A CAD Manager's Letter to IT

27 Jul, 2011 By: Robert Green

Educate your IT department about what you really need to do your job right.

The following is an open letter from a frustrated CAD manager who is experiencing some common IT headaches. Although the CAD manager is imaginary in this case, these problems are all too real; I get letters from readers about them quite often.

I tried to have a little fun with this, while giving you some talking points with which to approach your IT department if these problems are plaguing you. I realize that many of you also serve as IT managers, so you might not face these issues — but you may enjoy reading through this anyway. I also realize that most folks working in IT departments want to do a good job, but simply don't understand CAD — thus the letter.

Here goes.

Dear IT Department:

It's me, the CAD manager. You know, the guy — or gal — who's always dealing with plotters and printers and screaming users. The one who slows our wide-area network (WAN) to a crawl by sharing all those 40-MB scanned aerial images with our branch offices. The one who has to juggle 2D, 3D, BIM (building information modeling), schedules, budgets, senior management demands, and software licensing. Yeah, that's me.

I've got a few things I'd like to explain about my job and how you could help me to help you (with apologies to Jerry Maguire), if you'll just hear me out and try to feel my pain.

Grant Me Access

I'm not like every other computer user in the company, so shouldn't my login privileges reflect that reality? Why restrict me with insufficient privileges so that I have to come crawling to you every time I need to fix something? I don't want to bother you, but you leave me no choice.

I'm expected to provide user support and problem fixes right away. Project schedules and deliverables depend on my ability to make things happen promptly. Project managers yell at me when things go wrong, and they don't like hearing that I can't resolve issues because my security status doesn't allow me to. Therefore, I need to be able to do the following, without contacting IT for approval each time: 

  • Overwrite/delete files, install drivers, uninstall/reinstall software, apply software service packs, update Java consoles, etc. (which means that I require administrative-level permissions).
  • Access all network drives at all our offices.
  • Manage printer/plotter file queues.
  • Add peripherals (portable drives, scanners, etc.) to user computers.

The long and short of it is that any problem I can fix without contacting you means one less problem for IT and one more happy CAD user. Every problem you don't allow me to fix will result in an angry phone call and an unhappy user. I promise I won't abuse the privilege — I just want to get things done.

Trust Me

Trust goes hand in hand with security. If you won't provide me with the privileges mentioned above, I must assume that you don't trust me to perform these tasks. I ask you to consider the following:

  • Management trusts me to see all our CAD work through to completion.
  • Management trusts me to interact with clients and vendors to finish projects on time.
  • Management trusts me to set budgets, purchase software, and perform training.
  • Users trust me to help them complete their CAD projects.

If management and users alike trust me to manage huge projects with all sorts of client and financial liability, why can't you trust me to manage some file directories and install printer drivers?

Communicate with Me

When it comes to my job, I don't like surprises. Remember how that "simple printer switch to a new system driver" you performed last week was supposed to be transparent to the users? It wasn't! All my CAD plotting scripts and configurations assumed the old server driver parameters, so nothing worked right after the switch! Getting 15 phone calls complaining that "the plotter doesn't work" was not a fun way to start my morning.

And how about when you moved all the CAD files to a new server box, keeping the same X: drive letter mapping and thinking nobody would ever notice? We noticed! Because our CAD tools use UNC pathing (not drive letters) to communicate with our branch offices (which don't have consistent drive letter mappings), all our file relationships stopped working. Going through a directory of 300 project files to re-path reference files was even less fun than the plotter debacle.

Please consider the following:

  • CAD printers and plotters are often customized, and often do not use system devices like Microsoft Office users.
  • CAD files often reference other files, so pathing changes can cause major problems.
  • CAD is highly customized, so any changes to the above items may cause automated functions to stop working and create serious workflow problems.

So before you move printers, reallocate server storage, or update drivers for network devices, could you please give me a warning?

Involve Me

Want to know how to size your servers and plotters, anticipate file storage requirements, measure the bandwidth required to support remote offices, or understand how cloud computing might affect our network? Ask me!

I support CAD users all the time, and I can assure you that they do certain things better than anyone else:

  • Tax servers and print devices.
  • Create big files.
  • Eat up WAN bandwidth (due to those large files).
  • Push the envelope of cloud technology.

In short, why wonder how things might work when you have a CAD department right here that can help you benchmark and understand how things do work right now and could work in the future? I'm ready to help you figure out these issues, because these factors slow my CAD users down. In fact, I want our systems and networks to better serve our users, so I'm motivated to do anything I can to make that happen.

If we work together to build a better user environment, everyone — CAD users and general office users alike — will benefit.

I Can Help You Too

I'm often at users' machines, so I can keep an eye out for problems or help you update configurations as needed. Why not use me as an adjunct IT staffer if I'm already at the user's machine anyway? And while you're getting me up to speed on IT issues, you might learn more about CAD in the process.

Wouldn't it be great if we could cross-train? We'd get a more IT-aware CAD manager and a more CAD-aware IT department at the same time!

Thanks for Hearing Me Out

I didn't mean to go on a rant, but these issues really have been a barrier to me becoming a more effective CAD manager. I hope you'll take my letter in the spirit it was intended, which is simply to raise the issues, state my case, and respectfully request your help in giving me the IT resources I need to do my job better.

