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Autodesk Aims for More China Licensees

It hopes new functionality in its Civil 3D app will convince Chinese users to buy

Early next year, a small team of civil engineers with the Timmons Group, an engineering company, will try a different approach to planning a development of new homes. Timmons will begin using Autodesk Inc.'s soon-to-ship Civil 3D 2005 application, which uses three-dimensional models to represent everything from roads and sewers to the soccer fields on a school playground. The software promises to bring greater efficiency to civil-engineering processes that, in companies like Timmons, haven't changed in more than a decade.

Autodesk's existing AutoCAD, Civil Design, and Land Desktop applications are widely used by designers, engineers, and drafts people for commercial and municipal planning, design, and construction. But those apps lack Civil 3D's advanced modeling capabilities that allow for one change--say, easing the curve in a road--to ripple through the rest of a project's documentation. With Civil 3D, "everything replicates from one change," says Mike Carris, design systems specialist with Timmons.

It generally takes two or more computer-aided design specialists working with each engineer to crank out plans for one of Timmons' big projects, such as Woodlake, Va., a planned community of 2,400 homes in 20 neighborhoods with a sports complex, pools, jogging trails, and lakeside pavilion and amphitheater. Carris believes the ratio of CAD technicians to engineers will decrease using Civil 3D because design changes won't be such a big deal.

Autodesk rolled out a Chinese-language version of its new Civil 3D 2005 application earlier this year.

Autodesk rolled out a Chinese-language version of its new Civil 3D 2005 application earlier this year.

Another advantage: The 3-D models can be shared. "We can supply the models to contractors, and they can save money and time, too," Carris says. Civil 3D is scheduled for release by the end of next month. Timmons, which is already evaluating the software, plans to begin using it in the first quarter.

Timmons won't be the first Autodesk customer to use Civil 3D. The Chinese government has several hundred copies of the application, a result of Autodesk's decision to release a Chinese version of the product before its general release in the United States. Chris Bradshaw, VP of Autodesk's infrastructure solutions division, says his company made the move because China's ministry of construction is a longtime user of its software. Chinese organizations using Autodesk products include the Beijing Hydraulic Planning and Design Institute and the Yunnan Road Surveying Institute.

But Autodesk has another motive--it wants to convert unlicensed copies of AutoCAD into licensed versions of Civil 3D. A new application, Bradshaw reasons, is a good time to approach users in China with an offer of new functionality using licensed software.

Outside of China, Autodesk is making Civil 3D available only via subscription-based licenses. With Civil Design and Land Desktop, customers have the option of pay-once annuity licenses, but Autodesk, like other software companies, wants more customers to sign up for annual subscriptions to make revenue more predictable (see "Power Shift," April 19).

Bentley Systems Inc., another supplier of civil-engineering software, expanded its product line last month with the acquisition of Haestad Methods Inc., which makes software for designing water-distribution and drainage systems. Bentley sells other apps for road and bridge design, surveying, and more. Ted Johnson, director of marketing for civil-engineering products, says business is growing, though the private company doesn't disclose details on its business segments.

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