Management

Advocate for Internet Access for CAD Tools

26 Mar, 2014 By: Robert Green

Are you battling with your IT department over a necessary resource? As CAD software becomes increasingly Internet-enabled, these conflicts are intensifying — so it’s time to start talking.


I recently received a letter from a CAD/building information modeling (BIM) manager who is having serious problems performing his job because of the actions of his company's IT department. I know that IT issues are a day-to-day frustration for many CAD managers, but this particular letter made me realize that the growing impact of IT on CAD poses an imminent threat — one we all must address.

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll explore this issue and give you some talking points to start a conversation with your IT leadership so you can be ready for these problems, rather than be victimized by them. Here goes.

CAD Is No Longer an Island

Like it or not, our CAD users are becoming more and more dependent on tools that reside outside our company's internal network. The types of systems we use may vary, but they typically include the following:

  • FTP access sites for file uploading and downloading.
  • Remote access of workstations for technical support.
  • Remote log-on sessions to run compute-intensive tasks, such as rendering or analysis, on powerful remote workstations.
  • Enterprise data management (EDM) and product data management (PDM) systems for CAD/BIM models and files.
  • Cloud-based services on vendor-supplied servers.

Whether you use one, several, or all of these Internet-based resources in your day-to-day CAD system, the fact remains that using CAD is no longer something that you alone can control. And when you must reach out over the Internet to complete your CAD tasks, IT becomes a crucial part of your workflow.

IT's Challenges

What challenges have IT departments had to deal with in recent years as Internet resources have become more and more common? We can loosely categorize them:

  • Recreational use (games, Facebook, etc.).
  • High-bandwidth streaming media (Pandora, YouTube, Netflix, etc.).
  • Malware/virus threats embedded in ordinary web sites.

As users have become more involved with Internet tools, they've tried to bring them into the office. IT departments have had to respond to the above threats for the following reasons, respectively:

  • To stop non-business use of company resources.
  • To preserve network bandwidth for critical work processes.
  • To limit exposure to threats that could disrupt company systems.

From the IT department's point of view, the easiest way to mitigate these problems is to simply shut off access to most web sites, or even to ban Internet access altogether. I can understand this strategy, because IT's number-one job is to secure the network — and they feel they can never be too careful.

Another big problem IT faces is that security threats, which prompt most IT blocking of Internet resources, are constantly evolving. This means that IT departments change policies and procedures all the time, and may block resources without CAD managers even knowing it.

 

CAD Conundrum

But while IT is in a constant struggle to lock down and secure the Internet, the CAD software we use is only becoming more Internet-enabled. So a CAD Internet conundrum arises: As more of us must use Internet-based tools to do our CAD work, it becomes harder to do so, because our IT department further blocks our ability to use those very tools.

If you've already experienced this problem, you know exactly what I mean. If you've never experienced this, chances are you will soon. In the ongoing struggle to keep security threats out of your network, it may seem that IT is doing everything they can to hamstring CAD users.

Keep in mind, however, that IT's goal is to keep your company secure, not to hinder your productivity. Your IT professionals are most likely unaware that their Internet policies are negatively affecting CAD workflows.

Educate the Gatekeepers

Short of pulling up the Internet drawbridge and working only within our own company's network, what can we do? This is an extremely important question for the CAD/BIM manager who must use these types of Internet tools to facilitate project completion. I suggest starting a real conversation with your IT department, project managers, and senior managers alike.

The conversation must include, at minimum, the following key points:

  • We must accommodate client requirements. Our clients expect us to upload to and download from their project management sites, and they don't care about our internal IT policies.
  • CAD users need access. It isn't enough for just the CAD manager to be able to access required CAD sites — users need the capability as well.
  • CAD managers need administrative capabilities. CAD managers can't afford to wait days for IT departments to add users to Internet-based CAD tools. CAD managers must be deputized IT agents to keep things moving.
  • The software will change. Just because things work today doesn't mean they'll work next month; Internet tools change frequently.
  • These are mission-critical tools. If my users can't use the tools they need the result is that schedules slip, clients get mad, and business suffers.
  • CAD support deserves top-priority status. If IT policy is causing a critical CAD tool to stop working, there is an immediate need to get it working again. If the accounting system stopped working, nobody would consider that a "small bug." Why should CAD tools be any different?

Manage the Conversation

This may be the first time that your project managers, senior management, and IT teams have been made aware that IT's Internet policies can negatively affect CAD tools and productivity. Be prepared to answer questions and explain your department's needs. Do not allow this discussion to degrade into bits, bytes, IP addresses, and firewall configurations (or other IT jargon). If you do, your management teams will be lost and the conversation will get off-track. The conversation must remain firmly rooted in functionality and be governed by the tools you need to use and the client demands you must fulfill.

Summing Up

One thing to stress during these conversations is that the ever-changing landscape of Internet-based CAD and business tools requires long-range planning for IT support of those tools. It will no longer be enough to simply plan, say, for a SolidWorks upgrade or a new version of AutoCAD — you'll also have to think about how those applications integrate with Internet applications and how IT policy will have to change to support them. This all means that to be successful, CAD/BIM managers have to think a lot more like IT managers and force their way into the company's IT policies.

How will you get more involved with IT? What other problems are you experiencing with Internet-enabled CAD tools I haven't mentioned? I await your feedback. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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