Does Social Media Belong in CAD Applications?

7 Aug, 2012 By: Robert Green

It's time for a reality check. Social media has its place — but that place is not in your users' CAD software.

In the past, I thought that the CAD tools I used every day were there to help me design buildings, machinery, subdivisions, circuit boards, and other creations. I always believed that great CAD tools enabled me to design more quickly, with higher accuracy, so I could produce better results.

But recently, I’ve come to understand that I was wrong. It turns out that the CAD tools I use are simply launching pads for the social media content delivered to me via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Socialcam (which was recently bought by Autodesk). At least, this is what the CAD software companies are trying to make us believe, as they push more and more social media feeds.

It seems that every time there’s a new fad in the computing world, CAD software vendors hop on the bandwagon. A dozen years ago, they were hyping Internet-enabled CAD. Now, they're trumpeting the value of social media tools for CAD users, and incorporating shortcuts to social media sites in their software products.

As a CAD manager, my concern is that as social media has expanded, I’ve noticed less work getting done. And based on feedback from a number of CAD and senior managers, it appears I’m not the only one.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll address the "social CAD" hype, explore how it affects users, and provide suggestions about how CAD managers can best deal with the situation. Here goes.

The Reality Check for Managers

At the risk of seeming old-fashioned, I’ll state some of my opinions about the value of social media to CAD managers up front:

Nobody ever became a CAD manager because they had Facebook friends. Nobody ever got CAD standards adopted via a LinkedIn group. Nobody ever cut 15% of their project CAD hours by following others on Twitter.

Now it is true that I can collaborate and exchange ideas with my CAD manager peers on Facebook, which I do regularly. But in reality, I was already able to do that via user groups such as AUGI (Autodesk User Group International) or manufacturers' web sites; social media simply consolidates and simplifies the experience.

But could social media turn a non-manager into a manager, turn a MicroStation user into a Revit expert, or teach a newbie how to use SolidWorks? No way!

No, I’m afraid that social media is, at best, a resource that can help CAD managers find others who have practical ideas for doing things better. At worst, social media can become a diversion that actually costs you more time than it saves you. And typically, I can still find better information, more quickly, via a Google search — which leads me to user groups, independent blogs, publications, or manufacturer sites — than I can by perusing social media sites.

The User Reality Check: Productivity Loss and Risk

Let’s face it: Workers are wasting a tremendous amount of time on social media sites these days. If you’re a CAD manager or IT professional, you see it every day.

Many companies I work with have taken steps to block social media sites from their networks, in an attempt to mitigate the productivity loss. Many have also blocked streaming media web sites like Pandora, Spotify, and radio stations to preserve network bandwidth. But even when all the desktop Internet access is cut off, users can still spend hours a day texting, browsing, or checking social media from their smartphones.

Given all these productivity-sapping distractions, what does the CAD industry propose that I do with my users? They want me to link them all to social media sites via their CAD tools! And don’t even get me started on the viruses, worms, malware, and hacking applications that enter computer networks via social media applications. I’ve spent hundreds of hours fixing users' machines after they clicked the wrong app or participated in a seemingly innocent survey on social media sites.

The more I see how much time is wasted on social media, the more I simply want to turn the functionality off. I have no problem with people using social media applications on their own time, but not at the office — unless they can prove to me that the usage helps them achieve their work objectives.

The Upside

Now, lest you think I’m against Internet-enabled CAD, let me assure you that is not the case. I simply differentiate between Internet-enabled CAD and social media, which is something totally different. Consider the following:

A CAD program that can download its own bug fixes and keep its own help files and documentation up-to-date without administrative intervention saves users and CAD managers time and frustration.

Internet-hosted electronic training resources made available to users so they can educate themselves about a product's new features or best practices are another great application. In fact, if the the creation of training communities becomes the main application of social media for CAD — so users actually learn CAD by using social media — I’ll be happy to eat my words and become a fan!

Why Social Media?

So if the combination of CAD tools and social media is fraught with pitfalls, why are we seeing so much support for it? This is a question best answered with more questions:

Who benefits the most from social media links in CAD tools? The software vendors, primarily. After all, if they can direct you into a social media page/group/site that they control, they’ll be able to market to you more effectively.

Why are CAD tools embracing social media? If you spend your day using a CAD application, then it becomes logical to expose you to social media within the CAD tool you know best. Once you enter the social media environment, then the marketing aspect takes over, as explained above.

Why should you care about social media? To the extent that you, as a CAD manager, can filter through the irrelevant and find good information/contacts within social media sites that help you manage your CAD tools better, it can be a benefit. But turning all your users loose to spend hours on social media sites can be a recipe for workplace disaster.

What Senior Management Thinks

Senior management has become savvy enough to know what Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn look like. When they see social media tools on users' computer screens, they automatically think that the company's employees are chatting with friends or looking for another job — not doing their work. After all, an engineer, architect, drafter, designer, or operator isn’t being paid to do Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, right?

So what will senior management think of a CAD manager who actually encourages the use of social media by their staff? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Summing Up

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of social media in the workplace. I do see some value in it for CAD managers, as long as it is used judiciously. However, I foresee nothing but problems if users are allowed to access social media as they see fit on corporate networks.

Am I totally wrong? Am I just an old-school CAD manager, or do you feel the same way about the current emphasis on social media in the CAD world? I look forward to receiving your comments at so we can continue the discussion in the next edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Does Social Media Belong in CAD Applications?
by: David Blair
August 16, 2012 - 10:29am
I agree that using social MEDIA sometimes might not be the best way to do product develop as you could expose company IP and future designs to the world inadvertently. Using Facebook or Linkedin to collaborate on your company’s next great design could be a bad idea (unless are trying to solicit feedback from customers – but this is more crowdsourcing). Social MEDIA could also be a distraction as you go to look up information and end up 10 minutes later looking at the fan site of your favorite football team. However, there is very much a place to use Social SOFTWARE (not necessarily Social MEDIA) to improve your products and make CAD engineers a heck of a lot more productive. Social SOFTWARE takes web 2.0 concepts pioneered in Social Media with Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc. (i.e. features like communities, microblogging, activity streams, etc.) and puts them in applications for an enterprise. What I’m talking about here is the idea of using Social SOFTWARE to improve collaboration and communication within your company. Tell me what is the natural reaction to an engineer who is stuck on a problem… it is probably to ask the guy or gal in the cube next to them for some advice. What if you could instead tap into your entire company network – your engineers located around the globe – as opposed to only a few people to get advice on that problem. If your question could be asked as part of a community where people can come together virtually to share information and advice, that could have a ton of benefit. Think about it, you could have the Facebook like Groups or Google like Circles or Jive like Communities to vet questions, find experts, share information. Maybe it is a question on what material to use for a design, or how to put ribs on a plastic part, or how to actually use that sophisticated new CAD software that you just bought. These people inside your company could use Social SOFTWARE inside your enterprise to better connect to become more aware/smarter and ultimately produce better products. This is the real promise of Social SOFTWARE for your CAD community (notice I said community because that is exactly what these people are). So I’ll have to disagree with your premise. It’s not getting distracted by venturing out on Facebook, but instead taking advantage of Social SOFTWARE at your company when applied correctly for engineers!