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Powering the Future With Data: 5 Highlights From Autodesk University 2021

autodesk university 2021 behind the scenes

  • The Autodesk University 2021 conference virtually explores convergence, connectedness, and why platforms will power the future.
  • Keynotes include topics such as shifting to the cloud across industries, digital-twin technology, and data-centered ecosystems.
  • Other sessions delve into the changing nature of work, reskilling, and upcoming tech trends.

In October 2021, thought leaders, designers, builders, producers, entrepreneurs, and more from around the world gathered virtually for Autodesk University 2021, the design and make conference for innovators everywhere.

After a year-and-a-half of collaborating remotely, attendees felt right at home navigating Autodesk University 2021’s online conference. In fact, gathering virtually was in line with the main topics featured at this year’s event: convergence, connectedness, and why platforms will power the future.

Want to discover more about the future of design and make from industry experts and thought leaders? Access Autodesk University 2021’s 350-plus sessions online. But first, here are five highlights from this year’s conference. (If you haven’t registered yet, register here for free.)

autodesk university 2021 andrew anagnost
Andrew Anagnost presents at the General Session keynote for Autodesk University 2021.

1. General Session Keynote: Platforms Power Innovation

What’s next in the world of design and make? Autodesk President and CEO Andrew Anagnost, along with Autodesk colleagues and customers, explores the massive shift to the cloud across industries that is accelerating the pace of human ingenuity and unlocking the power of data.

As workforces remain decentralized, data is becoming centralized, accessible, and interoperable within unified environments, thanks to cloud-based platforms such as Autodesk Forge. “No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what products you use, or where in the world you are, making data more accessible, more extensible, and more open will help unleash your talent, connect your processes, automate your workflows, and unlock valuable insights that will help your businesses,” Anagnost says. “At Autodesk, we don’t believe in waiting for progress. We believe in making it.” Watch the General Session keynote.

2. Industry Keynotes: The Importance of Data, Data, and More Data

Autodesk Vice President AEC Strategy Nicolas Mangon led the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) design keynote exploring how digital-twin technology and cloud-based platforms are delivering real-time data across every phase of a project. This creates a continuous loop of information that allows smoother transitions to design, build, operate, optimize, and reuse—and brings owners into the digital ecosystem. Model-based digital handovers deliver transformative insights, helping companies design for a more resilient, sustainable future. Watch the AEC design keynote.

This year’s design and manufacturing (D&M) keynote session was led by Autodesk Vice President of Industry Strategy, Design and Manufacturing Srinath Jonnalagadda. The main takeaway? The future of design and manufacturing is more connected and more automated. To meet the growing demand for products made faster and better, companies must build on the momentum of digital transformation. Data-centered ecosystems unlock human potential, foster intelligent workflows, and enable seamless end-to-end lifecycles, from ideation to production. Watch the D&M keynote.

autodesk university 2021 Srinath Jonnalagadda
Srinath Jonnalagadda presents at the Product Design & Manufacturing keynote for Autodesk University 2021.

Construction was once resistant to digitalization, but in recent years, the industry has done a 180. In the construction keynote, Autodesk Senior Vice President and General Manager of Construction Solutions Jim Lynch, Vice President of Product Development at Autodesk Construction Solutions Sameer Merchant, and Burns & McDonnell IT Director Shelly Brown discuss the importance of using a common data environment to create a singular source of truth, enabling data-based decision making for resilient outcomes. Watch the construction keynote.

In the Autodesk Forge keynote, Vice President of Autodesk Platform and Component Services Susanna Holt and Director of Data Science & Analytics Brian Roepke share the vision for Forge while customers discuss how the cloud platform creates cohesive experiences with interoperable data. Although 90% of construction firms are investing in digital tools, many have yet to discover how to make the most of the data they generate. Forge is Autodesk’s answer to this challenge. Watch the Forge keynote.

3. Fireside Chat: Convergence as a Competitive Advantage

Raji Arasu, Autodesk chief technology officer, sat down with Charline Li, founder and senior fellow at Altimeter and author of The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail, to discuss the silo-free future of business—as well as Li’s recent research into convergence and its relationship to digital maturity. One of the lasting takeaways concludes that companies that embrace digital transformation and a convergent mindset will have a competitive advantage. Those that don’t will get left behind. Watch the fireside chat.

autodesk university 2021 raji arasu charlene li
Raji Arasu, CTO at Autodesk, and Charlene Li, founder of research firm Altimeter, discuss convergence and the future of cross-industry collaboration for Autodesk University 2021.

4. Looking Ahead: The Tech Trends Shaping the Future

Autodesk Head of Reputation Content and Owned Media Kylee Swenson led two discussions on the technology trends that will impact the world of design and make. In the first session, panelists from Intel, HP, Unity, and Autodesk share insights on the changing nature of work. As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, 1 billion people will need to be reskilled by 2040. Companies need to find innovative ways to close the skills gap, like investing in technology to attract and retain employees and partnering with community colleges to train the next-gen workforce. Watch the discussion.

In the second session, Swenson welcomes panelists from Epic Games, Lenovo, Space IQ, and Autodesk to dive into the future of design and make. Spoiler alert: It’s all about data connectivity. At least 90% of all data in history was generated during the past 10 years. Now, platforms are putting data at the center, enabling interoperability, fueling cross-functional collaboration, and accelerating productivity. Watch the panel.

autodesk university 2021 tech trends panel
A Tech Trends panel for Autodesk University 2021 delves into the impact of digital transformation on the future of work.

5. Theater Talks: Data Helps Ideas Take Flight

During Autodesk University 2021’s Theater Talks, industry leaders across industries share ideas and experiences on how visual data and digital transformation have impacted the way they work.

What started as a fun idea to deliver his daughter’s birthday gift by drone turned into a business for James McClearen, co-founder and chief technology officer of Blueflite. In “Delivering the Future to Your Doorstep by Drone,” McClearen shows how Autodesk Fusion 360 brought his vision to life, enabling a seamless workflow from digital twin to physical prototype and finally to an airborne fleet of cargo delivery vehicles being used around the world.

In “Unlocking the Full Potential of Digital Twins Through the Power of GeoBIM,” Darin Welch, associate vice president, national geospatial and virtual engagement manager at infrastructure solutions firm HNTB, explores the ingredients that make digital twins a success and how geoBIM is laying the groundwork for the next chapter in digital-twin technology. Welch demonstrates how geoBIM unifies people and processes through 3D visualizations, delivering real-time insights that empower teams, make processes more efficient, and offer an integrated approach to data-driven decision making.

When CannonDesign Chief Technology Officer Hilda Espinal and her team were hired to build a new basketball arena for the University of Southern Indiana, they leveraged virtual reality, having a player shoot hoops to test the design. In “Digital Transformation for the Next Industrial Revolution,” Espinal discusses how the merging of the digital and physical worlds is creating a more immersive design process leading to better collaboration, enhanced human experiences, and a competitive advantage for CannonDesign.

About the Author

Jen Ciraldo is a media producer and writer. She creates content for magazines, film, companies, and museums. From building fireproof homes in California to technology that improves workplace culture, her work explores topics that impact how we live.

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