Autodesk Inc., the US$1.2 billion San Rafael, Calif.-based vendor known for its line of mechanical CAD software for small- and medium-size businesses, has recently begun pushing into the product life-cycle management (PLM) market. The company has started shipping new engineering data management functions along with its core 3D authoring tools and in April launched a new tool called Productstream designed to enable manufacturers to share design data across the company.
In this interview, Robert Kross, vice president of Autodesk"s manufacturing solutions division, talks about how the company"s tools are designed to help manufacturers implement PLM functionality in a more incremental fashion and at lower cost than products from pure-play PLM vendors. Kross spoke to Computerworld about why the time is right for Autodesk to "democratize" the industry.
What is your Autodesk Vault product all about? It"s a classic engineering vault for things like work-in-process management, change management and version management. Instead of selling it as an extra product, we put it inside all of our mechanical products so that everybody who buys one of our CAD products has Vault right there. We made this so well integrated that we have companies that are as small as two engineers using our tools. It"s radically different from anything that has been done before.
What about Productstream? Vault is the server application. It lets you manage all this work-in-process information. If you want to release that to the rest of the enterprise, Productstream is the tool that does release management, and turns engineering bills of materials into item masters. It integrates with the ERP environment, and does all those sorts of next steps. We also have a tool called Streamline for the entire supply chain.
How does this strategy help from a customer perspective? First of all it is well integrated. If you buy a PLM tool [from rivals], the first thing you would have to do is integrate it with your authoring tools. Ours comes out of the box built that way, so deployment is really fast. The second thing is we have divided the problem up. We view the work-in-process problem as different from the life-cycle management problem and the supply chain collaboration problem. So we have built different solutions to tackle each problem. So you can deploy this one piece at a time. It"s an incremental approach.
What about the cost? I will give you a high-level view of our price list. Our 2D product is about US$2,750, our 3D design product is about $5,000, and Productstream is about $1,800. Compared to our competitors, we are about a tenth of their cost.
What"s driving this strategy from a business standpoint at Autodesk? What"s driving it is all of the changes that are going on in manufacturing. One of the trends we see is more offshoring. I think everybody, small and large company alike, have global operations, global marketing and global competition. So they are trying to design in one place and manufacture it someplace else. So they need automation tools to build that kind of supply chain and global manufacturing capability.
The next trend is mass customization. Everyone is trying to get a competitive edge by designing really close to customer requirements. So they are doing a lot of custom work and need to be able to iterate new designs very quickly.
Do you see Microsoft as playing a complementary role to your efforts or as a competitor in this market? You never know. Right now it is very complementary. We build our stuff on the .Net stack. We have a direct interface between our PLM tool and their Great Plains ERP tool. But who knows where they are going to go.
How is this strategy affecting the way you sell your products? It"s an enormous change for a couple of reasons. Autodesk is used to selling packaged products. Now we have a process solution. A lot of our customers want to buy integration services from us. So there is this whole new business opportunity created for us. The other thing is getting our dealers to understand and exploit this opportunity. I think where we take our product information commercially also changes. It has become much more important to the IT manager.
We are certainly ready to democratize this industry. Customers certainly seem ready for it, What we hear from customers all the time is that they are under a lot of competitive pressure, that they need to start automating processes to stay ahead of the competition or to close the gap with the competition. So we think the time is really right for this sort of software.