Sunday, April 1, 2018

Here is why Autodesk’s monopoly over the Global AEC is not good, not even for Autodesk:

The fact, that Autodesk rules over the Global AEC is not new, it has been in the making for several decades. It started off with CAD, then, when BIM was getting strong enough to stay – it extended over almost anything to do with Construction Information Management.

Almost, I state – as the non-graphical data management is still somewhat outside its claws, i.e. project, people and time document management.
Not that it is not trying to move into those fields too, since there is only so many BIM-CAD licenses the industry can absorb (pay for) at any time and the money-making machinery must keep growing.

Autodesk (and its supporters) will argue, that their supremacy is well deserved, funded on industry-best products and support, but we all know this not to be true, and some of us will even admit to it.
Ever since the first CAD hit the market, there had been viable alternatives for users to chose from and by doing so keep competition live and the suppliers honest.
Almost miraculously, some competition survived over decades and even in the more complex field of BIM, a couple of real contenders for big accounts still exist.

However, this competition is of little use for the industry’s ‘everyday man or company’ as it provides little real choice, in fact by pretending to be there yet having ‘no teeth’, competing companies strengthen Autodesk’s monopoly.

I’ve been known for criticizing Autodesk for many years and people tend to brush it off as ‘sour grapes’ – me being jealous that they’ve beaten Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD into ground – the current software of my choice.
But this is a stand too easy to take and misleading again, as I have been an Autodesk product user (as well) for a long time (longer than ArchiCAD) and at some time or other I used Vico, Sketchup, Tekla, Microstation and numerous high-performance parametric design offerings.

I am a self-confessed ArchiCAD lover but I have also been critical of its owners/developers/promoters for years and have only given up lately on this hobby, given their defeat being so obvious, that is no longer fun trying to cajole them into better performance by public shaming.

So, by all logic, I should also declare defeat and unconditionally succumb to the Autodesk Church, but – no surprises there – I just cannot.
We are being manipulated in every aspect of our lives, pushed towards single choice (or no choice) options where ever that is possible. So, accepting to have a sole source toolset in my everyday work should be easy to do. Yet, I can’t help thinking, that it is in every industry participant’s interest for this to stop happening, in a bizarre way even Autodesk’s followers and Autodesk itself.

Many Autodesk users/supporters will argue, that they are happy with what they have and need no competition.
Their skills and knowledge are global and easy to adapt to almost any country. Autodesk looks after them well, even invites the best to their annual mega-get togethers (for a little bit more bonding and brain washing).
It has nicely sewn up ‘global CAD and BIM standards’, COBie and other possible ‘performance management tools’ thus guarantee across the board use of Autodesk tools.
But I challenge those same people to answer this: if Autodesk told you to wear only black shoes for the rest of your life, would you?
After all, Autodesk knows what is best for you, why stop at your information toolset?
Maybe some would be happy to wear black shoes.

I know many clever, capable, innovative and altogether wonderful people that are swept under the Autodesk spell and that makes me sad.
Sure, they may feel like they are being valued, listened to, paid well and fully satisfied in their serving of the behemoth but, are they really?
Kind of, you are free, can run anywhere, if it is within the confines of Autodesk-land.

What about the young’uns? The ones that are just entering the industry? Is the rigmarole of the Universities’ Autodesk-brain washing effective enough for them to slide into the machinery with no questions asked?  On the lines of any BIM is better than CAD and any CAD is better than hand drawing?
(note: my daughter is going through one of those Uni courses).

And how about the ‘old and wise’ ones? The ones managing companies, projects and countries.
Before they put their signatures to another big Autodesk commitment do they ever ask what alternative there might be and take a real effort in understanding the status quo they are supporting?
Or, are they just happy sticking a company that makes them look legit and forgives them for not being that great in information management, anyway? In a ‘don’t rock the boat’, sort of way.

I can go on, bring in Autodesk’s competitors themselves, too afraid to offer any radical change to the market but focus on hanging to their piece of pie just a bit longer, even when there hardly is a piece to talk about any more, merely crumbs.

Then, of course, there is buildingSmart, with its endless international gatherings and self-back patting that does nothing more than give credence to Autodesk, for ‘playing nicely’ in the Global IFC arena.

And then, sadly, I must mention the tens of thousands of people within Autodesk itself that are possibly and highly likely decent people with good intentions that are unable or unwilling to do anything to level the playing field for the good of all of us.

And talking about the playing field, it can’t be that much fun to be Autodesk (the company) either, a leader in a game this uneven, no matter what money comes from it.
And I am almost sure that the company still feels it is not making quite enough money. The motivation to innovate is not there, only to sell more of the same. (maybe repackaged a little).

But even if I am wrong because, ‘naturally’, zillions of Autodesk fans can’t be wrong in that Autodesk does everything that this industry needs and to the best standard it deserves, there is still an observation I make, that Autodesk and the decision makers of the industry are in a too close a relationship.
Together they stop better and more universal data accessibility and transparency.
Two things that are even more important than innovation and progress and are essential for a clean-and-healthy industry.

I struggle to think of any other major global industry that knowingly prevents a high proportion of its participants meaningfully accessing vital data, yet this is exactly what is happening day in and day out in most of the construction projects.
Sure, company marketing will show engineers pouring over drawings in mud and rain on paper or on their smart tablets, but it remains a well-kept secret what percentage are able to dig to any depth beyond the PDFs?

Autodesk does not seem to be bothered about that percentage possibly (likely) being extremely low either.
The competition is left fighting over the crumbs, themselves unable to initiate real change in real uptake of the tools and the creation and access to quality data.
Consequently, the industry keeps chasing its tail staying the most in-bred, corrupt and murky of industries.

So, going back to my statement from the title, I do not think that the unbridled monopoly of Autodesk on the global AEC market’s graphical information management is good for anyone long (or even medium) term, starting from the industry, through Autodesk, all the way down to the users and consumers.