CAD Management is Less About CAD These Days8 Dec, 2021 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager's Column: As the software becomes more stable, the work of being a CAD manager has become less about CAD and more about process and technology than ever before.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed a steady progression towards CAD manager’s jobs being less CAD-focused. That trend has only accelerated as COVID work-from-home policies have become the norm. So, what is our focus if not CAD, you may ask? Increasingly, it seems that IT issues such as dealing with Cloud systems, login credential problems, firewall/VPN issues, and complex support ticketing systems demand more time than CAD. In short, we’re now managing a lot more than CAD applications.
Being a CAD manager now requires proficiency in a wide variety of skills that have no obvious connection to CAD, until you think about the problem more deeply. So, what types of skills should we now be focused on? That’s the question we’ll answer in this edition of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Here goes.
CAD Requires Less Attention
The actual software we use to capture CAD data is the one detail that has changed the least during the past several years. Sure, we have new software updates, but they are hardly revolutionary. I mean is there anything really that different in the latest AutoCAD, SOLIDWORKS, Revit, or MicroStation releases that requires training or new workflows to implement? Yes, software is changing, but it is changing in subtle ways that don’t require users or CAD managers to fundamentally rethink software strategy.
While there are new functions within CAD tools that require investigation — things such as point clouds and reality capture come to mind — the basic concept of modeling and documenting designs isn’t all that different. Plus, now that big design paradigm changes like 3D modeling and BIM have been absorbed, CAD tools have become more stable.
Can We Just Coast Now?
So, if we now use CAD tools that are largely familiar, that means our typical struggles with training and implementing new features should lead us to a more relaxed period of stability and user acceptance, right? After all, if users are familiar with their software, what else do we need to manage? If only things could be easy!
As it turns out, almost everything besides the user’s software knowledge is changing, and that change has led to problems that are anything but relaxing for CAD managers. In fact, these changes impact CAD managers in ways we’ve not seen for years (on some fronts) or in ways we’ve never dealt with at all.
Think about the following trends in technology for a moment:
- Work teams on different networks, in different countries.
- More complex security issues requiring VPN and firewall configurations.
- Cloud data storage and the accompanying security/bandwidth issues.
- Employees using their own mobile devices.
- Divergent file standards running on a variety of different operating systems.
What all these trends point towards in my mind is an extended CAD environment where simply getting logged in and having the security settings correct to do our CAD work becomes problematic at best. Let’s think through the possible problems.
The Work Team/Data Management Problem
You’ve been informed by your senior management that the new building design project you’ll be working on for a flash freeze facility in Costa Rica will be completed using Revit for most of the design work but, in addition, local refrigeration contractors will use SOLIDWORKS and AutoCAD for their documentation. Coordination will be done from HQ in Atlanta, but the work teams in Costa Rica will have to be looped into Cloud tools for interference studies and most of the users will be in work-from-home mode for the duration of the project. And, just to make things even more fun, the facility will be located in an agrarian area — where Internet bandwidth is problematic — so that produce can be collected and frozen rapidly.
Do you see potential problems here? My immediate questions are:
- Where will the data be authored?
- Where will it reside?
- How will we overcome the bandwidth problems we’ll encounter as remote workforces try to access large data sets at the same time?
- And, I haven’t even begun to think of how the remote job site will be managed.
Does your senior management or IT department understand? Or do they just think you’ll setup a Dropbox account or FTP site to deal with “simple file sharing” on your project?
Whose job is it to explain how complex this will be? Unless you work with an experienced IT staff that has been through this scenario before, I assure you that the CAD manager will become responsible for the project workflow planning.
Welcome to the “CAD is the least of our problems” zone.
The “Just Use the Cloud” Phase
Once you’ve convinced all parties involved how complex this multi-office, multinational project will be from a data sharing point of view, you’ll likely get what I like to call “The Cloud Pep Talk” from somebody in IT who’s read something on a CAD vendor’s web site. CAD on the Cloud will be viewed as a mystical place where unicorns run free and CAD files sync-up in seconds with no latency or permission problems.
Ah, if it were only that easy. But, it isn’t. Especially at a job site in a remote field full of citrus orchards and pineapples.
Working with large data sets across wide distances with unknown bandwidth constraints tends to be a real pain. I don’t care if the ads say everything’s easy with “the Cloud.” The reality is that Internet connectivity is slow, CAD/BIM models are large, and users hate waiting on slow connections.
Again, CAD will be the least of our problems on this job.
The Phone/Tablet Conundrum
When an engineer is on the job site with a refrigeration contractor trying to make a decision about a building problem there will be no broadband, sparse cell coverage at best, and probably no 5G/LTE data support. In these types of scenarios, communication often happens by text on WhatsApp or email on user’s personal communication devices. You can forget real-time, cloud-based collaborative tools in these types of environments.
In the past, these types of projects were documented with as-built drawings and records of conversation that existed as physical files (or even paper). Do we go back to paper? Do we start using SMS texting applications that integrate with remote server-based file management tools? And, how will these new types of remote server management tools be implemented in scenarios where remote locations make even the most basic communications difficult? These are very valid questions that will cause huge changes in how CAD managers collect, store, and archive information during project workflows.
Data/IT Management Dominates
When we kicked off this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter I asked the question, “So, what types of skills should we now be focused on?”
Reading through the scenarios above I think the skills present themselves as follows:
- A working knowledge of all IT/cloud systems required to execute a project.
- A solid knowledge of all the file formats and tools required to document the design.
- A solid knowledge of how data will be stored, shared, and accessed by the entire project team.
Doesn’t this seem more like data management and IT than CAD management to you? It does to me. But, this is the reality of today’s CAD management position. Simply put, CAD managers need to know a lot more about IT and data management than we used to.
Whether we like it or not, the job of CAD manager is a lot more complex than it used to be and requires a broader skill set, along with much more forethought to stay ahead of the change coming our way. How are you dealing with the challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything I’ve missed. I await your feedback at RGreen@GreenConsulting.com. Until next time.