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Grand designs

Louay Dahmash, Head of Middle East, Autodesk
Louay Dahmash, Head of Middle East, Autodesk

What has been Autodesk’s recent business transformation? How successful has it been so far?

I can easily say we have a two year technology cloud lead over other software vendors and providers in the space. For the next two years, we’ve decided to move away from perpetual licences and move to desktop and cloud subscription licences. The train is fully in motion in that sense. We’ll stop perpetual licenses for standalone licenses at the end of the fiscal year, January 31st 2016. The following year we’ll start moving other products but won’t stop selling them as perpetual.

Also, with the move into the cloud, we’re providing customers with an opportunity to share more information in order to collaborate. We’ve been at the forefront of cloud technology; 12 years ago we created Buzzsaw, and now have Autodesk 360, a cloud-centric collaboration solution, which is all based on workflows and design for the engineered world.

What projects are you working on in the Middle East?

We’re currently providing BIM (Building Information Modelling) implementation consultancy and advice for the Qatar Rail project. This is to build standards and specifications that go out to contractors, who are responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of the rail network, and they’ll use BIM throughout the lifecycle of project. With BIM we need to create processes and establish how workflows go within a team. BIM doesn’t just end at design.
In the manufacturing industry there’s been a lot of talk about BIM. There’s a perfumery called Ajmal that’s headquartered in Dubai and uses our Inventor software to design their own bottles.

What training services do you provide for your customers?

If we look at our Qatar Rail project, we have a consulting team based in Doha which is working on consultation for Qatar Rail’s staff, helping with not just writing standards but also training for staff and executives. Top executives can use mobile devices to navigate through a model and easily play around with BIM. We also have an education department, authorised training centres throughout the region and we do training for other companies. Internally, our consultants do training for strategic customers.

How does Autodesk plan to leverage the cloud? What impact will cloud technologies have in construction and infrastructure?

This is not simply a massive cloud in the sky. It’s a single point of access where all designers and engineers who need to get a job done from any device and connect are able to. We provide collaboration that enables staff to work on a project in Dubai while they are in Shanghai, New York or London. Going back to what I said before, the cloud is not new for Autodesk. For example, with visualisation and rendering, a customer on a maintenance subscription can send a model and rendering is done in 15 minutes by Autodesk.

How are you bringing 3D design to consumers and ushering in the consumerisation of design?

Over the past two years, we’ve launched a series of free or nearly free consumer apps, which has had a transformative effect on the company. In 2009 we introduced a product called Sketchbook Pro, a drawing app for artists and designers that can be incorporated into other software. This was our first mobile app and an experiment we put out there, hoping to see 100,000 downloads in one year. We passed a million in 50 days.

Our 123D Catch software allows users to take a picture of virtually anything and turn it into a 3D model and get it printed. We’ve simplified the design process for the consumer.

In line with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix we also ran a competition for kids to use our software to design prototypes of their own cars.

Broadly speaking, can you give examples of how CIOs can benefit from your technology?

Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi was designed with our technology. They used BIM, and the contractor needed to design a model at the end of the lifecycle for the client, who specifically wanted the model to be developed through construction in order to develop interdisciplinary coordination. This enables better visual design, as whoever is maintaining the project can use all data. A CIO or CEO can navigate and see the construction phases and what stage they are at in terms of construction.

How can structural problems be detected within BIM software?

Non-designers won’t detect a problem but can still navigate through models, and can visualise what their design will look like, but engineers can detect problems. The software has clash detection to pick up certain faults, for instance if a beam is colliding with an AC duct. In the old days construction plans would have had hundreds of clashes but BIM eliminates 99 percent of them.

Do you have any new software that’s close to market?

We’re working on new products as we speak. As a company, we’re the biggest spender in research and development in the market – at nearly $500 million a year. We’ve put a lot of investment into 3D printing, and have come up with our own 3D printer, Ember, and Spark is our open and free software platform for 3D printing, which connects digital information to a 3D printer. Consumers can start designing their own products with a simple 3D printer, and don’t need mass production if they want to build a prototype. We’ve also announced a $100 million Spark worldwide investment fund, a 3D investment programme for entrepreneurs & startups.

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