Autodesk moves closer to becoming a services business and takes a leap from a 30-year-old upgrade cycle to a subscription only and rental model.

Autodesk has spent years perfecting its yearly release and upgrade cycle, managing to produce feature-rich upgrades up until the 2012 introduction of Suites.

An Autodesk subscription is modelled like a club membership and moves customers from the perception of ‘owning’ software to paying to have access to services. It is a subtle but important change.

The old upgrade cycle has now ceased to exist. Instead, customers now have the following options:

  • Maintenance Subscription, which subscribes existing licenses. Customers who wish to buy new licences will also be put on Maintenance Subscription
  • Desktop Subscription (rental). Customers stay on their current releases and then move to this term-based model for future products / updates
  • Cloud Service Subscription, which provides a selection of cloud-based services that offer access to visualisation and simulation as well as expanded mobile and collaborative access

Autodesk firmly believes that customers will benefit from these services it provides through cloud computing.

Desktop products have been updated to make use of its cloud-based functionality (analysis, rendering, data storage) and Autodesk is experimenting with cloud-based, web-accessed versions of its popular applications (AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor etc).

New sketchy lines feature for Autodesk Revit 2015 enables designers to apply a hand-sketched graphic style to views of a model

In the near future, customers will be able to store data on the cloud and have access to professional editing or querying tools wherever they are in the world (that has Internet access), on multiple types of devices, including desktop, tablet or smart phone.

According to Autodesk, the future is collaboration and server-based power.

2015 releases

The AEC team has been very busy this year, both with products and web services and has introduced a number of new products and brand terms at the same time.

However, in doing so, the company has sacrificed some product clarity and something tells me this is going to get worse before it gets better.

As a general rule, if a product has ‘360’ after it, it is a cloud-based application, platform or service. If it has a year in the title, it is a desktop application.

Some products are the web-based equivalents of the desktop version, for example AutoCAD 360 for AutoCAD 2015, however the cloud-based version may not be as feature-rich as the desktop, as of yet.

Suites continue to be the main focus. Autodesk continues to sell Standard Premium and Ultimate versions and has not altered the bundles configurations too much.

Autodesk AutoCAD Design Suite 2015 has a new refined visual interface, enhanced point cloud support, and better ways to work with online maps.

Autodesk Building Design Suite 2015 has enhanced integration with Autodesk’s BIM 360 cloud services, also benefits from better point cloud capabilities, and a raft of updates to Revit.

Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite 2015 includes major enhancements to the AutoCAD-based Civil 3D software, including: user interface, corridor modelling, more efficient profile layouts, more consistency between the AutoCAD Civil 3D and AutoCAD ribbon/command set, production drafting, and simpler ways to create custom sub-assemblies.

Building Products

Civil3D is quickly being usurped by Infraworks as the development platform of choice for Autodesk. However, for now Civil3D remains a very popular product based on the world-dominating AutoCAD platform.

Civil 3D 2015 sees the following improvements:

  • Greater flexibility for designing and displaying corridor models
  • More efficient creation of profile layouts
  • Better production drafting to create deliverables more efficiently
  • More consistency between the AutoCAD Civil 3D and AutoCAD ribbon/command set
  • Simpler ways to create custom sub-assemblies
  • Streamlined geographic location functionality that includes the ability to capture and embed Online Map Data (e.g. aerial map information) for offline viewing and plotting
  • Better interoperability and data exchange for DWG and DGN files

InfraWorks 2015 can be found in various editions of the Autodesk Infrastructure Design Suite 2015 and Ultimate edition of the Autodesk Building Design Suite 2015 as well as Autodesk InfraWorks 360, which offers additional cloud services that add collaboration and analysis for large-scale preliminary designs.

InfraWorks 2015 and Infraworks 360 new features include:

  • New user interface for quicker access to the tools
  • Support for additional data formats including AutoCAD 3D DWG, AutoCAD Civil 3D DWG, 3D DGN, IFC, and SketchUp (SKP)
  • CityGML import now supports schema location, building asset mapping, and self-intersecting geometry
  • Roadway Design for InfraWorks 360 includes style zones within road sections and fixed width parametric grading for roads with discrete control over grading, cut slope and fill slope
  • The new Bridge Design for InfraWorks 360 allows civil engineers to explore preliminary bridge design options more effectively by modelling and visualising realistic civil structures in the context of the surrounding proposed site. This new application helps simplify, accelerate, and focus the layout of girder bridge design concepts, and maintain consistent data and context

Autodesk also released technology previews for upcoming industry-specific applications for InfraWorks 360 including Drainage Design and cloud services, Model Builder and Corridor Optimisation.

Autodesk Advance Steel

In October 2013 Autodesk announced the acquisition of key technologies from Graitec, including its popular AutoCAD-based, Advance Steel solution. The first product to come out of the acquisition is Autodesk’s rebadged and updated Autodesk Advance Steel 2015 product.

