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.
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.
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.
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.
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.