Interview with Callan Carpenter

Autodesk PR noticed my posts on the Autodesk Simplified Upgrade Policy that went into effect on March 16, 2010 (see “Autodesk’s New Upgrade Pricing Policy“, “Amnesty for Autodesk Customers” and “How To Piss Off a Paying Customer?“) and asked me whether I wanted to interview Callan Carpenter, VP of Subscription at Autodesk, about the issue. So I sent Callan a few questions and got a few answers. If you wish to ask Callan anything else or maybe need some clarification, please leave a comment or send me an email at deelip (at) sycode (dot) com. Maybe I could post a sequel of this email interview with some follow up questions.

Deelip: What was the reason for switching over to the Simplified Upgrade Policy? Who exactly is it simplified for?

Callan: The goal of the Simplified Upgrade Pricing policy is just that, to simplify our formerly very complex pricing model while still providing customers flexibility when it comes to choosing how to evolve their design technology over time.  Historically, Autodesk has supported literally thousands of price points around the world, including a combinatorial explosion of upgrades prices. Generating, maintaining and updating all of those prices has real cost associated with it, so we have simplified things for those customers who choose to upgrade.

In an effort to help our customers plan ahead, we announced the new policy a year ago, and we are also giving customers an additional year’s time from the date of their last purchase or subscription expiration to evaluate their needs and make the appropriate decisions regarding whether or not to continue upgrading or join the subscription program.

For example, I just spoke with a customer in North Carolina who runs a small architecture firm. He was concerned about what this pricing change meant for him and his business, particularly in light of the economic slowdown in his local market. His subscriptions expired in December, but when I explained that he has until next December to decide whether or not to renew or go back to purchasing upgrades, he said, “This is great…I can actually take my time and evaluate just how many seats I’ll need a year from now based on business and market conditions.”

Deelip: Is Autodesk trying to force all its customers to get on subscription? If not, why should a license of a new version be half of that of the previous version? Have you suddenly started adding double or triple the features in new versions?

Callan: Since its inception 8 years ago, the Subscription installed base has grown at an incredible rate – even with a multitude of alternative upgrade options in place. The reason is simple: Subscription provides our customers great value, including the most cost-effective way to keep their software up-to-date.

Rather than force customers into one business model, we will continue to provide them with the option to either subscribe or purchase upgrades. Of course we believe Subscription offers the best value for the vast majority of our customers, and we continue to add new features to the program such as the Subscription Advantage Packs, home use licenses, product support and more.

Deelip: Since you offer your products with and without subscription, in your opinion, which type of customers is subscription good for and which are better off upgrading as and when they feel the need to do so?

Callan: We’ve heard from many customers, small and large, that Subscription really works for them regardless of whether they are a 2-person shop or a very large company. More and more of our customers are choosing Autodesk Subscription as the most convenient and cost-effective way to keep their software up-to-date – even those who actually deploy the upgrades only every two or three years. Budget predictability, access to direct Autodesk support, and more flexible licensing options are among the reasons customers give for liking Subscription.

Despite our belief that Subscription is a great value for the large majority of our customers, we recognize that individual customer circumstances may vary – and Subscription may not be right for everyone. That is why we continue to offer an upgrade option.

Deelip: Autodesk has a policy of providing service packs containing bug fixes to everyone for free and adding new features to advantage packs available to customers on subscription only. On the other hand, SolidWorks lumps bug fixes and enhancements into service packs which are provided only to their subscription customers. Why do you think your policy is better than that of SolidWorks?

Callan: I think Buzz Kross did a pretty good job of answering this question already. And I agree with him…service packs and advantage packs with new features and benefits are two very different things. Our philosophy is that all customers are entitled to bug fixes – that isn’t something they should have to pay for. At the same time, we are committed to providing as much added value as possible through our Subscription program which is why we introduced Advantage Packs last year.

Deelip: Will you ever stop providing keys or activations for older versions of your products?

Callan: We have no plans presently to change our current policy of supporting the current and 3 prior versions of our products.