CAD Management Forecast for 2014

11 Dec, 2013 By: Robert Green

The new year will bring new challenges; review these predictions and action items now so you can prepare before it arrives.

I've just returned from Autodesk University (AU), where I taught classes, spoke with industry leaders, and huddled with CAD managers from all over the world. Based on these conversations, as well as data I've been gathering during the latter half of the year, I can offer an informal forecast for how I think CAD managers will fare in the coming year.

I'll present my forecast one prediction at a time, in no particular order, and offer my advice in the form of action items for each. Here goes.

CAD Software Technology Makes Minimal Changes

Before I headed to AU, I had the opinion that CAD software had become relatively stagnant, with only modest improvements in core functionalities over the past year. I was hoping I'd simply missed some key information and that AU would show me what I'd been missing. However, I've returned from the annual user conference believing that CAD software is in a stable, mature state.

The changes I do see are mainly in online product offerings, reality capture, plugins, and visualization technologies. So, for those of us who spend our days using mechanical design software, architectural BIM, basic civil modeling, or 2D CAD tools, next year will look surprisingly similar to this one — the tools aren't changing much. This may mean that we won't have much user training to be concerned with in 2014; it could even be a year where we skip the upgrade unless a particular new feature justifies it.

Action item: Load the new software versions you receive, and go through the release notes to see if there are any new features that are relevant to you or your users, but be prepared to be underwhelmed. If there's nothing in the new software that speeds your work enough to justify the time you'll spend implementing it, then skip the update.

Economic Outlook Improves Slightly

For most companies and CAD managers I've talked with recently, the business environment is looking a little better. This is great news after years of flat economic performance. Of course, preparing for an upturn in business is a very different process than hunkering down for a recession, so our strategies will need to focus on getting more done as opposed to stripping our processes down to bare minimums, as we've done in recent years.

Action item: Adjust your budgets for hardware and training to account for more project activities.

More Startup Projects and Proposals

In many companies, a better business forecast often leads to more proposal activity and more project startups — both activities that put pressure on CAD managers to make sure projects are started properly.

The temptation for senior management will be to rejoice that new opportunities are forthcoming and take an attitude of "Just get the proposal done," without thinking through how to execute the project. However, CAD managers know that a project that starts out in disarray tends to continue that way.

Action items: By all means, rejoice in new opportunity, but be the voice of reason who says, “Let's make sure we do this right!” I recommend going directly to project management teams with a positive message about getting new projects up and running quickly, accurately, and on time from the get-go by stressing kickoff coordination, standards training, and best practices for project execution.

Head Counts Stay Low

Just because business gets better doesn't mean your company wants to hire new people. In fact, they want to tackle that increased project load with the same staff you have now! The fact of the matter is, hiring people is expensive, and becoming more so as taxes, benefits, health care, office leasing, and other expenses keep going up.

Many senior management staffs believe that new technologies give them the ability to pump out more work than in the past, and they are — at least in theory — correct in that perception. However, just because you have new technology doesn't mean you're using that technology to your maximum advantage.

Action items: First, be keenly aware that the drive to get more done with the same staff is coming your way. Second, go to your management and tell them that getting more done per person means everybody has to work more efficiently via more standards and leaner practices. Make sure your message specifies that "We can get more done with the same staff — as long as we work smarter.” Otherwise, you'll be working more hours with the same old methods.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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