Data Management

CAD Manager's Newsletter #114 (September 9, 2004)

8 Sep, 2004 By: Robert Green

CAD Document Management, Part II

In the previous issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter (CAD Document Management, Part I), I made the case that EDM (electronic document management) is becoming ever more necessary and unavoidable for CAD departments of the future. If you didn't get a chance to read the last issue, I recommend you do so now so you'll have the proper context for this one.

After making the case for EDM, I defined the normal EDM system components so you'd have some background on what you'd be dealing with. My thinking is that if you understand the technological bricks and mortar associated with these systems, you'll see that they're nothing more than elaborately integrated database systems.

In this newsletter, I want to define objectives and expectations for an EDM system from management and end-user perspectives. That is, what should these systems actually do and why?

System Expectations
An EDM system should be able to accomplish these minimum objectives:

  • Organize your files (names, paths)
  • Secure your files (against loss or unauthorized access)
  • Build a searchable history (archiving, locating, printing)
  • Control work processes (approvals, revisions, and so forth)
  • Extend the reach of your files (to those outside your walls)
I'll expand on each area and provide some business justification for each objective. Here goes.

Organizing and Securing Files
Please note that these functions serve a common purpose of imposing some sort of filing structure while keeping files accessible yet protected. It's no small task to allow all manner of users to access your files while following filing and naming structures — many of you already know this — so EDM software starts out by automating the difficult task of controlling the filing environment and preventing accidental deletion or revision.

Perhaps the strongest argument for EDM is that its filing and access control paradigm compels all users to input and manage documents in a standard way, thus promoting standardization in general. So all revisions are handled using a common procedure, or all approvals of drawings are handled using the same methodologies. Some systems even automate work change packages and routings.

I should point out that because EDM software enforces all the standards, it becomes the "bad guy," so you don't have to be. You'll also find that other business objectives, such as ISO compliance and TQM procedures, can be combined quite nicely with implementing an EDM system, thus garnering managerial support for the change.

Searchable History
Many EDM systems not only enforce standards but also track what happens to a document over its lifecycle, so it stands to reason that you'll build a searchable database of files as a result. And as you build a standard database of files, you can search it and query it using capabilities much more powerful than the text, file name, and date searching supported by Windows operating system platforms.

What would it be worth to your company to be able to search for files using a "Who did this?" paradigm, or to find out how many drawings were included in a change package three years ago? You'll find that these types of capabilities help sell EDM to upper management, particularly engineering management, because they solve fundamental information management problems that manufacturing and AEC firms face every day.

A plain-language way to state EDM's search power is that because it forces you to be organized now, you can find things easily later. Pretty simple when you think of it in those terms, right?

Controlling Work Processes
CAD-focused EDM systems actually install software that talks to your CAD application to control unauthorized CAD-system use. For example, let's say someone has a copy of AutoCAD installed and wants to edit a CAD drawing, but doesn't have the EDM software installed at his or her workstation. Better EDM systems can prohibit these types of unauthorized edits. Yes, some users will protest being controlled by their software. But isn't it this the type of user who necessitates the EDM system in the first place?

My experience has been that larger organizations, be they well organized or anarchistic, like EDM systems precisely because they do enforce rules and drive standardization. It's the well-managed smaller company that usually has philosophical problems with an EDM system imposing procedural control because the current culture already facilitates the process, and the company is small enough to manage well without EDM. However, a well-integrated EDM system with CAD-application control can prevent a lot of mistakes and mischief. If you're a CAD manager, it can help you enforce procedures among users who otherwise might ignore them.

Extending Reach
My experience shows that the ability to extend CAD files to those who aren't normally considered "CAD people" is one of the great benefits of EDM and one that very quickly becomes obvious to managerial users. By bringing CAD-style functions to a broader audience, you educate your entire organization about CAD and its strong points.

Companies frequently install EDM for the CAD department's benefit, then the system quickly grows tentacles that stretch to other departments over time. When you demonstrate an efficient EDM system's ability to standardize and harmonize information management, you can bet that others will notice and want to get on board.

Wrapping Up and Looking Ahead
As you know, I've been developing the 2004 CAD Manager's Survey, in which I'll invite you all to tell me what your job entails, how you're compensated, and other issues you face day-to-day. Then I'll use the results to present a current picture of today's CAD manager position.

Please take a minute to complete the survey, and pass along word to anyone else you know in a CAD management role. The more feedback I receive, the more representative the results will be.

The survey will go online this Friday, September 10, by noon ET. You'll find it at

In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll continue covering document management systems, and I'll let you know how many people have participated in the survey. Until then!