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

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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

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