Managing Today’s Hybrid CAD Office, Part 213 Oct, 2021 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager's Column: How to manage staffing, training, and workflows to keep your hybrid office working smoothly.
In the last installment of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we delved into the complex 2D/3D/BIM/Cloud world of the hybrid CAD office. We focused on the problems that arise in the hybrid environment and started a discussion on how to arrive at the ideal mixture of tools you’ll need. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll complete our discussion by looking at some specific workflow, staffing, and training strategies you can use to reduce complexity and lower costs in your hybrid CAD environment. Here goes.
Image source: vegefox.com/stock.adobe.com.
Figuring Out “The Right Blend”
I envision the hybrid CAD office as a blended environment where a wide range of tools and formats come together to form a workable CAD ecosystem. It sounds simple when you say it, but it can be hard to know what the right blend is. Let’s consider the following:
- What’s 2D, 3D, or BIM? Which work processes are best accomplished with what types of tools?
- What formats must you deliver? The actual file formats you deliver to your clients (DWG, RVT, DGN, etc.) may also inform what tools you must use to create your finished products. In some cases, the client may be a construction firm that wants PDF files. In another case, the “client” may be a laser cutter that requires DWG file input with all tooling paths implemented as polylines. From these two examples you can see how the output requirements may or may not dictate specific tools.
- What’s on the Cloud? Will you use cloud-based applications, or regular CAD/BIM tools with the data stored in the Cloud? How will you manage the users and data synchronization required to keep everyone working on the same files?
- Where are the interface points? Which tools must work together flawlessly to deliver the work? In some cases, BIM tools and 2D CAD tools must be integrated; in other cases, you may need to aggregate data from field instruments or scanned point clouds into CAD tools for design purposes. Knowing which tools you have to interface with is key.
- What does it all cost? Of course, you’ll want to manage all these different tools at the lowest total cost over time and that will also inform which tools you will use.
It doesn’t sound easy, does it? It isn’t! In fact, it’s a complex equation with many variables that must be solved, so we need some additional constraints to arrive at a solution. Let’s explore how to arrive at the best blended hybrid environment possible.
What Does the Staff Need?
CAD tools change, workstations change, and cloud architectures change, but the one thing that never changes is that your business is only as successful as your staff allows you to be. Or, put another way, you can buy all the hardware, software, and network tools you like, but without good people that are correctly deployed you’ll have nothing but problems. Here then, are some things to consider as you figure out the best blend for your hybrid CAD office:
- Understand how different 2D and 3D/BIM workflows are: Is it easy to take a 20-year AutoCAD veteran and move them to BIM? Usually not. Change is hard and requires a lot of training.
- Not everyone needs 3D/BIM workflows: Instances such as shop floor users, construction managers, or engineers who do markups typically need view, print, and redline functionality. Do you really need these users on 3D/BIM tools?
- Not everyone even needs CAD: If a user only needs view/print/redline functionality, do they even need CAD tools? Think how much cheaper it would be to have these users on free viewing tools rather than expensive CAD tools?
- Put the right people in 3D/BIM positions: Most of the staffing problems I see in hybrid 2D/3D environments involve selecting the wrong personnel for a given CAD tool. By selecting users who demonstrate the ability to learn quickly while keeping a positive and self-motivated attitude, you’ll have fewer staffing problems and higher productivity. (I’ve also noticed that rewarding those who exhibit positive learning techniques tends to gain senior management’s approval more readily than a “Let’s train everybody on 3D/BIM” approach.)
Standardize and Train
To operate efficiently, define what design and documentation processes need to use which tools. (Remember that the task defines the tools!) If you don’t standardize the use of tools, you’ll ultimately end up with users picking whatever they personally like and all manner of file versions and formats will ensue. Be sure to standardize whether these tools are cloud-based, desktop-based, PC, or iOS devices, and the like. The goal is the smallest possible set of standard tools with the minimum number of variants to support.
As you standardize, consider the staffing pointers above to figure out who needs training and how best to deliver it over time. In my experience, picking the smallest number of people to train usually yields fast results. And remember, not everybody needs training on everything.
Only after you’ve standardized the office with the tools you’ll need and set up your training plan can you be confident that you’ll be able to achieve the ideal hybrid blend of tools and users.
Another wrinkle in the hybrid CAD office is keeping track of files. After all, isn’t keeping track of the files and information produced by CAD what CAD management is all about?
The diverse nature of file formats and cloud information makes data management a lot tougher in the hybrid CAD office. Whether you use a commercially available cloud data management tool, a smart series of folders synced between branch office servers, or a mixture of the two, the point is that all information must be stored in a logical manner and all files must be accounted for.
Data management problems have a way of snowballing out of control in hybrid offices unless you mitigate them early with good procedures, controls, and standards. Make no mistake — by the time users are creating four different types of files on three different CAD tools, it is far harder to gain control than if you’d planned ahead. So, take control now, before it gets any worse! It is imperative that you have a plan for managing the data produced by all the tools used in your hybrid environment.
More than any other set of problems you’ll deal with, the hybrid CAD office presents a multifaceted challenge to the CAD manager. Those challenges include being understanding of complex systems, management of users and training, interfacing of systems, and data management. No wonder hybrid CAD management seems tough — it is!
It is my hope that you’ll examine your company’s needs and staff to arrive at a hybrid CAD environment that gives you the simplest most cost-effective set of CAD tools possible to get the job done. So, don’t just blindly struggle with the hybrid CAD office, think it through and plan it out. You’ll be richly rewarded for doing so.