CAD Management Trends, Part 2

24 May, 2006 By: Robert Green

What's happening with peers around the country related to software, hardware, budgeting and senior management

In the past issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter (click here for archives), I began examining current business and economic trends that affect CAD managers’ working environments. In this installment I want to finish the series on CAD management trends by noting some software, hardware, budgeting and senior management trends I’ve observed over the past year or so.

I base these conclusions on informal polls I take of hundreds of CAD managers at various user groups and public speaking events. My polling isn't scientific, but I believe the generalizations I form based on the results are representative of the field as a whole.

Software Trends

The big trends I’ve observed in software relate to the adoption and management of advanced CAD design tools that replace or supplement 2D environments. The questions I’ve asked CAD manager groups to help gauge the trends (and the answers) are as follows.

Who manages a 2D-only CAD environment (AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT, MicroStation)? Predictably, very few respondents report managing a 2D-only drafting environment. A little pressing reveals that although most CAD managers oversee AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT and/or MicroStation, almost all are also responsible for some enhanced 3D design package as well.

There’s no mistaking the trend that a 2D-only CAD manager is now a rarity -- meaning these people are also lacking skills that counterparts by and large have in their career toolkits.

Who manages both 2D and 3D CAD applications? The hybrid environment was cited by almost every CAD manager in every group I’ve addressed. Whether the 3D software is mechanical, civil or architectural, it seems that the same CAD manager who manages the 2D system is responsible for 3D as well. This outcome seems to assume that a CAD manager who can deal with a 2D system will also be proficient with 3D software, even though the two environments are strikingly different.

More questioning also revealed that 3D software is broadly interpreted to mean things such as conceptual design software (think SketchUp or MathCAD), rendering software (VIZ, Alias and so forth) and presentation software to create artistic renderings or even complex fly-through animations. So it appears that the market consensus is that if you design something and process that design with software, it will fall on the CAD manager’s plate, no matter what that software might be!

Who is responsible for figuring out how to make 3D software run, yet struggles with changing the company culture from 2D to 3D? An extremely high number of people report being frustrated by an inability to actually make 3D change happen. In fact, only a handful of CAD managers in any given event reported being totally settled in 3D design methodologies.

More questioning reveals that many CAD managers are dealing with people who don’t want to learn 3D or are so afraid of changing the way they design that they actually avoid 3D. I used to think the 3D transition problem was due to expensive software that was hard to learn. Now I think the problem is that a big chunk of the workforce is avoiding learning.

CAD managers in many cases are the evangelists who are preaching 3D change to 2D cultures, but they’re finding the process of change a lot harder than they’d anticipated and are frustrated with the slow progress.

Hardware/Budget Trends

As I asked CAD managers about their software environments, I couldn’t help but ask about hardware trends and whether they're able to get the new high-end hardware they need to run their software. Here are some responses I received and conclusions I draw from them.

IT staff sends me the hardware they think I need. Many CAD managers aren’t participating in hardware specification and testing. They simply receive a computer from the IT department, and sometimes what they get isn’t up to task. This is, admittedly, a big problem -- and it came up over and over in the groups I’ve addressed.

I no longer see hardware budgets. This is tied to IT trends noted above. The troublesome trend that follows is that specialized CAD hardware, such as a plotter, becomes much harder to obtain if it gets lost in the IT budget.

The only remedy I see here is to get much more involved with your IT department when it's time to specify network components, servers, hardware, plotters and so forth. So you’ll have to find the right people, talk with them, communicate your needs and get involved, even if you have to push to do so!

Senior Management Communications Trends

The good news from my surveys is that CAD managers have the horsepower to make some real changes if they talk with their senior management teams. Over and over, I hear CAD managers in my groups say there's one key to success here: If you use business logic to make a case for technology, you will get results with senior management.

Those of you who’ve read my work for any length of time know that I recommend getting involved with your senior management teams so you can educate them about what you need and how you can help them. The CAD management polling I’ve done seems to show that this approach works. So if you haven’t made the move to really talk with your senior management team, start now, because the data I see is that they’re ready to listen.

Summing Up

I hope this look into CAD management trends helps you gauge where you are in the marketplace. Now that you know what other CAD managers are experiencing, I highly recommend that you analyze your technology plans and career skills to make sure you remain current.

Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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