CAD Is the Least of Our Problems, Part 213 May, 2014 By: Robert Green
It's time to set your own bring-your-own-device (BYOD) rules.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I made the case that CAD software may be the least challenging part of our job in the near future. With factors such as cloud software, file security, browser hacking, tablets, and smartphones complicating the picture, it seems that I'm often more of an IT manager than a CAD manager. And based on the e-mail and comments I've received so far, it seems that many of you agree.
As promised, in this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll offer some suggestions about how to solve the problems I outlined last time so you can start building some coping strategies. Here goes.
Here are a few of the many interesting comments I received on this topic:
From S.G.: Most of our mobile devices remain in the e-mail realm for the moment. But, please stop using Gmail for official correspondence, people!
From B.B.: Many of us have dealt with managers or owners that say, "I can use my iPad," or, "Here, have an iPad," without consulting IT/CAD management.
I've even heard, "It's okay, I saved the files in my Dropbox account."
Consumer technology is mainstream now, but consumer technology doesn't integrate well with enterprise technology, for the reasons you mention in the article. CAD is no longer the problem, I agree. It's the other stuff that's the issue. Great article.
From R.W.: I would also like to mention that people get these "toys" without asking if it's possible to use them. For an example, most of our General Arrangement Plan drawings are 100+ MB, [with] 7–12 million objects in them. Then [users] get mad when their tablet, phone, etc. blows up trying to open the file!
From T.S.: Cloud storage and security is a big issue for many reasons, from proprietary information to wait times and proper access. Either you are wide open and anyone can see your data/files, or you are dealing with access problems for those who do need to see it.
From J.d.J.: People need to become more responsible — more aware of what they [are doing]. They have to analyze ways to share information using common sense and know how to use the tools. Users need to understand that information is used and shared to support work goals — to accomplish something. This is very different than using Facebook or Twitter for private purposes.
I find it interesting that almost all the comments I received were focused on the wide variety of devices and security measures in use, as opposed to bandwidth or communication issues. It seems that most CAD managers don't have Internet problems — they have bring-your-own-device (BYOD) problems.
Priority One: Management Needs to Know
One of the first things I explain to senior management staffs these days is that they don't truly have control over their information anymore. I typically get funny looks when I bring this up and questions such as, "What do you mean?" or challenges like, "Why in the world would you think that?"
This typically leads to the discussion I wanted to have in the first place, which I start with a series of questions:
"Have you ever texted project instructions to a coworker? Do your mobile workers keep copies of files on their personal tablets? Can employees copy files from your servers into their personal Dropbox accounts? Can employees view and edit files on personal accounts using cloud software tools?"
After some hand-wringing, it always turns out that the answer to most of these questions is yes. Once I've gotten everyone to admit that these things happen all the time, I ask these follow-up questions:
"How can you figure out where all these files, text messages, and personal account passwords are so you can recover your project data? How can you prove all these things in court, should a project lawsuit depend on it?"
This is typically when the room goes silent, as senior managers realize that they really don't have control over all the data that streams through personal devices. It is only then that the true magnitude of the problem sets in.
Action Item: You need to facilitate this conversation within your company before a disaster happens. You can frame the conversation exactly as I have, and you'll likely experience the same thing I do — a profound realization of the problem. But you'll only reach that point if you can explain the problem in terms that your senior management team will understand.
Tailor the Message to the Audience
When I talk to CAD managers about the hassles of managing CAD data in projects with disparate tools on various platforms, they tend to focus on the issues that concern them, such as:
- What a pain it all is
- How viewing/cloud tools don't always work
- File format compatibility problems.
When I talk to senior management about the same issues, however, they typically don't see the problem. To open their eyes, you must focus on the following dangers:
- Lack of traceability
- Possible data loss
- Legal liability.
In my experience, you won't get anywhere until you start speaking management's language, which is financial in nature.
Don't say: "I can't stand it when Kirk leaves all those modified DWG files on his tablet and doesn't upload them to the server!"
Do say: "When users store work files on their personal devices, I worry about the devices being stolen — if that happens, we would lose our documentation."
Note that I wasn't complaining, and I didn't make my concern personal (about Kirk), but I extended the concept of my complaint to focus on exposure for the company. Frame your issues this way and they'll get noticed.
Take Personal Devices Out of the Equation
One strategy for making the BYOD data conundrum more manageable is to take the various operating systems and cloud-based viewing/editing programs out of the equation by hosting your software applications. Using this approach, tablets only run remote-access software, and all the actual work occurs on your own servers with your own security and standard software applications. Of course, we've always been able to let remote workers into our virtual private networks (VPNs), but that approach typically assumed a Windows operating system, and didn't help us manage the plethora of devices and operating systems we now see.
New technology. I attended an interesting HP event last week that introduced the new HP DL380Z virtual Citrix workstation, which places your CAD workstations, graphics processors, and software in a server rack that can be accessed by remote users with their portable devices. The interesting difference between the DL380Z and a simple remote graphics login is that the HP device automatically allows remote connections from Windows-, iOS-, and Android-based devices.
Using this approach, I could check on my rendering processes with my iPad while my colleague updates her building design from her Samsung Galaxy tablet. The fact that everything is happening on a Windows 7 64-bit workstation running desktop software packages doesn't matter — my colleague and I have the same interface experience.
Conclusion No. 1. If we can't stop users from carrying their own computing devices, then we can start taking steps to build our CAD infrastructure in a way that keeps our data safe, our applications consistent, and takes the various computing devices and operating systems out of the equation.
Conclusion No. 2. If my users can access applications easily with remote devices using a single set of application software packages hosted on my own servers, I no longer have to worry about a bunch of dissimilar cloud-based applications, cloud-located files, and byzantine security protocols.
So, how do we start to deal with the problem of users bringing their own computing devices and data storage tools to our projects? We should inform ourselves and plan for a CAD infrastructure that looks very different than our current environment. Here are the minimum steps to take:
Conduct a management reality check. Articulate the problems and risks as I outlined above in the Priority One: Management Needs to Know section.
Stop the bleeding. As your company moves toward new strategies, it is important to limit current risk caused by users bringing their own devices to your workplace. For some suggestions, see this week's CAD Manager's Toolbox tip.
Investigate possible solutions. Read everything you can about solutions that let you keep your high-power CAD software and hardware tools local to your company while allowing remote workers to use those tools with low-power, tablet-style devices.
Budget for big change. Make sure your hardware and software budgets take this big change into account. Moving to server-based solutions will require a bigger investment than simply replacing a few workstations each year.
Start promoting the idea. Talk to project managers and remote CAD users about how this all could work for them. Collect their ideas and concerns and improve your plans as you do so.
Repeat your message to management. Keep stressing how important a secure, controlled, and standardized software environment is for executing projects and minimizing risks.
Whether we like it or not, the issue of mobile workers using low-power tablets and notebooks to access CAD data is not going to go away. Given the wide variety of operating systems being used on these devices, a variety of software environments will also be part of the equation. CAD managers should accept these realities and plan for controlling the chaos rather than being a victim of it.
I hope this series has alerted you to the potential problems you may encounter and given you ideas for getting solutions in place sooner rather than later. Until next time.