Autodesk University 2017 Highlights – BIM, GIS and Users

by Christine Easterfield

January is typically a time for looking forward but I want to take a moment to look back at 2017 and my time at Autodesk University. My goal was to try to understand what is driving Autodesk and its vast user population as together they make “more, better with less” – Autodesk’s latest rallying cry. As ever, it was huge! Around 10,000 attendees took advantage of the hundreds of classes, conference sessions and opportunities to talk directly with Autodesk experts and executives about the future of making things.

Customer/user engagement

The first thing that struck me was that the customer / user was placed front and centre. A series of informal meeting spaces invited attendees not only to engage in conversations with the Autodesk team but to select and agree the topics to be discussed. This ‘ideas exchange’ ran for the duration of the show and was well attended throughout. An excellently illustrated road map of install and deployment activities (below) encouraged users to share their experiences.

Figure 1 – User-defined roadmap of concerns and required enhancements developed at Autodesk University 2017

Construction highlights

In the world of AEC, construction is at last becoming a focus for digitalisation and the opportunities for automation are being realised. According to Sarah Hodges, Director of the Construction Business Line at Autodesk, BIM 360 is “… bringing predictability to the chaos of the construction process”. As BIM 360’s unified platform brings design and collaboration to BIM, it is positioned as the common data platform for construction.

Key to this is including geospatial data in the mix, examples of which I’ve written about before , and which peaked with the announcement in the technology keynote of Autodesk’s collaboration with GIS giant Esri by Andrew Anagnost and Jack Dangermond, President and CEO of Esri. The fact that both CEOs gave their time to the announcement suggests the level of importance ascribed to the partnership by both organisations.

Left to Right - Dangermond (Esri CEO)  Anagnost (Autodesk CEO).jpg
Figure 2 – Jack Dangermond, Esri, and Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk, at AU2017

By providing real-world context at the design stage, the target is clearly on smart cities and smart infrastructure – and is likely to provide an environment that supports early simulation of buildings, road networks, transport routes, energy and water supply all working together. The collaboration, with the goal of “Make Anything, Anywhere”, is initially at the level of data sharing but is slated to become closer and will inevitably produce ways of connecting that have yet to be imagined.

All of which made me wonder what would become of Autodesk’s own Map 3D?  I queried this with Theo Agelopoulos, Director, Infrastructure & Marketing, who assured me “There is no impact to Map 3D” which will continue to be maintained as the AutoCAD offering for spatial data. “Through the partnership with Esri we hope to improve the interop between Map 3D and ArcGIS to create a better user experience for our customers.”

I expect that for the many existing users of both Autodesk tools and Esri tools, life is going to get a lot easier but for the rest there is but a slow evolution in prospect.


Autodesk University is too vast an event to attempt to summarise in one hit but a couple of takeaways that struck me are the prominence of the customer/user’s role, and the focus on data as a key component of integration and collaboration. As we are often reminded, the world is a complex place with a growing population that has wants and needs that our limited resources will be hard-pressed to meet. Autodesk’s goal to ‘Make Anything, Anywhere’ and its support for collaboration across the full range of design, simulate, build and operate activities, is at least part of the way forward.

Disclosure: Autodesk is a Cambashi client

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