Autodesk and Trimble have entered into a multiyear agreement to exchange sets of their architectural, engineering and construction software products, together with the native application programming interfaces (APIs), software licenses for development and testing and support to help the companies build and market interoperable products.

The agreement is similar to a 2008 agreement between Bentley Systems and Autodesk and a 2014 agreement between Bentley and Trimble that are widely credited for improving interoperability between their respective AEC products.

In a joint release on June 14, the companies stated: “The agreement will allow the two companies to improve on existing data exchanges, as well as open up new workflows between their products. Tighter product-to-product integration can enable design and construction professionals to share models, project files and other data between select Autodesk and Trimble solutions both in the office and the field, and allow for the reuse of information during design and construction throughout all phases of the project.”

The companies said the most immediate streamlining of data exchange is likely to be in document management, data management and BIM-to-field workflows. Nicolas Mangon, Autodesk’s vice president of AEC, Industry Strategy and Marketing, says, “We are committing to the industry that we will do a lot of work through the entire portfolio of our products. It’s not just a small piece of software. This is really big.”

Mangon says the companies have been working on the agreement for about a year. While public APIs for some products have been available, the native APIs and development tools to be exchanged will create the opportunity for much more significant, efficient and flexible integration. “In the past we were not doing it,” Mangon says. “Whenever customers—or ourselves—wanted to integrate products, we have had to reverse-engineer them.”

Mark Sawyer, Trimble’s GC/CM division general manager, says the pact “is an agreement to provide each other with a named and very long list of software products and their attendant APIs.” He said each company will make its own decisions about which products to prioritize for enhancements that will let it reach into the files created by the other’s software and get user-generated metadata needed to interoperate.

“It provides a very broad capability to each of us to do what we see fit,” says Sawyer. “If there is some metadata in Revit that we want Tekla to know or we want Trimble Connect to know, we can access it now via the API.”

“A well-developed and documented API can be how a vendor expands and enhances his own program over time,” adds Sawyer. “It’s more than a thin veneer that allows you to reach in with a limited amount of functions.”

Sawyer, whose division focuses on general contractors and construction managers, gives an example of how access to Autodesk Revit’s API and software might be used to improve Trimble products. He says many GCs get models from architects and MEP firms to use for quantity takeoff and estimating, but they have difficulty getting the data out of them that they need.

Sawyer offers the example of an estimator who needs to count the number of penetrations in the floor slabs of a 30-story high-rise. “It is a manual process with a highlighter on the drawings,” he explains. “Not all authoring tools are going to compute the number of penetrations in a slab, but our cost estimators and GCs need to know, and we can write an interface with the model that computes that.”

Both Sawyer and Mangon describe the agreement as customer-focused and customer-driven and say it will help both companies improve their software to better serve the industry. “If it’s really important to the industry, these AAPIs will help us address it,” says Sawyer.

Both also add that the agreement is a complement to—rather than a replacement for—continued work toward development of BIM industry standards such as the Construction Operations Building Information Exchange and the Industry Foundation Classes.

Sawyer says the companies expect to begin an electronic transfer of the software and APIs soon. “Picture a wide T1-line downloading a bunch of software between San Francisco and Sunnyvale, Denver,” he says.

Autodesk’s Mangon adds, “We will be working with customers and users saying, ‘What’s missing? What kind of information is lost when you go from one company’s architectural, engineering, construction or operations product to another?’ That’s where we will spend most of our time. We will allocate resources and step quickly identify the most critical workflows,”

“The first big step was getting the agreement done. Implementation will take a little time. Seamless workflow: The next steps are coming.” Mangon says.