Monday, 18 January 2010

An Autodesk Subscription Renewal Rejected? – Part 1 of…..

The Abridged version;

The short version of this convoluted 20 day saga starts 5 days after placing a purchase order, for my Inventor Subscription renewal, in the hands of my Autodesk Inventor dealer’s Sales Manager. It, the purchase order, was handed back 5 days later by the Sales Manager (the result of a decision made by the dealer Principal – the Sales Manager’s boss). Autodesk Australia was made aware of what was about to take place, before the order was returned, was asked to be involved but, and, 15 days later – in a letter to me (received on the afternoon of the day prior to Autodesk breaking for CHRISTmas ??? ) – Autodesk ‘wiped’ their hands of involvement; despite the fact Autodesk had sent me (the previous day) a third Subscription Renewal reminder; an email titled - Renew NOW.

That’s exactly what I was trying to do – with payment in hand!

There are two Autodesk dealers, ‘only’, who have the privileged position to trade Autodesk Inventor products, in my area (Sydney, N.S.W.); neither has accepted my renewal request.

Mr. Wolfe may have been denied entry to AU but have you ever heard of a customer being denied access to the software tools of his trade? Autodesk products may be “cheap and used for relatively un-important tasks”, in some eyes, but they happen to form the foundation of my business. Without them I have no business or job; in my case Autodesk products are extremely important. However, the separate action of individuals, taken within three companies, has now combined to make the running of my business much more difficult than, it should be and, it would be for any other person in my area, including my competitors.

Software supplier and dealer fury in full flight: no ‘real’ reasons given for the separate acts but, an educated guess, as to why, can probably be made!

The word, ethics, also springs to mind.

Importantly, it is always individuals, who make decisions, not companies. Individuals within software companies, choose to, surreptitiously penetrate customers computing systems using Trojan software - embedded in legitimate products; use non-negotiable invasive Terms and Conditions of Use in an attempt to take the high ground, refuse to have their actions scrutinized or validated and, to ‘wash their hands of a ‘customer of 25 years’ and;

Other individuals, owning and running software service companies, are now, also making decisions about which customers/individuals can, and will, access the products they ‘sell’ for and on behalf of the software companies. In effect, controlling/choosing who can work commercially, economically and or effectively in the market space they have chosen to SUPPLY; with protected and privileged dealer status!

Are these actions the price I now pay for speaking out about invasive licencing and the use of Trojan software? If so, ALL software users need to take stock and consider some long term ramifications.

Is the future, of (CAD) software use, a situation where it is not which software is suitable, easiest or the most cost effective for you to use; but whether or not the vendor(s) considers you a suitably submissive customer, person or company? If, initially approved of but, at a later date, you prove to be a ‘troublesome’ customer, and unrepentant, you too WILL have you access removed – GOD in the ‘cloud’.

Are we, as customers, going to continue ‘sitting on our hands’, allowing software developer led social engineering to continue or, do we heed the now ample warnings; take control of our market place and stop ALL the types of activity, I have spoken out about, in its tracks?

Caveat emptor, indeed!

Always look for the evidence to everything you’re asked to believe.....”
Richard Dawkins.

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The Long Version;

The following is a deliberate ramble linking several different instances and I make no excuses for that or its length. It has several purposes. One being, it is a record of the events; the people and companies involved, done to ensure I have a permanent reference for later use…..

Another; it is an open letter to the individuals involved, highlights their actions, poses several questions and, includes a challenge directed to the management of Autodesk. Who I would willingly, at any time – privately or publicly – discuss what ALL Autodesk employees, their legal people and agents have actively avoided doing now for over five (5) years, and that is; to meet and discuss in depth and negotiate, all to do with their application of unconscionable Software Terms and Conditions of Use; their use of Trojan software and, importantly, their refusal to meet and discuss their requirements relating to my concerns overseeing and validating their invasive actions!

Caveat venditor.

Don’t bother reading further it if you are looking for an outline, for correct grammar, spelling or are going to be offended by seeing your name in print and or dislike having your actions questioned in this forum!

On November 20, 2009 Ralph Grabowski wrote a piece in his blog titled “Should Wolfe Be Denied Entry to Autodesk University?”.

The comments that followed were interesting and showed varied opinion and thought; which is to be expected.

My comment, to Ralph Grabowski’s posting, took the line, refusing Mr. Wolfe entry was childish: ‘Autodesk’ would have been better to allow Mr. Wolfe to attend AU, using the opportunity to address his comments and ‘convert’ him; the professional approach. In doing so ‘Autodesk’ would have demonstrated managerial maturity, a respect for others opinions and, a strong knowledge, confidence and commitment to its products and customers being ‘derided’.

