Autodesk and Airtable: making life better for people who make things
Stories

Autodesk and Airtable: making life better for people who make things

Autodesk needed to streamline operations across their technology centers. When they introduced Airtable, something surprising happened: it brought the company closer together.

If you’re an architect, engineer, manufacturer, or digital effects designer, you’ve used Autodesk software. Creators of household names like AutoCAD, Revit, Maya, and Fusion360, Autodesk is a giant in the software industry, employing more than 10,000 people around the globe. The company has always aspired to stay at the forefront of innovation so they can make products that meet their customers’ specialized needs now and into the future.

In 2018, they decided to help cultivate these innovations themselves with the Autodesk Technology Centers. At these capable facilities (space, equipment and expertise), Autodesk brings together a broad, diverse community of current and former customers, industry leaders, academic, and startups to create and share a vision of the future. At any given time, Autodesk hosts hundreds of participants (known as “residents”) at programs in Boston, San Francisco, and Toronto. The program is overseen by a team of managers who support residents and create connections among the program participants.

When the program started, administration was minimal; a simple Excel spreadsheet was enough to keep track of applications and resident information. As the program grew, however, so too did their data. Their simple spreadsheet was overwhelmed by the exploding growth of alumni, current residents, and applicants. It took so much effort to find basic information that finding space to improve the program was next to impossible.

In addition, teams across Autodesk had little visibility into the innovative work being done at the technology centers. What began as a problem managing a growing set of data morphed into an operations problem that affected the technology center’s ability to summarize and synthesize the learnings from the resident community.

It quickly became apparent they needed a better long-term solution. Autodesk needed a reliable, single source of truth for managing the tremendous amounts of information flowing back and forth between program participants, community managers, and the wider organization.

In 2018, Autodesk turned to Airtable. Not only did Airtable help streamline operations across their technology centers, in the process it brought the team closer together in ways no one had expected.

Searching for a central source of truth

Before Airtable, processes at the Autodesk Technology Centers were what Global Operations Manager Salem Chism charitably describes as “clunky.” Paper-signed agreements, cutting and pasting between different programs, and a reliance on email for communication created numerous opportunities for error. Community managers had to process an exponentially growing amount of data, instead of being able to focus on the community itself.

“We were spending 90% of our time dealing with administration. We barely had any time to focus on building and managing strong communities,” said Chism.

The problems didn’t just affect the technology centers. Autodesk marketing was always looking for stories about innovations happening inside the company, but there was no common resource where the two departments could share information. If they could create a single source of truth, it would make surfacing these stories and collaborating much easier for everyone.

From spreadsheet to app in just one weekend

Chism took her solution to Conny Scheitz, then Senior Manager of Technology Centers Operations. With a PhD in Genetics and Biochemistry, Scheitz’s path to Autodesk had been an unusual one. As a researcher, she taught herself to code and had since become an expert in automation. When Scheitz saw how easily Airtable could integrate with Slack and the Microsoft tools they were already using, she instantly saw the possibility to dramatically improve their internal processes and communications.

At the time, the three North American technology centers were combining operations under one umbrella, and Scheitz had been searching for a way to automate the processes that were taking up too much of her team’s focus. With its easy API connections to other tools, range of views, and collaboration capabilities, Chism and Scheitz realized that Airtable could eliminate redundancy forever. “This was so much more than just a spreadsheet replacement. It wasn’t just the answer to our data management problems—it had the potential to completely transform the way we worked,” said Scheitz.

“This was so much more than just a spreadsheet replacement. It wasn’t just the answer to our data management problems—it had the potential to completely transform the way we worked.”

Autodesk became an Airtable Enterprise client and began working closely with Airtable Customer Success to design an app that automated the application process, created a common, shared source of information, and connected the technology centers’ groundbreaking work to the rest of the organization in real time.

Airtable’s ease of use manifested in some pretty unexpected places—tours of the technology center will be conducted using iPads with an embedded resident gallery taken directly from the Airtable base. “Airtable took all that data that was hidden away in private spreadsheets and made it available to everyone,” says Rick Rundell, Senior Director, Technology Centers. “And now that we all had access to the same information, scaling the technology centers became much easier.”

When the marketing team learned about Scheitz and Chism’s work, they saw the potential for greater connection. They collaborated with the technology centers operations team to build a story tracker which also functions as an editorial calendar thanks to Airtable’s calendar view. Now, the marketing team can track all their ongoing projects in a single location and share out content the instant it’s been created.

The technology centers can push news directly to marketing, and other departments can submit stories they’d like to highlight via Airtable forms. According to Scheitz, the common source of information allows the teams to have deeper, more productive meetings in which they’re able to plan ahead instead of spending all their time playing catch up.

Said Scheitz, "With Airtable, we’re able to build systems and workflow that are custom-made for our business. It’s the only solution that works for the way we work.”

What’s next for Airtable and Autodesk

The Autodesk customer journey with Airtable continues as departments across Autodesk discover all the ways that Airtable can work for them. Management, sales, software developers, and others are using Airtable to streamline operations, eliminate unnecessary work, build a shared context, and communicate more effectively. What began as a single solution to a vexing problem has brought the organization together as one cohesive, agile whole.

Autodesk isn’t just moving forward on their own. As Enterprise clients, Autodesk has a direct line to Airtable for collaborating on improvements and communicating feedback. Airtable is helping Autodesk identify new use cases for improved processes. Autodesk and Airtable can grow together, finding new solutions that can help all Airtable clients better customize the platform to fit their own, unique needs.

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