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How to take over the whole graphics industry in a year or so


A good plan, executed now, is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

--George S. Patton

Here is the kind of strategy I think a reinvigorated, aggressive, Autodesk should be unleashing on the industry. I have plotted this strategy based on what I know Autodesk can accomplish, not constrained by what Autodesk has convinced itself is ``realistic.'' My plan combines short-term, remedial steps aimed at reducing risks created by our slow progress in recent years, repositioning of existing products to better fit today's market, and development of new products to close gaps which endanger our competitive position. These recommendations are a starting point, not a complete prescription for turning Autodesk around; they are intended to highlight the extent that Autodesk truly controls its destiny and to suggest other similar moves to consolidate and expand our market position.

None of these proposals would survive scrutiny based on the first third of the criteria I call the Stainless Steel Web; implementing any of them (or indeed, doing anything at all) requires, as a prerequisite, the will to act. And that is the hardest part of the whole scenario; the rest are all things we know how to do and have done before.

Manage our products.

  If we are to redirect our products and treat the market as something we control rather than react to, we will need not only direction from senior management but close day to day line management at the product level. Our products are too important not to have a single individual who can speak for them and promote them both within the company and without.

Help the dealers.

I'm concerned about the health of our dealers' businesses, and about the degree to which Autodesk relies upon them as our only channel of distribution. Still, I continue to believe that we should do everything we can to strengthen our dealer channel, and should abandon it only if its collapse imperiled Autodesk's survival. Autodesk and our dealers depend on one another, yet the nature of our businesses are very different. When our dealers are in trouble, it is incumbent upon us to look beyond the obvious in seeking ways to help them. Here are two examples of ways Autodesk could help our dealers survive.

Low cost marketing initiatives.

In the early days of Autodesk, lacking any marketing budget whatsoever, we found a way to gain influence without spending anything more then the cost of goods in our products. Sacrificing such opportunities now in a quest for illusory short term sales is folly, especially when marketing budgets continue to be tight.

Near-term upgrade of AutoCAD.

A $4000 list price product shouldn't look stingy. We should take whatever immediate steps are possible to make the purchaser of AutoCAD feel he is being treated as the elite customer he is; that he is dealing with a vendor who values the relationship with him.

AutoCAD future development.

Beyond the short-term actions to upgrade the quality of AutoCAD and its perception as a premium product, we must revisit our development plans for Releases 12 and 13. Does a release defined by a shipment date rather than customer requirements, one motivated by a hope that it will create short-term demand for the product and raise its ``street price,'' keep faith with the customers who are responsible for our prosperity? How long can we get away with releases with less and less substance in each? What is an appropriate manpower commitment to development and maintenance of our principal product?

Own the raster market.

Multimedia's going nowhere. Why? It's too damned expensive. When you're trying to pioneer a new market, you have to recruit a small cadre of ``early adopters'' who become the fanatics who discover new applications for the product, build upon it, and generate, through their efforts, the first success stories for the product which are echoed by a well-designed promotional campaign. This is how we got AutoCAD going. If we had introduced AutoCAD at $3000, I am convinced that very few if any of the people who ended up so influential in its early growth (many of whom now work here-ask them), would have been able to afford or have been inclined to take a chance on it.

The multimedia market closely parallels the early days of AutoCAD; both were considered outside the mainstream of PC applications, both were limited at the start by crude and expensive hardware, and both lacked the collateral support resources (books, training, user groups) that allow a small initial beachhead to expand to a much larger community of users. So what do we do? Raise the price on Animator. Wizard.

New CAD system.

In parallel with the work underway on AutoCAD, we should immediately begin a project to produce its successor; a thoroughly modern product that does everything AutoCAD does and provides a reasonable level of compatibility, but which is freed from the truly stupid baggage of the past. This project would target its initial product release for Windows, with subsequent platform versions thereafter based on market demand. This development project would be staffed comparable to the AutoCAD project and assigned similar priority.

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Editor: John Walker