Management

Why Data Management Still Matters

14 Nov, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: In a modern CAD environment, procedures for organizing and preserving your company’s data sets are more important than ever.


Back in the early days of personal computers and networks, it became obvious that letting users store CAD files wherever they wanted to — with no rules or procedures — resulted in chaos. Users saved over others’ work, revisions were lost, files were inadvertently deleted — you name it and it happened. As a result, it became clear that a data management strategy would be required, and very soon a plethora of computer tools became available to manage CAD files.


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Fast-forward to today, and we find ourselves in an environment where CAD files can be on computers, phones, cloud servers, tablets, etc., yet data management is left largely to chance.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll explore some strategies that will allow you to better secure your data based on the new infrastructures we all have to support in our CAD environments. Along the way, I’ll also make some recommendations for action items you can use with your IT and senior management to help them understand why data management for CAD is something the CAD manager should be involved in. Here goes.

Starting at the Beginning

No matter what type of company you work in, all CAD managers must deal with these basic truths:

  • A great deal of new and revised CAD and building information modeling (BIM) data is produced each year.
     
  • Data sets are more complex than just CAD files, which means you’ll manage more editing and viewing tools than ever.
     
  • All that data won’t manage itself.
     
  • The longer you put off good data management practices, the worse the mess becomes.

Of course, the data you manage is mission-critical, and losing all that data would mean massive amounts of rework and financial loss, right? Simply put, if you don’t have a data management strategy in today’s digital CAD environment, your company has a serious data loss liability. As a CAD manager, it may not be in your job description to create a data management strategy, but doesn’t it seem reasonable to spend some time thinking about it?

Recommendation No. 1: Make sure your company understands the risks of not having a solid data management plan for your CAD and other design files. Communicate that danger to users and management alike, so everyone is on alert. Should the worst ever happen, at least you’ll be on record as having sounded the alarm.

What IT May Not Know

Most users (and many IT departments) perceive data management as simply running backups to prepare for disaster recovery. However, managing CAD data is a much more complex process that involves archiving of projects at varying stages of completion. Don’t believe it? Consider the following:

  • Relationships of files to folders to drives must be maintained during backup, and restore operations, in order for collaborative data sets to function.
     
  • The need to keep track of revisions to not just drawings, but parts, assemblies, families, xrefs, spreadsheets, and all manner of supporting documents that relate to CAD project work means multiple copies of each file — not just the most recent — must be maintained.
     
  • If disaster should strike, extremely large CAD file sizes make retrieval from offline backup devices very time consuming.
     
  • The need to recall projects at various stages of completion, rather than simply restoring directories with the latest saved files, means projects must be archived — not just backed up.

Taken together, it becomes obvious that CAD data management isn’t just about backup and restore operations, but about keeping project archives that can be accessed quickly. The ability to manage, archive, and recall projects in their entirety at a moment’s notice is a common requirement.

Recommendation No. 2: Be certain that your IT department understands the unique issues (as outlined above) that make CAD data management more complex than other types of files. Strive to create a data management solution that can archive CAD projects in their entirety, so they can be quickly restored if need be.

Recommendation No. 3: Be sure that project managers and senior managers in your company understand how many employee hours it will require if you have to recreate a project without proper data management procedures.


Enter the Cloud?

Another real concern to consider is the increasing likelihood that we will be pressed into managing our CAD data in a cloud architecture. More companies are pushing to get rid of local servers and backup resources to control IT costs, and are thus more likely to utilize an offsite cloud provider such as Box or Dropbox Business for data storage.

While the concept of storing and managing data on cloud servers isn’t a bad idea in itself, it does raise issues that must be addressed, such as:

  • How will slower speeds between the user and the cloud (as compared with the fast speed of a local server) impede CAD users?
     
  • Will managing file revisions and overwrites to the cloud server require new workflow procedures?
     
  • How will slower speeds affect the ability to recover any required files, and will the time lag be acceptable? (Recovering several GBs of project data can take many hours with a fast connection, or far longer with a low-bandwidth connection.)
     
  • If CAD data resides on a cloud-based server, how will branch offices interact with that data?

These types of issues can lead to severe workflow issues that typically revolve around the speed at which CAD data can move. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that CAD users hate anything that slows them down — and they will work around it!

Recommendation No. 4: If you hear anything that suggests a move to cloud-based data servers is in your future, make sure to raise the above issues with your project management and IT staffs.

Recommendation No. 5: If you perform any testing on cloud data server topologies, be sure to test with the largest possible data sets you expect to work with. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by testing with small files.


Standard, Secure, and Synced

Finally, remember that any data management changes must be implemented as standards, or you’ll have anarchy. Some of the mistakes I’ve seen companies make by not standardizing include the following:

  • Allowing users to have their own personal Dropbox accounts that aren’t under the company’s control.
     
  • Allowing users to store company drawings on personal appliances such as tablets, phones, and portable hard drives to circumvent cloud storage.
     
  • Allowing users to copy files from cloud servers to local drives to achieve faster CAD application performance, while leaving the cloud files available for others to use. (This can lead to parallel revisioning and a total loss of file control!)

The risk to your company if any of the above scenarios are permitted is extremely high. Not only can file control be lost, but security can be easily compromised if your CAD files are copied to devices that aren’t backed up and protected.

Recommendation No. 6: If you see any hint of the above scenarios in your workplace, put your project management and IT staffs on immediate notice. Do not wait until your CAD data is corrupted, mismanaged, or lost to complain!

Recommendation No. 7: Have a serious discussion with your IT department about policies regarding personal devices. Focus on the risk of data on personal phones, tablets, laptops, etc. being lost if the device isn’t properly synced or backed up. While these devices may belong to the users, the data belongs to the company, and should therefore be subject to company data management policies.


Summing Up

The reality of data management always seems to be that things change, and so must your data management plan. Change can come from new software tools, new storage platforms, or simple changes in procedures, but no matter where the change originates, you’ll have to manage the data. The good news is that by getting the CAD manager involved with IT and users, strong data management procedures can be put in place to protect the company.

I hope this refresher on why data management still matters has given you insights into how to proceed in your unique environment. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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