Dispatches from Autodesk University: THE RECAP

AU Recap

After a week of meetings, keynotes, announcements, and (minimal) gambling at Autodesk University, the BuiltWorlds team is safely back in Chicago. Our Co-Founder Matt Abeles and Journalist Jim Lichtenwalter had an action-packed week in Las Vegas.

With some time to decompress, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we saw and heard at AU. In addition to product announcements, updates, and news, attendees really got a front-row seat to the trajectory of Autodesk’s future. What are the company’s main objectives? Where is it placing the majority of its time and energy? How is Autodesk pushing the built industry forward? These are all questions we’ve been pondering at BuiltWorlds HQ.

Below, you’ll find our big picture takeaways from our week in Vegas. These are the key themes we saw represented across the entire conference. But let’s dive into the points we found the most fascinating, and which permeated throughout the entire conference as opposed to a single keynote or session.

1. Autodesk is trying to make data easier to share

One of the key insights from the first day of AU was that Autodesk is trying to destroy data silos with its Forge software by creating a cloud platform to facilitate the open flow of data from one user to another.

In his keynote during the Forge DevCon, Sam Ramji, Director of Cloud Services noted that 30 percent of the build industry’s GDP is lost due to waste, a lot of which stems from siloed or unmovable data.

The solution is to create a “unified data platform,” and Autodesk is angling to have Forge be this platform, allowing companies to share data across the cloud as opposed to hoarding it. It’s an interesting concept, especially in today’s world, where data has essentially become a currency of its own. Massive companies like Epsilon collect data on you and sell it to marketers so that they can tailor advertisements toward your tastes.

Having a fertile ground of construction-related data can obviously be a huge help to Forge users. Data can be leveraged on the job site to make things safer and more efficient. If the industry has a robust source of data, overall efficiency and safety in the built space improves.

This particular area of expansion really interests me. I think data is going to become one of the premiere money-makers in the 21st century--if it isn’t already. It will extend beyond simple advertising purposes. In the built world, figuring out which processes and methods of construction are the safest or the most efficient is vitally important. It’s great to see a company like Autodesk take a stab at data management while creating a platform predicated on the idea of sharing data.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. Collaborations and partnerships took center stage at Autodesk University

We saw a ton of examples of Autodesk’s numerous collaborations and partnerships. At the AEC keynote, it was announced that Autodesk would be deepening its partnership with Unity Technologies, at the Forge DevCon keynote, we heard from Wendy Rogers, CEO of eSUB, and we heard about how the company is partnering with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to utilize generative designed vehicles for space travel.

Autodesk is all-in when it comes to collaborating with other companies. This really goes hand-in-hand with Forge’s attempts to become the single source of open data sharing. In fact, collaboration with Autodesk’s customers and partners is crucial to Forge’s success.

“We know we have a long way to go,” Ramji said. “We do not have a complete platform.”

But by partnering with eSUB and other similar customers, Autodesk hopes to fill out the platform.

“Forge is everybody’s platform,” he said.

But this mentality extends far beyond just Forge. Walking around the giant expo hall, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of companies that are partnering, collaborating, and integrating with Autodesk and its cache of products. The company seems to understand how important it is that their software “speaks” the same language as other programs. Autodesk has such a high prevalence in the industry. It understands that users need integrations.

Again, I think Autodesk is on the right track here. Whenever I talk to a BuiltWorlds member, I hear about the need for collaboration and interoperability within the industry. If the built world is forward, companies need to work together to break down silos. It will be interesting what partnerships and collaborations Autodesk cooks up in the future.

3. Robots are here, but they aren’t going to take away jobs

By far, the coolest thing we saw at AU was the space lander developed by JPL using Autodesk’s generative design technology. Allowing computers to find the best, most efficient design for a craft--or a building--at such a quick speed opens up so many possibilities.

As Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, said during his keynote: “Moving repetitive task means we have less friction and more time to focus on what has value.”

Machine learning is happening in this business. It’s going to be used more and more and instituted on an increasing number of jobs. It works to eliminate the repetitive processes, freeing up time and human capital. This can be a scary thought, but it's also an exciting one.

While promoting machine learning throughout the conference, Autodesk made sure that attendees knew these new technologies weren’t going to steal jobs, they are only going to change the way we do certain jobs.

“Automating our repetitive tasks doesn't make the tasks we do redundant, it makes them more important,” Anagnost said.

The industry and the workforce will change with the implementation of machine learning on job sites. Some processes like brick-laying might be phased out, but that allows workers who were once laying the bricks to do other things on the job.

This was a great glimpse into the future. While machine learning is being implemented on job sites, this is still a slow change that won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, companies like Autodesk are smart to embrace the coming change, and start producing solutions now.