Executive Interview with Amar Hanspal, Vice President, Autodesk Collaboration Services

By Hal Reid

During Autodesk University (Nov.28 - Dec.1, 2004), Hal Reid spoke to Amar Hanspal, vice president of Autdesk's Collaboration Services about the company's product, Buzzsaw. Buzzsaw is an online project collaboration service used by more than 100,000 design and construction professionals (according to the Autodesk website).

Hal Reid (HR): One of the features that has not been a part of Buzzsaw has been a means to monitor the workflow that is typical of many real estate projects.For example, real estate deals for traditional retailers begin with an inventory of locations that are probably not under control (option to lease or purchase) and later (as they become viable), may move through the steps of control, deal approval, permits, under construction, equipment installation, opening and the final punch-list.Is there any effort to incorporate a type of multi-project workflow tracking to administrate those projects within Buzzsaw? If not, why not?

Amar Hanspal (AH): Maybe the "if not why not" is the easier part to answer.What you are really wanting in Buzzsaw is an evolution you know.The problem you described is one we see with quite a few retailers we work with, and they do all of these things. Out of the box, Buzzsaw doesn't have those screens that go A, B, C, D and E [follow that flow].So what we do today is actually customize for these people using some of the forms, workflow and reporting tools we have.We give them a way to walk through the various phases of the project.

I would say that in the long run we do see a more out of the box environment that helps people in the site selection phase, in the early design, scoping phase and on to the actual commissioning and maintenance.I think that will be the natural evolution.The "why not" is not because we don't want to or don't agree with the idea, it is just we haven't become a mature enough product as if we had been around for many years and have gotten to that stage.And today we answer this on a one-off project basis.

HR: Some of the competing products to Buzzsaw incorporate location analytical tools as part of the process management (e.g. ManagePath, the former Vectiv SRES, etc.).These might include access to demographics, models, comparative sales, etc. Some of this output also populates a site approval package.Is this functionality part of the scope of features to be added to Buzzsaw in future releases?

AH: I would say this, we don't see this - we see this by either licensing or partnering with somebody that specialized in that technology.We see it as part of the Buzzsaw solution, but we won't necessarily create it ourselves.So at some point we will actually provide this in a way that customers can use it.But I don't think we are going to sit back and re-create the wheel in something that has already been done. It is sort of back to the first question I answered where site selection is an important phase, but demographics and population, that is not us.That is something that somebody else would specialize in, so we would see ourselves as an integrator rather than an inventor of that kind of information.

HR: You wouldn't use MapGuide, for example, as SRC has done to give you basic maps and demos?

AH: We could use MapGuide, but it is the information that is lying underneath, it is the content, it is the data and that is the kind of thing I don't see us going back and recreating. That is the kind of data we would license from somebody and use MapGuide on the surface to display the information that is completely legitimate.But we don't see ourselves trying to do the demographics and population part.

HR: You don't want to get into the raw data business.

AH: Exactly.

HR: Volo Viewer was recently removed as a no-cost tool for viewing and redlining DWG and DXF files that were resident on Buzzsaw. With the move toward DWF files as the preferred output from Autocad and Buzzsaw on the web, what is replacing that functionality as the means to redline and re-post changes back to Buzzsaw for those users who don't have Autocad or a copy of Volo Viewer?

AH: DWF Composer is the thing that will replace Volo Viewer. I don't think that people really know yet about DWF Composer, and in addition to DWF, it does DWG.So it will redline and mark-up DWGs in the future. So while we will call it DWF Composer, it will have the dual mode environment to redline and mark-up.

HR: Is there any effort to provide access to Buzzsaw from wireless PDAs or smart phones, (IPAQs, Palm devices, Blackberry,) where the web page is adjusted for those users?

AH: Not specifically, but we are doing a couple of things. With the latest release of Buzzsaw we went from the thick client we had to just using a web browser - standard Internet Exporer - as a way of a thinner client environment.Some smart PDAs handle standard Internet Explorer and you can get data on those devices.Now we are working for a customer to give them access on a PDA, but that is a one-off thing that we are doing for them.Again for us, I believe that we may want to do some of the other things with Buzzsaw, like this retail thing that you outlined before.We see that as a much more common problem for our customers.

HR: The advantage would be for the architect or whoever to at least access or do this in the field in a much more flexible way.

AH: Oh yes, you see that one of the things we are looking at is what we call the off-line user mode, where now Buzzsaw always must connect. We are looking at a scenario where you can say, hey look, I'm disconnected and let me work on this and when I re-connect, synchronize me.

HR: The biggest savings to users of Buzzsaw are in the ability to move plans and drawings around electronically.In some cases, these savings have been many times the cost of the Buzzsaw installation.As this feature is obviously a big win, what other features are you planning that may have comparable cost savings?

AH: I think the next layer of things we are looking at doing are really business processes.So, one we have taken is distribution.If you look at the context in which people have distributed information, they are either doing bids, sending documents out for comment, they are securing shop drawings, and that is actually a real process that they need to manage.

I think the next evolution for us is really to address those issues.So let's take some very quick examples ... distribute the bids, collect the information coming back, compare.You know who has responded with how much, and while that doesn't translate into back office cost savings, the ability for someone to do that on-line and award bids is really a time savings, not just a cost savings.

HR: Your customer base has traditionally been interested in CAD files, constructions management, etc.Does that mean that you can extend Buzzsaw out into other endeavors such as a marketing program or something else?

AH: Someday, perhaps, but we really haven't really cracked the construction problem yet.Project management, facilities management, multiple facilities ...we think we have so much to do there.

HR: I want to thank you for your time and being so candid.I believe that our readers will find this of interest and perhaps even find some application extendables for Buzzsaw.

Interviewers note: In a subsequent discussion about other applications of Buzzsaw, it occurred to me that a natural application was the typical movement of maps and demographics to the field as is done by many groups who have not pushed their reports and related maps production out in the field.If you are moving files of any type, demographics, imagery, spreadsheets to remote users, you might want to explore Buzzsaw as a mechanism to do this securely, quickly and fairly inexpensively.

Published Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Written by Hal Reid

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