Last week Autodesk held the first of its latest series of seminars, the Autodesk GIS Exposition 2002, in Atlanta, GA. About 100 potential, new, and experienced users, and a handful of members of the press joined two dozen Autodesk staff and partners for the day. The goal was to firm up Autodesk's commitment and vision for GIS.
The day started with a keynote from Autodesk's GIS Division VP, Larry Diamond. He made it quite clear that he'd said all this before, noting not that we should be bored, but that the vision had not, and would not, change every few months. Having heard this vision in earlier form at GITA in March, I can confirm that he kept his word.
Diamond started out by introducing Autodesk, commenting, "I don't know of a company that doesn't have a legal or illegal copy of an Autodesk product." The mission of Autodesk's GIS Division is three-fold: to help customers (1) make better decisions, (2) discover new business opportunities, and (3) enhance customer care and retention. Exciting? Not really. Practical? Yes.
Diamond reiterated the GIS Division's focus, seen in print ads and elsewhere, on using GIS data throughout the workflow. The end of the line, long term maintenance, he noted, makes up about 80% of the cost of a road. He outlined the three series currently or soon to be available: Civil, Mapping, and OnSite. There is a new version of OnSite, now called OnSite Desktop to distinguish it from the unrelated Windows CE product, which debuted earlier this year in the Map Series. OnSite Desktop 7 is now part of the Civil and Mapping Series. The latest version of Autodesk Map, version 6, is the biggest release since release 1.0, according to Diamond. The newly announced OnSite Series is aimed at Web collaboration and will be available later this year.
Autodesk Map 6 does have some big improvements. My pet peeve concerning the complexity of cleaning geometry and creating topology has been addressed with a wizard. COGO has been added as well as some rather smart annotation tools. Also interesting, the Map Series has been split - you will be able to buy Map, Onsite Desktop and Raster Design separately.
Diamond made it a point to discuss the extra energy the company was expending on GIS partners. The partners had their say, both in a Partner Pavilion and in breakout sessions after the keynote. While it's most pleasing to see a healthy mix of Autodesk GIS partners after what has seemed like a dry spell over the past few years, I was disappointed that the session I attended on Homeland Security didn't address, well, homeland security. To be sure, I saw some great technology (from TransDecisions and Kanotech, for example) but I didn't have the opportunity to see it address homeland security challenges.
Further on in the keynote, Diamond reported back on the research he'd done during the past year while visiting with clients worldwide. In the mapping arena, he learned that Asia Pacific is being pushed forward by active urban planning, Europe by the need for "smart data," and the Americas by homeland security and asset location. He rattled off drivers, the push factors, for civil and infrastructure as well. The most interesting point was in reference to the civil drivers in Europe. The free flow of money introduced with the Euro has meant the free flow of goods. The free flow of goods has meant that limitations relating to old infrastructure (old roads, old bridges, old trains) are now apparent. In response, there are significant investments underway in that arena.
Following the keynote, two Autodesk Application Engineers (AEs) presented a live demo highlighting the use of a single set of data throughout the workflow. Each of the AEs played one or more roles as the new development was planned, surveyed, visualized, and so on. Have you seen this before? I have. What was different? The products: I saw MapGuide and Land Development Desktop, an allusion to Buzzsaw for data sharing, and most notably, OnSite Desktop 7.
Recall that there was OnSite 6, a desktop product packaged with the previous Map Series. Version 7 is what you want to see when you next visit with Autodesk. OnSite Desktop 7 looks new, with a Windows XP interface, and boasts a .NET pedigree. It reads all your favorite formats (vector, raster, LandXML), supports both 2 and 3D, appears very easy to use, and includes "real" analysis tools-like estimating cut and fill volumes and draping images on terrain models. I'm not sure of the demonstration machine's horsepower (it was a laptop), but draping a huge 260 Mb ECW file took but a few seconds. Panning and zooming over the image was smooth in real time. The presenters took the audience on an animated spin down a newly-created road alignment in 3D. So how do you describe this hybrid visualization, analysis, and feedback tool (it includes red-lining) aimed at both technical and non-technical folks? I'm not sure, but it's cool.