CAD Management 3.0 — The Change Is Real

28 Jan, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: We’re now in the midst of the third major change wave in CAD management, which will place new demands on CAD managers and redefine what it takes to compete in the field.

When I talk with CAD managers, I’m always looking for trends and listening for questions that come up repeatedly; this information shapes my opinions about where our career field is going. Many times these trends align with market forces such as cloud computing or building information modeling (BIM), for example, but in the past year I’ve noticed a seemingly disconnected collection of questions that don’t paint a clear picture. The more I’ve delved into these questions, the more I’ve come to believe that we’re now in the midst of the third major change wave in CAD management — which I’ll call CAD management 3.0 (CM 3.0). More a summation of several smaller trends than a single driving trend, CM 3.0 will place new demands on CAD managers and redefine what it takes to compete in the field.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll set out my case for why I believe this is so, and set the stage for a wide variety of related content in the coming year. So get ready for some change in 2020! Here goes.

A Brief History of CAD Management

So if I’m positing that we’re heading into a third major change wave in CAD management, it might be instructive to examine where we’ve been in order to provide context for the future. I’ll do this by outlining the characteristics and timelines I’ve experienced; your mileage may vary.

CAD Management 1.0: 1985 to 1997. When CAD displaced drafting boards, the software was primitive, computers were expensive, and nobody — including myself — knew what they were doing. There weren’t many CAD packages to support in those early days, and the concept of universally available connectivity was alien. CAD management was simply a struggle to make the software work and deal with new office computing technologies in a world where e-mail was a luxury, updates were sent on floppies, and any support was found via phone calls or on CompuServe forums, if your CAD vendor supported it. All this was combined with the fact that the idea of PC networks was also new, and the IT management staffs were just as confused as we were on most days.

Simply put, there was no playbook for being a CAD manager, but a few expectations did start to develop: CAD managers had to be tenacious and self-supporting “do-it-yourselfers” that were willing to put in long hours to figure out the basics. They had to be able to jump from task to task as they supported users, found files, performed backups, kept plotters running, dealt with IT issues, and supported users who knew even less than they did. CAD management was a lot of work, but it was uniquely satisfying if you enjoyed the challenge of figuring it all out.

CAD Management 2.0: 1998 to 2018. With CAD now being accepted as normal, the job started to evolve into supporting more specialized software — from the dawn of products like Solidworks to today’s BIM tools — which meant that CAD managers had to have far more software skills than they used to. And they needed not just general knowledge, but detailed knowledge, because these new technologies had to be brought into the organization from scratch with configuration, training, and management.

On the positive side, keeping things running became easier as support systems became more common (via e-mail and bulletin board system [BBS] services at first, and leading up to today’s web-driven support regimes) and IT support for devices like printers/plotters and backup systems became a given. Generally speaking, CAD managers spent far less time finding information and far more time learning software in the CAD management 2.0 age.

So the complexity of the job became more about how much software you could learn and work with at once, and less about the primitive struggle of finding information and just getting things to work; CAD managers shifted toward being specialists, rather than generalists, in this age. Another trend that emerged was the idea that CAD managers would actually become managers by delving into the creation of standards, formulation of budgets, training of staff, and providing recommendations for the forward CAD path for their organization. As time passed in the CAD management 2.0 age, the job became more involved and required a broader set of skills to be successful. (It was in 1998 that I started my CAD manager columns to address this new type of CAD manager.)

CAD Management 3.0: What’s Coming Our Way Now?

Now let’s explore some of the changes I see coming our way in this new CAD management wave.

More software, less specialization. The sheer volume of software available to CAD professionals now is almost overwhelming to manage. CAD, BIM, mechanical modelling tools, rendering packages, analysis modules, data management, countless plugins, and the list goes on and on. Obviously, there’s no way you can be an expert on everything, right? Right! Simply put, there’s too much software in use in today’s offices to master, so don’t worry about mastering all of it.

