CAD Manager's Newsletter #84 (May 1, 2003)

30 Apr, 2003 By: Robert Green

In the last issue I passed along some do's and don't's for your software upgrade projects. I've received enough questions about my suggestions that I feel a follow up is warranted. Here, in topical order, are the most common questions.

Proper Financing

In Issue #82, I recommended planning for a 2.5-to-1 ratio of implementation costs to software costs. In plain English, if you have $20,000 worth of upgrade software to install, plan on a total cost of $50,000 to get the job done right. Many readers had questions about this assertion so I'll paraphrase the most common responses here: My management will never let me spend that much on implementation, what should I do? Where do you come up with that sort of number?

In many cases management doesn't understand the true cost of upgrading. To calculate the costs, I factor in time the CAD manager spends loading and debugging software as cost, but some management may just see that as a normal part of the CAD manager's job. Often management considers in-house personnel to be a fixed-cost asset (that is, they're getting paid the same no matter what they do) and only really categorizes expenditure associated with an outside resource as cost. You'll have to understand what your management sees as cost to know how to tabulate the true cost of implementation.

If you work in an extremely cost-sensitive environment, you'll have to adjust your implementation so that in-house resources are used to greatly minimize any outside support costs to get the numbers within an acceptable range. You may also have to put in a lot of uncompensated overtime to get the job done!

Hardware and Operating Systems?

In Issue #83, I recommended using nice, modern hardware for a new CAD implementation. Why try to make a big program run on an old machine when new machines are very affordable and have the latest operating systems pre-installed? I further argued that if you upgrade while you couldn't get modern equipment and operating systems, you would be asking for trouble. And I received the following questions: What is your recommendation for a budget machine that will run new CAD software well? What about running CAD on Windows XP as opposed to Windows 2000?

People will disagree on what a budget machine is, so I'll just state my opinion: $1,500 is about the hardware price range I consider to be a bargain right now. For $1,500 you can purchase a machine with a 2.4GHz (or faster) processor, good graphics, at least 256MB of memory, and (in most cases) a low-end monitor. If you eliminate the monitor, you can often save $100 to $150, so you can use it to upgrade the RAM to 512MB and have a very nice CAD machine. I run my CAD software on a Dell 2GHz Windows 2000 Pro machine with 512MB and 32MB graphics that I bought for around $1,500 a year ago.

Regarding the operating systems, I've had no trouble with either Windows 2000 Pro or Windows XP Pro, though I concede that managing multiple user-profiles on an XP station can be an administrative hassle. At this point Windows XP is the norm for new machinery but Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 is also broadly available for the same cost. I see the choice between these two systems as one of either personal or business preference. I've heard all the arguments about the need for legacy system support from corporate IT departments that keep CAD users running old Windows 95 (yes, I am serious) and Windows 98 operating systems, but I just can't fathom running new CAD products (such as the AutoCAD 2004 series) on an old computing platform. Like it or not, new products are only certified to run on new operating systems. So I'll stick to my guns: I wouldn't even attempt to run a 2003 software product on a 1997 operating system.

Be Realistic About the Pace of Implementation

Also In Issue #83, I recommend taking a staggered approach to implementation. This should keep you from being overwhelmed with all the possible user problems at once. You don't want to end up with a train wreck during your upgrade. Breaking up the workload into short sessions for small groups is the primary way to minimize risk.

Readers asked me the following questions on this point: my management wants us to all switch over at one time; how do I handle it? All our departments interact, so I can't have mixed file types during implementation-what should I do?

In the case of file incompatibility, you may be able to trick the software into interoperating with an old release. In AutoCAD's case, for example, you can set AutoCAD 2004 to save to AutoCAD 2000 format while the implementation is in progress. Later, when the implementation is complete, switch the file format back to AutoCAD 2004. You're done.

In cases where management simply wants the upgrade done all at once, the burden of educating your management falls directly on your shoulders. You probably have a good feeling for how well the implementation will go already, and I highly advise you to trust your own judgment. If you believe that upgrading everyone at once will result in chaos, you must make your assessment known. It is better to err on the side of caution during upgrades, even if your management thinks you're being timid. You may want to ask your management what the cost would be if all your CAD users were offline for a day.

Don't Upgrade During Key Projects

In Issue #83, I also advised you to never upgrade during big project deadlines. Project managers don't want their job delayed for any reason.

However, many of you cited that your companies always have big projects going on. So, how do you decide when to upgrade? Or, you've found yourself forced to upgrade by a client. And how do you handle this scenario?

Big companies often have an unending stream of deadlines that make it almost impossible to find a good time to upgrade. All you can do is look for a relatively calm period, and you will reduce the risk of major schedule disruptions. You might also find the upgrade a much more relaxing experience, so to speak. Ask everybody about their schedules to be sure you don't cause undue problems. You may also be able to stagger upgrade time frames among various departments to avoid deadlines. Be creative.

When clients force you to upgrade just try to avoid major milestones in the project timeframe. I find a good time to upgrade is right after a major deadline as everybody will relax a little and be more tolerant of disruptions. The next deadline, presumably, won't hit for a while. Clients who force a company to upgrade are also more likely to be tolerant if delays do happen because they requested the switch in the first place.

Summing Up

Once again, I'd like to thank everyone who emailed me during this series on upgrading strategies. I continue to be impressed with the expertise CAD managers demonstrate and just how tough the CAD management job is.

Please feel free to send me any additional comments for inclusion in the next newsletter. Until then ...

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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