Martyn Day is inspired by Autodesk University 2011

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His trip to sunny Las Vegas to attend Autodesk University 2011 left Martyn Day slightly worse for wear but infused with so much information he could hardly stop his fingers from jiggling on his keyboard
Throughout the week-long CAD love-fest that is Autodesk University, the one thing you didn’t hear was the word AutoCAD.

For a company that was seen as the 2D behemoth, this was probably the first Autodesk event that demonstrated just how far the company’s product suite has diversified.

Under the leadership of Carol Bartz, Autodesk went from being a teenager to a corporate giant with one product and an attitude problem.

Now with technologist CEO, Carl Bass and team well established at the helm, Autodesk has more customers using a plethora of new products on mobile devices than it does using traditional CAD systems. Autodesk is now a company of experimentation, rapid development and broad ambitions.

As well-experienced AU attendees know, the main keynotes usually give some indication of what’s in the next releases.

This year the format changed somewhat with a concentration on how innovation, technology trends and an uncertain global economy are impacting our lives.

There was also a gaggle of inspirational thinkers who are devising different approaches to design, engineering, education and sustainability.

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It’s not at all about what’s in the next software release but how all this new technology can be used to benefit mankind and prepare firms for the waves of change that appear to be increasing in these uncertain times.

Cloud

There was a big focus on explaining the benefits of cloud computing.

This took the shape of first calming fears and stating that the cloud does not mean that software will vanish from CAD workstations, that instead it will augment and expand what designers are used to using today.

The expanded processing and collaboration benefits of using cloud tools will mean not only near instant results for analysis and data everywhere, but will also unburden workstations to carry on designing.

In the future Autodesk envisages a cloud system which will mean that whatever is being designed will constantly be processed by smart super computer systems in the background, providing analysis and photorealistic renderings on demand. Autodesk is already developing analysis tools that will offer multiple optimisation solutions instead of just a single solitary result.

The raw power of the cloud is one aspect, the ability to share and update documentation and connect teams is another key driver for Autodesk development.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

In 2007 Carl Bass went on record denouncing the PLM industry as ‘a solution in search of an industry’.

At AU 2011, Autodesk joined in that search, with Bass backtracking and saying that he didn’t want Autodesk in PLM until it could be done right.

We are at a crossing point, where information is available everywhere and computing power can be distributed from desktop, to cloud to smart phone

A fair point given that the company has gone through a torrid time trying and failing to develop management systems.

The new PLM product expands Autodesk’s portfolio of document management solutions: Autodesk Vault and Buzzsaw with Autodesk Nexus. Nexus is a service that offers easy configuration, workflow and hooks into PDM systems.

Last year Bass told DEVELOP3D that he was impressed with PTC’s Windchill and could finally see how it was relevant for its users and Nexus is the result of that admiration.

Speakers

Just to get a flavour of the breadth of speakers, in a single ‘innovation forum’, we had short presentations from Sir Ken Robinson explaining how our education system kills creativity, Saul Griffith of Otherlab sharing some of the amazing designs he has created (including ‘soft robots’, electric vehicles, the fastest dinghy, bicycles) and Louise Leakey an paleoanthropologist (fossil hunter) that uses 3D scanning to research mankind’s ancient origins.

The presenters this year were really excellent and gave plenty of ideas for attendees to consider. Having been through a number of painfully flat conferences in the last two months, I would suggest other vendors would do well to attend and learn.

Conclusion

So, gone are the days when Autodesk was a one-product company and only supported one operating system and one platform.

The company’s tools are now liberated and run on many operating systems and hardware platforms. The impact of the Internet is still working its way through the software industry and we are indeed at a crossing point, where information needs to be available everywhere and computing power can be distributed from desktop, to cloud to smartphone.

As Autodesk develops its strategy, there will be more services included in the Subscription element of the portfolio. Where once Subscription was literally paying ahead for the next release, it will be a key to new productivity enhancing capabilities.

Autodesk University is now less about product and more about ideas. In that respect, AU felt more like TED than it did an Autodesk product platform.

For content AU 2011 was one of the best conferences of 2011 and demonstrated that computers and engineering software combined with humans can do so much more than drawing.

AU 2011 demonstrated just how far the company’s product suite has diversified
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