Hexagon acquiring Bricsys – what does it mean for the future?

As reported earlier, Swedish Hexagon AB has acquired Bricsys. It goes without saying that this was the big talking point among everyone at Bricsys 2018.

Surprise!

This announcement was a big surprise to almost everyone at the conference. Hexagon has been working very closely with Bricsys for nearly two years, so if someone was going to buy Bricsys then Hexagon would have been my first guess, but the fact that it was happening at all came straight out of the blue.

Most Bricsys employees in London only found out about the acquisition at a meeting in the hotel on the eve of the conference. Ably shepherded away from the area by legendary CAD figure Don Strimbu, I was unable to hear the announcement. I did hear the applause that followed it, though.

Gatekeeper Don and his ironic jacket

Fear, uncertainty and doubt

FUD often accompanies big change, so it’s no surprise that over the two days that followed the official announcement, I was asked by quite a few people what I thought of the news. My response went something like this:

I don’t know yet. It could be very good for Bricsys.

Erik De Keyser’s announcement that he’s staying around was welcomed, but there were still some concerns expressed. For example, an employee had been through something similar elsewhere and the company that took over proceeded to slice through half of the workforce. A partner feared that Hexagon only wanted to use BricsCAD as an engine to run CADWorx and that progress in other areas would be limited.

Answering questions

I was able to attend the press event and was able to ask some questions of Hexagon PPM Executive Vice President Rick Allen and Bricsys CEO Erik De Keyser.

Rick Allen and Erik De Keyser answer press questions

One question I asked of Rick went something like this:

Bricsys operates very differently to most companies. Is that going to change?

The response was interesting and instructive:

I don’t like fixing things that aren’t broken.

That’s reassuring, as were responses from Rick to other questions. He clearly understands CAD and what customers want. He and Autodesk have history, and he knows how they operate. He knows about the widespread customer dissatisfaction with Autodesk, he understands the reasons for it, and he plans to take ruthless advantage of it. He understands BricsCAD and the advantages it offers to AutoCAD customers who convert.

I had a chance to talk further with Rick at the after-event party. That was also very instructive. Rick “gets it”. Rick clearly understands very well that he’s bought an absolute diamond of a company. The port of the huge CADWorx suite to BricsCAD has given Hexagon a thorough insight into the quality of the people there and the software they write. I came away convinced that he really isn’t going to break it.

Crystal ball time

So, what will happen? Here are my best guesses, any of which could easily be proven wrong:

  • Bricsys will go on creating software as it did before.
  • There won’t be sackings. I expect an expansion of staff numbers rather than a reduction.
  • I don’t expect Hexagon to interfere too much in the software creation and improvement side of things, and any contributions are likely to be financial and beneficial.
  • Hexagon is a much bigger company than Autodesk. It will use its marketing power and widespread office network to increase sales world-wide, but particularly in the US. How this pans out for existing resellers is yet to be negotiated.
  • Hexagon is going to go after Autodesk customers. Hard. Not just AutoCAD customers, either, although in the BIM area it says it expects to win business more from the existing large untapped market than from existing Revit customers.
  • Autodesk is likely to get litigious. (Martyn Day: “This means war”). Hexagon is ready for this. (Rick Allen: “We went into this with our eyes open”). From the little I know, I suspect Autodesk will lose badly and go home with its tail between its legs.
  • Hexagon isn’t going to use BricsCAD purely as an engine to run CADWorx, because that would be stupid. In Hexagon’s best interests for BricsCAD use to become more widespread. It’s much easier to sell a suite of applications to a corporate client when it’s based on a commonly-used base rather than something few people have heard of. By dramatically expanding BricsCAD sales, Hexagon will win not only pure income but also the confidence of the market.
  • Prices? Who knows. It’s commonly held among industry observers that BricsCAD is too cheap for its own good. Maybe prices will creep up, but there’s a long way to go before they approach Autodesk levels.
  • Hexagon isn’t going to rename BricsCAD. Yes, I know Intergraph isn’t called Intergraph any more, but this is different. If you’re going to knock over a long-standing near-monopoly in the DWG world, you’re going to need a name with a long-standing history in that space and an excellent reputation among an important core of influencers. Starting again with a new name would make life more difficult than it needs to be. (This is the prediction I’m least confident about).

If I were asked now what I thought of the acquisition, I would modify my response somewhat:

I think it will be very good for Bricsys. Very bad for Autodesk, too.

The CAD world is in for a shake-up.

13 Comments

  1. James Maeding

    Steve, does bricsys have a developer presence in the US? I’ve always wanted to help them get BIM for civil engineers going, but that is hard due to time zone difference I think. This is something I would have to work with them a lot on, as Autodesk and Bentley have got it wrong for utilities yet developers seem to look to them for ideas. If autodesk only realized how much they have lost from their “part based” approach. I worked on big transportation jobs and everyone knows getting utils out of the way and new ones in place are typically critical path items. Leaving that hanging has had a worldwide effect I believe. I’ve seen it in California and way too few jobs model utilities, and those that do spend three times too much money doing so.

    1. BlackBox

      1+ @JamesMaeding

      I would also love to contribute to Civil development for BricsCAD (Teigha).

      Utilities are a huge issue in Civil 3D – particularly here in a State that requires directional drills for practically every project – but that’s not the only shortcoming, especially when you consider all of AutoCAD.

      I think what BricsCAD has done recently to compete with Autodesk – and WIN – is inspiring.

      I do what I can to help make AutoCAD/Civil 3D users more productive, but dislike rewarding a company (Autodesk) for behavior that I do not want – I much prefer to help someone (Bricsys/Hexagon) that is hungry to grow.

      I’d even work remotely (at a different time zone’s hours? I’ve done it before), if an office was unavailable locally to me, here in the US.

      Real talk.

  2. Neb

    Most of the time such interviews are civil and in most cases what is said is what we wish to hear. However, things tend to change and it becomes mostly about money. Hexagon just invested in Bricscad and chances are it will drive the price up. That is in no way a good thing.
    I hope that it wouldn’t be a case but i will not hold my breath.

    1. Steve Johnson

      My conversation with Rick at the party was in no way an interview and was a very open, honest, enthusiastic exchange of views. In fact, he told me things he maybe shouldn’t have, but there was an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect in which words flowed freely. I’m not going to make that stuff public, but it’s useful background.

    1. Steve Johnson

      Hopefully the conference will expand and the multi-session thing will be fine tuned.

      Rick seemed to appreciate the after-party and will hopefully respect the tradition. The drinks bill can’t be cheap but the benefits are there.

  3. Bruce Fillmore

    Since 2011, I’ve been telling all CAD users I know (mostly Civil) about Bricscad, not an easy sell due to small presence in US. This will be a huge shot in the arm for gaining a foothold in the US market place. And you are absolutely correct Autocad should be scared, their one sided subscription business model is horrible for their customers. The civil guys I’ve talked to have either moved to Carlson (loosing a lot of flexibility) or scorn Autocad.

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