Like Ralph Grabowski & Mr. Wolfe I am no stranger to this type exclusion, with some significant differences. The first event I was excluded from, I was, initially, invited to attend. It was a presentation of Autodesk product; the event was organized by an Autodesk dealer supplying me product. However when the key speaker, the then current reining Autodesk product manager found out I was to attend he said he would not present if I was allowed in; resulting in the directors of the dealership stopping me at the door, refusing me – their invited customer – entry!

Missing out on that presentation meant missing out on information Autodesk’s dealer deemed important enough to organize and invite its customers to hear and for Autodesk to play a key role. But what is more important is that both the Autodesk employee and the directors of the dealership felt they had the right to deny an individual customer access to the same information others in the industry would get to hear and learn from? What it also showed me, and other attendees who ‘witnessed’ what happened, was just how immature the product manager was and how unsure he was about what he was about to present and, as for the directors, well what can you say about any person running a company with so little fortitude and ability as to not have been able to solve the problem they faced, sensibly and in favour of all parties.

Now, Mr. Wolfe made a comment it may have been prudent to avoid and, as I know absolutely nothing about the guy I looked at his comment and measured it against what I know I and my customers do, and see the situation, he outlined, differently. I guess I know what is important in mine and my customer’s context and as Mr. Wolfe is not part of our life, neither was his comment directly relevant, or worth ‘getting up any steam”. If missing AU was a result of his reported comments, at least it had a similarity to other exclusions.

But my exclusion this time around takes the process into new territory: enforced with no reasons given, it strikes directly at a persons (my) ability to access the ‘tools of his trade’ and, to continue to run a business; and, again it is an AutoCAD dealer metering out the pain by simply refusing to accept my purchase order and payment, on behalf of Autodesk, to renew my Autodesk Inventor Subscription!

As I said in my comment about Mr. Wolfe’s exclusion; it is individuals who make these decisions and, in the first instance, on this occasions it was the dealer principal; Jamie Delves, head of an Autodesk Premier Solutions Provider called Envision Solutions Pty. Ltd.!

Here is a rough outline of events; on the 27 Nov. 2009 I handed to Envision’s Sales Manager an order for my subscription renewal with the request it be processed and paid by mid December 2009. Five (5) days latter he returned and handed back the order, simple stating, Jamie (his ‘boss’) was not prepared to accept it – no reason was given. To his credit though, for his own reasons, I was told, before he came to my office he did ring Autodesk and outlined what was to occur and, he was of the ‘belief’ Autodesk would ‘assist in some way’. So, my response was simple; as a subscription is a deal between Autodesk and a customer*** - a dealer only being the booking agent – and given he had already made Autodesk aware of the situation, I said send the purchase order to Autodesk Australia, ‘with your covering letter’, and let them decide if they want to ‘accept it’ and or to hear what their suggestion(s) might be; this was done, I believe the next day.

It is easy to see what should have happened here, and I didn’t care who got the cheque; subscription is what it is so it matters little who takes the money, on Autodesk’s behalf, provided it is paid, in full and on time.

‘Nothing much happened’ for a week then several emails and phone calls solicited comments like, “Autodesk are trying to work out who can handle it..” and, “I have asked her to speak with you”. The phone call never came: what came instead, twenty (20) days after issuing the purchase order, on the afternoon of the day prior to Autodesk going into CHRISTmas recess, was a letter, from Autodesk’s Channel Program & Operations Manager, Clare Wharrier.

The letter started by incorrectly stating I had requested to renew my Subscription directly with Autodesk. It went on to say “Unfortunately in cases such as yours, we do not transact directly but have resellers to sell directly to customers such as yourself”. Well yes, I knew that was the case but, Jamie Delves - Envision, an Autodesk Premier Solution Providers and the dealer listed on Autodesk’s reminder email as the dealer to contact***, didn’t want to accept my order or payment on Autodesk’s behalf so, who would?

Well Autodesk had an answer for that question, the letter went on; “Please got (Clare’s words not mine) to our web site for the list of partners (sic’ there’s that partner thing again Ralph Grabowski) with whom you can renew your subscription”, followed by Autodesk’s web address listing dealers.

