Editor's Window

30 Apr, 2005 By: Sara Ferris

Bullish on BIM: Autodesk juggles demands of two radically different AEC products.

Sara Ferris
Sara Ferris
Pity poor carl bass, authodesk coo. He made a joke about Architectural Desktop outlasting Revit, we quoted him in the April issue and AUGI's Revit forum interprets it to mean Autodesk doesn't like Revit and plans to dispatch it to the land of discontinued software.

From where we sit, Autodesk loves Revit. All we hear about is building information modeling—BIM, BIM and more BIM. And as Ed Goldberg notes in his AEC state of the industry report on p. 44, the hype is real. BIM products such as Revit, Graphisoft and MicroStation can yield great time savings now, and the potential for downstream economies just by eliminating the need to reenter data is enormous. It's no wonder that those who use building information modeling software are in general so enthusiastic, even evangelical, about it. Indeed, it's hard to find a Revit user who would willingly go back to what he or she was using previously.

That's why it's so puzzling that some AUGI folks are feeling beleaguered. Yes, the new version of Revit that was announced back in March has just now shown up, but the same can be said for several of the other products launched that day. If anything, it's the Architectural Desktop users who should be worrying about the sunset of their product, though that day is likely years down the road.

Granted, Autodesk is in the difficult position of developing and promoting both products, which would otherwise be competitors. It's interesting to look at this situation in terms of the framework of the innovator's dilemma outlined by Clayton Christensen in the book of the same name.

Architectural Desktop is clearly a sustaining technology (same old thing, only better), whereas Revit represents a disruptive technology, which initially may not perform as well as established products but offers new features prized by certain customers. Christensen found that disruptive technologies are typically introduced and popularized by companies new to that particular market. Companies already in a market tend to focus on incremental improvements to existing products because that's what their customers tell them they want.

So on the one hand Autodesk is an established developer that must incrementally improve Architectural Desktop to keep its large customer base happy. On the other, it must develop and market its disruptive technology, with the ultimate goal of taking away Architectural Desktop's market share. To add to the difficulty, the initial market for disruptive technology is usually not the market for the existing technology. Little wonder that Revit is proving a hard sell to many of those using Architectural Desktop.

But perhaps the most pertinent of Christensen's principles here is that an organization's capabilities define its disabilities. Autodesk is a very capable developer of sustaining technology, so much so that it's put twenty-odd products on a yearly release cycle. Perhaps a rapidly developing product like Revit requires a longer (or even shorter) release cycle. Perhaps the pioneers drawn to such a product require more or different support. Other companies in Autodesk's position have gone so far as to create spin-offs for the sole purpose of developing and marketing disruptive products. Until BIM gains enough users to give it mainstream status, Autodesk will face the challenge of serving two different, divergent customer groups, without alienating either one.

Sara Ferris
Sara Ferris

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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