AEC Tech News #138

16 Feb, 2005 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst AEC Tech News

NCS v3.1: No, Not Many Care

A preliminary look at the flurry of feedback
about the National CAD Standard

In the last issue of AEC Tech News, I wrote about the National CAD Standard and its recently released v3.1. At the end of the article, I asked, "Does anybody care?" and requested feedback from readers about whether they are using NCS and how much.

I want to thank those who took the time to respond — many with lengthy, thoughtful insights about their use, or nonuse, of the standard. I don't intend to provide mathematical analysis of the feedback I received; although it was more input than I expected, the 60 replies constitute a very small statistical sample, from which I cannot really draw any meaningful conclusions. Rather than numbers and percentages, this analysis will be more of a raw impression of what I read.

Reasons Against Adopting NCS
One percentage, however, did stand out glaringly: More than 70% of the respondents said they don't use the NCS in their offices at all, and know of few others who do. I expected a sizable percentage of readers would answer this way, but I didn't anticipate a percentage anywhere near this high. The reasons stated for not using it are what you might expect: the cost of purchasing it, lack of upper-management support for its use and the usual litany of problems that CAD managers encounter when attempting to get coworkers and outside consultants to change the way they do things in order to comply with standards.

The most frequently cited reason against adoption is the high cost, which, as I reported last time, is $350 per copy. Many respondents feel the standard needs to be released into the public domain and made freely available and electronically usable before it can gain widespread use. Ideally, some say, NCS needs to be automatically, fully integrated into the CAD software they use so it requires minimal effort to implement.

Other obstacles cited were the lack of marketing and the impression that even the professional organizations involved in writing the standards had stopped promoting it. A couple of respondents said they had never heard of NCS, despite being involved with professional groups and discussion forums.

Small Percentage of Partial Users
The next-largest group of respondents, about 17%, were those who said they use a small portion of the standard. Of those, more than half said they use the Layer Guidelines portion of the standard, which was developed by the American Institute of Architects, and little else. Some of those who are using the AIA Layer Guidelines said they don't get them from NCS, but from one version or another of the AIA pamphlet.

Tiny Portion of Full Users
Only four respondents said they are trying to use NCS entirely and are slowly implementing the whole thing. Not surprisingly, these people are generally from larger national and multinational firms that have the most to gain from adopting a widespread industry standard, and the most to lose from the chaos that otherwise can exist. This has certainly been my experience as well: Most of the larger firms are paying attention to and using the NCS to one degree or another, while smaller firms see it as too costly to implement, with questionable direct payoff.

One thing mentioned by several respondents was they felt the National CAD Standard is based on old technology — that NCS is outmoded and doesn't address much that is applicable to newer thinking about building information modeling, industry foundation classes and so forth. This is true to a large extent, and for some firms the notion of CAD standards takes on less importance when they use newer technologies that place less emphasis on CAD graphics issues such as layer names and properties.

But many people who are working with CAD, if not most, still wrestle daily with very real and immediate CAD graphics issues. Layers may be losing some importance as a fundamental part of newer 3D technologies, but these technologies haven't yet gained sufficiently widespread adoption to cause the old CAD issues to disappear any time soon.

I was initially surprised, even shocked, by some of the results of my informal request for NCS feedback. But on further reflection, I realized I shouldn't have been. The basic problems are — as they always have been — fundamental people issues. Technology doesn't change the way people think and respond to daily challenges nearly as fast as the changing technology allows. As much as we who are involved with technology may wish for and welcome change, people are still people and are often less enthused about all the technology changes affecting their lives.

U.S. National CAD Standard: