An interview with Carol Bartz, CEO, Autodesk, Inc.

By Joe Francica

Directions Magazine recently interviewed Carol Bartz, Chariman of the Board, CEO, and President,of Autodesk Inc.As one of the largest software companies in the world, Autodesk can boast of having one of the few women chief executives, not just in the IT industry but in all of corporate America.Ms.Bartz assumed her current position in 1992 and has since driven revenues from $285 Million to $947 Million in fiscal year 2002.Formerly of Sun, DEC, and 3M, Ms.Bartz has navigated the turbulent economic times by driving GIS revenue at Autodesk up 27% during the last year.We discussed with her several issues with regard to the company's future direction, the effect of the IT slowdown, and wireless technology.

DIRECTIONS: GIS and mapping technology comprises a large percentage of Autodesk's revenue. How do you look to differentiate Autodesk from other GIS competitors in the next 2-3 years?

MS BARTZ: The biggest differentiator you'll see is our overall value proposition to customers. By this I mean, how we can help our customers to not only work more productively and efficiently on projects, but also how we can help them do more with GIS by incorporating it into their broader business operations for improving business efficiency, developing new revenue streams and ultimately, achieving business objectives.

Autodesk's clearest advantage is our broad solutions for mapping, GIS, civil engineering, and infrastructure management -- all from a single vendor. There are many competitors in the industry, but as far as we can see, none of these are as effective as Autodesk in bringing the GIS and CAD professionals together, integrating their data, collaborating on projects, and distributing their valuable digital data throughout their organizations. We offer the data integration, analysis and distribution tools that GIS professionals need while also delivering the experience and precision that engineers require.

While the market for desktop GIS and CAD tools is still growing, the real excitement for our customers, and therefore Autodesk, is to distribute spatial data outside the traditional confines of the GIS department. The number of our customers who distribute their applications through web and mobile mapping has grown immensely in the past five years. And that market is still growing quite rapidly. Since we built our web and mobile tools from the ground up, instead of trying to piece together a loose collection of existing desktop technologies, our solutions are built with the Internet and mobility in mind from its inception giving greater stability.We see this as a major differentiator.

Finally, Autodesk is working very closely with companies like Oracle and Microsoft on a number of fronts relating to our solutions that will have real impact on our customers. For example, Microsoft's new .NET architecture and with Oracle on their spatial database technologies.I think our leading partner strategy is another differentiator that will serve our customers well.

DIRECTIONS: The slowdown in IT spending has begun to affect Autodesk's revenue, as indicated by last quarter's financial results.Which sector of Autodesk's business lines do you expect to lead revenue growth through the end of 2002? When do you see the IT sector recovering from its current malaise?

MS BARTZ: Beyond our quarterly earnings communications, we don't, as a matter of policy, forecast revenue and business projections.That being said, our year-over-year growth in the GIS market was a healthy 27%, which is especially strong considering the general sluggish economy.I think that is a very positive sign that our customers understand and agree with our value proposition and how we can help them achieve their business objectives.

DIRECTIONS: Will you look to expand GIS or location services beyond Autodesk's traditional customer base in the design and engineering professions?

MS BARTZ: Absolutely - and we already are.In the 90's, many organizations invested heavily in the creation of spatial data and now they are looking for ways to get a return on that investment.One key way to do that is by creating new and innovative uses for the data by delivering it to a broadened base of end-users in a useable format.More specifically, the non-technical users.

By our estimation, for every one creator of data, there are up to eight people that can use it for such tasks as customer service, fleet management, infrastructure management, marketing, sales support, emergency management and more.And with the emergence of our Location Based Services division, we broaden the value of location even further as we help carriers roll out new location-sensitive wireless data services to the mass market and enterprises.One simple, but very powerful example of an existing service where location can add enormous value is text messaging, or short messaging service (SMS), which is already enormously successful in Europe, and beginning to take hold in the U.S. Add location-awareness to SMS and that opportunity increases as new applications and uses become accessible, such as traffic alerts, or "Finder" services.

DIRECTIONS: Sales of GIS software have been shifting from desktop applications to the web and Autodesk is responding to that challenge.However, this is a very different business model than what Autodesk, or any other GIS software company, has traditionally followed.What are the risks you see, both internal strategic implementation of your plans and outside competitive threats?

MS BARTZ: I think that using the word "shift" may be misleading. Sales of desktop applications are still strong and there will always be a market for these products. But the real growth market for software is in web and mobile solutions. Perhaps there was a small shift because there was a small window in the early 1990s when GIS professionals were trying to customize their desktop products and streamline them for casual users and distribute the data through a network or CD-ROMs. However, with the broad implementation of distributed computing via the web, our customers no longer have to resort to these types of patchwork systems.

