2012 Predictions for CAD Managers

11 Jan, 2012 By: Robert Green

Identifying important technology trends now will help you prepare for the year ahead.

The New Year is upon us, and we're all back to work with renewed focus. I've always used this time to consider the demands of the coming year's workload, and make a plan to meet those demands.

As a CAD/technology manager, I've found that preparing for the work ahead requires me to make some predictions about what might happen in the computer industry. I'll share some of these predictions in this issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, in hopes that you can use them as a starting point for building your own 2012 plan. Here goes.

Trends to Watch For

Identifying technology trends requires predicting the future — an activity I'm admittedly not perfect at! Regardless, I've taken my best (educated) guess, and I believe the following trends will have a big impact on 2012:

  • BIM (building information modeling) demystification
  • The cult of cloud hype
  • Great hardware values
  • Increasing CAD software upgrade momentum
  • The fusion of IT and CAD departments.

So how did I arrive at this list, you might ask? I used the following sources:

  •  Interviews conducted with software industry personnel
  • Experience with my clients
  • Conversations with IT and CAD managers around the country
  • Conversations with hundreds of users at Autodesk University 2011
  • Good old gut feelings.

Next, let's dig into the predictions one by one.

BIM Comes Down to Earth

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've heard lots of hype about BIM over the last couple of years — even if you're not an architect. The hype has been so omnipresent that BIM is now a household word (well, in CAD households anyway), yet many senior management teams still have no clue about the real-world benefits of BIM.

This will be the year that companies start to demand that BIM tools perform in a manner that makes financial sense. Simply saying, "let's do this project on BIM" or "we really need to have a BIM strategy" isn't going to work anymore. BIM will now have to pay its own way or be subject to the same cost scrutiny that any other software tool would. This is great news for CAD managers, because when BIM becomes a tool rather than a magical future technology, we'll be free to manage it without the hype and artificially inflated expectations of the past few years.

So let the marketing speak and BIM hype cease, and let the actual implementation of cost-effective BIM begin — finally!

Cloud Mystification Ramps Up

CAD software company marketing departments always need something to trumpet as "the next big thing." Since BIM will no longer fill that role, the cloud will take BIM's place.

Expect to hear lots of senior management and user interest in "CAD on the cloud," even though nobody exactly knows what that means. (It's just like BIM was a few years ago!) As a CAD manager, you'll need to be out in front of these new cloud CAD tools and be able to explain them. And know that if you can't explain how the cloud might benefit your company, everyone will start to form their own ideas and go off on all sorts of tangents about what cloud CAD really means. (Again, this is just like recent BIM history.)

The good news is, cloud-based utilities and tools should reach the market at a faster pace and become more fully integrated into our CAD environments. I expect that many of these utilities will be offered as free add-ins, giving CAD managers a great way to investigate cloud technologies without spending a fortune to do so.

So get ready for the wave of cloud hype: learn all you can about it so you can surf the wave, rather than drown in it.

Cheap Hardware Kicks In

One way that companies have saved money in recent years is by putting off new hardware purchases. But the reality is that computers can only last so long before they have to be replaced, and many companies are arriving at the point where they can no longer put off hardware purchases.

A happy coincidence is that good workstations are now available for less than $1,000 per seat (minus the monitor), making it a great time to buy. By "good workstations" I mean models equipped with i7 QuadCore processors, 8GB of RAM, integrated graphics, and fast hard drives. If you're willing to spend more you can boost the number of cores and RAM to build a great machine for not much more.

Many IT departments I've seen that are struggling to keep old XP machines on life support are now spending more money propping up old machines and slowing down their CAD users than they would if they just bought new machines! So go shopping, find the great values on new hardware, and make the case for updating your hardware and speeding up your users! There's no reason to put it off any longer.

Time for CAD Software Upgrades

Much like postponing hardware purchases, many companies have put off implementing CAD software upgrades over the past few years. In fact, sometimes keeping old machines around too long makes it difficult to run the latest software upgrades anyway.

With BIM becoming more commonplace, hardware growing ever cheaper, and more companies getting new projects, I believe 2012 will be a good year to implement new software. After all, many companies get their software upgrades via subscription, and they'll already have the software available — so there's no real cost barrier to upgrading.

At a minimum, CAD managers should investigate new software releases as they become available and determine whether the new features are worth implementing. If you decide that they are, then make 2012 the year of the upgrade for your company.

IT and CAD Intertwine

Because CAD has become more and more synonymous with big 3D applications (including BIM, mechanical modeling, simulation, and rendering) and technology infrastructure components (such as clouds), CAD can no longer be managed separately from IT. The days when companies had "an IT guy" and "a CAD guy" are going to have to give way to an integrated CAD/IT approach.

This trend means CAD managers should learn everything they can about IT in order to position themselves to lead the combined CAD/IT department of the future. So make 2012 the year you dive into some intense reading on information technologies, or take a course or two. After all, there's no downside to knowing more about IT. It will certainly be to your benefit to help specify the hardware, networks, and cloud infrastructures you'll need to run CAD properly.

Summing Up

I hope I've given you a few things to think about for the coming year, and that you'll start thinking about how you would deal with these trends should you start to see them at your company.

As the New Year unfurls, I plan to cover some of these trends in more detail, so I'd love to hear your perspectives. Please e-mail me your thoughts at if you'd like to share.

As always, I thank you for reading the CAD Manager's Newsletter and for all the great feedback you've given me in 2011. I wish you a happy and prosperous 2012. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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