Autodesk thoughts on EMEA Engineering Executive Council report: Good data for the public good

August 26, 2020 Scott Borduin

Autodesk is very intrigued by the perspectives the EMEA Engineering Executive Council have articulated in its paper Good data for the public good, as published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. We succeed as a technology partner for our subscribers when we help them move the industry forward, so the principles contained within this paper shed valuable insight on what the industry is expecting from us.

Autodesk’s Future of Making for AEC

Driving Industry Change Through Convergence

Data is transforming our world. Processes that were previously disconnected are converging, enabling new forms of collaboration, and opening up new ways to create value.  We believe that this convergence will change how things are made, it will upend traditional supply chains, and it will continue to blur boundaries of previously unrelated industry sectors.

Autodesk strives to be a catalyst for convergence and a partner to our customers, proactively supporting them in their digital transformation efforts.

Our public commitment to the “Future of Making” and our efforts to connect “Design and Make” are testaments to our ambition. As we evolve as a company, we will not only continue with these efforts, but intensify our underlying drive to become a data company. Our significant investment in an innovative cloud-enabled SaaS (Software as a Service) ecosystem for streamlining secure, digital data sharing and friction-less collaboration underpins these goals. 

Set the Data Free

“We strongly believe that operational outcomes in the built environment can be significantly enhanced via interoperable data and connected workflows, that integrate and automate stages of the project lifecycle while reducing waste and error.” says  Nicolas Mangon, vice president of AEC, business strategy and marketing for Autodesk.” This will result in far more efficient design-make-use value networks with new growth opportunities for our customers and their customers.”

Our goal is to unlock these opportunities for the industries we serve by removing barriers between products through:

  1. Delivering best-in-class design and data authoring tools that drive industry data standardization
  2. Integrating the company’s broad product portfolio to deliver differentiated value and unique insights across the project lifecycle
  3. Catalyzing an open ecosystem that inspires cross-discipline network effects and fluent data exchange between Autodesk and third-party tools

A large part of our investment in the Autodesk Forge cloud platform and an AEC-specific layer — The Autodesk Construction Cloud™ — is targeted at providing a platform for Design, Construction, and, eventually, Operate. With these investments, shaped by industry engagements like this white paper, we hope to solve long-standing interoperability, workflow, and collaboration problems.  The only way to do this, as we see it, is through an open data platform powering a connected ecosystem of products, Autodesk and third-party products. The move from monolithic files to rivers of swift, granular data will lead to a paradigm shift in how AEC project teams can collaborate. Precise control over what data is shared with which teams and an auditable trail of how it’s changed, will help to shatter the cultural, contractual, and financial barriers that impede collaboration today. Connected streams of data will allow us to build digital experiences and workflows not possible in today’s monolithic file-based world.

Actionable insights generated from this data will help customers make better decisions faster and enable us to continually fine-tune our own offering according to customer needs. Data from past projects and automation will lead future projects to better outcomes on safety, quality, cost, and schedule.

While we envision a future where design data is entirely cloud-based and we have taken steps toward that future, most of our customer design data and collaborative workflows are file-based today. This means that we need to meet customers where they are and take them on the journey with us. We need to continue to deliver industry-specific solutions while partnering with industry leaders like the EMEA Engineering Executive Council to reimagine and shape the future. We are but one part of a broader ecosystem. We understand both that not all data will be stored in our systems and that we can’t build a platform in isolation.

The Future of Making is a Team Sport

Autodesk and other global software vendors are engaged in an on-going dialog with buildingSMART International to manage expectations with respect to IFC. For example, current IFC specifications do not require round tripping, yet there is a perception by many in the industry that it does support this. On the other hand, Autodesk fully supports and participates in the expansion of IFC to include infrastructure data types. However, we know that formal IFC certification for Infrastructure software is several years away.

