CAD Is the Least of Our Problems, Part 328 May, 2014 By: Robert Green
Stay focused on your core priorities, and implement only those mobile and cloud technologies that support them.
In the past two editions of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ve alerted you to the problems that are coming our way as an increasing variety of cloud applications, user devices, operating systems, and wide-area operating environments conspire to complicate CAD management. I’ve also tried to make the case that instituting a smart policy addressing these challenges is increasingly the responsibility of the CAD manager, not just your IT department.
But with all this emphasis on new technology, it becomes easy to lose track of the fundamental tasks that CAD managers are responsible for. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I will give you some ideas for refocusing on your core priorities and selecting the technologies that support those goals — while screening out the rest. Here goes.
First things first: What’s the point of anything else if projects aren’t being produced? CAD and building information modeling (BIM) managers are judged primarily by their ability to help work get done, and to resolve any problems that hinder production. Quite often I find that senior management staffs don’t care what sort of tools are being used; they simply want to know that projects are being completed.
I’ve come to understand that any new technology or tool I wish to pursue must first be judged by its ability to reliably produce high-quality work. A new program may seem like the coolest thing you’ve ever seen, but if it isn’t ready for daily production, you’ll be in trouble.
Conclusion: Forget the buzzwords, techno-babble, and marketing onslaught surrounding cloud or mobile apps. Instead of buying into the hype, ask these questions for every tool you evaluate:
- Will this really work in our company?
- Will it work with our files?
- Will it work for our clients?
If the answers aren’t yes, yes, and yes, don’t proceed!
Besides the ability to produce work, any new application has to produce that work more quickly and less expensively than its predecessor — otherwise, there’s no reason to implement it. In my experience, management teams don’t care which tools I use as long as I make my deadlines. On the other hand, if I miss a deadline, a painful postmortem of why the deadline was missed ensues.
The interesting thing is that even if a project is delayed because of a technical failure brought on by portable apps or cloud computing issues, you’ll still get the blame. Therefore it becomes the CAD manager's responsibility to analyze any new apps that will interact with CAD data to confirm they won’t cause problems and compromise deadlines.
Conclusion: Before anybody starts using their own devices, apps, or cloud-based work methods, you must understand how each will impact work production and deadlines. To do this, ask the following additional questions:
- Who will support these tools?
- How difficult will it be to adopt these tools?
If you can’t find clear answers to these questions, then you can bet that nobody has thought through the possible project schedule consequences — so, again, don’t proceed!
Keep Track of Files
If you are convinced that you can implement cloud/mobile-type CAD applications that will work well in your environment, then your next responsibility is to keep track of the digital files that contain the work product. After all, what good is it to get the work done if you have inadequate tools to adequately secure and manage your digital information?
If you think it's bad to miss a deadline due to technology problems, just wait until the data goes missing!
Conclusion: Before allowing any outside devices, apps, or cloud-based work methods, ask the following questions:
- Where does the data reside?
- How is the data backed up?
- How do I know where the latest version of the data is?
If you aren’t convinced that you will always have access to the latest version of all project data and that everything will be automatically backed up to secure storage (on your network) then, again, don’t proceed!
Implement Standards and Training Programs
Of course any CAD tools you may choose to implement in your environment must be standardized for consistent usage, and users must be trained in their proper operation. As we all know, if you simply let people use tools in whatever way they want, chaos ensues.
I’ve encountered many software applications that had the potential to be great assets, but given the constraints of the project, I simply didn’t have time to train CAD staff to use them. I’ve also seen many cases where cool new software was easy to use, but because we lacked standardization we experienced wide variations in the way project data was formatted — and that caused extra work at the end of the project. In these cases, the new applications actually caused more problems than they solved because the training and standardization aspects weren’t addressed.
Conclusion: Before using any devices, apps, or cloud-based work methods, ask these additional questions:
- Do I have the time to train staff?
- Are training materials available?
- Can the tool be standardized? How?
If training or standardization can’t be put in place, then even the best apps should not be used on projects that are already under way. It is much better to start using new tools on the next project, when everyone knows how to use them, than to push new tools into service too early and lose control of the project.
You may sense an ongoing theme in my thinking — that I’m a bit paranoid about implementing mobile-based tools in my CAD workflows — but believe me when I say that my apprehension is based on real-world experience with the damage that unregulated implementation can cause.
CAD managers must carefully analyze any new applications, devices, or methods that could adversely affect worker productivity, schedule adherence, and worker training. If you do so, you’ll only implement new tools that actually help you do a better job. If you simply allow new devices and apps to sneak into your workplace unchallenged, however, you’ll soon preside over multiple problems.
I hope this series on the changes in CAD applications brought about by mobile/cloud technology has piqued your interest and gotten you thinking about how to control your department’s future. Until next time.