Autodesk and ESRI: The Evolving Role of Third Parties

By Adena Schutzberg

Autodesk announced its 2006 family of products on Tuesday including new versions of Map and Civil3D.Autodesk had arranged for a big "blitz" on that day, one that ensured no one who should know about the release would miss it.The company posted six press releases: one for the new AutoCAD, one for the new product line, one for Composer/DWF (the document sharing solution), and one each for civil/GIS users (infrastructure), manufacturing users (manufacturing) and a third for architects and builders (building).The terms in parenthesis, along with media and entertainment are the new topic areas on the newly updated homepage.Click on a topic area and you are not sent to a list of products, but rather a customer story.

Along with all the Autodesk press material were other releases from third party developers.Those related to infrastructure were titled:

GEOMAP Announces Support for Autodesk Map 3D 2006
StellarRAD Systems Announces Support for Autodesk Map 3D 2006
IME UK Ltd Announces Support for Autodesk Map 3D 2006
Munsys Technologies (Pty) Ltd.Announces Support for Autodesk Map
4DataLink Announces Support for Autodesk Map 3D 2006
R&R Sy-TEC Announces Support for Autodesk Map 3D 2006

How many of these companies have familiar names? I recognize two companies.It's hard to track whether that's an indication of the size of the developers, their geography or marketing efforts.At one time some years ago, some huge percentage of AutoCAD users relied on third party packages.Many of the companies behind them have been digested by Autodesk, or their features have been duplicated in core products, putting them out of business.I suspect that the third parties that will survive are those that may offer products, but more importantly offer services, in particular integration services, which link Autodesk products to other business software for a particular industry.Said another way, the days of "shrink wrapped" add-ons to AutoCAD in the GIS/mapping space (and I suspect but have not researched it) will soon be over, if they are not already.For the next release of AutoCAD these vendors may not even offer add-ons that support the new release but rather offer "integration support for the Autodesk suite into the enterprise."

That idea of support in the enterprise is growing in other corners.While ESRI offers many clients that can speak to ArcSDE, the list from other vendors is lengthening steadily.Autodesk put support into Autodesk Map 3D 2006.Later this week, KHEOPS announced support it in its JMAP product line.Last June Cadcorp added support for ArcSDE (or actually "goes around it" directly to Oracle, according to a press release).Components like MapEase Objects 3.0 support connections to ArcSDE.For many users using tools from Safe Software will do the job.

So, what does this mean? That ESRI won in this little proprietary/non-proprietary battle? When ArcSDE launched, the company was rather matter of fact in saying that it provided a published interface to its proprietary technology.Clearly, there is demand for these many clients built on that interface (except perhaps Cadcorp's) or the companies would not have made the investment to support ArcSDE.Does it mean that ESRI is the 800 pound gorilla and it can do whatever it wants and everyone will follow? That is, to get new or more customers these players need to tap into its backend technology? Perhaps it means that the suite of clients ESRI offers is simply not delivering what users need?

Or perhaps it's an indirect revenue generator.Consider what it means for the software sales side.Who makes more money - the vendor who sells the server software or the vendor who sells the client software? It's trick question.The answer is whoever does the service work! It's conceivable that the logic for some of these players is simply to capture the service work around setting up a solution integrating their client with ArcSDE.

No matter the ultimate reason or explanation for this situation, it's a valuable data point for the industry.It's also an indication that while many competitors and perhaps users are not fans of ArcSDE, there is an "if you can't beat them join them" option available.

Published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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