CAD Managers Resist Social Media Infiltration

11 Sep, 2012 By: Robert Green

Reader feedback indicates serious concerns about the impact of incorporating access to social media tools in CAD applications.

In the previous edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I ranted a bit about social media — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like — and how direct access to these often-distracting sites is creeping into our CAD tools. It's becoming increasingly common for CAD software to include links to social media sites for user support. The problem is, once users head to these sites for work-related support, the temptation to spend "just a few minutes" checking out all the nonwork-related content is often too great, and wasted time results.

I was prepared to get a lot of feedback from both sides of the debate, and in all honesty, I figured I'd be called a curmudgeon for my generally anti–social media stance or be accused of being overbearing or stifling user creativity.

To my surprise, all the feedback I received from CAD managers was in agreement with my position, either substantially or completely; I didn't receive a single response saying I was wrong. Much of the feedback made for interesting reading as well, so in this issue I'll be sharing it with you and drawing some additional conclusions as we go along. I hope you find the extended discussion useful. Here goes.

Clarifying a Position

Before we begin, I'd like to make one thing clear: I do believe social media is a valid way for CAD managers to find information and make contact with their peers. I even maintain a Facebook page just for CAD managers. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don't think so — and here's why.

I see the CAD manager's use of social media as being very different from that of CAD users. I make this distinction because any information the CAD manager derives from social media sources should be processed, purposed, and positioned for maximum user productivity. The CAD manager then shares this information internally, using company-standard processes. This is a totally different social media strategy than allowing all users to run wild on Facebook.

And I'm all for people using social media to keep up with friends and such — just not at work.

Great One-Liners

I received a number of brief responses that strongly supported my take on social media. In all my years of writing, I've never received as many comments like this on any other topic — even regarding the often-controversial topic of BIM (building information modeling) — and never so many so soon after a newsletter mailed. What is unique is not just the volume of these pithy responses, but also the strong emotional undercurrent in them.

Here's a sampling:

"You are completely correct. This is the first rational article concerning social media I have read."

"Amen brother! I printed your article and posted it in the break room already."

"Great writeup, Robert. You hit the nail right on the head."

"As an operator/manager, I totally agree with your position. I, like you, will eat my words and become a fan when CAD training and CAD tools become the norm on social media."

"I generally agree with your rant. Social media is just that, social, and needs to stay in one's personal life."

"I can say you are right on track with everything you wrote."

"CAD software needs to provide for more productivity, not more ways to be distracted from our design work."

"Thank God! Somebody that understands the ridiculousness of this whole social-media-in-CAD issue."

The conclusions I draw from these responses are that I'm not the only CAD manager having social media problems, and I'm also not the only one who feels frustrated about it.

IT Restrictions

Several readers pointed out that their companies' policies block social media sites from the corporate intranet. For these managers, it doesn't matter whether social media is desirable or not — it simply isn't allowed. Here are a couple of examples:

"Being a CAD IT type, I am privy to access a lot of sites. The leads in engineering disciplines have Internet access to do research as needed as well. However, as of late, a lot of training is being offered on sites that provide movies or videos. Almost every bit of that is blocked in our company. I remember a few years ago, just about everyone here had access to the web. That privilege was removed for all the reasons you mentioned in your article." — T.H.

"I'm a CAD manager for a company of about 100 engineers. AutoCAD MEP is our main (2D) drafting tool, with Revit gradually increasing in use. When I created the initial installation image of AutoCAD MEP 2013, I made sure I disabled all those things that deal with the users having direct access to Autodesk. (That's my job; I want my users going through me to solve their problems. I don't want five people contacting Autodesk for the same problem, while I'm sitting in my cube unaware that there's even a problem.) Imagine my horror when one of my development team mentioned the button that links to Twitter and Facebook! In my initial go-through, I never even paid any attention to those buttons. My boss was sitting across from me and gave me one of those 'How did you miss that?' looks. Now I have to figure out how to disable that button/toolbar." — P.D.

