While the Middle East construction boom is creating opportunities for vendors such as Autodesk, a software supplier to the industry, piracy remains a major problem. Carol Bartz, former Autodesk CEO and now executive chairman of the board, recently visited Dubai – ACN spoke to her and Middle East country manager, Ahmad Al-Jassim.
ACN: How do the mega-projects appearing now in the Middle East - including entire cities - present a challenge to Autodesk design systems?
The challenge is not so much with the software, but with how to keep everything well organised - if anything, computers do a pretty good job in keeping things organised. Because networks are more robust, desktops are more robust, this means the software can be more robust - our products are really up for that challenge. It's a long time past when a single architect sat in his or her office, drawing on a drawing board - the network world and the graphical world has allowed us to build things we really couldn't have imagined.
ACN: One of the key issues in the Middle East - and elsewhere in the world - is the shortage of skilled workers; does this translate into a shortage of effective planners, and what is Autodesk doing to alleviate the situation?
It is interesting - there is a worldwide shortage of engineers and architects. One of the things we do to help is to get our software into schools, even for children aged 12 - so they can start getting introduced to the idea of what it means to be a designer, what it means to be an engineer. Then we take the software to the universities. There's a worldwide shortage of civil engineers, because during the dot.com boom students ran towards being electrical engineers - or they left engineering to go into the computer side of it. So the more we can all do to get better students interested at a younger age, the better. But it's a worldwide problem.
On the resources, I'd say we have plenty of AutoCAD users. Piracy is an element which is helping draftsmen and engineers learn AutoCAD on their own. We haven't got a shortage of resources when it comes to AutoCAD as a drafting tool. But when it comes to visualisation, and seeing the projects before they're built - with this we have a challenge to find skilled people where information modelling is concerned. It's changed from going from the drafting board to the CAD system - now it's going from the CAD system to the visualisation software, where the operator is building concepts, rather than drawing. It's a challenge of mindsets - that's the human challenge.
ACN: You mentioned that piracy helps levels of understanding of AutoCAD software - how do you tackle piracy in the region, and how big a problem is it in this region?
It's certainly easy to say: ‘If somebody's stealing, I'm glad they stole mine' [as Microsoft has recently done with Windows], but that doesn't make any sense.
Stealing is stealing - when people are using my product to create their own product that they're going to charge for, why should they steal my product? It's just bad in general. To me it's no excuse that if it sits on a network or sits on a CD, that it has no value - if it has no value, why are they trying so hard to use it?
I don't like the word piracy - it sounds elegant, it sounds romantic. It's theft. On a global basis, when most companies are actually confronted with theft, they really do want to come clean. A lot of the time it's education, knowledge, working with the authorities to make sure they take it seriously. And on a global basis, as countries want to have their own software industry, because it's a good industry - it doesn't pollute, it's high-paying - they have to start respecting intellectual property.
In terms of numbers, the potential users are ten times the number of legal users - probably even more than that. In the region, across the 14 countries we do business in, it's variable. We have countries like the UAE, where it is in the mid-30s, in percentage - there are stringent laws, and we have very educated users who really appreciate the benefit of using legal software, in terms of upgrading, subscription, getting the right level of support - having the right relationship with Autodesk, and our partners.
But then you have countries such as Kuwait, where the piracy rate is in the high 90s. The law is there, but the enforcement is lax.
ACN: As a vendor, what specifically can you do to help prevent piracy?
People always ask me about technical solutions - if bad people want to do something, they can break a technical solution, so that really isn't the answer. It's also helped as more corporations go global - they want their entire operations to be legal. Many times, all you have to do is say to the company HQ in the US that your branch in the Middle East is not using legal software - they'll fix that. Many times if there's World Bank funding, they will have a provision that software must be legal.
It's many things, but at the end of the day, I think it's educating people to understand that it costs tens of millions of dollars to develop software - at Autodesk, we're spending US$400 million a year creating this software. That's a lot of money - and it does good things, it builds our world - so it deserves our respect.
Carol has led a drive within Autodesk, and asked all us sales people to match affordability in the market. You cannot sell the software at an unaffordable price, and then blame people for pirating it. We are implementing this vision, and we're looking at the economies in a downturn in the Middle East - such as Lebanon and Jordan. We're looking at affordability there, we're trying to put in place prices that match the market.For all the latest tech news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.