How CAD Managers Can Work Effectively with the IT Department24 Feb, 2016 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: If you strive to understand and educate your company’s IT personnel instead of butting heads, everyone will benefit.
Over the course of the past 15 years, I’ve repeatedly surveyed CAD managers about industry trends, and one of the most striking changes I’ve seen in that time is the convergence of CAD management and IT. About one-third of CAD managers now report through the company IT infrastructure, but almost all CAD managers must work with an IT department to resolve workstation and network issues. Long story short, CAD managers increasingly need to work closely with IT personnel, so we should all have a game plan for doing so. Here goes.
For two parties to work well together, they must first understand and respect each other. For the IT department and CAD manager to reach an accord, the different emphases of each party need to be acknowledged and accepted. In my experience, the IT department’s emphasis has always been to deliver computers and networks that work and to secure the company’s data from loss, while the CAD manager tends to focus on speed and ease of use for the CAD users instead. These different emphases can lead to frustrations if the parties don’t explain themselves to each other. Here are the two methods I’ve found that have worked for me:
Explain file sizes/permissions to IT: If the IT staff doesn’t understand your fixation on speed and ease of file access, it’s probably because they’ve never suffered through trying to resolve a 15-MB externally referenced base plan over a painfully slow network connection to a branch office. Showing the problem to the appropriate IT personnel should demonstrate your concerns clearly. Always remember that a lot of people in IT don’t know much — if anything — about CAD, so you’ll just have to teach them.
Accept IT limitations: If, after you’ve shown your speed concerns to IT, it becomes apparent that things are slow simply because the network connection is overtaxed and can’t be upgraded, you need to accept the technical limitations IT is working with and look for other answers. After all, the IT department has budget and technical limitations just like you do, and they can’t always do everything you’d like them to.
Now simply repeat the process of teaching and listening, and you’ll notice that both you and the IT department are learning about each other as you work together more naturally. Keep at it, stay positive, and you will see results!
Build Your Skills
Once you start working more collaboratively with IT, you’ll be well served to inventory your knowledge of the IT-centric skills that are most important to CAD managers. By assessing your own skills against this master list, you’ll know more about your weaknesses and therefore, which areas of collaboration with IT will be most beneficial for you. I’ll present these IT-based skills in no particular order, with a brief explanation of each.
Basic network administration: This encompasses creating user accounts, manipulating passwords, creating network shared directories, and manipulating user groups/permissions to keep data files secured. It’s nothing glamorous, but for CAD managers the payoff is independence since you no longer have to ask your IT staff to perform these tasks. And even if you do work through your IT staff for these basic network items, they’ll appreciate the fact that you know what you’re talking about.
Data backup and restore operations: The essentials required to protect data from accidental user deletion or overwriting of data. In most company environments, this includes some sort of semi-proprietary backup software using a timed mode of execution. While it’s unlikely that a CAD manager would take over backup/restore operations for the entire IT department, you may wind up running your own backups for your convenience.
Hardware budgeting/planning: Probably the thing that determines your future success more than anything else, because the computers and networks your IT department plans for today will be what you’ll have to live with tomorrow. CAD managers can (and should) provide vital support in this phase of IT planning because they’re the only ones who fully understand the hardware demands that CAD applications impose on the user’s desktop and the overall network infrastructure.
Software integration (programming) with other applications: Most CAD managers know that it’s possible to link their CAD applications to databases (locally deployed or via the Internet), spreadsheets, or purchasing systems, but don’t have the programming experience to make it happen. This type of expertise is typically more abundant in IT environments, where web servers and wide-area databases are relatively common. Looking for a great place to learn some programming skills? Some — or possibly all — of the knowledge you’re looking for is probably already available among your IT staff.
Wide-area network (WAN) file/user management: As company sites are linked together with data lines, routers, and switches, a WAN is built and CAD management becomes much more complex as a result. Since office-to-office file transfers will always be much slower over WANs than working on your own server is, users will be tempted to copy files to their own machines, causing a data synchronization nightmare. Technical issues such as replicating files to remote offices via hardware, software, or cloud-based solutions and maintaining user network permissions over multiple servers become a very important CAD management concern in large company environments.
Be Helpful and Learn
Of course, the IT department will always prefer working with a CAD manager who provides them with assistance over one who only places demands on them. So what action steps can you take to be seen as the sort of CAD manager IT likes to deal with? Here are a few hints I’ve found useful over the years:
Be proactive about planning: If you know that new software versions will require new operating systems, graphics cards, or substantial hardware upgrades, tell the IT group immediately. And while you’re at it, gather up data from software manufacturer web sites to show your IT leadership that you know what you’re talking about. Being proactive helps you get the hardware you need, and it also helps IT gain budgeting support from senior management who’ll want to know why. After all, the IT folks don’t like getting yelled at about hardware budgets any more than CAD managers do!
Offer to take over a task: Let’s say you want to understand more about your company’s backup processes, but you know that your IT staff can’t take hours to answer all your questions. Why not offer to run the backups for a couple of weeks in exchange for being able to learn about the process? That way you’ll learn what you need to know in a real-world context, while providing incentive for the IT staff to let you do so.
Be a CAD translator: Many times IT departments don’t understand CAD users as well as general office users, and this can lead to misunderstandings about everything from hardware to peripheral devices. So why not offer to educate your IT staff on the peculiarities of CAD software, input devices, plotting, large-bandwidth file relationships, and data management? The IT team, in my experience, wants to understand the CAD environment, but just doesn’t have the background to do so. If you step in you’ll be rewarded with an IT department that is more CAD savvy and, therefore, more likely to assist with all things CAD.
I realize that many of you may feel the day-to-day demands of CAD management are enough of a hassle without worrying about IT issues. However, I hope I’ve made the case that working more with your IT department can make your CAD management life easier. I’d recommend running back through the major points of this article to assess where your IT skills and weaknesses are, then forming a game plan for what you can do to work more closely with your IT department.
At worst, you’ll learn something about IT. I expect you’ll find, however, that the more you know about IT the more in control of your CAD department you really are. Until next time.
In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor and Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD video tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!