CAD Management Forecast for 2014

11 Dec, 2013 By: Robert Green

The new year will bring new challenges; review these predictions and action items now so you can prepare before it arrives.

I've just returned from Autodesk University (AU), where I taught classes, spoke with industry leaders, and huddled with CAD managers from all over the world. Based on these conversations, as well as data I've been gathering during the latter half of the year, I can offer an informal forecast for how I think CAD managers will fare in the coming year.

I'll present my forecast one prediction at a time, in no particular order, and offer my advice in the form of action items for each. Here goes.

CAD Software Technology Makes Minimal Changes

Before I headed to AU, I had the opinion that CAD software had become relatively stagnant, with only modest improvements in core functionalities over the past year. I was hoping I'd simply missed some key information and that AU would show me what I'd been missing. However, I've returned from the annual user conference believing that CAD software is in a stable, mature state.

The changes I do see are mainly in online product offerings, reality capture, plugins, and visualization technologies. So, for those of us who spend our days using mechanical design software, architectural BIM, basic civil modeling, or 2D CAD tools, next year will look surprisingly similar to this one — the tools aren't changing much. This may mean that we won't have much user training to be concerned with in 2014; it could even be a year where we skip the upgrade unless a particular new feature justifies it.

Action item: Load the new software versions you receive, and go through the release notes to see if there are any new features that are relevant to you or your users, but be prepared to be underwhelmed. If there's nothing in the new software that speeds your work enough to justify the time you'll spend implementing it, then skip the update.

Economic Outlook Improves Slightly

For most companies and CAD managers I've talked with recently, the business environment is looking a little better. This is great news after years of flat economic performance. Of course, preparing for an upturn in business is a very different process than hunkering down for a recession, so our strategies will need to focus on getting more done as opposed to stripping our processes down to bare minimums, as we've done in recent years.

Action item: Adjust your budgets for hardware and training to account for more project activities.

More Startup Projects and Proposals

In many companies, a better business forecast often leads to more proposal activity and more project startups — both activities that put pressure on CAD managers to make sure projects are started properly.

The temptation for senior management will be to rejoice that new opportunities are forthcoming and take an attitude of "Just get the proposal done," without thinking through how to execute the project. However, CAD managers know that a project that starts out in disarray tends to continue that way.

Action items: By all means, rejoice in new opportunity, but be the voice of reason who says, “Let's make sure we do this right!” I recommend going directly to project management teams with a positive message about getting new projects up and running quickly, accurately, and on time from the get-go by stressing kickoff coordination, standards training, and best practices for project execution.

Head Counts Stay Low

Just because business gets better doesn't mean your company wants to hire new people. In fact, they want to tackle that increased project load with the same staff you have now! The fact of the matter is, hiring people is expensive, and becoming more so as taxes, benefits, health care, office leasing, and other expenses keep going up.

Many senior management staffs believe that new technologies give them the ability to pump out more work than in the past, and they are — at least in theory — correct in that perception. However, just because you have new technology doesn't mean you're using that technology to your maximum advantage.

Action items: First, be keenly aware that the drive to get more done with the same staff is coming your way. Second, go to your management and tell them that getting more done per person means everybody has to work more efficiently via more standards and leaner practices. Make sure your message specifies that "We can get more done with the same staff — as long as we work smarter.” Otherwise, you'll be working more hours with the same old methods.


BIM Reaches the Tipping Point

In recent years, building information modeling (BIM) has become more prevalent in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) arena, but the progress toward implementation has been slowed by real-world considerations such as sluggish economies, hardware and network infrastructure limitations, and intense user training requirements. These are problems that early technology adopters are familiar with, but the economic slowdown has made them tougher to overcome.

As the recession turns around, new AEC projects will be conducted in BIM more frequently, and companies winning proposals will be more likely to have some significant BIM experience. It appears the tipping point has been reached and BIM will now become a contractual requirement in many jobs, so more CAD managers will also have to become BIM managers.

Action item: If you're not BIM-aware yet, 2014 will be the year in which you'll need to learn. And even if you're not in an industry that uses BIM, you may need to exchange information with other project managers you interact with. So unless you work in small-parts manufacturing or a strictly 2D drafting environment, your BIM time has come.

Hardware Is Dirt Cheap

When challenged by increasing BIM work and the need to get more done with the same number of people, I immediately think of more powerful computers. Here, the news is even better than it has been in recent years.

We've now reached a point where a Xeon-based Intel architecture with 4 cores, 16 GB of RAM, solid-state caching disks, and powerful graphics can be had for less than $3,000. Moving up to the $5,000 level can garner multiple processors, 8 cores, 32 GB of RAM, solid-state disks, and high-performance graphics that make visualization and concurrent engineering analysis much faster than even two years ago. With costs this low and performance this high, there's no reason not to upgrade hardware for your CAD users.

With professional salaries at current levels, it just doesn't make sense to have an employee who earns $50,000, $60,000, or even $80,000 a year wasting time with an old clunker of a computer when more powerful machines that raise professional productivity are so relatively inexpensive. (Read more about this cost–benefit calculation in my recent column, "Don't Be Penny-Wise and Computer-Foolish.")

Action item: Push hard for high-end hardware this year, using exactly the same logic I used above. And if your company won't update hardware this year, at least make sure they buy high-end hardware when the time comes. Take a stand against low-end hardware!

CAD Management Is Project Management

With more BIM on the way, more new proposals and projects in the pipeline, and business volume increasing as staffing levels remain flat, there's going to be tremendous pressure for CAD managers to become project managers. After all, executing projects in a more modeling-focused environment makes the CAD software we manage integral to project execution, right?

To the extent that CAD/BIM managers need to implement standards, manage files, train users, change best practices, and manage submittals, they must be empowered to make decisions, just as a traditional project manager is.

Action items: Make your senior management teams aware of how integral you are to the project execution workflow, and tell them what authority you'll need to make it all happen. Stress that your interest is solely in getting projects done, not going on a power trip! Focus on quality, timeliness, and professionalism, then follow through on it and watch how it positively affects your career.

Summing Up

Please consider my predictions and action items as a starting point for your work planning for 2014; as you review them, consider which areas most affect you and which action items are most relevant for your company. My hope is that you will invest some time in thinking about what changing business and technology factors mean for your users.

Also, please e-mail me with your ideas, suggestions, comments and action items so I can make the CAD Manager's Newsletter a more valuable resource for you in 2014. Until next year!

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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