You are correct when you say that this is a different business model, but it isn't new to us. We've been selling web solutions for over six years now with distributed licensing models, so we feel we have a good handle on that.

Still, there are some lessons and risks for software vendors. They should ensure that they are developing solutions based on the current and prevailing technologies like J2EE or Microsoft's .NET system. Another risk is that, as this new audience of non-professional GIS analysts and engineers grows, vendors must develop simple, straightforward interfaces for these new users such as through web browsers. The rich, yet complex interfaces for desktop systems will not transfer well to this new group of users.

DIRECTIONS: Will Microsoft's entry into the low-end desktop mapping and location-based services market affect your product develop plans or marketing initiatives for location services?

MS BARTZ: We believe that Microsoft's entry into these markets will have positive effects for all mapping vendors as it will bring a level of mainstream awareness to the market that it has never had, which should benefit all vendors.

As for impact on our plans, we spend a lot of time listening to our customers to understand what their needs are so we can help them meet their business objectives and be more successful using our applications.This, more than anything, is what drives our product development.A good example of this is Larry Diamond, the vice president of the GIS Solutions Division.In his first six months as VP, he visited every corner of the globe to meet face-to-face with our GIS, civil engineering, and mapping customers to see first-hand how they work and listen to their needs.These meetings resulted in an evolution of our GIS product strategy to a "Series" model - essentially integrated portfolios of software for particular markets and their unique needs.Examples of these are the Autodesk Civil Series for civil engineers, which debuted in November 2001, and the recently announced Autodesk Map Series for mappers and infrastructure management professionals.

Again, I will note that Autodesk and Microsoft work together as partners on a number of fronts, including Microsoft .NET as well as the Tablet PC.In fact, back in last February when Microsoft launched its Visual Studio .NET development environment to its developer community, Autodesk was the only software partner on stage showing a demonstration of our two companies working together. So, Microsoft's interest in our market is a positive for Autodesk.

DIRECTIONS: You, along with Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, are possibly the leading women CEO's in the U.S.technology sector.Do you believe it is more difficult for women to attain an executive position in the IT sector where it appears more men have come through the ranks of software development?

MS BARTZ: Opportunities for women in IT management continue to be a problem for U.S.businesses. One of the solutions is to encourage more girls in secondary schools to pursue math and science.I really liked math and science in school and if I hadn't gotten that background, I wouldn't be where I am today.We absolutely need to get more girls studying math and science as they're the "farm team" for tomorrow's cadre of women managers in IT.Autodesk is very serious about this and in fact, we host an annual "Take Our Daughters to Work" day in which daughters of Autodesk employees spend a day at Autodesk where we try to show them the fun and exciting parts of IT so they see that it is well within their reach.

DIRECTIONS: Jack Dangermond has a following for his products because he so often expounds a 'vision' for GIS and spatial information? What is your vision for Autodesk and what is the most important "next thing" that will happen in spatial information technology? Wireless LBS? Enterprise solutions?

MS BARTZ: I think the next big thing is going to be the ubiquity of data, whether that is in GIS, wireless LBS, or on the enterprise side.By this I mean data, regardless of source or type, will be available on demand and ready to use wherever and whenever.As I mentioned before, beyond the creator there are many more downstream users that can use design data for a wide variety of uses. These users can be internal to an organization, such as customer service, marketing, sales, and more, or external, including partners and especially customers.These users don't care what the data format is, where it came from, or who created it.All they want is data when and where they need it.Being able to deliver this data immediately upon request is key to unlocking its value and getting the return on the investment so many companies have poured into the creation of spatial data.

We have already had some great successes along these lines.Case in point is Autodesk MapGuide, our web distribution software.Using MapGuide, our customers have built some truly amazing web-based applications that are capable of assembling data from multiple sources and formats and quickly distributing it to users to view with only a browser.We have a number of examples of such real world applications built on our technology that can be found on http://www.mapguide.com.

DIRECTIONS: What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?

MS BARTZ: I am very proud to work with the many talented people at Autodesk, especially as we introduced our GIS line of business over the past six or so years. We introduced CAD on the PC 20 years ago and now we're leading a new revolution -- uniting the design power of the desktop with the reach of the Internet across a wide variety of markets.To do this, we've made dramatic changes in how we develop, market, and sell our products into specialized markets with industry specific features and functionality. Our success is a testimonial to the intelligence, flexibility, and enthusiasm of the entire Autodesk team. I am most proud of leading this team that has accomplished so much.


Published Wednesday, June 26th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica



If you liked this article subscribe to our newsletter...stay informed on the latest geospatial technology

© 2016 Directions Media. All Rights Reserved.