Bentley and Autodesk target interoperability

A couple of months ago, a PR slip suggested a joint Bentley/Autodesk announcement was imminent. Well, it was announced late yesterday that the two AEC software giants have agreed to expand interoperability between their solutions portfolios:

“Autodesk and Bentley will exchange software libraries, including Autodesk RealDWG, to improve the ability to read and write the companies’ respective DWG and DGN formats in mixed environments with greater fidelity” and will support “the reciprocal use of available Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)”.

Interoperability has long been a challenge for AEC software users. The news release mentions the 2004 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study which found that poor interoperability cost US business almost $16 billion a year. And last October, McGraw-Hill Construction published its Interoperability SmartMarket Report suggesting “interoperability costs add 3.1% to a typical project budget” (see post). Not surprisingly, the move has been welcomed by interoperability campaigners such as the IAI/BuildingSMART, though the immediate impact on users will be negligible until the cooperation starts to kick-in.

Leading CAD industry watcher Randall Newton suggests the step particularly benefits Autodesk in the short-term, with a longer-term benefit to Bentley. It will also be interesting to see what other AEC CAD vendors make of the move (will it be Autodesk/Bentley versus “The rest”?). Meanwhile, Tony Tanzillo of is slightly cynical about the motivations behind the move – in a comment on WorldCAD Access, he says:

“the cost of the flagship products of both of these companies has remained relatively constant. That in and of itself, suggests that the two of them are targeting lower-priced competitors, in an attempt to protect their high prices.”

AECbytes analysis

Update (11 June 2008): AECbytes Lachmi Khemlani is also a little skeptical about the announcement. After putting Autodesk and Bentley’s Unprecedented Interoperability Agreement into historical context (a previously very adversarial and combative relationship), she wonders why did Autodesk suddenly start “doing the right thing?” Is it to improve its public image, or does it mark – as Tony Tanzillo sort of suggested – the beginning of an attempt to marginalise the interoperability movement and its open IFC standard? She writes:

“It is important to note that Autodesk and Bentley are not proposing to enable interoperability between their applications through the IFC but through APIs and directly working with each other’s file formats,”

and then continues:

“… while interoperability is certainly gaining momentum, this is happening more as Autodesk envisioned — through direct integration rather than a common open file format. … Autodesk will just continue to acquire companies that make supporting technologies … and directly integrate them with its products. And it seems to be no longer confining the integration to just these companies but also extending it now to its competitors.”

(Here, it would appear that Autodesk is carefully choosing which competitors it deals with. I wondered on Wednesday would it be Autodesk/Bentley versus “The rest”? and this fear is shared by others. In a Cadalyst article, Bentley and Autodesk Join Hands to Bridge DGN and DWG, the Open Design Alliance‘s president Arnold van der Weide expressed concerns. “It’s dangerous when two major players sit together and share their file formats between themselves, because it can close those formats off to the world, blocking new players from entering the market.”)

Lachmi’s final point echoes something that Ralph Grabowski wrote in May: “Is this just a precursor to something that seemed even more unthinkable earlier but does not seem so farfetched anymore — the acquisition of Bentley by Autodesk?”

Update (08 August 2008) – In a Cadalyst article, Examining the Autodesk-Bentley Agreement, ODA insider Evan Yares provides some history and ponders on the implications of the deal.

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