At Autodesk, we make a distinction between invention and innovation. An invention is something new. An innovation is something new or different that makes an impact. Without impact, innovation is just invention. Innovation is preferred because it creates competitive separation — offering something that competitors cannot or are unwilling to do. All companies need competitive separation to survive.
Autodesk is committed to providing better solutions to our customers even if they require innovation. Although innovation is closely related to invention, and many people equate the two, it is possible to innovate without inventing. That's why we pursue innovation through multiple means such as building, buying, and partnering. Each of these means can be used effectively. The trick is to be intentional in matching the means of innovation to its purpose. For Autodesk to serve its customers better, most of our innovation is related to technology.
Our VP of Corporate Strategy, Jon Pittman, recently shared a simple taxonomy of the purposes related to technical innovation:
As the name suggests, core innovation occurs in areas that are core to our business — designing and making. Core innovation truly brings new things to bear on customer problems in a way that is both valuable to the customer and hard for competitors to replicate. Core innovation is best done through internal research and development (build) and can be done by acquisition (buy) — to augment or accelerate internal research and development. Core innovation need not be strictly based on our own ideas. Bringing outside perspectives in helps us build a richer pool of innovation, can expose us to new ideas, and augment and guide internal research and development.
In some areas, we want to expand into new markets. For example, some of our growth has been in construction. We are helping drive the convergence of the designing and making of buildings and infrastructure with practices that have traditionally been applied in manufacturing. We could have developed capabilities to do that internally, but that would have taken a long time; both to develop the technology, but also to develop the industry expertise and knowledge. Thus, we acquired PlanGrid, Assemble, and BuildingConnected. Certainly, we did this for their technology and products, but also for their construction industry knowledge and go-to-market expertise. This helped us address construction customer needs faster than we could have done so organically. In addition, we acquired new talent that can help accelerate our efforts as a Software-as-a-Service company. In addition to building our own Fusion solution, we acquired Netfabb, a market-leading additive manufacturing tool; Delcam and HSM, premier companies for machining processes; and a few other smaller companies that brought the critical expertise that we needed to execute on our vision of a unified manufacturing workflow. Often, for business expansion, buy is the best option.
We need best-in-class foundational technology. We don't have the resources nor expertise to build technology such as machine learning algorithms, cloud infrastructure, or security infrastructure. Even if we did, we might not do as good of a job as a company that can specialize. For example, I recently saw the Amazon executive in charge of Amazon Web Services (AWS) talk about security. He described their philosophy based upon the knowledge that "bad actors" were always trying to hack AWS. Thus, AWS must develop very robust security. This is enormously expensive, but AWS must invest because security is mission critical to them and is their source of competitive separation. Our customers are best served by having us leverage the extensive security investment that AWS has made, rather than trying to replicate it ourselves. The AWS platform enables us to innovate where we can add the most value for customers while leveraging best in class innovation from our partners. In this regard, we have been able to accelerate the delivery of value to our customers by partnering with companies like ESRI, Unity, Leica, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Box, Dropbox, Apple, and others. These partnerships free up our valuable resources to work on projects that are uniquely Autodesk. To leverage, partnering is often the best innovation means.
Through our innovation, our customers will see the value they derive today from products like AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, 3ds Max, and Maya will continue to grow and will keep pace with the enormous amount of change happening in the AEC, PD&M, and M&E industries. Tools like BIM 360, Fusion 360, and Shotgun will continue to leverage cloud computing power, single source of truth data sharing, and connectivity to a wide range of devices by continuing to innovate.
Autodesk has always been an automation company. Today, more than ever, that means helping our customers automate their design and make processes. We help them embrace the future of making, where they can do more (e.g., efficiency, performance, quality), with less (e.g., energy, raw materials, timeframes, waste of human potential), and realize the opportunity for better (e.g., innovation, user experience, return on investment). Innovation is one way that unlocks the possibility of better.
Innovation is alive in the lab.