Workplace Distractions

Several readers' key frustration with social media seemed to be what they perceived as the distracting, productivity-sapping nature of the sites. Here are a few of the briefer examples:

"Social media should not be integrated into business software. We do not need the distractions. I simply do not need the distraction, because a 'simple' check on those sites [never takes] 'just a few seconds.'" — R.T.

"I could not agree more with your stance against social media in the CAD workplace. I see tremendous wastes of time with my CAD users and the 'chatting' and 'posting' that takes place all day long. That is not what the users are paid to do. I encourage CAD software vendors to not incorporate social media links into their software packages. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to voice our displeasure with this trend might be on Facebook or other social media sites." — R.M.

"I have blocked social media sites from ... our office Internet access for many years and have no intention to unblock them any time soon. I have also been forced to block many free gaming sites in an effort to keep employees focused on the task at hand. We cannot afford to lose several hours [of work time] to employees socializing with friends and relatives. They have 16 hours per day of their own time in which they can do this." — B.B.

What I find interesting about these responses is the fact that use of social media is not a discussion in these companies, but something that is simply blocked. I've noticed an increasing trend toward blocking social media sites, gaming sites, streaming audio, and video sites such as YouTube. The moral of the story seems to be: The one who controls the corporate network controls social media.

User Discipline

I got more than a few responses that echoed the sentiments in this reader comment:

"I do agree about users spending too much time on the sites. But isn't that a management/staff issue? I say, if they are not doing their job for any reason, let them go. There are many designers without jobs that would gladly take their place." — C.B.

I found it interesting that the majority of CAD/IT managers have dealt with users abusing social media by turning off access at the network level — thus sidestepping the disciplinary issue. Those who feel that social network use is a management issue (rather than an IT issue) were unanimous in their feelings that those who abuse social media privileges should be dismissed.

Network Risks

A few readers amplified my points about social media sites being an IT liability since viruses, worms, and bots picked up from these sites can easily invade your office. Personally, I've wasted too many hours to count cleaning malware, worms, and other infections from user machines. Here's a great comment about why social media is banned in one reader's office, even though useful resources might be available there:

"The use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter is banned at my company. Therefore it does not matter how much training material is put out on these sites. Why not have links to AUGI, Autodesk forums, Cadalyst, TheSwamp, or any other engineering forum that has real value, as those sites are maintained and kept 'safe' for an office environment. There are no such controls on Facebook or Twitter. This is a primary reason these sites are blocked." — L.D.

As more IT departments experience problems with viral invasion from social media sites, this attitude will become the norm. So even if you don't block these sites to cut down on wasted employee time, you'll probably do so for security reasons.

The Best Source of Support

Several readers made the point that even if they are available at the office, social media sites aren't the best place for CAD managers to look for information. Consider this comment:

"I'm not heavily involved in social media, but I do know what each of the big three sites (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) do for their users. Most of the help I've needed has come from forums. Whether they were AUGI, Autodesk, or some other CAD-related forum, whenever I need help, that's where I find my answer. I'm not saying social media can't be a valuable source, I just don't think it's quite there yet. This is why my first stop is usually CAD-related forums." — S.B.

My own experience very much matches S.B.'s comments. Although I have made new contacts with other CAD managers via social media, when I need a technical answer quickly I almost always find it on more traditional web sites or forums. I still feel that a Google search — not Facebook — is the best place to start looking for an answer.

Summing Up

If my read on the CAD management community is any indication, then CAD software providers will face a lot of resistance as they attempt to incorporate social media use in their tools. The perception that users spending time on social media detracts from work time seems to be widespread among management staffs.

As the social media scene evolves, I'm sure we'll all adjust our opinions on how best to use it as a tool. To that end I plan on keeping up with the CAD industry's forays into social media and reporting on how it might affect CAD managers and their users. I promise to do my best to keep an open mind as I do so.

As always, I look forward to receiving your comments at Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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