CAD Management in a Continuing Recession, Part 2

22 Jul, 2009 By: Robert Green

Industry experts Lynn Allen and Nigel Davies advise on how to survive and thrive during the down economy.

The recession and high unemployment continue to be big news in North America and Europe, and the e-mail I receive from readers continues to focus on economic concerns. In the last installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I laid out the dire economic statistics and made some recommendations for CAD managers dealing with the downturn.

To give you some alternate viewpoints, I've asked a couple of my industry colleagues to respond to some questions related to CAD management in this economy. I think you'll find their replies thought-provoking.

The first person I interviewed was Lynn Allen, technical evangelist for Autodesk. Lynn travels more than anyone I know and trains thousands of users around the globe every year in the latest Autodesk applications. If anybody has a grip on software use and training trends, it's Lynn. For insight, check out Lynn's blog.

The second interviewee was Nigel Davies, owner of Evolve Consultancy in Keynsham, United Kingdom. Nigel performs system integration, CAD management, and process optimization consulting for companies using Autodesk and Bentley products throughout the United Kingdom. Like me, Nigel served as a full-time CAD manager at several firms before consulting on his own, so he has a keen eye for what CAD managers are experiencing in European markets. For more information, visit Nigel's Web site.

Q & A with Lynn Allen and Nigel Davies

Q. Do you think the market for CAD managers is pretty bleak now?
LA. Well, I think the market for most jobs is bleaker than usual. CAD managers have to do more with less — and spend more time drafting and designing and less time managing.

ND. CAD managers are having a really hard time. Many excellent CAD managers are being laid off. It seems as soon as tough times hit, the CAD manager is unnecessary overhead.

Author's note: Interestingly, CAD managers from Australia and New Zealand do not report the dire problems seen in the Western economies.

Q. Do you see any bright spots in the market that CAD managers should be aware of?
LA. I'm optimistic that we are starting to see some positive forward movement. I believe that some industries are just starting to see some projects surfacing as a result of the stimulus programs.

ND. It's been something I've said all along — the bright spots are typically in those companies who have always approached technology as an important and integral part of design. Transportation in the United Kingdom has been showing positivism, although even some of those projects are under threat. For the CAD manager still employed, there are great opportunities to identify efficiency gains in their companies: projects, bids, and competitions still need to be done and in most situations by significantly fewer staff. The CAD manager should be looking for areas where productivity can be increased: performance evaluation, training, and building information modeling (BIM, which is more often becoming a client or contractor requirement).

Q. Do you see CAD managers as being under more pressure to provide billable services such as architecture, engineering, or design than before the recession?
LA. No doubt, everyone is coming up with creative ideas to generate more revenue.

ND. Although this is exactly what happened to my team after the 9/11 crash, I personally don't see the same this time around. Those who have been partial overhead have been viewed as less-productive designers than those who have been fully billable and have been let go anyway. It's almost like, no matter how experienced the individual, the fact that they're managing CAD is seen as detrimental to their design abilities.

Q. What brief career advice would you give a CAD manager who's trying to stay employed or find work in this economy?
LA. Continue to hone your technical skills whenever you have downtime. Have a positive, supportive attitude, even though you might not always agree with company changes and decisions. Take a big step back and see if there might be a better means of getting a job done — and be sure to include feedback from your users.

ND. Do what you can to weather the storm. If you're employed, become proactive. Look at opportunities for improving working methods and analyzing bottlenecks in production. When we come out of this — it's going to be slow, but signs are starting to show — there is going to be a sharp increase in the pressures of delivery. Make the time now to develop efficiencies. If you're unemployed, keep busy. Find part-time work in the industry where you can, it all adds to your experiences and future marketability, but make sure that you are expanding your network. Join LinkedIn and user groups and keep an eye on news groups. The cliché that it's not what you know, it's who you know has never been more true.

Q. To what extent do you think CAD managers should expand their skills via formal or self training?
LA. I think that CAD managers should do their best to stay on top of technology. The more you know about your software products, the more valuable you are to your company, plain and simple. Autodesk University has nearly 1,000 free classes that you can watch to improve your skill set — and that's just one example of many methods of improving your skills.

ND. Formal training can't hurt, if there is a specific skill you are having trouble picking up. The trouble is, the cost can be prohibitive, particularly when many companies' training budgets are frozen. Self-training is critical to any CAD manager's abilities. It shouldn't make any difference what state the industry is in, but it is more important now than ever to identify those areas in which you could benefit from education. If things are quiet, it's a perfect opportunity. Take as much time as you are able to progress and develop your skills — software, technical, and professional.

Q. Is the recession a time for CAD managers to change how their companies use software or a time to keep the status quo and wait for things to get better?
LA. I think that slow times are the perfect opportunity to step back and reevaluate your processes — maybe this is the time to really make that leap to 3D, BIM, or digital prototyping. Take advantage of this time to explore other possibilities to make sure you are using the proper solution.

ND. There's a big difference between burying your head in the sand and proactively taking the opportunities to develop. I've probably already answered this, but if costs are prohibitive and upgrades — or even continued maintenance — is not possible, readdress every aspect of your current software use. Make the most of what you've got, because I guarantee there will be many aspects that are nowhere near as efficient as they could be. Look at your methods and look at where reorganization or BIM could help. Even if adoption is not possible due to financial constraints, at least you'll be in a stronger position when the recovery comes.

Q. Could you share any tips for cost savings that CAD managers could use to help their companies?
LA. Because I'm in the software business, I tend to think in software terms. Take a look at your various licenses and make sure you are really using all of them. Do some in-house training to bring up everyone's skills. Maybe you aren't in a position to pay an outside vendor, but maybe you can have each user teach on his or her strengths? Take the entire team up to a new level of technical expertise!

ND. Perform a training-needs analysis to identify knowledge gaps. The benefits can easily be demonstrated through return on investment. Look at how your time (in the United Kingdom at least) can be recouped through R&D tax credits. You'd be surprised how much tax relief you can gain through this. Try to make any justifications for expenditure or development work relate back to a project if you can. Overheads are tight, so look at where the money is coming from.

Drawing Conclusions
It seems that Lynn and Nigel agree that times are tough for CAD managers, though they both see opportunities for CAD managers to sharpen their skill sets during the downtimes.

I've also noted that everyone I talk to in the industry is hammering home the idea that CAD managers must be production-ready so they can go to work on projects and be billable at a moment's notice. This economy is not a time to be a manager-only CAD manager. Rather, it is a time to be ambidextrous — equally comfortable in production and management environments.

Both Lynn and Nigel empahsize that CAD managers can make things better for themselves, their users, and their companies by running in-house training programs that focus on efficiency. Increasingly, it seems that CAD managers are the training department, and that making our users more efficient is the one area of CAD management that is being looked upon favorably at present.

Finally, learn everything you can through whatever means possible whenever you can. Doing so makes you better at your current job, will help you find a job if you are unemployed, and will make you more marketable when the economy bounces back.

Summing Up
I'd like to thank Lynn Allen and Nigel Davies for taking part in the interview, and I hope you found value in the knowledge they shared.

In the next installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll wrap up this series with reader feedback, a resource summary for CAD management materials on the Internet, and an invitation to participate in a mini-survey to gauge how CAD managers are faring at mid-year. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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