Autodesk (NASDAQ:ADSK) is scheduled to release its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings report on Thursday after the markets close. Investors in this architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) software giant's stock are eager to see how the company performed in this latest quarter. They are also hoping to get some strong guidance on what the company has planned for 2021.

Here's what you should look for and expect when reading the report.

Will Autodesk maintain its sales growth rate?

Since Autodesk transitioned its business model to subscriptions many years ago, the company and investors have focused on the total amount of recurring revenue generated by the business. For the full year, Autodesk is expecting sales of $3.75 billion, which would represent 15% growth from the prior year. Not bad for a company of its size.

A house frame with a worker nailing in a piece of wood.

Image source: Getty Images.

On the other hand, Autodesk is expecting billings to decline 3% to $4.07 billion this year. Why such a laggard compared to revenue? Billings are the amount of money actually collected from customers in a certain time period (this is different than revenue, which is recognized over the life of contracts). In 2020, with many customers struggling to make ends meet, Autodesk likely deferred, reduced, or canceled more expected payments than it does in a typical year, leading to the slowdown in billings.

Don't freak out if Autodesk barely misses its revenue target or gives out what Wall Street analysts might call "weak guidance" for next year's sales and billings. The year 2020 was rough, and the delayed revenue recognition it has to go through with its subscription services may make growth look temporarily weak in 2021. However, management has guided for long-term sales growth to hit double-digit percentages, with 40% operating margins. As a long-term investor, those are the numbers you should care about, and what you should evaluate the business on.

Look for an update on Fusion 360

On the product side, Autodesk will likely update investors with a customer count for Fusion 360. The software is a cloud-based service and is vital for Autodesk's growth in manufacturing, electrical, and mechanical design. Last quarter, Fusion 360 added 25,000 customers and now has 120,000 paying users with the service. If Autodesk is to win the mechanical/manufacturing market versus Dassault Systemes (OTC:DASTY) and its leading Solidworks software, growing Fusion 360 customers is vital. 

Will there be an update on Construction Cloud?

Autodesk's other big product category is construction/architecture. With mainstay products like Revit and AutoCAD, the company has been the market leader in construction and architectural design software for decades. In order to unify these systems, Autodesk has a new initiative called the Autodesk Construction Cloud, which helps all the different types of workers at a construction site communicate and share information on a single platform. These software tools are likely a response to Procore, a construction management software competitor that has grown tremendously over the past few years and is reportedly worth $5 billion in the private markets.

Within the construction cloud, Autodesk's newest service is called Autodesk Build (I know, the product names are confusing). Autodesk Build essentially combines two other Autodesk products (BIM 360 and PlanGrid) to offer customers a central hub for documents, communication, and project cost analysis. It is similar to Dropbox (NASDAQ:DBX) but for large-scale construction clients. It is still early days, but any update on this product launch could give investors insight into Autodesk's competition with Procore to win the construction management market. 

A complicated business

Autodesk is a complicated business, with dozens of products in highly technical industries. This can be daunting when trying to decide whether to invest in the business. But if you focus on the three main things that will matter over the long term (financial growth, Fusion 360, and the Autodesk Construction Cloud), analyzing Thursday's earnings report will be a lot simpler. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.