CAD Manager-Convince Management with Benchmarks1 Dec, 2005 By: Robert Green Cadalyst
Get the hardware and software users need.
Cad managers used to assume that software upgrades and new computers happened every couple of years. We didn't think too much about it—it just happened. The last three to four years have brought an end to that scenario.
In today's business environment, I routinely see CAD managers struggling to make do with five-year-old computers and four-year-old software. Software and hardware upgrades must be fought for—even with annualized software subscriptions and plummeting hardware prices.
This month, I'll give you some ideas about how to get the hardware and software tools you need by using benchmarking techniques to prove your point with upper management. Along the way, we'll discuss a larger view of benchmarking to encompass new work processes and financial justifications as well as hardware and software.
Too often benchmarking is relegated to a basic role of finding speeds for hardware to determine how fast a particular function can be done in CAD software. Instead of viewing benchmarking in this narrow light, let's take a larger view that embraces changing work processes and business logic in addition to hardware and software. Think of benchmarking as a multistep process:
List a cost-saving idea that new hardware or software can facilitate. Ideas vary from saving time through faster hardware processing or saving time by using a new feature in an updated software version. The point is to document that the new hardware or software helps users perform a given task faster and cheaper than before.
Create a benchmark plan. The plan must include how you will verify that the new hardware or software saves money. If needed, consult hardware and software vendors to make sure you think about everything you'll need to conduct your tests.
Document the current scenario. In this step, document how you currently perform a task to establish a baseline for your benchmark study.
Run benchmarks. Test your cost-saving idea with the new hardware or software you want to buy. Record your data thoroughly and carefully so you can refer to it later.
Compare benchmarking results to the current scenario data. Now you can tell if the new hardware or software you're benchmarking is actually saving time and money. We'll quantify these savings later.
If you're like many CAD managers, you have a list of jobs you know you could complete better with more modern software or upgraded hardware and plotting devices. Unfortunately, every time you ask management for the money to upgrade, you're turned down. But have you tried approaching management with benchmark results that prove you can be more efficient with the new hardware or software requested?
Table 1. Calculate yearly savings
The benchmarking guidelines here form a recipe to prove that you can realize savings by installing updated hardware or software. Using these benchmarking metrics should give you a whole new perspective on how to approach management. Believe me when I say that the time you spend planning your benchmarking will reward you with better, more thorough results. In light of this, resist the urge to randomly test hardware and software hoping to correlate the data later. Pursue a disciplined and structured approach instead.
Management will more likely support you if they see a clear profit motive. Benchmarking is your key to document a profit motive that will show management that you need new tools to achieve greater efficiency.
A client I work with wanted to streamline his company's block library by creating and deploying AutoCAD tool palettes, but his management wasn't sold on the idea. While it seemed logical that drag-and-drop block insertion from palettes would be faster than manual insertion, we needed to prove it. Management had to be convinced. Benchmarking was the obvious way to break the logjam.
In this case, my benchmarking plan was to observe users inserting a series of blocks manually and time them with a stopwatch to determine how much time current methodologies took. The second part of the benchmarking plan was to have users insert the same blocks from a customized tool palette while I timed them. By observing the use of the new tool palettes, we were able to benchmark how long it took the user to learn the tool palette functionalities at first, then time more repetitive operations after the user learning curve was absorbed.
Using these well-planned benchmarking processes, we documented substantial time savings for block insertions and also proved that the learning curve for users unfamiliar with tool palettes was not a substantial issue. This benchmark captured all the data we needed to make a compelling argument to management because we thought about the questions they would ultimately ask and we benchmarked in a way that would answer those questions.
While you might look funny standing there with a stopwatch timing block insertions, it's the only way to guarantee your data is accurate. Grab a watch and start timing.
Prove Annual Savings
The next step in your benchmark should be to achieve an annualized benchmark result. In our manual insertion vs. palette example, we had to determine roughly how many block insertions each user performed in a year. We could then take our time savings per operation and convert that to amount of time saved per year. Then we took that user's labor rate and converted time saved per year to dollars, as in Table 1.
If you're going to benchmark something, it's easy to extrapolate to an annual savings. Don't you think that a savings calculation like this will get your management's attention much more than saying how cool tool palettes are? Of course it will.
Benchmarking software is much more difficult than hardware because there are so many more variables to consider. To benchmark software properly, you need a list of features to benchmark and a strategy for collecting data on each one of them. The result of the benchmark will be a large set of data that combines a series of small benchmark tests into an overall result for the software.
No matter how simple or complex the software benchmark, the result must be the same. The new software must pay for itself in a reasonable period of time or it won't ever be approved. You can't just ask for new software—you must prove why the new software is worthwhile.
I've found that many management teams are convinced that blazing new CAD computers cost $399. Yet the reality is that CAD machines require faster processors, bigger disks and better monitors than the stripped machines we see advertised. Benchmarking can be a useful way to demonstrate that more powerful computers are worth the money because you can document the faster performance. You may want to benchmark software tests on several different computing platforms to show management that all computers aren't created equally and that fast processors with lots of RAM really do make users more productive when running CAD.
The software/hardware pairing
Many times, new software necessitates new hardware. An example might be upgrading from plain AutoCAD to a high-end design tool such as Revit, Inventor or SolidWorks. In these cases, the software places substantially higher demands on the computer, and the new applications can cause user productivity problems.
Think of your software and hardware as a collaborative pair that works together to assure user productivity. Management doesn't understand this—they think that the new software can simply be installed on the old hardware and everything will be fine. In these cases, a performance benchmark comparing old hardware with new hardware can give you the ammunition to show that new hardware will run the software much more efficiently.
Using benchmarking techniques to justify your hardware and software recommendations takes a little time, but it's the best way to get management to take you seriously. By doing your homework and collecting benchmark data, you'll be able to prove the economic benefit of your purchasing requests in a dollars-and-cents manner that management will understand and appreciate.
Try approaching your hardware and software purchasing recommendations from an angle of planning and benchmarking and watch your requests get approved faster as your reputation as a good CAD manager enjoys a boost.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.