As I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home, I feel it is a good time to start digesting everything I took in at this year’s Autodesk University (AU2014). I decided early in the week that instead of blogging live I’d let things settle in after bouncing around in my head. It truly was a great event, I give my kudos to the event planners, as it went off without a hitch.

Monday (December 1)

Monday was a travel day for me but I was able to participate in the afternoon and evening events.

My first event was attending the first (hopefully of many) Vault Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting, organized by Kevin Robinson of Autodesk. The goal of the CAB is to provide Autodesk an avenue to bring up ideas, concepts, and other thoughts and have their customers provide direct feedback. It serves two purposes:

  • First, to get very early feedback into new concepts before Autodesk spends the time developing it. With the proper insight they hope to develop things right the first time and provide tools and workflows the customers really want..
  • Secondly, a review of existing features and processes so they understand what’s not just broken but what’s also working.

This first CAB was attended by representatives from 30 different organizations and many Autodesk personal. I should note that this was a manufacturing focused group, there was no AEC. I was required to sign a Non-disclosure so unfortunately I cannot discuss much…. I can say that they showed an early prototype and it was epic! Seriously blew my mind.  You know when something is a hit when the room initially goes quiet but quickly its filled with whispers of “did you just see that”, “I need that!” and “whoaaaa”. This happened!

There was a lot of lively discussion from everyone there but as expected we did not have the time to discuss everything on the agenda. What’s a real positive sign is that the CAB will not be a one time or even just a yearly event. Autodesk wants to take the momentum and continue it thoughout the year, online, both with the entire group and with sub-committees. We talked about workflows, lifecycles, visualization, job processor, administration, web client, tech support…. whew!. This was one of the best events I attended this year.

What’s clear is that Autodesk is not content with the status quo, the more things change in the industry is NOT the more they stay the same within Vault. They want the product to grow and remain current with the changes in the industry.

After this event was the Expert Elite Social. If you’ve never heard of the Expert Elites these are the group of Autodesk users, not employees, which spend countless hours within the Autodesk community around the internet, offering their assistance and advice. D&M are proud that all four of us have gained Expert Elite status and this social was a great place to put actual faces to the online user names. This is one smart group of people!

Tuesday (December 2)

PL5039 – Behind the Music: The Real Story Behind Deploying Autodesk PLM 360. Rob Cohee hosted two gentlemen from Behlen Building Systems who recently just implemented phase 1 of PLM 360. It was great to see an actual customers approach to both building and using PLM 360. Behlen went outside-the-box with their implementation, using a more project-centric approach opposed to the traditional workspace method.


They have now replaced 40+ custom “home-grown” applications with PLM 360. They still use JD Edwards (ERP) mostly for financial and purchasing, and MBS (Metal Building), but the rest is managed with PLM 360. PLM 360 now connects everyone, including the remote offices, electronically – in the cloud – replacing actual folders of documents… a huge time saving with the additional benefit of significantly less errors in the design and manufacture of their buildings. It has also significantly improved responsiveness to customer inquiries.

I asked about down time due to lost internet, but in the 6 or so months they have been using PLM 360 they had one instance where the internet was down for 4-hours. It did cause a bit of panic but most were able to get by using their mobile device data plans. I would think that there would be just as good of a chance that an in-house server will have issues once every 6-months causing a similar level of downtime, but with zero means to connect to it. Loss of internet connectivity is definitely a concern of many, including myself, so it was good to hear this has not posed any significant issues for Behlen.

What makes Behlen’s implementation outside-the-box? They went with a “Project Central”, essentially replacing the old folder approach with its collection of printed documents to a central project-centric view within PLM 360. Each project created within Project Central is linked to many workspaces, which describe and define the project. So far they have 16 Workspaces built, are actively using 7, and will be implementing the rest slowly over the upcoming months. Here are their tips on implementation:

Watch and manage scope creep. The initial plan was for 7 PLM workspaces and ended up with 16.

  • Momentum is crucial, get early buy-in, keep people involved, implement with a plan, constantly follow-up and look for opportunities for additional training.
  • The initial approach was training the department heads and have them train their people, it didn’t work. So they setup a core team to provide training to all departments.
  • Don’t repeat bad legacy processes but be cautious of trying to implement too many improvements or changes to workflows too quickly.
  • Set a limit on changes… they do not make any changes to a workspace after initial implementation for 30-days for the users to really try it out. Development is frozen for the 30-days.
  • Your people will initially complain, be hesitant, and resist the change but weather the storm as this changes to acceptance and wanting more.

Here’s the process map once scope creep set in:

Behlen Scope Creep

Here’s how Phase 1 ended up once they went back to what they originally wanted to accomplish:

Behlen Phase I PLM 360 Implementation

One last note of interest is that Behlen has purchased 32-inch screens for many of their employees, so that looking at the drawing is the same as it was on the D-size printed drawings. Sign me up for one of those!

This class provided a really good behind the scenes look at an Autodesk customers journey to using PLM 360. It worked as Behlen did not just share the successes, but shared their pains and gains along the path to usuage.

Make sure to check out Scott’s posts on AU: Mindset: Tools to Anticipate, Plan for, and Create the Future,  Selected Quotes, Autodesk University 2014 Opening Keynote, and Is this the start of Autodesk Fusion 360 replacing Inventor? for more news from Autodesk University 2014, as well as keep an eye out for the rest of my recap.