Laiserin's LemmaGalileo's Dialogue
Jerry Laiserin

Notwithstanding the August cover date of this much-delayed issue, I am writing this after attending the October 1 New York premiere of Phillip Glass' latest opera, Galileo Galilei. The libretto deals with Galileo's 1633 trial by the Inquisition for publishing Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which fictitious characters debated the relative merits of the then-heretical Copernican or heliocentric system (the earth revolves around the sun) versus the then-accepted dogma of the Ptolemaic or geocentric system (the earth is the center of the universe, and all else revolves around it). Serendipitously, the day after attending this opera I sat in on an Autodesk luncheon briefing for large accounts in which the company positioned Revit at the center of the AEC universe, with all else REVolving around IT—which, in turn, inspired me to embark on a new Dialogue.

In a vain attempt to avert accusations of heresy, Galileo cloaked his own opinions in the voices of three characters: Salviati, a man of science who is Galileo's alter ego; Simplicius, an Aristotelian straw man fabricated by Galileo to debunk the "other" side; and Sagredo, an open-minded and ostensibly neutral fellow whose function is to make the Dialogue seem even-handed. Since I have no alter ego in the present dialogue, which I intend as even-handed, I'll dispense with middle man Sagredo and let my Salviati and Simplicius speak for themselves.

Salviati—After what some customers saw as a forced upgrade from AutoCAD r14 to AutoCAD 2002, many are voicing suspicions of a forced upgrade from AutoCAD and/or Architectural Desktop (ADT) to Autodesk Revit.

Simplicius—I've heard Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz address this very point. First, Autodesk never "forces" anybody to do anything. "Autodesk plans to continue development and support for (ADT) for some time to come," which may be as long as eight or ten years. "(C)ustomers who are looking for the most flexible and cost-effective way to keep their technology current and protect their investment in Autodesk solutions" should sign up for Autodesk Building Industry Subscription (ABIS). Under ABIS, a purchased ADT seat may be exchanged at any time for a fully paid-up Revit license.

Salviati—So, if I'm not on subscription I can buy Revit at a substantial discount, but if I am on subscription I can swap an ADT seat for Revit at no additional charge? Doesn't that imply zero incremental revenue to Autodesk on their US$133-million investment in Revit?

Simplicius—For customers on ABIS there may be a small administrative fee to cross-grade to Revit. In this slow economy Autodesk has customers with excess licenses due to layoffs, etcetera, so it makes no sense to try to sell them additional licenses now.

Salviati—You never answered the r14/2002 question.

Simplicius—Carol Bartz says the company simply can't afford to allow customer upgrades on six-year-old products and still try to recover the $120-million invested in R&D on that product.

Salviati—Boo hoo. Didn't this R&D for which customers have now paid buy them technology based on the AutoCAD platform, which will eventually go away while "Autodesk Revit is based on an entirely different technology and principle of operation"? And won't they have to pay for that "entirely different technology and principle of operation" a little at a time through ABIS or all at once through a Revit cross-grade?

Simplicius—In the long run it will still be cheaper and easier than it would have been to buy your Revit license from an ongoing, independent Revit Technology Corporation. In a sense, given that Autodesk saw Revit as the wave of the future, the acquisition will actually save Autodesk customers money by giving them the right today to switch to Revit at an Autodesk-controlled price any time in the future.

Salviati—Both corporate owners of the Revit product have emphasized its underlying database as the key to the product's strength. Yet some folks see Revit as "a database without a report writer"—meaning that all possible graphical views and data tables that could be extracted from the system are limited to the set of predefined reports provided by the vendor (now Autodesk). Try this "thought experiment": take all available reports from a Revit model and import them into an ODBC-compliant database; could you then reconstruct all the relationships among that data as they existed inside the Revit model database? If not (and I don't think you can) then isn't there a big gap between Autodesk's claim of "support for ODBC-compliant databases" in Revit and actual ODBC compliance of Revit?

Simplicius—There may be several possible future ways to extract data from Revit. Take facility management (FM) data, for example: there may someday be an FM "flavor" of Revit; there may be API's to specific FM applications; there's ODBC and possibly XML; and there's always flat DWG extraction.

Salviati—But doesn't that beg the question? If Autodesk's building information modeling strategy with Revit is intended to serve the end-to-end process from the design of buildings through their ongoing operation, why would building owners want all their project data locked into this format?

Simplicius—When the Autodesk folks say they have targeted the end-to-end process that doesn't mean they have an end-to-end solution yet—it will evolve.

Salviati—Aren't the International Alliance for Interoperability's (IAI) Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) several years ahead on that end-to-end evolution?

Simplicius—Most users have never heard of IAI and IFCs and don't know what they are. A company with 60% to 70% market share has to go where its customers are, and customers are not clamoring for IAI/IFC-style interoperability.

Salviati—Most users have never heard of "parametric change technology" or "parametric building modeling" either. Should technology companies lead their customers or follow them?

Simplicius—The answer is "yes." With its Revit strategy Autodesk is letting customers move into the future at whatever speed they're comfortable with.

The Galilean dialogue ends here for now, but let me know what you think.

Editor and Publisher, The LaiserinLetter
Analysis, Strategy and Opinion for Technology Leaders in Design Business

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