AutoCAD Civil 3D Yearly Subscription and Release Cycle-A Few Thoughts

Cost of Business

Cost of Business?

I just finished reading an interesting post on another Civil 3D blog concerning the one year release cycle and Autodesk subscription plan as it relates to Civil 3D users. In large part, the post and conversation centered around: backwards compatibility, reliability and cost, among other things.

What I Said

I left a comment, too, which was inspiration for this post. My comment was as follows:

In general I like the annual upgrades with the following exceptions and issues kept in mind:

  1. The 1 year subscription program benefits Autodesk monetarily more than users benefit by any increase functionality and usability. Autodesk would be better served if it separated the versioning issue from the payment/cost/budgeting issue. They are not related at all and if the next issue is taken into account they can be divorced and the yearly upgrade will make better sense from a payment/cost/budgeting standpoint.
  2. It's old-fashioned, but, don't release a product unless it works 100 percent. Users did not pay top dollar for the opportunity to be guinea pigs. Then to force them to pay more after one year for another less than 100 percent piece of software is a bitter pill to swallow.
  3. Backwards/forward compatibility is a complex issue with serious business and financial ramifications. First, alienating your paying customer who paid for a so-called "older version" (a year, really?) is a questionable practice. Second, it can be a trap for those who are "early adopters', if you will, when trying to work in the real world where due to the yearly upgrades, cost, stability issues, and integration of those upgrades, many organizations don't implement upgrades (perhaps smartly) concurrently, if at all. This creates more work and cost money for the person using the "latest and the greatest" when delivering or sharing a digital work product. Third, even within the smallest of organizations, backwards incompatibility can be burdensome.
  4. It seems counterintuitive but I think Autodesk would get a lot less flak about annual renewal if they allowed, and even encouraged, monthly payments throughout the year. Then, they could concentrate on producing a flawless software solution with long-term purposeful improvements to functionality and usability making their software a better business and technical tool.

Just a few thoughts.

Does Software Need To Work 100 % Or Is Less OK?

I think the cost issues and reliability issues speak for themselves, but I would add one point: Autodesk needs to take issues and problems more seriously. In my own experience with using AutoCAD Civil 3D I have on a few occasions filed reports of serious software issues either to be ignored, or told that they don't have an answer. It's clear to me that Autodesk suffers from having a large pool of corporate technological and software savvy technicians and not enough of  industry specific experts to guide those technicians ensuring that the software works properly producing reliable results.

Back to The Future

And finally, I would just like to talk a little about the backwards compatibility issues the yearly upgrades are causing. When I started my professional land surveying company seventeen years ago my partner and I did not use CAD. He was an excellent hand drafter and I had written my own land surveying and COGO software on a programmable calculator and also on a personal computer. I did figure out how to get rudimentary point plots on 8-1/2 x 11 sheets, which I would "stitch" together into a base sheet for my partner to use as an underlay.

This worked for a while, but then my partner left the company and shortly thereafter we were awarded a project that had to be done using AutoCAD. So, I purchased a reasonably priced surveying and AutoCAD solution from Autodesk, learned to use it quickly and delivered the project in AutoCAD as required. Yes, I was familiar with AutoCAD from past companies I worked at, but it was a challenging month to say the least.

The Cost Of Perception.

This software worked pretty darn well and suited our land surveying needs. Then a funny thing happened, many of our clients, or their engineers or architects, upgraded and we where constantly looked down upon because we did not use the "latest and greatest". Now mind you, there where never any compatibility issues and our work always seamlessly fit into their work products. But the perception was that older was not acceptable and even on bids, particularly from governmental agencies, the tide was swaying to needing and requiring the absolute latest version of AutoCAD.

So I eventually decided to jump on the subscription plan bandwagon. As I said at the beginning of this article, in general it has worked well for me. But....


In the past three years I've seen three disturbing trends because of the subscription plan/annual release cycle of AutoCAD Civil 3D:

  1. Being up-to-date with the "latest and greatest" is now a disadvantage when working with other consultants. Instead of frowning upon not having the "latest and greatest", most consultants either haven't or refuse to upgrade. Because of this they see your work in the latest version of AutoCAD Civil 3D as being at least an inconvenience and at worst costing them time and money to use. I'll write more on this next week.
  2. Regardless of the wanting to use the latest version of AutoCAD Civil 3D, many mid to large size companies, you know, the ones with an IT staff, hold off on implementing the latest release for up to a year (sometimes more). This is because they want the bugs to be worked out of the latest release and because of the time it takes to setup a new implementation, too.
  3. Internally, companies like professional land surveying firms that often go back to and use older files suffer with the often unintentional changes Autodesk implements when it upgrades its software, like AutoCAD Civil 3D. Instead of our survey data and drawings being an easy and valuable resource, they are often, instead, a burden to reuse. Again, I'll soon write about this issue and how to best "future proof" your valuable surveying data and drawings.

The Long And The Short Of It:

  • In general, I like the Autodesk subscription plan and annual upgrades in concept, with a few tweaks to the system.
  • Sharing AutoCAD Civil 3D drawings and data is a complicated problem, becoming more complicated and costly with each passing year.
  • Annual upgrade is really "annual payment plan" and should be disassociated (within reason) from the software releases.
  • Requiring payment for software upgrades that work less than 100 percent is really ballsy.
  • Threatening to make you pay even more for the less than 100 percent product if you pass up on the subscription plan and annual upgrades is beyond ballsy. One should never treat a customer in this manner.

To read the original post and discussions that inspired my post click on the following link.

Resolved: The One Year Release Cycle is Good for Civil 3D Users

Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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