Instead, master what you can, and be content to be competent with the rest. (By “competent” I mean that you must be able to get all the tools installed, configured, and verified.) In the old days of CAD management, I was much more worried about knowing everything, but today I’m content to spread my knowledge around and leave the detailed expertise to the people who use particular software packages every day.

More software stability. Simply put, the big leaps in software features and productivity seem to be behind us. Almost every software tool I manage hasn’t changed much in recent years, unless it went to the cloud or underwent license technology changes — which leads me to my next topic.

More IT to worry about. Back in the beginning, I had no idea what IT did — and they had no idea what I did, so the struggle was mutual. As time went by, I found that IT never really understood CAD programs (beyond, perhaps, installing them in an automated manner), yet I was learning more and more about IT.

Today’s CAD manager has so much more IT technology to worry about than I did back in the beginning that it is almost ridiculous. With cloud accounts, named-user credentials, floating license servers, usage monitoring, and permissions configuration for collaborative tools, I sometimes think CAD managers need to know as much about IT as we do about CAD. Complicating matters is that we often don’t have the administrative-level IT authority we need to deal with day-to-day problems.

All of this points to a CAD Management 3.0 world of CAD managers who need a solid working knowledge of modern IT; those who don’t have it will struggle mightily.

More self-promotion. In today’s age of social media, it’s almost a given that new employees are able to create their own video segments, post to Instagram/Facebook/LinkedIn, and manage their personal brand. And when so many of the people you manage are in remote offices, chances are you’ve never even met half the people you need to interact with professionally. Whether you like it or not, you may need to develop a social media presence to get the word out to coworkers and build your reputation.

Of course, social media is a double-edged sword that can provide at least as much negative publicity as positive, so any presence you develop for your career advancement should be professional, relevant, and non-controversial. But do use every tool available to you to become better known and more relevant in your users’ lives!

More business savvy. When CAD management first started, it was all I could do to get the software working and keep everything running so the business aspect of things wasn’t a big part of the equation. As we moved into the 1990s, I was able to differentiate myself from other CAD managers by being much more focused on business metrics like return on investment (ROI), payback on training, tax effects of investments, and budgeting awareness.

Fast-forward to the age of CAD Management 3.0, and understanding the business/financial side of things is now a must, not an option.

More self-created training. Of course, training users has always been part of the CAD manager’s job, and that hasn’t changed in theory. What has changed is the way we can deliver training to the masses, using off-the-shelf Internet-based tools supplemented with custom-produced video segments that explain specific procedures — such as standards usage — that cannot be purchased.

I’ve written in the past about “YouTubing your training” as a viable option to traditional training, but I’m now of the mind that video is the only way to go. It just seems to be a fact that today’s workers want their instruction in bite-size video pieces, not in long PDF files. Embrace this approach or fail as a trainer.

More ability to manage remote teams. Back in the beginning of CAD management, the support of networks and software was so problematic that each branch office had its own CAD manager. While you may have been the executive CAD manager who dealt with standards and documentation, there was always somebody at the branch office who had your back and would make everything work. As the years went by, economic events (like recessions) combined with technological events (like reliable WANs) and tools (like WebEx) meant that the CAD manager persona in each local office became a dying breed.

Fast-forward to today, and the reality is that most CAD managers have to support several branch offices and offsite locations (such as construction site trailers). Supporting branch offices takes a special set of skills, including great phone communication, the ability to hop on a remote session at a moment’s notice, and an almost sixth sense of when things are going wrong. When it comes to CAD management at branch offices, I’ve often found that no news is bad news and that it really pays to aggressively keep in touch, so you actually know what’s going on.

Summing Up

In the coming year, I’ll be producing a number of columns that expand on this CAD Management 3.0 concept, but first, I’d love to hear from all of you about how your job has changed in recent years. What’s your take on CAD Management 3.0? Let me know at

Editor's note: Click here to read Part 2 of this series, "How to Stay Billable in the CAD Management 3.0 Era."


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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