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AUTODESK'S TAKE ON LIFECYCLES
Last week at GITA, GIS Monitor publisher Allen Cheves spent some time with Autodesk's new GIS VP, Chris Bradshaw.
A few themes ran through the conversation. One is the idea of lifecycles. Autodesk is taking a hard look at project lifecycles and developing products to address them. Autodesk historically focused on design, but six years ago expanded its offerings to support GIS. Autodesk also is integrating its "point products," those aimed at a single task in a workflow, into groups that connect what came before and what comes next. The idea is to have a set of solutions that serves the entire lifecycle of a project where intelligence (design, spatial, or otherwise) is correctly passed along.
One realization from exploring the current workflows and lifecycles is that managers receive "bad data." This is not intended, of course, but the movement of the data has, in the past, allowed key information to "slip out." The new vision is to ensure that it does not. The new solution, termed Infrastructure Lifecycle Management, is an end-to-end series of linked products that insures proper management.
Part of the business logic is based on the fact that design is 10% of an asset's value. Autodesk should know; it has provided design solutions for more than 20 years. Now, with so many new roads, bridges, and buildings constructed and in use, it's clear that owners are not happy, and those who maintain the infrastructure are not happy. That's the impetus for taking a step back to explore and support the entire process with new, linked products and services.
What sort of infrastructure does Autodesk have in mind? The assets of governments, telecommunication and utility companies, and civil engineering and general construction firms. The underlying needs are the same, though the ultimate tools and interfaces may be quite different. Having come from the design side of Autodesk, Bradshaw uses an anecdote from government. The $900 toilet seat that made headlines a few years ago may have been due to miscommunication and the "recreation of the wheel." Instead of using an existing component, or existing research, someone tried to start from scratch.
The key concept here is to recognize that firms are optimizing design for the lowest cost of total ownership. They are factoring in the cost of management, operations, and maintenance during the planning and design phase - not unlike the transformation that the manufacturing industry has undergone over the last two decades. They want to be able to reuse the planning and design data that is created for the construction phase after construction is complete - that is, during management, operations and maintenance. Think about a bridge retrofit project - the cost of recreating the as-built drawings, re-analyzing the structural loads, and reviewing rights of way are all costs that can be eliminated by having a system that retains and tracks this information and ensures that it is accurate and precise at project completion.
In the geospatial disciplines we want to avoid the $900 toilet seat. Some of our raw data may come from surveyors. These data may be in the form of maps and documents. In essence, to be sure that we use the right information and re-use it intelligently, what is needed is the "marriage of maps with a document management system." This provides a queryable and workable solution to get at key information, something that might have been missing in the past.
Autodesk, according to Bradshaw, is uniquely positioned to make this vision a reality. Part of the solution is Bradshaw's old stomping grounds: Buzzsaw, Autodesk's online collaboration solution that makes documents available, queriable and secure. And, since the lifecycle of infrastructure can run as long as or longer than a building, long term secure access is essential.
The economy, Bradshaw suggests, is on Autodesk's side in this vision. Investment from both the public and private sectors is slow. The Autodesk focus on management throughout the life cycle that Bradshaw offers provides assurance to those willing to take risks - including investors, owners and designers. Non-adopters of these tools, he expects, will be left behind.
After discussing this vision, which sounds remarkably similar to the one Bentley offered during its World Tour with its managed environment, the discussion turned to some specific questions about the state of GIS at Autodesk.
I understand that the GIS Division is now ISD, Infrastructure Solutions Division. Why the change? Does the Division still cover the same products and markets?
GIS didn't accurately describe operations, and didn't serve Autodesk or its clients well. Infrastructure Solutions Division more accurately describes the broad and complete set of solutions that reach engineers, surveyors and infrastructure management professionals, as well as GIS professionals and those whom Autodesk already serves. GIS is a critical part of these solutions. We still offer the same products, but our new name reflects the broader audience.
I understand that while you've been at Autodesk for some time, you are not a "GIS guy." How do you plan to leverage your experience with a technology that's new to you?
I've been at Autodesk since 1991, and have been involved in AutoCAD business management, AutoCAD product management, AutoCAD LT, AutoCAD R14, and sales in Asia/Pacific. I was at Buzzsaw from Oct 1, 2001 until now.
Although not in the GIS arena, I have spent the past twelve years immersed in how to help our customers improve business efficiencies and increase the value of their digital data. I understand the project lifecycle and how GIS professionals, engineers, surveyors and infrastructure management professionals, need to create, analyze and share data while maintaining precision and accuracy. I'm surrounded by an extremely talented, well-seasoned team of GIS veterans.
What do you see as Autodesk's biggest challenge in GIS/Infrastructure Solutions?
I think the biggest challenge is education - educating the industry on the benefits of leveraging design and project data across the lifecycle of a project and across the enterprise. The fact is that the technology is largely in place to allow firms to reduce costs and create competitive advantage for themselves by extending the use of their design and project data. The key to moving the industry forward is people and process, not technology. This requires education.
What is the future of the "Series"? (Civil, Map, and the not yet available but once rumored, OnSite Series) Are they working for customers? Or should we expect individual offerings down the road?
The "Series" concept is working for customers. In reality, this packaging is a stepping stone towards solutions. And it will continue. In fact, we expect to add more solution-based series even as we strengthen our existing ones with the new technology in AutoCAD 2004. What you can expect, however is name change, from "Series" to "Solutions." The other part of the packaging is a continuing emphasis on subscriptions, which will ensure that customers grow their workflows and increase productivity without missing a step.
Autodesk ISD has had what I'd call an "on again/off again" relationship with third party developers. How will ISD work with the developer community?
We've never steered away from developers; we see developers as critical and hope to develop deeper ties.
Autodesk's Homeland Security initiative relies heavily on partners. Does Homeland Security require new technologies or simply a new combination of existing ones?
Homeland Security is about solutions not a unique technology. Autodesk and its partners are re-purposing existing tech into Homeland Security. And of course, Tom Ridge and his department are still evolving, so exactly how this will play out, from a technology and budgetary standpoint, is not clear.
I thought OnSite Desktop was the coolest product last year. What's its future? Is .NET, used in OnSite Desktop, going to play out in other products?
Thanks. As you may have heard, OnSite Desktop is now called Envision. We've added a few more features including buffer and search capabilities through .NET, additional tools and interface options for the Tablet PC and direct support for AutoCAD 2004 DWG data. We believe .NET enables improved reliability, increased developer flexibility, and stronger security.
What's your current thought on Tablet PC? There was a flurry of interest, but lately it's been very quiet.
The Tablet PC is ideal for our customers. Envision runs on a Tablet PC, allowing our customers to query and analyze data in the field. There are constant improvements being made to the Tablet PC which will make them more rugged and durable for use in the field. The cost of the Tablet PC is a bit of an impediment right now, but those costs will undoubtedly come down in the future.
What is the status of the GIS Design Server? I don't recall hearing much if anything about it at AU.
In a new version we are adding "plug-in" capabilities. We consider GIS Design Server a key technology because many customers demand a centralized data storage system with features like long transaction management and support for hundreds of simultaneous users.