Let's open a dialog and see how we can help each other. What could it hurt?

The CAD Manager

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: CobraCommander
July 27, 2011 - 1:28pm
You must deal exclusively with the enterprise elite in the AEC world: the "CAD Guys" I've ever met are barely capable of getting their home PCs networked together. IOW, your bullet list of Permissions Requests are essentially IT matters, NOT a CAD Manager's responsibility. If that is what you are doing as a CAD Manager then your company has very poor delineation of responsibility and THAT is the first problem to address. If that is what you are doing as a CAD Manager AND you and IT are fine with that, THEN you have legs to stand on. Otherwise this comes across to IT as being out of your element.
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: MBA
July 27, 2011 - 3:41pm
How apropos!
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:53pm
Grant Me Access We understand that you want it now, but just as you have permits, applications, regulations and other items you must follow to satisfy your projects we too have certain guidelines that we need to meet. Ideally all of the software you would like to install we be absolutely perfect and would never cause a problem. However out of the hundreds of software titles on the workstation this is not the case. Often when you demand an immediate response from the IT Department to meet your production schedule you must believe that we are all idle and that we too to do have a process to follow or schedules to meet.
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:54pm
It is not uncommon for today's workstations to have several dozen if not a hundred software titles installed, not including all of the updates and fixes that are also applied. Ideally all of this software would be perfect and work in perfect harmony. Unfortunately this is not the case. Before we apply an update the software is obtained and tested. You may be surprised to learn that many of the software titles or updates may not install or work properly. For these applications we are typically on hold for hours, and waiting weeks to get a fix to the problem. It is not uncommon for the information from the vendor to be wrong or inaccurate. You may remember for the past decade AutoCAD users have been to install all of the memory possible into their computers, meanwhile for the past decade IT has been telling you that the system is NOT CAPABLE of using the memory. Recently you have learned from Autodesk that this is true and now you have to have a 64 bit workstation. Will you believe us now when we tell you many titles will not work properly on a 64 bit machine. We know and have been testing them for the past year or two. (This is one of those projects we have been working on while we are idly waiting on your call).
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:54pm
In addition to these challenges we are working to support several hundred/thousands of workstations throughout the company. While it may appear to be faster to have everyone fix their own computer and call us when they can't, we have found it faster to have all the computers be the same and to fix the problem one time and to deploy it to everyone. This same benefit also means that the virus, spyware, and other malware that you did not also stands a better chance of not being installed, along with the games, ESPN, news feeds, and other widgets.
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:54pm
I don't think Human Resources, Payroll, Sales, and the other departments would agree that you need access to all network drives at all of your offices. Even if this request is limited to just CAD across the offices you will find that many CAD Managers do not want the other CAD Managers in their content. Worse simply having access to this content will bring about several problems; first opening this content over a WAN link is about the worst thing you can do. It is far slower than coping the content locally, and you stand a good chance of corrupting the content when you try to abruptly close the content when it takes forever or if there is a problem with the link. Secondly as you mention later in this same article we do know about UNC paths and drive letters and we also know about fonts, plotters and other items that may be stored in the file you are trying to open that may also cause problems. For all of these reasons it is best to communicate with the people at the other site and to obtain a copy. When you talk with them they can also let you know that an update will be forthcoming or that they just received a change order and everything in building X is obsolete.
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:55pm
It is not uncommon for people to have the permission to manager their documents in the printer/plotter queues. However this feature is under document management in the queue, and not in printer management. Printer management would give one the authority to manager other people's documents in the print queue. Removable drives are highly problematic for companies. Just as you have processes you must follow, IT needs to insure the integrity of the companies intellectual property. This includes securing, backup/restore, virus scanning, archiving etc.. One common misconception is that drive space is cheap. While disk space is cheap, "managed disks" are not. Content that is maintained under the policies defined FOR IT, not by IT fall under "managed disks".
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:55pm
The long and short of it when we don't have to explain this to you each and every time and if you would contact us when you receive the request and not two months later when you need the tool, (yes we see the date on the message they send you) it can make the process smoother. Trust Me IT Trusts no one by definition. It is the nature of the times. Building a computer system, network today includes security. These protections are vast and diverse and come encompass those you know such as virus and spyware, but it also includes several you may not think of to include integrity, legal, financial and regulation/compliancy.
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:56pm
For the sake of this, if you want to limit the scope to the CAD area, will still have guidelines we need to meet. Some of these include indexing the content, similar to the flat files days. The flat files typically have a single index structure, and only the required content was stored. Content was not filed by name by one engineer, and by number by another. The files also did not contain my files, my backup files, old files, bad files, good files, other files, and who knows files. Just as the CAD Manager had rules as to what was stored in the "flat files" these same rules need to apply to the "server files.".
Re: A CAD Manager's Letter to IT
by: ITManager
September 26, 2011 - 12:56pm
Communicate with Me Communication is a two way street. IT works hard to notify users of the changes. In fact you indicated in your message that you know of the changes in advance. However, IT apparently did not know about the scripts and configurations you made that were hard coded.
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