Anyone that has ever used AutoCAD knows that it has a User Interface (UI). Even after decades of operation, there is still debate today: command line or ribbon menu system?
- Proponents of the command line argue that using the command line is faster.
- Proponents of the ribbon menu point out that the menu system makes it easier to find which command to use.
What if the question was moot?
Part of Autodesk’s success is based on the fact that long ago the original founders:
- Recognized the computer industry was shifting from mainframe computers to personal computers.
- Entrusted a wide dealer and reseller network to sell Autodesk software.
- Developed application program interfaces (APIs) that allowed AutoCAD capabilities to be leveraged by third-parties.
These factors are still true today as the industries that Autodesk serves leverage shift from desktop computing to cloud-based computing. Much like AutoCAD had an API that allowed AutoCAD to be leveraged, Autodesk web services are based on APIs that allow them to be leveraged. This is possible by an innovation that Autodesk refers to as Autodesk Forge.
Forge is actually 3 things:
- Platform (APIs) including supporting materials like sample code and documentation.
- Community of developers who uses those APIs.
- Fund where Autodesk bestows grants to 3rd parties to develop the web service ecosystem.
An API allows tasks to be automated and for the functionality to be extended to other purposes. APIs make a UI moot because when using an API, the UI is out of the picture, because the application issues the commands on the user’s behalf.
Years ago Microsoft coined the term “eating one’s own dog food.” They did this because they would publish the nightly build to all employees’ machines. As a result, all employees were running the latest version of the Windows operating system. If a developer inadvertently introduced a bug, for example, one that caused a crash, it would be immediately apparent to everyone around the company and would create a sense of urgency to fix it right away. The process also provided an incentive for developers to be careful in their coding and testing to avoid the scourge of their fellow employees.
When it comes to Autodesk Forge, Autodesk eats its own dog food. Autodesk Forge is the platform that Autodesk uses to create its own web services, and Autodesk allows its customers and partners to leverage those same web services. Though Forge is applicable to any aspect of the design/make/use lifecycle for places, things, and media, one of its first applications is for Autodesk customers to showcase design data to their customers. In essence, Autodesk is looking to help its customers reach their customers.
For an invention to be an innovation, it has to have impact. Autodesk has customers that have used their software for a long time. For example, many have decades of their intellectual property captured in AutoCAD drawings. If those customers would like to leverage that data to showcase their to their customers, Autodesk Forge can help them do just that.
For Autodesk customers, Forge features:
- Framework plus building blocks.
- Data at the center.
- Connected workflows.
- Changes how and what is made.
So rather than supply an off-the-shelf solutions, i.e., an application, that is exactly the same for every customer, providing customers with a platform so that they can easily create custom solutions unique to their businesses is an innovation indeed.