General Software

CAD MANAGER: The Software Trap

1 Jul, 2004 By: Robert Green

Keep an eye on new technologies.


I remember when CAD was the only acronym I had to worry about as a CAD manager. I guess I'm showing my age! Now new technologies such as BIM (building information management), PLM (product lifecycle management), EDM (electronic data/document management), and an ever more complex array of CAD tools are conspiring to form a CAD management software trap.

I receive questions about these new technologies all the time. Given how quickly things change, the time is right to define these new software technologies from a CAD management perspective and discuss how they will change our careers. This month, I'll define some terms and set the scenario for how to stay out of the trap and gain management's respect as you do so.

More and More Software

Many CAD managers tell me their jobs are growing more complicated because they have to support more CAD programs. Be it a mechanical solids modeling system, parametric architectural software, or even integrating other types of design data such as spreadsheets, analysis results, and design graphics, the simple fact is that you can't do everything in CAD anymore. I call this multisystem environment a hybrid department because the work produced can't be characterized by a single format. The trend towards more complex hybrid departments is unstoppable. Even those companies that use a single CAD provider, such as Autodesk, are being forced into hybrid scenarios-think AutoCAD, Revit, and Inventor.

As your organization moves toward more complex software environments, including BIM and PLM solutions, upper management teams become aware of the change. It's becoming more common to see upper management pursuing new technology initiatives much like in the early days of CAD adoption. This increasing management involvement is the genesis of the software trap.

The Trap is Set

In general, management's expectations for design software continue to grow even as support, training, and CAD management budgets are cut. CAD software companies can convince management that collaborative design software packages such as BIM and PLM can be installed and implemented overnight.

After management becomes enamored with these wondrous new software tools, you'll hear the buzz. As CAD manager, you know how hard it is to implement new software because you've experienced it firsthand. You know that to implement new software you need to develop standards, train people, and somehow keep everything else running. As you try to state your concerns, management forms the perception that you're obstructing change. You now find yourself the only realist in a room full of irrationally optimistic technology proponents.

Avoid the Trap

Avoiding the software trap requires two main lines of action: First, you must understand your company's design needs better than anybody else. Second, you must constantly research new software technologies. I know you already have a full plate of tasks, but it's imperative to your career that you take the lead on new software initiatives. If you don't take the lead, somebody else will.

As you undertake your research, understand that new technology such as PLM, BIM, and advanced 3D modeling holds the promise of greater productivity and that your management will be keenly interested. Also remember that you must summarize all costs and liabilities associated with the new technologies to give your management an accurate description of how costly implementation will be. You probably already know what sorts of advanced software tools are appropriate for your company, and you can immediately start researching those products via the Internet. Make it your project to do this research now so you'll be ready to participate in discussing your company's options from a standpoint of superior knowledge.

EDM Is Crucial

"Why bring up EDM now," you may ask? Simple. Because new software begets more data to manage. While it may seem perfectly logical to you that complex new software requires new file management methods, this topic won't be on management's radar screen.

As you consider any new CAD software technology, make it a priority to address your file management concerns at the same time. As you research new software, ask the vendor how the product deals with file management issues. Some companies have their own solution for file management (Autodesk's Vault, for example). Others link to third-party applications from vendors such as Cyco, Synergis, and SmarTeam. Some have no solution. By asking the right questions about file management, you'll avoid getting caught in the software trap later.

Ride the Wave

By preparing yourself for the new wave of software, you can ride a controlled wave instead of surfing a tsunami. By demonstrating to management that you're proactive and prepared to deal with new technologies, you'll avoid the software trap while building credibility.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him atrgreen@greenconsulting.com.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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