Autodesk is No Longer Customer Focused

Many Civil 3D users were surprised to learn that Civil 3D 2017 is not backward compatible to earlier versions nor is Civil 3D 2018.  This hurts many firms who are forced to upgrade their software.

Dave Simeone, Senior Product Manager – AutoCAD Civil 3D, gave the following explanation for Autodesk’s rationale for not maintaining backward compatibility.

“Civil 3D Object Format – Yes, we made the hard decision to update our objects for Release 2017. This enables us to properly implement the improvements in the initial release AND also provide us a platform for some things that we’re hoping to deliver during the year.”

Moving data from 2017-2019 back to previous releases is still achievable, however, not directly using Save As on the drawing. The Civil 3D data aspects need to be transferred via other methods, such as LandXML.

If users want to maintain compatibility with earlier versions of Civil 3D they must either:

  • Pay the annual subscription on existing perpetual licenses or
  • Pay the $2,155 annual rental for new licenses or older seats not on subscription or
  • Look for alternatives that support LandXML.

Although AutoCAD and Civil 3D are proven products and industry standards,  there is a lot of resentment towards Autodesk amongst their user base:

  • The perceived high cost for a product that is noted for its frequent crashes
  • Resentment over forced annual payments (subscription or rental)
  • Known bugs in the software that go unfixed for years
  • The complexity and long learning curve of Civil 3D

I quoted an experienced Civil 3D instructor in an earlier post:

” I love it (ie Civil 3D), I can use it, but still face all the issues listed. I stand by that out of all the users, 5% can actually use it, even after all these years. In the end, it costs everyone that tries to use it, more money than what they are doing already. I’ve made a living off of it being so difficult to use, only to be left tired of all the complaints and 2D usage of C3D!”

 Has Autodesk’s pendulum swung too far away from customers and partners leaving an opening for entrepreneurial competitors?

  • BricsCAD offers all of the functionality of AutoCAD  with DWG, LISP, CUI and command line compatibility. It is gaining a groundswell of enthusiastic users amazed by its small footprint (255 mb) and its blazing speed.
  • Civil Site Design is a 3rd party application, originally developed as an add-on to Civil 3D, now offers equivalent functionality and more for less than the annual rental fee of Civil 3D. A single license will run with Civil 3D, AutoCAD and BricsCAD on the same computer.
  • Stringer Topo is a solution for surveyors, many of whom are still using 10 year old versions of Land Development Desktop and have no low cost way to upgrade.
  • Spatial Manager is a powerful geo-spatial tool that adds much of the functionality of AutoCAD Map to BricsCAD.

Rather than focusing on developing great, reliable, efficient software Autodesk has evolved into a self centered marketing juggernaut.  When Autodesk could not deliver new or updated products addressing vertical market needs,  users were enticed into purchasing poorly integrated product suites that they did not need or use to drive short term revenue.

Anecdotally, many users are furious with Autodesk.  The frustration is most evident in the smaller civil design firms who require highly functional design software at a reasonable cost.  With modern tools, supported by detailed on-line how to videos these firms have an opportunity to dominate the highly competitive local market as discussed here.

Larger firms do take advantage of the functionality offered by the more advanced features such as InfraWorks  because large projects often require the analysis and visualization tools offered.  One hypothesis I have heard is that Autodesk can do very well servicing only these large accounts.  What will happen to Autodesk when these firms begin to look for complementary alternatives offered at a much lower cost?

In the early days of my career, I joined a mid-sized civil engineering firm that dominated the smaller local government market in Alberta, Canada.  They not only provided engineering services to towns and cities but were often retained as the city engineer.

And then the oil boom happened.  The firm and its affiliates grew from 150 staff members to over 2,500 providing services largely to the oil patch.  Fees from local governments were low in comparison to those from the oil companies and resources were gradually shifted to the oil patch despite pleas from many employees to not abandon the vary clients who sustained the company in its formative years.

When the oil boom burst in the early 80’s, the company was downsized to under 150 in a matter of months.  Survival was made more difficult because much of the solid base that the company use to have was gone.

Autodesk may be making a similar mistake:

  • Providing a product mix of poorly integrated applications
  • Ignoring basic bug/feature fix requests in favor often esoteric new features
  • Encouraging/forcing users to purchase suites
  • Moving from a perpetual license model to a rental model
  • Placing marketing ahead of the original software development culture that Autodesk was founded on
  • Ignoring the very customers that established a firm foundation for the company
  • Decimating their once strong channel and now competing directly against the remaining resellers with their own on-line store

An interesting twist in the Autodesk story is the recent change in the Board of Directors as a result of activist investors.  Ralph Grabowski provides an in-depth  analysis of this and the future of Autodesk products in his upFront.eZine newsletter.


About the Author

A professional engineer and solution architect with direct experience in a wide range of industries including GIS, water, sewer, power, transportation and oil and gas. Currently focused on delivering software for the civil engineers, surveyors, utilities, local governments and their supporting organizations.