Tech Trends - Autodesk's Passage to India31 May, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong
Centers of Excellence target architecture students.
In the southern section of Mumbai, opposite the Gothic grills and balustrades of Victoria Terminus, perches the sprawling campus of Sir J.J. (Jamsedjee Jeejeebhoy) School of Art. On April 12, Jack Gao, Autodesk's vice-president of the APac Emerging Geo, and several other senior executives from his firm strolled onto the campus. They made their way to the section where Sir J.J. College of Architecture (www.sirjjarchitecture.org) was located. Flanked by academics and education ministry officials, they participated in a red-ribbon cutting ceremony. It was the inauguration of Autodesk's new Center of Excellence.
The center is Autodesk's first educational initiative in India. It consists of two state-of-the-art computer labs equipped with a collection of Autodesk software for architecture, geospatial and industrial design. The facility is intended for the education of both students and faculty members. On April 17, a similar center was formally launched at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi.
Just the Beginning
More centers will spring up in a handful of institutes and universities across India, focusing not only on architecture, urban planning and construction management but also industrial design, manufacturing, civil engineering, animation and even special effects ("Autodesk unveils vision for India," www.CXOtoday.com). Autodesk PR officials said the company selected the institutions to house the centers because they are leading Indian universities that influence other institutions, industry and government.
Autodesk's Jon Pittman at the inauguration of the Center of Excellence at Sir J.J. College of Architecture in Mumbai, India.
"The Autodesk Center of Excellence will play an important role in teaching India's architects and designers about new technologies and methodologies for building design and constriction," said Jay Bhatt, Autodesk's vice-president of building solutions. "Most significant of these is BIM (building information modeling), which will play a key role in helping the Indian building industry respond to the current building boom by increasing efficiency, productivity and collaboration."
Kristine K. Fallon, FAIA, president of Kristine Fallon Associates (www.kfa-inc.com) and chairperson-elect of the AIA (www.aia.org) Technology in Architectural Practice Advisory Group, welcomed Autodesk's initiative, saying, "Any investment in architectural education is good." Lachmi Khemlani, founder of Arcwiz (www.arcwiz.com) and an academic whose credentials include a professional B.Arch. (Honors) degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, India, thought this initiative was great for India but also found it a little odd that Autodesk had not partnered with universities in the United States first to set up similar centers. She pondered, "Are they not needed here as much as they are in a country like India?"
The explanation came in a comment from Rajiv Nair, Autodesk's regional director of the Indian subcontinent, reported in The Economic Times of India. "With India fast emerging as design outsourcing hub," Nair said, "there is a need to equip the country's current generation of architects on 3D concepts . . . The Center of Excellence is in line with company's vision to empower India's enormous talent pool" ("Autodesk opens center for architecture design," http://economictimes.indiatimes.com). As to the existence of similar centers elsewhere, The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, quoted Gao as saying, "Outside India, we only have four centers of excellence in China with tie-ups with the leading universities there" ("Autodesk sets up center of excellence," www.hindu.com).
Made in India
"According to my understanding of how [architecture outsourcing] works," Khemlani said, "companies take the design drawings—rough sketches of design concepts—then send them to India for development. The most common type of outsourcing [to India] is visualization, because a lot of people there are proficient in 3ds max." AIA's Fallon pointed out, "Many design firms have global practices, so I don't think [outsourcing] is that new to us." At the same time, she emphasized, "Professionals in the U.S. building industry must energetically engage the emerging technology in order to remain globally competitive."
Perhaps the trend has not been too disruptive to the U.S. architecture market, but outsourcing from other sectors, such as IT, has created a construction boom in India. Jon Pittman, AIA, Autodesk's senior director of strategic research, who led the establishment of the centers in India and China, said, "At the present rate of urbanization, India will have to build the equivalent of two times the entire U.S. urban infrastructure over the next 20–30 years. Unlike the United States, which took a leisurely 250 years, India will have to do this facing severe shortage of energy, materials and talent. Addressing such rapid urbanization in a sustainable fashion will require professionals with a high degree of skill and facility in the latest technology. The centers of excellence are part of Autodesk's initiatives to help India cope with its explosive growth."
When Khemlani visited India in 2004, she witnessed a country trying to keep up with the prosperity of its new middle class: "Most of the big cities, including Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Delhi, are developing IT hubs in the suburbs—mini-cities specifically designed to house the offices of high-tech companies and residences for their employees. There is also a surge in retail development. Shopping malls, previously unheard of in India, are sprouting up like mushrooms," she wrote ("AEC landscape and technology adoption in India," AECBytes Newsletter #12, July 30, 2004, www.aecbytes.com). If this energetic makeover continues at the same frantic pace, it'll keep India's design talents busy with plenty of domestic jobs as well. And that's the same enormous talent pool Autodesk's Rajiv Nair was thinking of equipping with 3D concepts—Autodesk's 3D concepts.
Pirates of the Coromandel Coast
AutoCAD, Autodesk's bread and butter, is as widely adopted in India as it is in the United States, Khemlani observed. So the region seems ready for a 2D-to-3D conversion campaign. But, unlike in the United States, the Indian campaign will take more than advocacy and education. In Asia, AutoCAD's biggest competition is pirated copies of AutoCAD.
"If you compare the price of the software to the value of the currency, it's very expensive," Khemlani said. "A lot of my architect friends who are practicing in India are really interested in 3D software, provided the price is right." If the price is not right, buyers will bypass Autodesk and turn to India's thriving black market, where they can pick up AutoCAD, Revit or Architectural Desktop for a fraction of the official price.
India is not Autodesk's first battlefront against piracy. The same threat exists in what it defines as the Greater China region. Chinese authorities, eager to attract more foreign investment, have begun cracking down on piracy by confiscating and destroying illegal products where they can find them. As India's economy benefits more from global trade, Indian authorities can be expected to follow the example of the Chinese. Autodesk's India pricing policy also will play an important role in curbing its loses from these skirmishes. If the price is right, even the pirates can be recruited.
The Empire on the March
Previously, Gao's territory was the Greater China region, which encompasses China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In November 2005, Autodesk redrew its strategic map for Asia. It combined the Dragon's domain with Gandhi's homeland under the new name APac Emerging Geo. "The formation of the APac Emerging Geo encompassing India," Gao said, "is a reiteration of Autodesk's dedication to our customers in India and the region at large." The company's direction for the region was set by its Emerging Geo Steering Committee: Carol Bartz, then chair and CEO; Carl Bass, then chief operating officer; Ken Bado, senior vice president of worldwide sales; and Gao, vice president of the new region.
Somewhere within the campus of Sir J.J. School of Art is a wood-and-stone bungalow with an ornate metal plaque. It reads, "Rudyard Kipling, son of Lockwood Kipling, first principal of Sir J.J. School of Art, was born here . . . " In Kipling's time, Empire builders wore red coats and carried sabers. Today, they wear pinstriped suits with deep pockets.
Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. As a freelance writer, he explores innovative use of technology and its implications. E-mail him at email@example.com.