Advance Steel 2015 provides structural steel detailers, fabricators, engineers and contractors with a comprehensive suite of tools for 2D and 3D detailing of structural elements, steel connections and plates. Advance Steel helps speed time to fabrication by automatically generating shop and general arrangement drawings, creating bills of materials, and producing CNC files directly from designs.

In fact, Autodesk sees Advance Steel as a key tool to connect Revit and other Building Information Modelling (BIM) workflows from design and construction through fabrication.

New features for Advance Steel 2015 include:

  • Integration enhancements with Revit and Navisworks
  • New user interface
  • New options for creating different model views of projects
  • New tools to configure the software’s main settings
  • Reduced rework on shop drawings for complex parts
  • CNC data is now extended to complex parts, such as curved beams and polybeams. This data is fully articulated in the DSTV files automatically generated from the 3Dmodel
Revit 2015 enables users to create schedules that include imagery to convey graphical information for elements. These images will display when a schedule is placed on a sheet

Revit 2015

Autodesk’s core architectural BIM tool gets a fair bit of love this year, with some useful new features that include a number of user requested upgrades across Architecture, Structure and MEP, which are now provided as one product.

The development team has looked at a broad range of capabilities that will benefit most users of Revit irrespective of what it is used for. The ‘Themes’ that focused development addressed the following topics: construction, analysis and simulation, scalability, interoperability and productivity.

Revit 2015 new features include:

  • Hand-sketched graphic styles for lines in models, using the sketchy lines feature
  • Include imagery in schedules to better convey graphical information
  • Create and manage changes with improved tools to sketch and control revision cloud shapes
  • Create more accurate documentation in 3D views using enhanced hidden lines capability

The hand-sketch feature is long awaited and really helps remove the rectilinear precision of CAD models, to give an artistic feel to both 2D and 3D views. This is great for client presentations and producing collateral marketing images.

Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) have been improved, which is useful for interoperability or Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) workflows, with IFC maintaining the link back to the original models when imported into Revit, improving model updates. The import Application Processing Interface (API) has also been opened up.

Lighting analysis for Revit models has been enhanced through the Autodesk 360 cloud rendering service. Now, using the power of the cloud, its possible to get plans with the lighting densities displayed, covering natural and artificial light. Autodesk claims this has been extensively validated and supports Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).


A second tranche of Revit features is scheduled for third quarter 2015. Code-named Sundial, the update will focus on improving speed performance for Families, Energy Modeling, structural editing, constraints response, MEP system editing and Wall updates.

There will also be improvements to the Family and View browser, structural element orientation, snapping and automated structural setbacks.

Perhaps more importantly, Revit’s graphics pipeline is due for major improvements with Revit finally getting more out of GPUs, which will make use of workstation-class graphics cards to accelerate model interaction.

Retrograde Improvements

Autodesk development teams are exploring the possibility of providing some of the new functionality in prior releases, for example making Sketchy Lines available in Revit 2014.

That Autodesk is considering such a move highlights some of the problems with the transition from a traditional sales model to a subscription-based one.

Many large AEC projects standardise which CAD system is used for all participants to ensure data integrity. This is doubly so for BIM modellers using Revit, as it is incapable of sharing data between different releases.

With Autodesk removing upgrades and promoting yearly subscription, firms that are trapped on old releases of software will see little to no benefit for their subscription payments.

If Autodesk is going to keep this policy, future releases of Revit may benefit as retrograde enhancements are planned in advance.


As Autodesk continues to flesh out its AEC offerings, we expect to see improvements to conceptual design tools such as FormIt and Dynamo, through Revit for architectural, structural and MEP detail design.

There are desktop and online analysis tools for clash detection, lighting analysis and sustainability, with new solutions for detailed structural documentation and fabrication.

After the design process, Autodesk is also looking to provide digital solutions for on-site layout and installation with BIM 360 Glue and Field.

Autodesk has slowly been providing point solutions for all AEC project participants and it will not be long before it has critical mass.

The biggest hole in the product portfolio remains the data management backbone. Autodesk has never really been strong in this area, having had multiple attempts, but has yet to develop anything to rival products such as Bentley’s ProjectWise.

By changing its business model, Autodesk is taking a risk. While its upgrade practices were very unpopular with a lot of its long-term customers, the subscriptions and rental model has yet to be adopted by its customer base.

Without full license sales, Autodesk will miss out on the ‘joining fee’ revenue. However, it should accrue longer-term revenue increases through the wider adoption of yearly and monthly usage fees.

To ensure this happens Autodesk has to move from yearly product releases to incremental product updates, providing a broad spectrum of integrated systems.

The product rental option will lower the cost of entry for new customers and offer dynamic expansion or contraction for existing customers. However, it also removes the main reason for staying with Autodesk products — maintaining the original investment.

I expect Autodesk products will continue to increase their interaction with the cloud and will be updated at different times of the year. Customers will be faced with the choice of renting new licenses or paying and subscribing to them. It is highly likely that historical licenses will go on subscription while new licenses will be rented. Welcome to club Autodesk.

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