Autodesk and Bentley’s Unprecedented Interoperability Agreement

This article provides an analysis of the new interoperability agreement just announced between Autodesk and Bentley, including both the overt and possible underlying motivations that may have led to it, in the context of their past relationship characterized by many disagreements and criticisms.

URL: http://www.aecbytes.com/buildingthefuture/2008/
AutodeskBentleyAgreement.html

9 thoughts on “Autodesk and Bentley’s Unprecedented Interoperability Agreement

  1. A comment on the possibility of an Autodesk acquisition of Bentley:

    My guess is that this new ‘open’ policy on the part of Autodesk is indeed designed to slow momentum and adoption of the IFC protocol and true interoperability as Lachmi states, and to allow Autodesk to promote its own “interconnections” as their supported mode of interoperability.

    Culturally and market focus – wise, the two companies are very different: Autodesk is very product – centric and design driven, while Bentley is vertical / solution focused. Skill sets, organizational design, and even partnership ecosystems reflect these differences. ‘Seamless’ integration of the two companies would take significant time and money.

    I think a more likely strategy on the part of Autodesk is to continue to acquire emrging tech start ups (MEP, energy modeling, health & safety, etc) as well as build market share by acquiring smaller BIM and CAD vendors. This would increase the market share at the Revit user level, and mitigate Bentley’s influence on higher level managers in EPCs and target organizations.

  2. This is an interesting move on the part of both companies. Time will tell whether this is merely a smoke screen of pure PR or a genuine intent to achieve some interoperability and thereby sideline IFC further (which both companies have been routinely playing lip service to).

    It is also possible that both parties are simply flirting with each other– kinda like a dance before choosing to get married? 🙂 This might also give them a better chance to fight anti-trust issues if they do decide to consummate the marriage.

    To be fair to these companies they are in a “Damned If You Do… Damned If You Don’t” situation. So for now I would give them the benefit of doubt and some credit for this seemingly bold step, and see how things play out over time.

  3. This business agreement is not about “interoperability” as the term is commonly understood, except as it pertains to better interchange of AutoDesk’s and Bentley’s CAD file formats. It is not BIM interoperability. AutoDesk is not opening up the Revit file format (now that -would- be news!) All that’s happening here is the following:

    – AutoDesk has granted Bentley access to the “RealDWG” libraries, which may or may not be technically better than the ODA libraries, but which will allow Bentley to translate DWG files including the encrypted AutoDesk header.

    – AutoDesk and Bentley have exchanged access to unspecified APIs. In all likelihood, this means that Bentley has AutoDesk’s approval to use the Revit API, which allows Bentley to develop extensions to Revit, for example, to allow Revit users to transfer Revit structural data to and from Bentley’s applications for structural analysis and design.

    This is not interoperabilty, unless there is a lot more than meets the eye here. This is expanding the Revit ecosystem and a tacit admission on Bentley’s part that they are not making headway against Revit with Bentley Architecture. The upshot of this is:

    – Bentley gets (marginally) better CAD data from AutoCAD;
    – AutoDesk gets full compatibility with DGN;
    – AutoDesk opens up Revit to work better with a competitors highly-respected structural applications.
    – Bentley get to sell more of those applications (or retain their current customers based on those apps).
    – AutoDesk gets to drive a wedge between Bentley and ODA;
    – AutoDesk gets to wear a white hat and call this “interoperability”.

    I must also take exception with Lachmi’s statement:

    “The IFC has not gained significantly in adoption since the time I wrote that article, and contrary to what I had speculated then, it doesn’t seem likely that an alternative open file format will be developed that will work better than the IFC.”

    What about SmartCodes? …based on IFC.
    What about the various GSA initiatives? …based on IFC.
    What about BIMStorm? …based on IFC.

    You may argue that IFC does not allow full exchange of parametric architectural models between peer design applications, and that is true. (Neither does the AutoDesk / Bentley business arrangement.) IFC allows, rather, the exhange of generalized data-rich building models for a wide variety of purposes, and that is interoperability.

    With all respect, I think the “analysis” is pretty light in this article.

  4. My fear is that this coming together of Autodesk and Bentlley potentially contains the seed of monopolistic practices, which could altogether slow down the development of BIM technology because there is nothing like competition to spur development. In such a monopolistic (and therefore restrictive) tread practice environment, the ultimate loser would be the AEC community, who would be forced to use whatever technology is available in the market and not have the option to choose from two fiercely competing alternative applications.

    It would indeed be a sad scenario in that the AEC community has already sustained the pain of the cumbersome CAD technology for all of two and half decades and was just about beginning to look forward to the freedom of the newly developing BIM technology. BIM being a disruptive technology would require an aggressive competitive development environment to deliver its full potential globally. The question is will BIM really develop to its full potential any time soon in the event that Autodesk and Bentley cozy up with each other?

  5. Robert Anderson raises some good points in his post but fails to qualify them by disclosing that he is one of the senior executives of Nemetschek North America, a smaller player in the AEC technology field that jumped on the BIM bandwagon only relatively recently and debuted its IFC translator only last year. Obviously, the cooperation between Autodesk and Bentley and their planned support for each other’s products – without the use of the IFC – is not good news for companies like NNA, as it leaves them out of the picture and poses a bigger competitive threat. He questions whether the Autodesk-Bentley agreement constitutes true interoperability, which is a valid point, but one that is relatively unimportant from the perspective of the users of their products. What they care about is their solutions working seamlessly together, rather than in the technicalities of whether it is achieved by sharing file formats, through APIs, or through an open standard. And from my perspective as an industry analyst, what was much more important than the esoteric details of the agreement was the fact that Autodesk and Bentley were coming together for the first time in their history, after years of constant bickering, competitiveness, and one-upmanship! This is an unprecedented, even historic, moment in our industry. How it ultimately plays out remains to be seen.

    I’m not surprised Robert found my analysis “light,” given that it was written from a neutral perspective rather than from that of a competing vendor for whom this agreement is really bad news!

    And with regard to the IFC, we still have to see it make a real impact on the AEC industry on a day-to-day basis – it seems to be permanently stuck in “demonstration” limbo. I would suggest that those who believe in it so strongly and are betting on it put many more resources into funding its development and deployment. Simply making their software IFC-compatible is not going to be enough.

    Many thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion so far and helped in rounding out the analysis with their varied perspectives.

  6. Ironically, I actually think this is a good thing for pushing the adoption and development of the IFC format. Although they are still two separate companies, this deal will effectively lump the majority of the market share into one. With such a lopsided advantage, smaller venders like Nemetschek and the like, will now have to embrace IFC more than ever to stake some competitive advantage in the market.

    Would love to see Nemetschek’s rebuttal press release:

    “Nemetschek Funds 1.2 Million for Major IFC Development”

    …let ’em have it Robert. 🙂

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