Autodesk Selling Previously Abandoned Product

While applicable to my career over a decade ago, I normally wouldn’t cover news on ArtCAM. It’s not relevant in my current professional life. However I find this interesting and noteworthy which is why it caught my eye. 

ArtCAM History 101

In 2014, Autodesk acquired a CAM software developer named Delcam. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delcam)  Delcam was based in the United Kingdom and wasn’t as widely known as some of the big players like MasterCAM, Gibbs, Esprit or any number of others. Delcam was different. Instead of a few well selling products, they had a vast portfolio of CAM smaller solutions for niche markets like jewelry and footwear. 

Autodesk on the other hand is a large volume software company. They don’t do “niche” very well. The smart play was to leave Delcam alone. This lasted for a few years but that recently ended.  

One of their more popular products was ArtCAM. I supported it at one of my past employers over a decade ago. Earlier this year, Autodesk announced they were discontinuing ArtCAM to the dismay of it’s users. This was no surprise as Autodesk has a long history of acquiring software and companies and realigning or discontinuing products. You can see a list of most of them on Steve Johnson’s blog here…https://www.cadnauseam.com/autodesk-graveyard/

Departing from Historical Actions

What I do find noteworthy, and I’m just getting around to write about it now despite being month old news, is that they made the decision to sell it off. ArtCAM will continue but from a new company. This typically doesn’t happen. You either take the hit and migrate to what Autodesk wants or you find another product. This time, the product will continue but with a new company and name…Carveco. http://carveco.com/

Why do I find this interesting? It’s no surprise that Autodesk has pretty much abandoned new development of Fabrication CADmep, ESTmep and CAMduct. All their efforts are focused on Revit’s Fabrication parts. While that eliminates the need for CADmep for many, there’s still no clear public strategy on ESTmep or CAMduct. It would be nice if they took those products and found a way to spin them off. Granted, it’s harder in this case. They share a common data platform (the Fabrication Configuration) and content with Revit now. None the less, I’m sure there’s a lot of smaller firms that could make a good run of it. They’d just have to partner with Autodesk a little differently than in typical. 

What do you say Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost? You’re company helped fracture the MEP industry with your purchase of MAP software in 2012. Only now do we see several 3rd parties emerging and targeting the MEP contractor. How about giving one or two of them a shot…to continue with the value we see in these products?  

Autodesk Acquires PlanGrid

Today, Autodesk announced their acquisition of PlanGrid. You can read the press release from Autodesk here…http://adsknews.autodesk.com/pressrelease/autodesk-to-acquire-plangrid.

This doesn’t really seem like a surprise. PlanGrid has a large and active user base where as competitor Fieldwire seems like they’ve had trouble competing and gaining significant market traction. 

What is a surprise to me, is that typically these types of “big” announcements are typically given in Las Vegas during Autodesk University, not the week following. I suspect that in this case, an announcement of this type would have distracted from the other BIM360 related messaging Autodesk was trying to deliver.

Why Would PlanGrid Sell?

What made PlanGrid strong in the market is the ease of use and field adoption of their platform. Plain and simple, field personnel liked it and used it, It doesn’t really matter what something costs if it doesn’t get used. PlanGrid had a platform that was used. My guess is they sold because what better way to finish than on top. In the end, what were they doing that Autodesk couldn’t do, or soon do with their BIM360 Docs platform? I know several companies that pay more annually for PlanGrid than their entire Autodesk product lines. In some cases PlanGrid renewals were double Autodesk. And for what? Storage and viewing?

As Autodesk continues to build out their BIM360 platforms, and users increasingly adopt services like BIM360 Design (formerly Collaboration for Revit), it wouldn’t take long before people started asking why they were paying so much when BIM360 Design published to BIM360 Docs already and seemingly did the same thing?

Where would PlanGrid differentiate itself? When we take an intelligent model and publish it to a PDF, we’re loosing a lot of information. Any more intelligence PlanGrid would try to add is attempting to recreate what was once there but lost. Not to mention, adding more functionality would start to move PlanGrid away from the core principals that made it strong…simplicity. In the end, I think PlanGrid chose to end on a high note before an eventual decline.

What Does This Mean For Autodesk?

When Autodesk acquires a company, they do it for one or more of the following reasons…

  • Buy interesting technology they don’t have
  • Buy the talent of the firm who’s doing interesting things and employ them to do the same for Autodesk
  • Kill technology that’s driving the market in directions Autodesk doesn’t like
  • Buy the customers

For Autodesk, I don’t really think they care about PlanGrid’s technology or development teams. Not that they aren’t good tools and people, but Autodesk has their own. Instead of having to OCR PDF’s to automatically hyperlink them, you should be able to create the PDF from this intelligence already in Revit. There’s really no point in trying to recreate lost intelligence (PlanGrid) when you already have it captured (BIM360). 

Instead, I think Autodesk wanted the user’s. It’s the quickest way to increase your BIM360 Docs usage which is where I think the users will be migrated to. If not BIM360 Docs, perhaps a more streamlined tool for field communication that uses BIM360 Docs as it’s storage platform.  

What Does This Mean For Users?

