Should You Move to the IT Department?

27 Aug, 2014 By: Robert Green

The requirements of modern software tools mean that CAD managers must work closely with IT — but just how closely?

In recent years, CAD programs have become increasingly dependent on networks, remote servers, and cloud infrastructure — in other words, CAD is a more IT-driven application than it used to be. And as a result, CAD managers must work more closely with IT departments to make CAD software run well.

As these trends accelerate, I've started to ask, "Should CAD managers be treated as part of the IT department?" In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll start a discussion on the topic and help you determine whether you should make the move to IT. Here goes.

Historically Speaking

One thing that has not changed over time is that most CAD managers are designers, engineers, architects, or other technical discipline workers who have evolved into CAD managers. The typical CAD manager didn't start out as a computer guru, but rather grew into the position as his or her CAD expertise matured and the situation demanded it. Therefore, most CAD managers I talk to still report through an engineering manager, production manager, architectural director, or other technical management branch of the company — it is rare that they report through the IT department. As a result, many CAD managers have zero IT capability or permissions.

One thing that is different nowadays is that a CAD manager must be more IT savvy, or must more heavily on the IT department than before. Could it be that CAD managers should now be part of the IT department, or at least have all the power and permissions of an IT staff member? Could being a member of the IT staff better help us make IT-reliant CAD tools run better? How can the CAD manager determine the answer to these questions?

Which IT Tools Do You Need?

Whether you're working under the IT department or not, it pays to beef up your IT skills. After all, the more you know, the better you can converse with your IT counterparts, and the more quickly you'll be able to solve complex CAD/IT-related issues. But which IT skills do CAD managers really need? To answer that question, read through the following list and answer each question with a Yes, No, or Sometimes response:

1. Network admin tasks: Create user accounts and user groups, assign network permissions to users and groups, share and configure network peripherals, etc. While your IT department may perform these tasks, you need to understand how they work so you can either tell IT what you need or do it yourself.

Diagnostic question no. 1: Do you often experience problems with your CAD tools because of incorrect network permissions or network peripheral issues?

2. Peripheral management: The ability to reset printers/plotters, clear out document queues, configure device defaults, etc., is something every CAD manager should have.

Diagnostic question no. 2: Do you often find yourself waiting for IT intervention to get a printer or plotter back up and running?

3. Data archiving and backup: The ability to store, find, and recover data is key for disaster avoidance and recovery. The ability to comb through old projects to find hidden nuggets of information from similar projects executed years ago can also save tons of time. Learning to use your company's backup and restoration IT procedures could prove to be a lifesaver.

Diagnostic question no. 3: Do you ever find yourself waiting long periods of time to recover or find archived information due to IT delays?

4. Software updates: To the extent that CAD software requires administrative permission for updates, the CAD manager should have the authority and knowledge to manage the process. This includes the ability to create software deployments and deliver automatic updates via user login and group membership. CAD managers who don't have IT authority to do this are at a disadvantage during upgrade and service pack installations.

Diagnostic question no. 4: Do you experience major problems getting upgrades and service packs deployed due to your lack of IT authority?

5. Wide-area network (WAN) management: When companies use CAD tools across WAN connections to branch offices, the CAD manager is called upon to resolve problems at these remote locations. CAD managers need access to remote network servers, and permissions to perform all manner of functions on any servers where CAD work is performed.

Diagnostic question no. 5: Do you experience major problems getting upgrades and service packs deployed due to lack of IT authority?


Scoring Your Responses

For every time you answered Yes to a diagnostic question above, score 2 points. For every Sometimes answer, score 1 point. For every No answer, score 0 points. Total your score to determine which of the following environments best describes your situation.

0–2 points: You're lucky enough to work in a company that has a well-managed IT department that gives you the authority to do what you need to do. You rarely have to wait on IT to assist with CAD issues and when you do, they are typically handled promptly and correctly. It is safe to assume that IT issues are not hampering your CAD tools at this company.

3–6 points: Your IT department probably doesn't understand the CAD tools you manage, and therefore doesn't understand the permissions you need to make them work right. You spend varying amounts of time wrestling with IT issues, which causes user frustration and project delays.

7–10 points: This is the worst-case scenario: an IT department that is causing a CAD management train wreck on an almost daily basis. Projects are often delayed and users resort to "working around the system" to avoid IT-related issues. In this environment standards are ignored, anarchy rules, and the CAD manager is helpless.


I'll now make some recommendations for how CAD managers can get more involved with — or be employed by — the IT department to make things work better.

0–2 points: In this case, the current situation works well, so there is no reason to make major changes. The action items for most CAD managers in these types of companies are to professionally communicate all needs with IT, learn as much about IT as you can to further bolster your skills, and to build an even better relationship with the IT staff as you do so.

Note: If you work in one of these companies, rejoice! Many CAD managers have it much worse.

3–6 points: At this company, the CAD manager needs to instruct the IT department on exactly what the problems are, and the IT department needs to enable them with the permissions and tools required to get things running right. While it's not a train wreck, the problems here are real — and ignoring them won't improve things.

Conclusion: Strive to be added to the IT group as a partial administrator, then start to clean up the CAD environment so things run correctly.

7–10 points: In this case, the CAD manager needs to be added to the IT staff as an administrator, and a full-scale review of IT policy regarding CAD must be convened. Help senior management realize that users are circumventing the system because the system doesn't work for them, and that project work is suffering as a result.

Conclusion: Blowing the whistle on failed IT policy takes patience and professionalism to accomplish. Chances are you will ruffle feathers as you make your case, so always remember to focus on the business needs of the company and the efficiency of your users.

Who Reports to Whom?

As a CAD manager, the only thing I really care about is making my CAD tools run correctly. That is to say, I don't care who my boss is — but if my boss can help me make things work, then that's great!

Therefore, I've adopted the following recommendations:

  • If being in the IT department is the only way to make the CAD tools work, then IT is where I should be.
  • If being a "deputy IT administrator" allows me to get CAD tools working, then I'll undertake the training required to make that happen, realizing that it only makes me a more effective and marketable CAD manager. This approach may make me a part-time IT employee!
  • If everything works great already, I'll still go out of my way to learn from and help my IT department so things can get even better.

The funny thing is that even though CAD tools are much more IT-dependent today than they were even five years ago, the above guidelines have worked well ever since the wide adoption of office networks in the late 1980s.

Summing Up

I know that CAD management is a demanding job, and it may seem like adding IT issues onto your task list would make the job even harder. But, to the contrary, I've found that having the IT authority to make my CAD tools run well makes the job is less stressful and more efficient.

I highly encourage you to think about your level of IT authority and how IT issues impact your CAD environment. You may find — as I have — that being a member of the IT administrator staff is the best thing you can do to help yourself. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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