With the emergence of cross-domain workflows and cloud ecosystems, we also believe that the historically one-size-fits-all) data exchanges in IFC need to be modernized to reflect the highly collaborative nature of the Future of Making. This is why we are building infrastructure for targeted data exchange across trust boundaries. Here, two or more parties in an AEC supply chain agree on the minimal set of data to be exchanged for the task at hand and data can be aggregated, collaboratively shared, and federated across teams, disciplines, and industries. The data is persistently and securely stored in an open format and smart change management is directly built into the system.

Finally, Autodesk is very aware that this data evolution introduces new challenges for data security, data privacy, data sovereignty and data ownership. We see value and trust as first order principles and seek to partner with the industry to define the standards that codify them.

Our goal is to let customers amplify the value of their own data and, given explicit consent, leverage this data to help the overall industry, while protecting privacy and intellectual property as well as giving customers choices and control.

It is About More than Technology

Independent of technology, we harbor no illusions that the status quo of business processes in the built environment allow the industry to take full advantage of digital transformation. To a considerable extent, the pursuit of digital transformation in the industry today has already collided with the limitations of existing procurement models, standards of care, and insurance bonding. It is rare that we see BIM truly implemented throughout the life cycle of projects. Autodesk Fellow Phil Bernstein has famously proclaimed — “Today we see some beautifully articulated buildings designed with BIM — only to be obliterated to paper when passed over to the contractor.”

The Path We Take

With our destination of industry convergence — and the underlying technological and industry advancements necessary to enable it — articulated, there are many paths we could take to get there. The EMEA Engineering Executive Council white paper outlines a number of potential approaches. We do not see these as mutually exclusive opportunities, and in fact are investing in many related areas already. Below are Autodesk’s responses to a series of data-related questions raised by the EXC in the paper:

  1. Autodesk: tool-maker – does it want to remain focused on helping industry professionals create and combine design inputs?
    Supporting a highly collaborative design process is a strategic priority for Autodesk. In the future, we expect currently disparate design tools to be connected through rich streams of open data which can be combined and aggregated for the use in downstream construction and handover processes.
  2. Autodesk: market/integrator – should it be the technology platform (a la Spotify) used by teams to integrate design inputs into built asset outcomes? Data-centric integration unlocks immense horizontal value by removing barriers and enabling rich value networks. Forge is the data and application platform Autodesk uses internally to innovate faster. As technology matures, we plan to make more of Forge available to the industry. This will help accelerate digital transformation by freeing design data and by providing advanced capabilities for using this data to drive smarter, better outcomes.
  3. Autodesk: data holder or broker – could it become the Digital Twin hosting hub, connecting, aggregating and delivering whole life data about built assets?
    We believe in the transformative value of a connected BIM ecosystem that integrates different stages of the built asset lifecycle and see Digital Twins as an embodiment of this change. While many of our customers use Forge to explore Digital Twin opportunities today, we anticipate the need for a more complete offering to reduce implementation complexity and to help catalyze an ecosystem that radically improves how the industry operates. This new ecosystem will be based on seamless, trusted data exchange across tools, disciplines, and industries.

We want to help you better manage, share, standardize, and reuse your data. A first step towards a more open and reusable BIM data future is the use of cloud-based parameter definitions. In Revit, shared parameters are actually hard to share. We’re looking to help customers define them in better ways that will allow them to share definitions with their team, company, and other companies they work with, and to connect these definitions to industry standards.

We are committed to unlocking the full potential of BIM and Digital Twin and would like to engage and partner with the EMEA Engineering Executive Council members to gather requirements, validate our direction, and help prioritize our efforts.

Most business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) industries are moving from products to platforms with a view to leveraging data in one of two ways: advertising revenue or understanding user effectiveness in technology use.  Our intent is to focus on the latter. Even open platforms such as Android present the owner with data that they can leverage. 

“Autodesk has clearly stated that our intent with customer data is to improve our customer’s design and make processes and as such, we want to build platforms that provide insight at the industry, organization and user level to help our customers achieve their desired business outcomes.“ says Jim Lynch, VP and general manager of Autodesk Construction Services at Autodesk



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