Graphisoft at 40: Looking forward

Aug 16, 2022 | Hot Topics

What do you do when you’re no longer a teenager in a world that prizes newness and chases the next hot thing? If you’re Graphisoft, you celebrate your 40th birthday while simultaneously showing that you’re just as capable as the new kids in bringing your customers the latest innovations.

Last month Graphisoft held its annual product launch (replay, you will need to register) / birthday party / media event in Budapest, Hungary. Before we get into the product launch and management meetings, I have to say: this company knows how to throw a party. We had a few speeches, recognition awards, a lovely cake, some toasts — and a very, very cool drone light show that ended like this:

Yup, those are drones, and they spelled out Graphisoft, 40, Building Together, made a skyscraper, and the letter G … So fun. OK. Back to work.

I happened to be staying at the same hotel as many of the company’s global resellers, who were in town for the Archicad 26 launch. Serendipitous meetings in the hotel and later at Graphisoft headquarters gave me my first insight of the event: its partners are 100% committed to Archicad and its success in their territories. Typically, when I talk to resellers at their OEM’s events, they’re buzzing with the stuff they just learned about new products, sales strategies, and competitive wins. There was some of that, but this enthusiasm went beyond the usual. These resellers see significant potential in Archicad 26’s mantra of “Stay focused, design more” —riffing off of the company’s “by architects for architects” ethos— as addressing precisely what their architect clients need. These resellers believe a focused approach will help them counter Autodesk’s broader “we serve AEC from concept to construction” and Bentley’s “we do infrastructure: buildings, bridges, transmission lines … ” messages. And speaking of the competition: Some of Graphisoft’s resellers don’t see it all that often. Yes, Revit is big, but they argue that Archicad isn’t as bloated with tools their users don’t use and is more economical — they say that it’s relatively easy for them to convert Revit users to Archicad.

Back to what Graphisoft itself had to say. The product team includes a lot of architects, yes, but also many newer hires from outside the world of AEC. They bring their manufacturing, finance, and technology perspectives, which leads them to question why things have to be as they are — in many cases, applying outside thinking to derive new ways of doing things (while not risking what has worked for Archicad for so many years). It’s a tight balance between not destabilizing what works while nudging Graphisoft to technologies like the cloud, artificial intelligence, and app-style offerings.

A quick refresher:

  • Graphisoft’s BIM product is Archicad.
  • BIMcloud is its cloud collaboration solution.
  • BIMx is a mobile/web model viewer.
  • DDScad is a newly-acquired solution for building mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) contractors.

This latest release has many specific feature enhancements across the product set —you can read about them here— I’m highlighting just a few of the things I found most interesting.

In general, the updates to Archicad v26 recognize that architects may have gotten into the biz to design buildings but now also have to manage vast amounts of ancillary information. Materials, finishes, and other attributes, as well as common components, may be used in one BIM model and then potentially shared between projects. One of the resellers I spoke with has a client that builds housing developments where many of the homes are similar but not identical. We posited a scenario where the specified kitchen cabinets aren’t available. Scanning the project to identify the scale of the problem will enable that client to be more responsive to its end-buyers, interact more readily with suppliers, and safeguard the profit margin. All good, important things that are possible with better information management.

Specificity continues to be a big deal in the AEC world, with project participants needing to be able to interact with a building project in a way that supports their specialization. Graphisoft merged with DDS to more tightly integrate the architecture (structure, look and feel) with the systems (wiring, plumbing, etc.) that make the building work. DDScad is sold as modular applications for each MEP discipline since a plumbing contractor typically doesn’t also do the wiring. This approach is more modern from an IT perspective, cuts user costs, and seems to bring new IT paradigms to Archicad.

Architects want clients to experience a building before it is built to get buy-in and explore the many design options available. Archicad 26 includes integration with Enscape, a real-time rendering application, via a bi-directional connection. This means that a rendering can be created from an Archicad model and added to in Enscape —say, adding objects or surface textures— that is then pushed back to the Archicad model. The Enscape user sees a room or building fully rendered and interacts with those objects; the Archicad user then can interact with these as BIM objects in a more traditional CAD environment. That’s incredibly useful (as is the commercial model on offer right now). A reseller I spoke with told me that visualization is one of the toughest evaluation criteria he sells against.

OK. Enough about Archicad 26; see the website for more detail.