Lower software costs. I know, I know. They’s not something you typically get from an Autodesk acquisition but paying double for a PDF sharing platform than all your other Autodesk services certainly won’t continue. I predict the price will drop, they’ll then “realign” duplicate platforms and move everyone to BIM360 because PlanGrid no longer “makes money” and they’re done. That’s what happened in the past in similar situations like Autodesk Fabrication being acquired from MAP software. We in the MEP world know how that worked out…new development halted, fixes released at a glacial pace and updates almost non-existent. Move to Revit or fall behind. I think you’ll see that dynamic play out w/PlanGrid as well. 

For now, I’ll enjoy not paying double to share PDF’s because PlanGrid says we have tens of thousands of sheets on a project we use when the reality is we’re only looking and a handful of sheets for a project team that’s using PlanGrid. While a good product which we do use, our usage numbers have never been what they’ve suggested. I wonder if Autodesk fell prey to some of those technically accurate but misleading usage stats as well. 

Autodesk Concurrent Usage Restriction

A couple months ago I posted about a “business rule” Autodesk had which restricted a user from using more that 2 titles of their Collection on the same computer at the same time. The original post can be read here. This wasn’t a technical limitation rather a legal restriction. The “rule” essentially stated that you couldn’t run more than 2 products at the same time for the same user on the same computer. This would be like Microsoft saying you couldn’t use Email, Word and Excel all at the same time. I asked several trusted Autodesk resellers, my Autodesk insiders and other industry peers and it seems this restriction wasn’t very well known, In fact, not a single person I asked was aware of the “rule”

Back in January when I first raised the issue, I was in the middle of a contract renewal and it was Autodesk’s fiscal year end. As a result, there were several Autodesk regional reps raising the issue internally at Autodesk. I had hints back then (unofficially) that they were reassessing the policy and would likely remove the restriction. I’m now happy to report that as of March 29th, the policy restriction has been officially removed.

It was reported in the “Moving to Subscription” forum as a followup to my initial complaints and concerns. You can read the entire forum thread here.

If you look at Autodesk’s Collection Licensing support article here, you can see the restriction struck through and updated.

I’m a tough critic of Autodesk’s policies and their sales practices. But I have to admit, this was fairly quick action on their part considering their legal team was likely involved. They historically haven’t made concessions based on customer pressure very often and when they have, it sometimes comes very slow. In the use case I gave them, I discussed how an MEP firm running Fabrication CADmep would need 3 licenses, One license of CADmep, one for the AutoCAD session it was running on and Navis.

The feedback I received through resellers pushing their Autodesk partner managers for answers came back quickly in mid-January exactly how many users globally fell into that scenario. I was impressed how quickly they started analyzing the scope and impact to their company and users. Hats off to Autodesk for squashing this ridiculous rule. For the first time in over 25 years of dealing with Autodesk, their sales and legal teams came together and did the right thing.

Applied Software acquires long standing CADmep reseller TSI

And then there was one….

TSI – From Startup to Market Domination to Decline

Long before Autodesk acquired UK based MAP Software LTD, their products were not well known in the US. Technical Sales International (TSI) was started by some folks with a long history at QuickPen. They left and went out on their own to become the US reseller of CADduct, CADmech, CAMduct and ESTmep. It was through their efforts that what we now know as the Autodesk Fabrication product line became a major force in the market place for MEP sub-contractors.

But with all things, times change. Autodesk acquired MAP Software in the end of 2011 and soon opened up the Autodesk sales channel. This eliminated TSI’s exclusive right to sell the software in the US and other territories and many customers moved their software subscriptions to other resellers who they likely already had an existing relationship with for many of their other Autodesk products. It was Autodesk’s fragmentation of a small niche market that started TSI’s decline.

Enter Applied Software

While other resellers could now sell Autodesk Fabrication, another well establish Texas based reseller DC CADD saw an opportunity. DC CADD quickly snapped up some of the top talent as TSI downsized. DC CADD made the investment in staff and marketing and position itself well. DC CADD later re-branded itself as Enceptia as they went from regional reseller to a national player. Ultimately, Enceptia’s owner was looking to retire and sold to Applied Software.

With the market fragmentation caused by Autodesk, TSI’s owners started focusing on their own product called SysQue which runs inside Revit. This focus and their SysQue product ultimately created a conflict of interest as they were taking a different direction than Autodesk for Revit Fabrication in the MEP trades. As SysQue started to gain traction TSI’s owner’s ultimately led them to split off SysQue as a separate company and sell their stake in TSI to one of the employees. This allowed them to focus exclusively on their product and not be distracted with the requirements Autodesk places on their resellers.

An Uphill Battle Lost

Ultimately, I suspect the marketing power of Applied Software, combined with the fragmented customer base was a tough battle for TSI. The MEP market is a pretty small community where everybody knows everybody and many of the familiar names nationally and globally recognized as “Experts”, were working for Applied Software or moved over to the SysQue company (who themselves were later acquired by Trimble).

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I enjoy helping others and sharing what I learn. In that regard, this site is a bit self serving. We all learn every day. It may be a small simple little gem we just happen upon or the result of a hard fought battle. My goal isn’t to spend hours documenting a robust training curriculum or cover any topic from A to Z. Rather, this site will be a journal of my professional activities and the things I learn in the course of a day in the life of a technology practitioner in the CAD / BIM world. It may be as simple as a link to a news article I find of interest or a quick post about a problem I’ve solved or solution I’ve run across. My only goal is that the information may help accelerate someone else’s learning or make their day more productive. Feel free to use or ignore as you see fit. Welcome and thanks for visiting. I hope you stick around for a while..