Over the past couple of years, Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost has made it clear that ‘industrializing construction’ is a top priority for Autodesk. According to McKinsey, lagging construction productivity costs the global economy $1.6 trillion a year: a big problem with a big opportunity. To seize this opportunity, Autodesk enlisted Jim Lynch to lead Autodesk Construction Solutions in order to create and deliver products and services that accelerate the construction industry’s transformation from analog-based processes to digital workflows.
As Vice President and General Manager of Autodesk Construction Solutions, Lynch manages all aspects of business operations within the group, including product design and development, marketing, sales, and customer success. Jim appeared on the ConTechCrew podcast by JBKnowledge to discuss Autodesk’s recent acquisitions in the construction technology space, Autodesk’s Forge platform and Forge Fund, his vision for the future of construction, and “falling in love with your customer, not your product.”
Combining Forces with New Friends
In order to help bring construction into the future and bridge gaps in digital workflows, Autodesk has been combining forces with new friends, acquiring innovative companies such as PlanGrid, BuildingConnected, and Assemble Systems. Each company brings unique solutions to different stages of design and construction projects. Lynch made it clear that Autodesk intends to support, and not interfere, with the growth of these companies, which will continue to run as their own entities.
On the ConTechCrew podcast, Lynch discussed the strategy behind the acquisitions. Rather than being one-off or random investments, the acquisitions fit neatly into Autodesk’s broader vision of connecting workflows and information all the way from design through preconstruction to field execution, and ultimately to handover, maintenance, and building operations.
The 3 Pillars of Autodesk’s Vision for the Future of Construction
Lynch names 3 pillars which summarize Autodesk’s broad vision for construction:
- Better Collaboration and Digitization in the Field. This is where PlanGrid and BIM 360 play an important role, digitizing site operations.
- Integrating and Automating. This is done by connecting and automating workflows between design, preconstruction, and field execution.
- Analyzing and Optimizing. The focus here is using Machine Learning to extract key insights from project data to help project teams drive better outcomes in the future, such as with Construction IQ and BIM 360’s Insight module. Lynch believes Autodesk is in a unique position here because of the strength of Autodesk’s design offerings and ability to pull in design information, as well as the capabilities of the BIM 360 platform.
With this vision in mind, these recent acquisitions take on a new light. The addition of Assemble to the Autodesk team helps condition rich design information for preconstruction planning, so project teams can work with better quantities and drive more accurate cost and schedule projections. BuildingConnected, the leading platform for bid management, risk analysis and other preconstruction solutions, also helps build out Autodesk’s preconstruction offering by adding functionality such as bidding capabilities.
The addition of Assemble to the Autodesk team helps condition rich design information for preconstruction planning
Field execution is where PlanGrid really shines. PlanGrid seeks to make construction paperless with simple, powerful cloud software for construction documents of all types. Lynch believes integrating BIM 360 and PlanGrid in a smooth and thoughtful way will bring significant value to the industry, better coordinating workflows between BIM 360 users in the office and PlanGrid users in the field, as well as between general contractors and subcontractors. The PlanGrid acquisition is the largest ever by Autodesk, emphasizing just how important the mission of digitizing construction is to Autodesk as an organization.
Beyond Point Solutions: A Unified Data Platform
In response to the huge opportunity in digitizing construction workflows, an array of point solutions for particular applications have come to market. While many of these applications improve productivity and predictability and are a major upgrade from older, paper-based workflows, Lynch sees bigger value coming from connecting these disparate workflows and unlocking the power of the data contained within them.
BIM 360 is currently the only platform truly connected all the way from design through preconstruction, construction, handover and operations. Being able to move, enrich, and coordinate data between all stages of the building lifecycle allows for greater insight and more predictability. According to Lynch, “We want to help customers and project teams access and manage that data, but to drive even greater value in the data by using Machine Learning to extract insights and key learning from the data.”
Autodesk recently added Construction IQ to the BIM 360 platform, which uses Machine Learning and AI to analyze project data to help predict potential issues before they occur and to help understand subcontractor performance, and these capabilities will expand as the platform grows. Autodesk believes that to truly bring construction into the future will require connecting all project data into one unified data platform, leveraging Machine Learning to extract new insights and help deliver better outcomes.
Working Together with the Forge Platform and the Forge Fund
Lynch clarified that with these recent acquisitions, Autodesk isn’t seeking to dominate or squash competitors. When asked about Autodesk’s future ambitions, he says, “We as Autodesk don’t feel like we need to own the whole thing, but we feel we need to sponsor and support and connect everything. Whether we’ll deliver estimating or scheduling or turnover, or we’ll expand our partner network, there’s a lot of parts to the workflow. We want to be very thoughtful and not feel we need to chase it all.”
Lynch also discussed the role of Autodesk’s Forge platform, as well as the Forge Fund, which invests and partners with innovators in the future of making things. Forge is Autodesk’s cloud development platform, which offers a suite of web service APIs and development tools to build applications that tap into their design and engineering data. “The idea behind the Forge platform is to provide an environment that enables third parties and customers to build on top of our solutions, to deliver value above and beyond what we deliver to the market.” Autodesk builds its cloud products on Forge, and the recent acquisitions will connect or are already connecting into the platform. “The Forge Fund is a way for us to help the industry fill the gaps in the workflows that we know we’re not going to get to ever, or soon enough.” While recent acquisition Assemble had received investments from Autodesk’s Forge Fund, Autodesk doesn’t intend to acquire every Forge Fund investment. Rather, the Fund plays into Autodesk’s role in connecting the industry and its workflows.
Meeting Global Demand
Autodesk’s current focus on connecting construction workflows is only the beginning in tackling the major challenges the industry is facing. Facing major population growth and need for new construction coupled with a shortage of skilled labor, the industry is at a tipping point. In order to meet the demands before it, construction will need to industrialize, embracing automation and the convergence of the AEC industry with manufacturing. Off-site and modular construction will grow in response to the need for reduced risk, more predictability, and faster turnaround. To support this, Autodesk will play a role in connecting design and AEC tools to manufacturing tools, as well as to BIM 360 and a unified data platform that can inform every stage in the process.
According to Lynch, “Construction is the next industrial revolution.” To watch the full interview with James Benham, Jeff Sample, and Josh Bone, tune into episode 151 of the ConTechCrew podcast by JBKnowledge.
You can also listen to the audio only version here.