One of the fascinating things to come out of this event was a set of roadmaps that take Graphisoft to 2025. CEO Huw Roberts, VP Software Success Zsolt Kerecsen, and their colleagues shared the general principles along which they see the product set evolving along four “lanes”: the architecture, multidisciplinary design, and collaboration products, and the adjacent lane, its services offering. (You can see screencaps here, on the Graphisoft Community site, or see them in the presentations at the launch replay link above). For example, the architecture 2022 themes focus on design: manage and structure, search and select, and design efficiency. For 2023, it’s choice: design options, variance management, and what-if scenarios. 2024? Scale at Speed, with crafted details, large scope, high complexity, and speed and navigation. In 2025, the furthest out the road maps went, it’s analytics for performance: smooth extensibility, automation, and multi-directional. That’s just architecture; there are similar “lane” views for multidisciplinary design, collaboration, and services. So not too specific, but more thematic and directional.

My main takeaway? Graphisoft isn’t an enormous company, and it needs to carefully manage its R&D resources to focus on what its users need most —like design efficiency, options management, extended team collaboration, and so on— while still looking ahead to new technology advancements. These somewhat squishy roadmaps give them the flexibility to change as needed to respond to users’ comments or react to technology innovations and/or acquisitions. Putting these stakes in the ground establishes decision criteria for every choice the company must make — are we getting closer to the 2025 theme or not? But perhaps even more important, these roadmaps give users something to use to hold Graphisoft R&D accountable.

Tied to these roadmaps is an architecture concept for core and app developments. If the roadmaps are directions, the architecture is the road surface:

Mr. Gorur and Mr. Kerecsen told me that, rather than a single, monolithic Archicad, the future will see a reinvented offering with a core microkernel underlying a set of services from which a user can spawn applications of many different sorts–architecture, structures, analysis, MEP, collaboration and so on. If you watch a lot of technology happen, this is typical of current app development thinking. It leverages the uniqueness that is Archicad’s core without burdening it with things like security, interfaces, collaboration technology, etc. This will make it faster and more responsive. And it allows Graphisoft to add/update apps and services as needed without destabilizing the rest of the offering.

That’s a lot like what DDS already offers: modular, extensible, desktop/cloud, and capable, in time, of dealing with new commercial models. This will enable Graphisoft to work towards delivering new capabilities more quickly, on more devices, to more targeted users. The trick will be to do this while supporting how existing users interact with their Graphisoft technologies — which they assure me is well-understood and an essential consideration in their release plans.

Graphisoft’s overall aim? To deliver technology and related services that let architects be more innovative and connected, delivering great designs that make the world a better place. That means automation, artificial intelligence, more accessible and better-organized data, higher fidelity visualizations, collaboration via open protocols, and all of that means innovation.

Being a 40-year-old tech company is both good and bad. Pluses: Graphisoft has survived waves of technological change and continues to thrive, so likely can do it again and again in the future. More challenging: long-term loyal users who need a particular menu item to always stay in the same place; change is hard! Balancing those two sets of possibly competing needs isn’t easy, but it is filled with potential.

In the late 1990s, I spent a summer in Budapest because my MBA program required all students to learn or work abroad. I lived on the Pest side —the grittier, more commercial part of the city. When I was there, Hungary was trying to come to grips with the end of Communism, the only system most adults had ever known, and the transition to capitalism. One manifestation: The bathrooms where I worked seldom had toilet paper. People were still used to the days of the planned economy when there might be a lot of (black) hair dye but no loo rolls. Hoarding was still an everyday survival tactic. At the same time, there was a feeling of incredible optimism that anything was possible for those who worked hard enough. The city’s energy then was palpable — it was possible to be anything, invent something novel, and be a success.

That energy is still noticeable in Budapest and is also very much in evidence at Graphisoft HQ. There’s a sense of purpose, of ambition, both personal and organizational, that’s exciting to see and that finds its way into the products and into marketing and sales plans. It’s going to be fun to watch Graphisoft and its ecosystem battle it out on a global stage.

I loved Budapest in the 1990s, and, it turns out, I still do. If you can, go. It’s a beautiful, historic city with tremendous modern hustle and aspirations.

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

The title image is of Budapest’s Parliament in the moonlight. Those Graphisoft people! They even arranged the skies to suit their event! Photo by me.