Autodesk Hooks up With Pitney Bowes Software (No, Really!)

With no warning from either side comes the bizarre news that Autodesk, specifically the infrastrucure/BIM part is hooking up with Pitney Bowes "to help infrastructure owners and architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) organizations make more informed decisions and drive greater efficiencies across the plan, design, build, manage lifecycle of infrastructure." 

There are no details of exactly how the two groups (I assume it's the Business Insights part, though the PR says just Pitney Bowes Software) will work together in the press release. Rather, the two companies are described as having entered into "a strategic alliance agreement."  Those terms have rarely described successful pairings in geospatial deals.

Adena's Take

Why? What problem will this partnership solve?

It's hard for me to imagine customers of either company were pushing them to offer services provided by the other. I can't imagine utilities coming to Autodesk and asking for location intelligence. And, I can't imagine cellular telcos coming to PBBI asking for BIM and engineering solutions. No, this relationship was not driven by customers, but rather by the companies themselves. But what prompted this odd pairing? I have a few ideas:

  • Hexagon growing
  • Esri touting GeoDesign and growing in all industry areas
  • Google getting into 3D and growing out the SketchUp user base
  • Autodesk's limitied success in geospatial technology

The Challenge

There a few challenges to such a partnership from the start. One is simply communicating the ROI in the mix of BIM and GIS/Location Intelligence. Each company has done respectably in selling their own side of the equation (BIM/infrastructure design tools at Autodesk, location intelligence tools at PB), but making the leap to adding on that other bit is quite difficult. Consider that Autodesk University 2011 included a session called The Great BIM vs GIS Debate (list of coverage, videos at GeoExpressions). The debaters were both from Autodesk. The second challenge, and I've seen this many times, without some kind of incentive, it's difficult to get sales staff to sell a partner's, let alone a strategic partner's goods. A third challenge is that with this deal Autodesk seems to be officially confirming its failure in the geospatial space. There's been evidence of limited success for some time (remember Autodesk World? OnSite? MapGuide? The MapServer Foundation?) and now part of the discussion must include positioning this retreat.

The Prediction

I can't see this strategic relationship yielding any fruit. Autodesk does not have a great history in these sorts of relationships (see for example, Autodesk + Esri). PB also tried a foray into CAD (DynaCAD, press release, 1998) and has had a rocky relationship with big players like Oracle over the years. I do hope I'm wrong, because I love the idea of another large, active player in the geospace. I just don't think this pairing will work out.

Joe's Take

This morning came word that Pitney Bowes Software and Autodesk are teaming to provide solutions for “GIS, Analytics, BIM and Asset Management,” according to the press release. Each company certainly has strengths that are symbiotic in that PB has software solutions for business and location intelligence while Autodesk is much more focused on infrastructure and design. My take is that the announcement illustrates a move to offer a consolidated suite of solutions to combat an ever growing threat by some of the larger GIS players to do the same. With Esri making a strong push into 3D GIS and Hexagon heavily invested in metrology, LiDAR, remote sensing and GIS, it left the two players with strong ties to GIS without certain capabilities in the marketplace. Autodesk did not have a strong analytical story for GIS and PB could not address the BIM and civil engineering market.

Will this offer a strong competitive solution to clients looking for a workflow in the new era of “geodesign?” No partnership succeeds without there being “money on the table.” I don’t know if there is a deal in place that precipitated this move or whether each company simply felt they had to have a show of force in the market against two (Esri  and Hexagon), now very strong, competitors. First, there is no mention of product integration in this announcement. It’s merely a statement of intent to work together. They will need to do that eventually. Both companies have global reach and want to provide a solution for those parts of the world for which growth in infrastructure projects is robust.  I don’t think this will “freeze” the market for the deals that are out there but it might give some organizations that utilize both companies for their respective solutions to “ask” about the integration strategy.

In addition, it is a move of necessity at this point by both companies because the location technology market is swiftly moving to enterprise integration using a cloud-based infrastructure. Each company has to offer a solution in the GIS market for clients looking toward a SaaS model. Even Google has been laying out their strategy for geospatial data management during the last year and also poses a competitive threat. The announcement has a sense of implied urgency as the market is quickly evolving.

Published Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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