Impressions of Autodesk University

By Hal Reid

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What became very clear was that beyond the products and the sessions, there were several initiatives that were driving Autodesk.These initiatives would condition who they were and how they were to address the 21st century and the nature of their future products.

I identified six primary initiatives.These are:

  1. Lifecycle Management

  1. Merging CAD & GIS

  1. Visualization & 3-D

  1. Oracle

  1. Homeland Security

  1. DWF files

Lifecycle Management

This is a vision that supports their customer base that design, build and manage things like structures, manufacturing processes, utilities and governmental entities.

If you can provide products that span these functions, and build on the six million users of AutoCAD, you can continue your role as the major player in this world. However, I saw several areas that needed some augmentation and the most obvious was in construction management.Most construction products have a timeline, with key dates and milestones.Their product offering in this area was Buzzsaw, which did an excellent job of managing the workflow around moving drawings, files and redlines, but lacked in pure workflow.There is a retail version of Buzzsaw, but from the literature, it is difficult to see how it really differs from the original products (Buzzsaw basic and Pro) and provides a retail development workflow.

The silos of design, build and manage do not take in to consideration the other two silos.Conception - as it refers to the original envisioning of what is to be designed, built and managed.Remediation - as it refers to the end of the lifecycle and what to do with whatever you have created when it's time is past.

SRC, using MapGuide, has done an excellent job of creating most of the tools to validate conception in the Business Geography arena.Market assessment, market planning, understanding who and where the customer is and what they bought most of those understand what we are doing in Retail Development and Marketing tools to the internet via MapGuide.

While SRC's tools are designed for business, it should not be a far reach to apply them to specific product development, moving that insight to manufacturing design.

The far side of the lifecycle has to do with what to do when the allotted time runs out for whatever we have created.CoreNet Global in their 2010 initiative is trying to rethink the nature of design so that the end product doesn't end up as a single purpose entity.While their issue is Real Estate Development, the same principles apply to other things.What do you do with the old computer? Is there a graceful way to retire a NiCad battery? It could be argued that this isn't in the purview of a software company.However, if they support Green XML can end game for the lifecycle management be far away?

The most important part of this initiative is not the silos of functionality but that information created in each is passed on and becomes part and parcel of the next silo.That is, everything that went into the project conception is passed along to design, which incorporates it and passes that on to build, which does the same thing for manage and remediation.This way, each step along the way knows what steps were taken in advance and how they got there.

A key part of this entire process should be the constant updating of the conditions that validated conception.This assumes that information can continue to flow from beginning to end.If that were the case, then remediation could be done incrementally rather than try to solve a problem or effect a solution when time has run out.

Merging CAD & GIS

It would seem on the surface that CAD and GIS were not that different and bringing them together would not be much of an issue.I spoke to the manager of a major CAD operation (local government) and all of the mapping that they used was CAD based.His point was that GIS could not provide the "within 6 inches" accuracy they needed for water, road and other infrastructure.GIS is usually focused on mapping large geographies and it is very difficult to have 6-inch accuracy across a county or state or region.Perhaps the simplest difference is that CAD is ugly and looks technical while GIS make pretty maps.

Regardless of the differences, it makes sense to affect some type of interoperability.CAD has the accuracy, but doesn't offer as easily all the bells and whistles like imagery, transparent fills, multiple selections sets, thematics, graphics and reports.It isn't that the CAD user needs these things to affect a drawing, but the GIS needs the CAD files embedded and geo-referenced as native layers and symbology.Merging the two can make both more robust and give CAD a better way to address databases, such as Oracle 10G.

Visualization & 3-D

Autodesk has two products that show the way to the future of visualization and provide 3-D.One, Civil 3-D is new and the other, Envision is not old.Envision makes creating 3-D maps easy and draping a map or image over a digital terrain model provides a view of geography that has traditionally been reserved for high-end and expensive software.With both these programs you can publish directly to the web and link data dynamically to other programs.

Visualization is becoming key for many disciplines and ties into the tendency for mapping software to support transparent fills, imagery and terrain models.Richer renderings on the screen, more detail and even more monitors.3-D increases the realism and brings the view closer to the real thing.One of the very slick things I saw with Envision was the ability to create animations.

Oracle

There were several conversations about Oracle and the spatial functionality that is being built in.Where does the GIS leave off and the database begin? Is there any separation and they one and the same? Do CAD and GIS software companies just build GUIs to Oracle?

I saw a presentation about using Autodesk Map and MapGuide with Oracle.While you could store graphics and attributes in Oracle and the user interface created tables for you to hold the data, technically it was slick, mechanically for the user, it was clunky.

Part of the problem was that Autodesk Map is really another flavor of AutoCAD and the file structure is CAD like and does not address databases as easily as most GIS programs do.Certainly, MapGuide would have worked better.There seems to still be a performance issue reading and writing to Oracle as compared to the native file format.

Oracle Spatial has generated a lot of discussion and because it is Oracle, it is a force to be reckoned with.What do you do with CAD in dealing with the data structure? More wizards, a different file system? Technology always moves ahead, and designs from the 80's could not necessarily anticipate dot net, spatial data objects and 64 bit processors on your desktop.

My guess is that there will be a lot of wait and see and that the more and better wizard approach is the easiest in the short term.This is true not just for Autodesk, but for everybody else too.

Homeland Security and Emergency Response

If you go to the Autodesk web site, http://www.autodesk.com, under products and view the Emergency Response demo, you will see just how integrated their product line can be.From CAD, to GIS to video capture into GIS, an entire composite of technologies addressing the function of emergency response.From the same page, under government solutions is a link to their Homeland Security Initiative and the list of supporting third party participants.

This is where all of the other initiatives may come together.CAD and GIS, Oracle for common file storage, visualization, not just in 3-D but also in active video and 360-degree real-time viewing.There is a CAD file cleaner so the fire department can find their way through the building and not get bogged down in the clutter. All of this potentially brings tight integrations of government, private enterprise with common data sets.If you doubt the scope, look on the list of third parties, and you will find demographics and market information from SRC.

If all of this is integrated, could I be wrong about the vision of Lifecycle management not including the conception phase?

I believe that this initiative may be the crown jewel and the one that drives all of the others.What it does do is promote speculation on what other resources might be brought to bear on this initiative.As vast as it is currently, surely they are not done.

DWF files

While hyped considerably at Autodesk U, this initiative is almost overshadowed by the other five.However, the DWF file format is designed to do for vectors what PDF has done for other files.There are two key differences from PDF.The first is that this is designed to be used on the web, therefore is small and fast to render.The second is that it doesn't create a huge graphic.If files are shared on the web and in the manner used in Buzzsaw or other collaborative software, the DWF can be marked-up and passed on.After you create a PDF, it is pretty hard to edit.Naturally, DWF will be read and written from most of the appropriate Autodesk applications.But, it can be also read by other software. This initiative is designed to create a new standard for file interchange.If they are successful, they are further into the integration outlined in the other five initiatives.

This may be less subtle than it looks, but it could be among the most interesting.


Published Thursday, December 18th, 2003

Written by Hal Reid



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