Autodesk Unveils Tools for a 360 Degree View of Lifecycle Management

Autodesk Unveils Tools for a 360 Degree View of Lifecycle Management

Embedding sustainability into design starts at the drawing board, but it doesn't end there. Ideally, it spans the lifecycle of products and projects and involves careful management of what goes into their making, use and end of life.

Increasingly, it also means engaging more people in a process that can be unwieldy because of the sheer volume of data and documents involved -- and be further complicated by having internal and external work partners in far-flung locations.

Autodesk introduced a suite of solutions this week to help companies manage the lifecycle of products and building projects and share related information with any number of collaborators.

The new Autodesk 360 product family is a hybrid of cloud-based and on-premise solutions that will be soon be available in two sister offerings. One is called Autodesk 360 for PLM, which stands for product lifecycle management, and is tailored for manufacturers. The other, Autodesk 360 for BIM, which stands for building information modeling, is designed for the architecture, engineering and construction industry. At the heart of each version is Autodesk 360 Nexus.

"This is a cloud-based project lifecycle management solution that is designed to provide business applications to facilitate the entire lifecycle of a product or a project from the moment of inception, when the idea is first planted in somebody's head, until the day that product or project is retired," said Stephen Bodnar, Autodesk's vice president of collaboration data and lifecycle management for manufacturing. He unveiled the Autodesk 360 at the company's annual user conference, Autodesk University, in Las Vegas. [Disclosure: The firm hosted my attendance at the event.]

Cloud computing's impact on innovation and design was the theme of the gathering. A legion of speakers talked about how the cloud is revolutionizing the way we do business, connect and innovate, but they also emphasized that the cloud will not replace traditional computing.

"Cloud computing will not be everything in the future," said James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, a presenter at the conference. "What we see is more likely to be the case is what Autodesk is doing with the Autodesk Cloud -- a cooperation between traditional compute capabilities and the cloud, where it's not an either/or, it's actually both."

The Autodesk 360 PLM and BIM offerings illustrate that new tack by pulling together:

  • The firm's cloud-based Buzzsaw software as a service, which enables users to securely share designs and documents.
  • The company's Vault data management software, an on-premise existing solution for tracking and organizing designs and information on changes and materials. In the Autodesk 360 solution for BIM, for example, Vault would manage complete project documents and their content while sitting alongside whatever building information modeling tool a company uses to visualize how design elements, materials and other choices affect their projects.
  • The cloud-based Nexus platform, which is expected to become available by subscription in early 2012.

"There are a lot of things that you would expect from this technology because it is delivered on the cloud," Bodnar said of Autodesk 360 Nexus. "But we're not taking some old technology and just repurposing it for the cloud. This is a new set of PLM business applications that have been built from the ground up to enable a cloud-based experience and business model for our customers."

Heavily influenced by expectations that have become de rigueur through social media, Nexus is a platform-agnostic service that gives users anytime, anywhere access to business applications for lifecycle management.

"Image salesforce.com or NetSuite or Business ByDesign meets Facebook and Google+," Bodnar said. "From a user experience perspective that is what our Autodesk 360 platform is designed to provide."

The market for PLM applications is forecast to reach $20.5 billion by 2015, according to recent IDC research cited by Autodesk. Yet existing systems are often criticized for being hard to understand, expensive and geared for large companies.

"There's a lot of dissatisfaction with PLM," said Monica Schnitger, founder and president, Schnitger Corporation, a market analysis firm focused on engineering technology. It's difficult for users to communicate ideas and information, prioritize information, and collaborate with people across functions and disciplines, she said.

"For a lot of people PLM gets in the way, it's a burden instead of a help," said Schnitger, who also spoke at the conference. "The goal of PLM is one version of the truth. What we need is one version of the truth and many views."

In addition to providing those views through collaboration, the 360 solutions are intended to be easier to use, less costly and scalable, Bodnar said.

In a development for the 360 system for buildings, Autodesk said yesterday that it has agreed to buy Horizontal Systems, a New York firm that makes cloud-based building information modeling software. Autodesk, which has a hefty set of BIM tools, and the deal is expected to boost the firm's ability to bring BIM management to the cloud. "Horizontal Systems technology will be an important contributor to the Autodesk 360 for BIM vision," according to an Autodesk statement. The acquisition for an undisclosed sum is to close early next year.

Office building photo via Shutterstock.