GIS at Autodesk: An Interview with Kim Davis

By Adena Schutzberg

After the discussions about CAD-based and desktop GIS in recent weeks, I invited Kim Davis, Director, Marketing and Product Management, GIS Division at Autodesk, to explain that company's outlook.

Q: How successful has CAD-based GIS been at Autodesk?

A: I feel we have been very successful with GIS at Autodesk regardless of how you define it.

By their own account, 20% of our 4 million AutoCAD users are using the platform for mapping, civil engineering and GIS.In addition, we support over 170,000 people who consider themselves "GIS professionals" and use our GIS software, especially AutoCAD Map and Land Development Desktop.We have attracted these GIS professionals in a very short period since we launched these two products in 1996 and 1998.And we're still growing.Our GIS products reported 38 percent growth in 2000, higher annual growth than any other product team at Autodesk.

I believe CAD-based GIS vs.non-CAD-based GIS is not the issue.Companies who continue to defend or redraw these evaporating borders are missing the point.Customers require that we integrate spatial data with their larger IT systems - such as customer support, finance, marketing, work management, and field force automation.Our customers don't care if the spatial data arrives from CAD, GIS, SIM or something else.Autodesk combines the appropriate spatial technology to meet the needs of each phase of our customers' workflow.

Q: What is the next technology growth area for GIS?

A: A combination of mobile computing and client/server technology.

As you know, Autodesk was the first major software company to offer a mobile GIS solution integrated with an enterprise and web server.This allows our customers to derive great additional value from their digital mapping and design data, extending it throughout the workflow process.A major customer segment, the utilities sector, employs as much as one third of their workforce in the field.Mobile computing and scalable, open client/server implementations finally extend GIS beyond the GIS department and to the point of work.

We see developers and customers integrating this technology in the workflow process to support on-site inspections, work order management, service installations, and more.

Q: What are the new or growing markets for GIS?

A: For Autodesk, the target GIS markets are unchanged: communications, utilities and local government.What's new is the user.Previously, it was typically just the mapping or planning department who used GIS.Today, it is everyone in the company and beyond, including our customers' customers. With our Web-based product, Autodesk MapGuide, we see customer service reps, marketing, sales, finance, and the public all using maps on the Internet or an intranet without realizing that it is GIS via MapGuide.

In addition, we do see growth in inside plant management.Facilities management and asset tracking has long been the territory of specialized tools.Just as the border between spatial technologies like CAD and GIS blurs, the boundary is dissolving between inside and outside plant management.

Q: Autodesk now has two different "location" groups: GIS and Location Services.Will Location Services drive development in "traditional GIS" i.e., Map and GIS Design Server and vice-versa?

A: No - The GIS Division at Autodesk will continue to drive development and expand the boundaries of 'traditional' GIS.The Location Services Division, building on the GIS platform technology, will deliver a specific, targeted service in the form of embedded applications on mobile systems, e.g., in-car navigation.There is definitely some overlap and a need for both groups to work closely together.

Q: Autodesk's GIS Division seems to have a three tiered focus: data creation (Map), data storage (GIS design server) and data publishing (MapGuide, OnSite).With Autodesk World development slowing down, will there ever be a non-AutoCAD Autodesk Desktop GIS? Is the desktop without an AutoCAD seat not a promising arena in 2001?

A: Actually, our approach goes well beyond three tiers.Rather than tiers, we look at this as stages within a business' common workflow: data capture, map editing and storage, facility design, construction, facility management, and planning.Within each stage of this workflow, we offer solutions.In addition to the products you mention above, Autodesk offers GIS tools for surveying and field data capture, image and raster analysis, land development, and civil design.

But to answer your question, the web has changed everything.Much of the functionality that we offered in Autodesk World for thematic mapping, queries, and more has moved to our other products like AutoCAD Map and Autodesk MapGuide.We've found that our entire GIS product line, especially Map and MapGuide, have expanded to offer most of what Autodesk World did.

Q: What is the target market (customer/developer) for GIS Design Server?

A: The target markets are utility, communication and government organizations with 10 or more professionals who need fast access to their spatial data, regardless of the application they are using or where they are located - including in the field.

These organizations have extensive network facilities that require accurate working models for the traditional AM/FM/GIS tasks.But these organizations also understand the rewards beyond traditional GIS boundaries.To that end, they are looking to integrate the spatial model that serves to manage the pipes, cables and equipment with the entire IT system, serving a true picture of their enterprise to managers, field technicians, and customers.

Q: What role will the channel play in sales and services with more demanding products like Design Server?

A: The channel will be key to our success going forward.Autodesk will continue to form partnerships with companies that are uniquely suited to these solutions and have specific domain expertise.This means partners that are familiar with technologies like Oracle, Oracle Spatial, CRM [customer relations management], and the integration issues that larger companies face.

Q: If you could suggest one area for GIS users to study up on for the future, what would it be?

A: Definitely the integration of GIS client/server and mobile technologies into a business's normal workflow process.Our customers are not asking us for "advanced" GIS features.Instead, our customers want to get precision maps and designs, integrated with other enterprise information, to their point of work.Whether it is a customer service rep with a web browser or a field technician with a wireless tablet device, these professionals need access to the central database.They need customer account information, asset tag information, and often times spatial or location information. Autodesk is answering these needs and we believe our growth proves our customers find our approach very compelling.


Published Friday, April 27th, 2001

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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