Now here’s the twist; Autodesk’s dealers are like many animals, territorial; and, like animals they choose and fight for a spot, in the world, to set up an office, and for Autodesk’s permission to do so. Now in Australia that means Inventor dealers trade ‘only’ in the state allocated, (in my case that is the New South Wales, Sydney is the capital), and ‘not outside’ this area ;-)

Autodesk list two dealers, for the State of N.S.W., as suppliers of the ubiquitous Inventor software. Envision I have already mentioned: Cadgroup Australia is the other; a company I dealt with for many years, the one who denied me access to their presentation at the behest of an Autodesk employee and, one who has not answered my request, or accepted my purchase order and payment to renew my Inventor subscription.

So, now we have THE two dealers ‘in my territory’ – authorized to sell Inventor and subscriptions – neither wanting to accept my money on Autodesk’s behalf? And Autodesk Australia in a position, it would appear, unwilling or unable to ‘encourage’ their privileged designated territorial Inventor dealers into accepting my money on Autodesk’s behalf?

The closing sentence, of Autodesk’s letter had this little gem; “Please be aware we cannot and do not make it mandatory for our resellers to do business, or refuse to do business with you or anyone else.” This may be true but you have to wonder at the ethics in play.

For one Inventor licence twelve month subscription - $1340.00 for Autodesk, $335.00 for the dealer, $167.50 for the government.

Not big biscuits, but these are the tools of my trade* and individuals within (remember it is always a person or people who make decisions, NOT companies) Envision, Cadgroup and Autodesk Australia have chosen, for their own undisclosed reasons – to not allow me to access, their software product and services, in a ‘normal’ manner, as others, including my competitors, can?

An aside: Anyone spot the business opportunity for some serious corporate customer relations training for the owners and managers in these three companies ;-)

* So here is something to ponder: outspoken I am about Autodesk’s licencing and the use of Trojan software but I have been selling and supporting Autodesk products since 1984 when first employed by the then and original distributor (of IBM versions) of AutoCAD and when that company closed (1990) I became self employed and continued selling and supporting Autodesk MCAD products, as a small niche support orientated dealer until Autodesk decided I no longer fitted by imposing un-attainable sales targets – support is only good in Autodesk’s eyes if it is backed by large in number NEW sales – so end of the MCAD dealership. They left me the ability to sell AutoCAD though, but, it had to be sourced through a secondary supplier** not Autodesk. MCAD customers stuck by me and some still do (over 23 years for one), I re-organized, support and training playing a larger role even in the MCAD space. Now this is a significant point; even whilst I do and will continue to speak out about Autodesk’s licencing and its use of Trojans – for as long as they continue what they are doing – I still continue to promote the use of their products (MCAD) and on any given week can be training between 10 to 16 individuals in the use of AutoCAD and Inventor in both my private work and in institutions. A critic; yes, but not one setting out to damage Autodesk, nor its products application and use.

My two subscriptions for Autodesk’s products are extremely important to me as being the only way I remain current - and ‘legal’ ;-) - to ensure the training I offer, and do, is as current as it can be. However it would appear 25 years of experience and dedication to Autodesk’s customers’ counts for naught if you are seen as not fitting the mould and can be bullied aside. What does this say about the individuals, who work at Autodesk and, those who own and run Envision and Cadgroup, about what they see as important for our/your industry?

**I said I was able to sell AutoCAD sourced through a third party distributor and at the moment I still can but, Autodesk are removing the ability for people like me to sell AutoCAD in February 2010 making it available, again, only to ‘qualified’ dealers. Yep, that’s correct, Autodesk let every man and his dog sell AutoCAD as a retail product and now want ‘qualified’ dealers again. Of course the ‘main qualification’ is meeting sales targets. Will I qualify, who knows – knowing the product(s), the business, having long standing loyal customers, training, supporting and introducing new users on a weekly basis to Autodesk products for 25 years is not the qualification required.

***Autodesk send emails directly to subscription customers reminding them of the impending renewal. I receive six reminders, the first being some three months ahead of the renewal date and the last one on the 15th December 2009 and it was titled RENEW NOW. Autodesk’s Pontius Pilate letter is dated 16th December 2009 and was delivered on the afternoon of the 17th December 2009. Autodesk went on leave, for CHRISTmas, on the 18th December 2009 – my order was placed in the hands of Adam Scully on the 27th November 2009.

Ralph Grabowski asked in his post, “Should Wolfe be Denied Entry..etc.”

I ask, should I (or any other person for that matter) be denied ‘normal’ access to Autodesk’s products because;

I am critical of Autodesk’s invasive licensing policies and use of Trojan software or;

Is there another reason my customers should be disadvantaged and my business be destroyed – if so, what is it, Jamie (Envision), John&John (Cadgroup), Clare and Carl (Autodesk)?

