Marketing 101 — Score 2 for Autodesk

Hey, the battle is on. Autodesk has been commissioning studies lately. They’ve hired long time journalist, writer, and hardware/software reviewer David Cohn to deliver an ROI analysis of AutoCAD 2008 vs. AutoCAD 2011. He did it the hard way — chose a bunch of typical CAD jobs and timed himself doing each one on 2008 and on 2011.

Inventor vs. SolidWorks
To your corners: Autodesk comes out fighting for Fall

It’s simple, straightforward, and if you trust David, it’s reasonably valid. It’s not different from the game-heads in the backrooms testing graphics board performance or IT aces testing system performance using tests. It just depends on the tester’s level of competence. Cohn is a well-known AutoCAD expert and his study washed through the industry with the usual semi-acceptance. After all, Cohn’s job was to test the things that AutoCAD 2011 is good at, but testing AutoCAD 2008 to AutoCAD 2011 isn’t exactly revolutionary. Autodesk wants the troops to know that it’s time to buy or upgrade. See the report at this link. You’ll appreciate the amount of work Cohn put into this thing. You’ve got to want to spend a lot of hours in front of AutoCAD to do a study like this.

Meanwhile, those wild people up in the woods of Oregon in the Autodesk Inventor group hired Ray Kurland and his company TechniCom to fashion a face-off between Autodesk’s Inventor Professional 2011 and Dassualt’s SolidWorks Premier 2010.

Now we’re talking. Unfortunately users didn’t go mano-a-mano for the edification of YouTube watchers (dammit all). Kurland hired four experts from each side, Inventor users and SolidWorks users, and asked them to sit down and fill out detailed questionnaires about their software. Kurland described it as a variation on the famous Delphi study method.

And, just so you know, Delphi Study methods were defined in the 50s and 60s by the Rand Corporation as a way to come to the wisest synthesis of ideas from experts who were asked a series of questions and then allowed to refine their answers in subsequent rounds as they learned the opinions of their peers. It was originally created as a forecasting tool for the U.S. gods of war. (Come to think of it, you can probably thank the Delphi technique for the Vietnam war.) Absolute anonymity for the participants is part of the process so that participants can comfortably change their positions and so loud-mouthed, dominant types don’t push around other participants.

In the case of the TechniCom study, the eight experts worked their way through 161 questions in 15 different areas. They were compensated for their time. It will come as no surprise to hear that Inventor won in all categories. Kurland expressed his amazement, but the cynical rest of us couldn’t imagine any other outcome. Autodesk picked the questions and the study was designed to highlight the strengths of Autodesk Inventor Pro 2011 compared to SolidWorks Premier 2010.

In later statements Kurland said that Autodesk did not originally hire TechniCom to create a paper. Rather, this was an internal study. Autodesk wanted to evaluate these key areas against their chief competitor because these were the areas the Autodesk felt gave them an edge over SolidWorks among experienced users. It was only after Autodesk did so well that they asked for an accompanying white paper.

Response to this study has been loud and generally negative among the tiny groups of people who actually give a rat’s patootie. Kurland has been excoriated for selling out to the man. He gave a patient interview to Kenneth Wong outlining the whole history of the study and not hiding for an instant the fact that Autodesk started the whole project in order to highlight the key features of Inventor 2011  over SolidWorks 2010.  Meanwhile, Develop3D comments from Al Dean and company rake ol’ Ray over the coals until the poor man posted an explanation of sorts. Read it all at this link.  His post began “Bash! Bash! Bash!” and he attempts to further explain in a blog post here.

Kurland, probably should have kept his head down and kept moving, but in the end, who cares?  Autodesk has taken the study and run with it. The casual internet wanderer interested in CAD will have a hard time avoiding hip, chatty YouTube videos celebrating the results of the study from TechniCom. Frankly, they’re pretty effective.

The point, I’m going for is that Autodesk is putting big bucks into its roll out of new CAD products and it intends to see some growth at the end of calendar year 2010 and through 2011. One of Autodesk’s biggest jobs is to keep shaking the AutoCAD money tree while pushing advanced software ahead to the point that it doesn’t have to care so much about choking AutoCAD upgrades out of a slow-moving customer base. David’s study is convincing and it speaks to the real user.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Inventor vs. SolidWorks, Autodesk isn’t exactly playing fair. SolidWorks is behind in adding direct modeling tools even though users seem to be begging for it. This study, asked the experts about direct modeling capabilities even though it’s an option in Inventor Professional 2011 and not part of the shipping product. Direct modeling, of course, is non-existent in SolidWorks Premiere 2010 — it’s only a promise for the future. Likewise, Autodesk asked the experts about BIM interoperability in the two products. What? BIM? Brilliantly, Autodesk has created the issue for users. Yeah, hey, does my 3D design and manufacture tool work with BIM products?  Autodesk is doing the same with Alias interoperability. Yeah, hey, does my design product work well with Alias design tools?

What do we think?

Autodesk is spending money, taking the initiative, and scoring major points at an important product cycle time. Autodesk along with the rest of the CAD industry has had a truly crummy run in 2009. Things are looking up, but only slightly in 2010, and we’re heading into the make or break Fall and holiday seasons. Marketing-wise, Autodesk is winning these early rounds. So far, SolidWorks is caught trying to hang on to what it’s got — it’s not an attractive position to be in. So far, they’re letting Autodesk define the game.