autodesk responds to Revit users; I give it a C+

Aug 3, 2020 | Hot Topics

You may recall that last week a group of Revit users issued a public letter to Autodesk, in which they laid out their frustrations regarding a perceived lack of investment in Revit — all while prices rose. It was signed by 17 architecture firms, though backed by more that didn’t feel comfortable going public. On Friday, 18 more firms joined as signatories (with yet more not going public). You can see the letter here and what I wrote about the original situation last Monday, here.

On Friday, Autodesk’s Amy Bunszel wrote an open letter to customers, which you can read here. Ms. Bunszel is awesome, a very capable executive who’s been with Autodesk for nearly 20 years — her current title is Senior Vice President, Design and Creation Products, pretty much as high as you can go without being CEO. And that’s the problem: Ms. Bunszel isn’t CEO Andrew Anagnost, to whom the customer letters are addressed. Even if Mr. Anagnost is off-grid, hiking in Nepal or something, the letter should have come from him.

Why? Because Ms. Bunszel has absolute credibility in addressing functionality issues, but isn’t the architect (sorry) of Autodesk’s move to subscriptions — that’s Mr. Anagnost. And unhappy customers are usually kicked into action by a perceived lack of value – part functionality, yes, but mostly price asked for that functionality. Too, Ms. Bunszel isn’t directly responsible for the sales tactics the customers gripe about – she’s a product person. Mr. Anagnost is best positioned to credibly reply to all of the issues raised by the customers.

But let’s get to what Autodesk did right:

  • They acknowledged the customers’ frustration and pledged to listen more carefully and act more thoughtfully in the future. Can’t get anywhere without that, and it was in the lead paragraph. Of course, promised must be followed by action, so …
  • Autodesk agreed that they’ve underinvested in architectural modeling functionality and are “working to make that right … [A]t the end of last year we increased our investment and resources for architectural capabilities in Revit. It will take some time for this impact to be fully realized and you can follow our progress at the Revit Public Roadmap“. Having a public roadmap is great — but only if people know about it. If you’re a Revit customer, did you know? Did you just click over to look? Does it meet your expectations?
  • Ms. Buszel agreed that Autodesk slowed investment in Revit arch features to instead invest in “platform projects to improve scalability and performance to support fabrication detail for engineering that also benefited all disciplines. The result of this was a slowdown in development on core architectural modeling capabilities.” Realistically, that gave Autodesk access to a huge potential market and was a correct strategy to take — but clearly, not at the expense of the architects. Autodesk spent billions of dollars and management attention on the acquisitions; surely it’s large enough to do more than one AEC thing at a time.
  • The customers mentioned a couple of other items in their letters: cloud security and a commitment to openness. Ms. Bunszel writes that Autodesk has a European data center (most of the initial signatories are from Europe) and that it follows all security standards. As far as openness, it’s all via Forge but Ms. Bunszel acknowledges that it could be better: “we have not been as successful [in] taking advantage of those same APIs to build better connections between our products. This is something we are actively working to improve. We have recently shipped better interoperability between Civil 3D and Revit, Revit and Inventor, SketchUp and Revit, and are actively working on improving data flows with these and other products.”

Autodesk owned that it was responsible for many of the customer’s concerns. That’s good.The letter also tackled the financial concerns expressed by customers:

We also empathize with customers who have gone through different license models in the last few years as we’ve transformed Autodesk into a subscription-based company that can serve our customers better. Our subscription business model has given a whole set of new customers access to our software, without requiring large upfront investments. There are also positive business drivers that will naturally increase customers’ costs over time – such as adding more subscriptions as their company grows, moving to BIM, and upgrading to industry collections to advance the skills of their employees. We’ve done our best to balance licensing changes with a more valuable experience and trade-in offers that give longtime customers a path to experience these benefits at a cost consistent with what they pay today. For example, we introduced product usage reporting so customers can ensure they’re getting the most from their investment and accurately forecast future spend.

Unfortunately, here’s where things went awry. Once again, the messaging was focused on why this was good for Autodesk and for some customers — but not for THESE customers. And it didn’t address the customers’ core concern, which was for cost stability. THESE customers already made (some, years ago), a big upfront investment in Revit; making this easier for new entrants only disadvantages them by opening up to new competitors. Yes, it might be cheaper if they add new users but perhaps not, if they have to buy industry collections. This was an opportunity missed.

Ms. Bunszel talks about customer surveys and such (we’re WAY past that point) but ends on a positive and conciliatory note:

We will be reaching out to you directly to help us further understand your needs. Your feedback is critical to helping us innovate. And we remain committed to the architecture community and the future of the industry.

That’s exactly right. In essence, “you went public so we had to go public, but we want to hear in detail and in private what you’re thinking and worried about”. I would have added something like “over the next two weeks …” to show stronger intent.

In all, it was a decent attempt. Many things could have been better, but Autodesk acknowledged the customers’ pain and that it was the cause of a significant amount of it –no blame-shifting here– and said it would try to do better. It made no promises, however, and gave no timeline for the next conversation. A C+ effort.

I urge you to read the whole letter from Ms. Bunszel, here.

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