What do other software users think? Does being critical of any product you use mean you should no longer have access to it?

Please, before you inundate me with facts, and comments, relating to my ability to choose alternate software stop and think about what you are about to say in relation to my situation and business. At its simplest level, if you can demonstrate how, me, owning and using, as an example - Solidworks in my office would be a good advert for selling training courses in the use of AutoCAD and Inventor, I would be only too happy to listen to your reasoning.

At the other end of the scale and of more importance, consider; unreasonable and unconscionable Terms and Conditions of Use and the use of Trojan software is not confined to only one software developer; ‘out of the fat and into the fire’ in many cases it would be!

I indicated Autodesk’s actions in relation to Mr. Wolfe, reflects the behavior of children and in a recent comment about ‘The Orange Rectangle etc…’ Deelip Menezes said, “Frankly, my six year old and two year old fight over more reasonable things.” I tend to agree: when you look at some legal suits, software developer and dealer reaction to my comments about intrusive, unconscionable Terms and Conditions of Use and the unjustified use of Trojan software one can only conclude it is nothing short of behavior befitting children who ‘chuck tantrums to get their own way’!

Just how much power, and access, are you and society, prepared to give software companies, run by individuals who have agenda which may not match what is best for society as a whole; who have little respect for alternate view points and, who cannot separate their petty thinking from their business decisions?

I’ll conclude this epistle with a challenge to Autodesk’s Board of Directors and CEO Mr. Bass. Five years is long enough for your company, if it has nothing to hide, to have answered my reasonable questions and concerns. I challenge Autodesk to appoint a representative to meet with me and discuss what Autodesk has been avoiding for a very long time – what have you got to loose?

My quest for answers has always been about making our market place equitable, and you know that to be the truth; better for both software developers (Autodesk) and customers. Autodesk chose to believe it had a right to dominate and intrude on customers – and is perceived that way in the market place. Making it more difficult or destroying my business will achieve absolutely nothing for Autodesk and its dealers; the market has its opinion set and you cannot trade or profit from my loss, so why bother.

What stuff are you and your crew really made of Mr. Bass? I have said many times before; all the issues I have raised have very simple solutions. Are Autodesk individuals going to remain in the software industry as ‘childish bullies in short pants’ or are they going to grow up, face the reality customers are entitled to the same protections and rights as Autodesk and work towards that end or, is the value to be found in good customer relations a job too demeaning, too difficult or too complex for minds calibrated in sales.

What has Autodesk to gain by tackling my concerns? A considerable amount! Goodwill in business can, and is, measured and used in many ways. Address the situations I have raised, with your customers interests in mind, and the goodwill generated will be marketable and profitable!

Your call Mr. Bass, are YOU up to the challenge?

This latest action against me, by an agent of Autodesk, gives me considerable cause and good reason to continue my pursuit for the truth behind this latest action, those that have preceded it and the continued reticence of these companies, and individuals, to justify their unconscionable actions and their unending belief they have the right to abuse their customers trust and their privileged position.

“Like a dog with a bone”, I have absolutely no intention of letting go of my issues until they all are sensibly discussed and answered as I believe they should be.

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It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again…..who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of the high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…..”
President Roosevelt.
24th May 2007

Buyer Beware…’, was the title of a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 24th May 2005. It detailed a fundamental shift in the use of a particular EULA away from being a tool that defined the rules of use for software – reasonable - to a legally enforceable contract containing a number of questionable conditions including one granting the licensor, "the right to conduct an audit on your premises or by electronic means"; unreasonable!

The EULA moved from being a contract defining what you can and cannot do with software to a contract, if accepted unchallenged, that specifically gives the licensor access to your premises, business, design and computing systems!

Caveat emptor, the Blog, is an extension of that original letter and highlights my original, unanswered, requests relating to the addition of Audit clauses in my existing Subscription and Licence contracts. Requests for information and detail that I, as an established licence holder and customers, have every right to; and information the licensor should be compelled and obligated to provide!

If my goal is considered offensive, unjustified or unreasonable it will only be by those who believe protecting their IP is more important than that of others. To them I make no apology; if the issues raised previously had been broached correctly, and in the first instance, they would have long ago passed by.

Caveat venditor: ‘Like a dog with a bone’, I have absolutely no intention of letting go of these issues until they all are sensibly discussed and answered as I believe they should be!