Design firms demand change at Autodesk

A group of leading design practices have written an open letter to Andrew Anagnost, president and CEO of Autodesk to express concern at the increasing cost of ownership of Autodesk’s Revit software, its lack of development, and its poor support for interoperability.

autodesk logoSeventeen well-known firms, including AHMM, Allies and Morrison, Aukett Swanke, Glenn Howells Architects, Grimshaw, PRP, Rogers, Stirk, Harbour + Partners, Scott Brownrigg, Sheppard Robson, Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Zaha Hadid Architects, have put their name to the letter. (I understand a further eight requested anonymity for fear of Autodesk retaliation.) Together, they represent 1000s of users and a revenue stream for Autodesk of over $22m over the last five years. They responded to a June 2020 survey, coordinated by architectural IT veteran Iain Godwin, which found software costs had increased up to 70% between 2015 and 2019, with practices subject to several software licensing models (moving from individual product licences, to suites, through to collections and in 2020 to individual user licences). Godwin is involved with the Architectural Technology Group, a forum for practices to share experiences. The firms’ letter says:

“Practices would be less worried by these cost increases if they were mirrored by productivity improvements and a progressive software development program. Where once Autodesk Revit was the industry enabler to smarter working, it increasingly finds itself a constraint and bottleneck. Practices find that they are paying more but using Revit less because of its constraints.

“Every day digital design leaders around the world wrestle with software which at its core is twenty years old and incapable of the potential of multi core computing and graphics power designed to process within today’s real and virtual workstations. Project productivity in architectural and engineering practices is hit daily because of the lack of scalability and product performance, which then requires sophisticated and practice specific ‘work arounds’.”

Better interoperability is “essential”

The letter also highlights firms’ concerns about interoperability. A survey question asked respondents if they agreed “Autodesk’s proactive support of International ISO standards and industry interoperability standards such as IFC is competitive and innovative and opens access to projects by complimentary [sic] technologies.” On a scale from 1: strongly disagree to 10: strongly agree, Autodesk was rated less than 3 (2.77 to be accurate). The letter said:

“Project design outcomes thrive on ever‐increasing collaboration between different design disciplines
requiring many forms of data interoperability between software platforms as well as compliance to
international data standards.

“Greater collaboration on interoperability between software platforms and providers could lead to a
larger market for all, given the industry is on the cusp of a ‘design for manufacturing’ revolution. …
Designers are in a continuous mode of innovation and improvement as they recycle and evolve data
between an ever‐expanding portfolio of applications. It is essential to effect better interoperability
between Autodesk products as well as with the rest of the industry.

Collaboration and CDEs

Autodesk Construction CloudMost firms cite a positive relationship with Autodesk’s technical and product support teams. However, there has also been an erosion of trust regarding the use of Autodesk’s cloud services and common data environments (CDEs). While Autodesk has invested heavily in acquisitions (Plangrid, BuildingConnected, Assemble, and [update; 29 July 2020] AI solution Pype – news release) to merge into BIM 360 and build the Autodesk Construction Cloud (January 2020: Autodesk converges its Construction Cloud), there is clearly some anxiety:

“Cloud services must be an area of potential future expansion for design businesses as well as for Autodesk as a provider. However, trust, empathy and respect need to be at the core of any such future business relationship.

“The protection of intellectual property will be at the centre of the debate for cloud based common data environments. Users want to know what any data that resides in the Autodesk cloud is going to be used for beyond individual project collaboration. Further the robustness and performance of the Autodesk cloud platform remain a cause for concern.”

From Autodesk, the firms seek “a transparent action plan that is customer-centric, non‐adversarial, innovative, progressive, and deliverable”. In a five-point plan, the group seeks, among other things:

  • the “replacement of Revit from the ground up to reflect the functionality needed for a 21st century digital industry“, and
  • a “commitment to continuously improving application, and industry interoperability (including IFC) as well as expanding geometry support and alignment to international data standards.

The Extranet Evolution perspective

The views should come as no surprise to Autodesk, though they may be surprised that so many well-known names were prepared to openly express them. Rival software vendors have long sought to take advantage of the rising costs of ownership of its flagship Revit and AutoCAD authoring tools. In April 2017, and again six months later, for example, Bricsys was pitching its BIM solution to users dismayed by Autodesk’s new commercial terms, and talking repeatedly about its ‘open BIM’ philosophy. Nemetschek brands such as Graphisoft and Vectorworks are strong advocates of open BIM too.

The financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also focused attention on Autodesk software costs. Three months ago, in April 2020, in a post about vendor concessions, I mentioned AEC Magazine‘s feature The subscription yoke; this survey is covered in-depth in AEC Magazine‘s latest issue, and looks like the next salvo in an industry campaign to bring about change at Autodesk (read Autodesk AEC customers demand better value). Martyn Day provides a detailed history of the industry disquiet over Revit, also noting in relation to open data interchange that “Revit’s coherence in IFC import/export is widely ridiculed“.

Hackitt recommendation 8.1Interoperability is an increasingly important battleground. The Open BIM movement has been pushing forward since 2012 (Open BIM, 4BIM … and potential ‘BIM-wash’). In January 2020 I wrote about Software-as-a-Service vendors looking to promote improved data exchange between CDEs (Towards connected data environments), and I continued my conversations in March 2020 after speaking to John Egan at BIMLauncher (Open CDEs and BIMLauncher). And more recently, Asite CEO Nathan Doughty said his firm’s product strategy was all about openness and interoperability (June 2020: Nathan Doughty’s new Asite era); in February 2020, Asite became a gold patron of the UK BIM Alliance. And, in the UK at least, government pressure to focus on whole life value and – only last week – to publish a Building Safety Bill that will deliver Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘Golden Thread’ recommendation of a digital approach to whole life information management, shows proprietary software is increasingly incompatible with 21st century asset owner-operator requirements.

BIEG coverI should declare an interest in the interoperability debate. As chair of the Technology Group of the UK BIM Alliance and a member of the Alliance’s executive team, I have been both following and participating in discussions focused on long-term use and re-use of data. Members of the Technology Group (Autodesk is a member) also gave evidence to the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s BIM Interoperability Expert Group (BIEG), and the BIEG’s recommendations received widespread approval following consultation across the sector (read 14 June 2020 BIM+ report: BIM interoperability suggestions hailed by sector: read the BIEG final report here).

Through its involvement in the Alliance’s Technology Group, its wider inputs to the Alliance and to BuildingSmart International, and as a supplier of software to industry and government, Autodesk will undoubtedly play a key role in these conversations. The publication of this open letter is a timely indication of the need for vendor flexibility and change if the industry is to make BIM business as usual, and support the long-term information needs of all stakeholders in the built environment.

* Update (28 July 2020: 5.15pm BST) – Five BIEG workstreams have been instigated by CDBB to implement the BEIG report recommendations. These cover: classification schema alignment, IFC and COBie, education and skills, standards, and AIM CDE. Representing the Alliance’s Technology Group, I am supporting a workstream led by Graeme Tappenden looking at the AIM CDE. An initial focus is on reviewing a document: Asset Information Management – Common Data Environment: Functional Requirements,* published by the UK Government BIM Working Group in early 2018. This predates the publication of the first parts of ISO 19650 (and the imminent ISO 19650 Part 3 covering information management in the operational phase of assets), but is a useful snapshot of government client requirements as they were previously understood.
* Anyone with views on the AIM CDE document or future guidance in this area, please email me at TechnologyGroup@UKBIMAlliance.org.

Update (30 July 2020) –

Autodesk response

autodesk logo“Engaging, listening to and addressing the concerns of our customers is a top priority for Autodesk, and we appreciate the feedback we received in the open letter. While there are points it raised that we disagree with, there are also issues raised that we must take to heart, which highlight areas where we’ve fallen short.

“Over the past several years, we increased our product development to serve engineering and construction customers, because we believe having a multi-disciplinary BIM model connected to construction enables better collaboration among all project team members. As with any business, there is the need to prioritize resources. We do recognize the need to balance and have recently increased our development on the architectural capabilities of Revit. Expect to see progress here in the future. Our current roadmap for Revit is publicly available at: http://www.autodesk.com/revitroadmap.

“We also empathize with customers that have gone through different license models in the last few years as we’ve transformed Autodesk to become a subscription-based company that can serve our customers better. We’ve done our best to balance these changes with a more valuable experience and trade-in offers that give long-time customers a path to experience these benefits at a cost consistent with what they pay today. But we must always be open to customer feedback. We’re planning to continue engaging with these customers directly, to have an open and honest dialogue, helping us further understand their needs. We have more to say, but first we will listen.”

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2020/07/design-firms-demand-change-at-autodesk/

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