Cloud Computing Mitigates Pandemic-driven Disruptions

The emergence of COVID-19 turned millions of employees into remote workers and introduced a host of business demands and challenges. Companies such as Autodesk that had already embarked on cloud-based strategies have been better able to navigate within today’s “new normal.”

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 Prakash Kota is Chief Information Officer at Autodesk., a company that helped pioneer the computer-aided design industry before expanding into associated production, construction and manufacturing sectors. Kota has accelerated Autodesk’s digital transformation in part by embracing disruptive technologies that enhance time to value and agility.

Autodesk has gone through many changes in the nearly 40 years since it introduced its flagship product, AutoCAD, in 1982. In the years since, the company has expanded its portfolio with software solutions that automate the entire design-through-build process for designers, architects, manufacturers, construction firms, and media/entertainment companies.

Still, few of the company’s changes have rivaled its transitions of the past few years. Autodesk recently shifted to a fully subscription-based business model, and the company’s IT department is in the process of migrating all of its on-premises data center infrastructure and applications to the cloud.

As of early 2020, “We had already moved more than 50% of our enterprise workloads to the cloud, and we were on a path of not having any on-premises enterprise infrastructure in the next 12 to 18 months,” says Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota. Then the COVID-19 pandemic materialized virtually overnight, disrupting business operations across the globe and forcing millions of workers out of company offices and into remote-work settings.

Adapting to the “New Normal”

While no company could have been fully prepared for the pandemic’s sweeping impact, those with strong cloud-based initiatives and operations already in place were better able than others to quickly adapt to the new business realities.

Pre-pandemic, “My primary goal from a corporate standpoint was to digitize Autodesk, with the goal of removing friction for our customers, partners, suppliers, and employees,” Kota said.

Kota’s second objective: “At the end of the day, fast time to value was, and remains, our key focus.”

With much of its workforce now working remotely, Autodesk has benefited from its early investments in cloud-based services, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. By their nature, these services can be more easily accessed from anywhere, at any time, and from any device, reducing friction for employees and also giving remote employees a means to interact both with their coworkers as well as Autodesk’s customers.

Even so, capitalizing on the potential value of SaaS and other cloud-based solutions has a catch: user experience and adoption.

“You can deliver a lot of capabilities rapidly, but if nobody uses the technology, then there’s no value,” Kota notes.

Even with its cloud-based foundation, Autodesk has had to rethink and retool many of its operations to ensure that its employees—as well as its customers—can continue to work efficiently and securely across today’s highly distributed landscape. Those efforts have included heavier reliance on SaaS solutions that enable broader visibility and control, collaboration, and team productivity, for example.

Also of critical importance is the need to provide enough virtual private network capacity to support the large numbers of remote workers. Furthermore, many of Autodesk’s employees and customers need to be able to virtually access physical PCs and workstations located in vacated offices or other locations. While business users can perform most of their work on home-based PCs or even smartphones, many of Autodesk’s users must access more powerful remote platforms to run computer-aided design and other data- and compute-intensive workloads.

Standardization via the cloud

While the global pandemic has highlighted many of cloud computing’s benefits, those benefits have been broadly understood for years. Among them: standardization and better cross-industry benchmarking, Kota says. He notes that, in the pre-SaaS and pre-cloud days, there was a huge amount of diversity and inconsistency across the IT landscape. Different companies upgraded software on their own schedules and had their own unique technology stacks.

The ongoing “SaaS-ification” of the industry has reduced this variability, according to Kota.

“With SaaS, upgrades and other improvements happen naturally all the time for all users,” he says. “That means you’re better able to benchmark the value across industries, and you can then make better business decisions. That’s a huge positive factor that we’ve seen with the emergence of SaaS and cloud.”

And that benefit has become even more apparent in the era of Covid-19.

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