Autodesk’s premier customer event, Autodesk University 2012, reinforces my views that Autodesk is an innovator, not a follower.

Why do I say that? Well for one thing I believe that they’re the first engineering solutions company that have demonstrated a broad, pragmatic suite of design, engineering and lifecycle management solutions that take advantage of the (public) Cloud. Their momentum on Cloud solutions is significant and this sets them apart from many of their competitors who’re still sitting on the Cloud fence.

Secondly, their portfolio is rapidly expanding to deliver more to consumers and enterprise users alike. As someone that supports the trend to the ‘consumerisation’ (see my last blog post) of technology, I believe that their experience in delivering simple and practical consumer ‘apps’ will add value to their deliverables for corporate users; the essence of simplicity being the art to managing complexity.

The many customer-led sessions and discussion panels provided practical views of Autodesk’s design, simulation and lifecycle technologies and their in-use application. The ones I sat through were very professionally presented and well received by inquisitive audiences. In addition, there were a number of Innovation Forums that discussed broader reaching topics such as eco-design and the practical realities of the Cloud as well as more esoteric topics such as the longer term future of design and manufacture.

Jeff Kowalski (Autodesk SVP and CTO) delivered a set of perceptive presentations that suggest Autodesk’s future; beyond that of design to areas of imagination, function, fabrication and business process. If you have time, I’d thoroughly recommend viewing his presentations. These are available through the AU web site, but if you don’t have access, I’d recommend you contact your friendly Autodesk contact and see if they can help. These discussions focused on:

  •  The new era of access and experience
  • Change from owning products to accessing practical experiences
  • Business unusual
  • The evolution of business models and open innovation
  • Digital fabrication
  • Direct (affordable and personalised) manufacturing
  • Ambient intelligence
  • “Interconnectedness”. Leveraging sensors and (big?) data to extend the value and reach of design
  • Infinite computing
  • Changing the way we view and use computing and human resources – the Cloud and the crowd

Amongst the second day’s keynotes we were entertained by a unique (to me anyway) presentation from Schulyer St. Leger. His entertaining (and well beyond his 12 years old) personal experiences on technology, design and personal manufacture was somewhat light hearted but remarkably astute. Schuyler’s presentation can be found here.

Carl Bass’s (Autodesk’s CEO) presentation focused on ‘what if’ scenarios; positioning Autodesk’s rapidly expanding generation of Cloud applications as a user’s choice on design, engineering and information management technologies; not a mandate, but options that can be used individually or in concert with existing Autodesk products. I for one like the implementation of Autodesk’s Cloud offerings; their value propositions are simple and the solutions practical. Carl and his team are still somewhat reticent to share their thoughts on the (financial) take-up of their Cloud solutions. Having dealt with many other Cloud software and service providers over recent times, I don’t find this totally surprising. The move from perpetual to subscription revenues (especially on a Public cloud basis) is still somewhat fluid and one can at best define trends in this area as an evolving/learning experience.

On the topic of Cloud, I was pleased to have been given a first-hand (and more in-depth) view of their newly announced Fusion 360 mechanical design solution. This is Autodesk’s next generation of mechanical design solution which is entirely Cloud based. Although still in its pre-release form, the product looked polished and capable; very easy to use and with some features that’ll definitely give their competitors something to worry about.  It certainly piped their mainstream rivals to the release post, and sets a new benchmark for both usability and mainstream industrial design. We’re still waiting to hear of pricing of course; that’ll prove interesting.

On a concluding note, the event was nothing if not positive. Autodesk’s executive management were open and approachable as too their employees. The many customers and partners I met seemed happy with Autodesk as a partner and importantly, with their technologies in use.