Data Management

CAD Manager's Newsletter #111 (July 22, 2004)

21 Jul, 2004 By: Robert Green

Over the past four issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter (see below for links), I've advocated a combination of planning, cleanup, and standardization tasks that will lead you to a more controlled filing regimen. So far, I've concentrated on things anyone can do to tame the file-management mess, but I haven't yet addressed how to stay in control once you've cleaned house. In this issue, I'll focus on how you can prepare for a more formal file/document management environment and build some justifications for doing so along the way.

Now that you've standardized your filing practices, properly located your files, and deleted all the junk, wouldn't it be great if things stayed that way? I've always found that filing perfection is as fleeting as keeping my car clean or mopping the floor: As soon as I clean things up, they start getting messy again.

The longer-term answer is to establish software-enforced procedures that automate the drudgery of file management, thus making file naming, location, and proper backup easy, so long as you use the system. This sort of software could be Web-based, on a single server, or even spanning a wide-area network, but the concept would be the same. I generally refer to these sorts of file-control software programs as electronic document/data management, or EDM for short.

In the early stages of preparing for an EDM-type system, you need to know some basics. At its most simple, an EDM system should accomplish these objectives:

* Organize files

* Secure files against unauthorized access

* Control work processes such as approvals and revisions

* Extend the reach of files to people outside your workgroup

These functions apply to the day-to-day challenge of managing electronic data files, whether they are CAD files or any other type.

File Naming and Directory Standards. Most EDM systems allow the administrator to define a system of folders or directories to organize the actual files under management. Some systems use DOS-level directories for storage; others use a secure area on a server for storage while allowing you to search for files using a folder-style analogy. Users think they're using something similar to Windows Explorer no matter what type of system it is. Some systems even assign drawing numbers or allow you to write your own routines to do so. Typically, the system traps or prevents file collisions so users can't make the catastrophic filing errors that would otherwise occur when they give two files the identical name.

Control File Permissions. Many EDM systems employ their own filing permissions by isolating managed files in an administrator-level folder at the network level. Other systems actually use DOS-level folders that are subject to the permissions that the network administrator has set up on the server. Most systems, no matter what the filing mechanism, use a group/user analogy very much like NT and Netware networking, so the concept of letting users have access to files is easy to learn.

Revision/Approval Control (Maintaining Design History). Tracking the revision history of a file is key to documenting the design process, so many EDM systems emphasize this function. Many systems can produce history reports that show key events in a document's history, such as approvals, revisions, rejections, and even inclusions in design change packages. Some systems graphically manage the revision/approval process, while others use simple macro buttons. A pattern seems to be emerging that you should manage revisions and approvals and, therefore, the system should alert users via e-mail when they occur.

Storing multiple revisions of files does place greater demands on your data-storage system; however, hard disk space is relatively cheap. On the other hand, failure to keep a bullet-proof file history could make you vulnerable to litigation, particularly in the United States. Sadly, this reality has driven much of the EDM market!

Permitting Wide Area Access via Internet/intranet. Many higher-level EDM systems can replicate, publish, or manage files via active server pages using Microsoft's IIS (Internet Information Server). By maintaining the Internet/intranet pages required to deploy an EDM system, you save tremendous time compared with manually tracking and publishing files to Web sites. Many CAD managers may be able to manage filing and directories using their own procedures, but deploying design files to the Web without some sort of management tool is almost impossible. This is one area where EDM systems come into the spotlight.

Many companies are now interested in EDM systems only because they see a way to organize their files and post them online in one step. These companies would otherwise ignore EDM for in-house use, but see the value of letting vendors and consultants contribute work via the Internet instead of via e-mail and overnight shipments.

Note to CAD managers: This is an area where your IT department may jump in but not have any idea how to manage design files. The burden is on you to become part of the solution before you have to live with a poorly conceived Internet file-sharing scheme.

Now that you have some idea of what EDM systems can do, you may want to start looking at some commercially available solutions. I'll examine some of those in upcoming issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter. In the meantime, I want to pass along some things you can do today to prepare for any EDM system you may wish to implement later.

Clean House. Use the suggestions in the last four installments to clean up and organize your system as much as possible prior to implementing EDM. The less data you have to load into a new EDM system, the easier your task will be.

Understand Internet Needs. Will you be expected to organize or distribute files via the Internet in the future, even if not today? I've seen more EDM systems fail because they weren't Internet enabled than for any other reason.

Know Your Network. Will your in-house computer network be able to handle a file-management system? Will your company's Web server be able to handle the load? If you use a Web-based solution, does your company have enough Internet bandwidth for people to work productively? These are some of the key questions you need to answer before you decide on any software system.

If an EDM system is in your future, you should know the answer to these types of questions even before you go shopping.

File management may not be a sexy topic, but it's one we all must deal with daily. I hope the suggestions I've made over the past several issues will help you tame the file-management beast and get your department ready for a more thorough file-management regimen that might even include an EDM system. In future issues, I'll examine the current state of document-management systems and how to identify which type makes the most sense for your company.

Next issue, I'll kick off the CAD Manager's Survey for 2004, so be sure to check in and get all the details on participating.

Controlling CAD Files, Part 1

Controlling CAD Files, Part 2

Controlling CAD Files, Part 3

Controlling CAD Files, Part 4

CAD-1, Inc.

Avatech Solutions - Baltimore

The Design Team

CADVisions, Inc.

Applied Software


Sterling Systems

MicroSol Resources

Advanced Solutions Inc.