March 01, 2004
Openness and Interoperability-Autodesk-Style
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor


by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Welcome to GISWeekly! On February 17, the AutoCAD® 2005 software product family was announced, which included 11 enhanced design application releases 'optimized' for the building, infrastructure, and manufacturing markets. Autodesk's long history in architectural design and construction is apparent in its approach to their Infrastructure Solutions Division (ISD). There is no other software company that addresses GIS from this particular standpoint, that I know of. Read about it in this week's Industry News.


GISWeekly examines select top news each week, picks out worthwhile reading from around the web, and special interest items you might not find elsewhere. This issue will feature Industry News, Alliances/Acquisitions, Announcements, Appointments/Resignations, New Products, Going on Around the Web, and Upcoming Events.


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Susan Smith, Managing Editor




Industry News

Openness and Interoperability-Autodesk-Style

By Susan Smith


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There is no force like the technology industry as capable of deadening our ears to terminology. The one term that stands out in my mind is “open.” Open systems, open GIS, open source. Of course, all those technologies dubbed “open” are designed with the best intentions in mind - let's be as “open” as possible, get as many customers to subscribe as possible. Everybody has jumped on the open bandwagon, and for those with proprietary software solutions, they can claim “openness” by subscribing to one platform such as Oracle that allows them to exchange disparate data across it.


What is also interesting is that some vendors, like Autodesk, have within their own product lines, products that don't talk to each other. AutoCAD doesn't work with Revit. Autodesk Map is an AutoCAD-based product (as are all those with “AutoCAD” in front of their names) but MapGuide (Incidentally, MapGuide does have access to a wide range of CAD and GIS file formats and data servers, including DWG, ESRI, Shapefile, Oracle 9, and industry standard raster formats) is not. Something's got to give and Autodesk's 2005 release promises to do something about it. The bottom line is, AutoCAD is the number 1 drafting tool in the world, and their other products must be able to access all
that design information stored in AutoCAD.


On February 17, the AutoCAD® 2005 software product family was announced, which included 11 enhanced design application releases 'optimized' for the building, infrastructure, and manufacturing markets. From the
press release: “The following applications will be available with the AutoCAD® 2005 release: AutoCAD LT® 2005, Autodesk® Architectural Desktop 2005, Autodesk® Building Systems 2005, Autodesk Map™ 3D, Autodesk® Land Desktop 2005, Autodesk® Civil Design 2005, Autodesk® Survey 2005, and Autodesk® Raster Design 2005. AutoCAD 2005 will also
serve as the foundation for future versions of AutoCAD® Mechanical, and AutoCAD® Electrical and Autodesk® MapGuide software applications. In addition, Autodesk® Revit® 6 software, the latest release of Autodesk's purpose-built building information modeling platform, is compatible with the new AutoCAD 2005 family of products.”


Autodesk's long history in architectural design and construction is apparent in its approach to their Infrastructure Solutions Division (ISD). There is no other software company that addresses GIS from this particular standpoint, that I know of. In an interview with Pierre Lemire, CTO, and Lisa Campbell, VP Infrastructure Solutions Division, Marketing and Business Management at
Autodesk University in December, I learned the different ways that “interoperability” (one of the other popular buzzwords) is being achieved in the new simultaneous product releases (then under non-disclosure). As was
discussed in my
interview with MapInfo, Autodesk is a member of the same interoperability initiative with Laser-Scan, MapInfo, Oracle and Intergraph that allows interoperability between all those file formats on Oracle. Like MapInfo, Autodesk is also working on interoperability beyond Oracle, with other database platforms, in addition to interoperability within its own product line.


There is a lot going on here. Autodesk Map is a platform with objects that must be facilitated in applications. Map won't expose functionality so, for example, you won't be able to draw a road alignment with cross sections. You will be able to do that in Civil 3D however, and the data used by Civil 3D will be saved in the same repository as a drawing saved in Map. The drawing or map saved by Map and Civil 3D will basically have all the same objects so it can be viewed in either application.


Autodesk MapGuide is not an AutoCAD-based product, but it offers a way to publish on the internet and actually be able to do query and analysis, making it a true GIS product. Autodesk purchased CaiCe last year for transportation, which is used heavily by Canadian DOTs and some U.S. DOTs as well. I don't know whether this product sits on top of AutoCAD or not.


Architectural Desktop (ADT), another Autodesk product for the building industry, shares a 3D component with Civil 3D. Revit, Autodesk's Building Information Modeling software, is a challenge to developers who are trying to figure out how much data they can move between an AutoCAD environment and Revit. “We'll just leverage what they do,” explained Lemire. “The surface objects that we generate here will have to be able to work inside ADT and we need to figure out how we get that over to Revit as well.”


3D modeling is obviously key to the new product Civil 3D, allowing civil engineers to build in 3D, maximizing their investment in AutoCAD. There is interoperability between all AutoCAD based products - Civil 3D, Autodesk Map, ADT and AutoCAD itself. Ultimately, getting the low-down on what these various Autodesk products can and can't do could be helpful to the GIS user who might need to pull in some design information at some point in the process.


Lisa Campbell noted, “Our push with Map is to have the interoperability be based on open standards. We have some open standards that we put into the product, but the fact is we don't care what the data source is, we're agnostic about it. It can come from SDE, a shape file, or from Oracle. The key is the interoperability of the data--we can create data, we can store data, and we can access that data, whether it be query and analysis or even data going out to a field application, where people are going out inspecting poles.”


“This new way supports not only polylines, polygons and feature classes but it also supports feature... It's not just the geometry that is being supported, it's features which in this case we're talking about the hydrant, pole, pipe, etc.,” explained Campbell. “'Feature' in this definition is the actual object--what users are used to working with.”


Which areas of GIS generate the most revenue for Autodesk, I asked. “Communications and utilities, and government. Engineering and construction is the biggest market for ISD. We actually in our division have four divisions: engineering and construction, communications and utility, government and transportation, and by that we mean high end transportation,” Campbell said. “We have by far the most penetration in engineering and construction because we have been in that space for 20 years. But telecommunications and utilities and government have a bigger penetration of AutoCAD seats there but we've also been making really good progress with ISD products like Map and
MapGuide.”


What connects those four segments is CAD and GIS. “Management is a key component now in the lifecycle of infrastructure. Once you build the infrastructure you have to refurbish it, you have to maintain it, and that's common across all four of those segments, whether we're dealing with pipes or networks, or whether we're dealing with a subdivision or roads,” said Campbell.


“Map is the whole design side of what our customers do, we serve an operate and manage side as well, which is addressed with MapGuide. MapGuide is the way we distribute information to people who need to make decisions about how to repair something, what happens if there's an outage, where they are going to build their next store, how to prepare to handle a crisis, etc. They need to leverage the data that has been created on the design side. For example, a utility is going to go target a new set of customers because they are about to lay a new fiber, right? The questions are: where is that new
fiber going to be laid; if they spend a whole bunch of money marketing a whole set of customers they
can't even reach with their fiber, it's wasted money. That information comes from the design side of the house.


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