CAD Manager's Newsletter #100: Mea Culpa

11 Feb, 2004 By: Robert Green

Issue Focus: Taking Me to Task
Your Comments
-On Upgrading
-On File Management
-On Usefulness Trumping Pie-in-the-Sky Features
A Lesson for Me
Wrapping Up

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Your Comments
In the last CAD Manager's Newsletter I went out on a limb and actually got optimistic about the future of CAD software. I cited, most notably, the following observations: * Old software and equipment is dying * Software manufacturers are listening * Useful features are trumping pie in the sky * Data management is being addressed seriously Wow, did I get some feedback on these issues, and most of it disagreed with my assessments! So in the interest of tackling the tough issues, I've decided to postpone further market observations to share and respond to three of the best comments from readers.
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On Upgrading
On the topic of software upgrades getting better, having more functionality, and being more worthwhile, TF wrote: "We upgraded because of the threat of being charged full license prices for our eight seats. We didn't upgrade because the economy is good. Quite the contrary. My boss had to take out a personal loan to pay for the upgrades. We are a small architectural firm, so we don't have the cash flow that many larger companies do."

Response: TF makes a valid point. Many software manufacturers have adopted a subscription approach to upgrades. Several software vendors even require users to upgrade their software within certain timeframes or lose the right to upgrade. I don't argue the point that these "upgrade or else" policies can cause financial strain on small businesses; my point was that at least the upgrades are getting better.

On File Management
On my observation that software companies are paying a lot more attention to file management issues, TF wrote: "Why do so many people care about file management software? I have a system of specific folder names and filenames that keep much of the potential confusion at bay. I have to admit, though, that getting people to follow the naming standards is not always easy (as with all other standards). I've looked into various file management programs, but honestly don't see the need as long as there's a consistent standard to follow for storing drawings."

Response: TF is once again coming from a small-company perspective where the CAD manager can stay on top of the details and manage the filing aspect of running a CAD department with minimal pain. This perspective on file management may change, though, as even small companies and workgroups start to work with mechanical or building modeling software where revision schemes, file-to-file relationships, and adherence to naming standards are essential for proper use of CAD tools.

On the other hand, large companies with CAD managers responsible for 30 to 100 users are embracing file management software as the only way to keep the department from spiraling into filing anarchy. Even if smaller companies aren't making use of file management technology yet, they may well have to in the future, and they'll benefit from the battle testing that larger companies are undertaking right now.

On Usefulness Trumping Pie-in-the-Sky Features
MM takes issue with my assertion that software companies like Autodesk are listening more to users, putting in more useful features, and staying away from less-used, overly technical features. He writes: "My conclusion is that somebody is totally unclear on the concept. Straight out of the box, AutoCAD is still hamstrung by the same old basic commands that have been hampering productivity since v1.1. As an example, 'C' is still set for Circle, when after all these years, and Lord knows how many examples to the contrary, C should be COPY! I'm particularly incensed that tried, true, and bug free 'hot keys' and AutoLISP routines that have been around for at least as long as I've been working with AutoCAD (9 years now) increase productivity far more than the whistles and bells Autodesk is adding to AutoCAD."

Response: MM is venting his frustration that AutoCAD isn't tailored to the more keyboard-driven, power-user approach relied on by many of us long- time AutoCAD users. Of course, for every user who thinks C should mean Copy, there will be others who think C should mean Chamfer or even Circle.

I've resigned myself to the reality that when new AutoCAD releases come out, I'll have to update my shortcut keys. It should be noted that newer versions of AutoCAD have done a nice job of migrating key customization files to mitigate these tasks to a large degree. In AutoCAD's case, I've been particularly impressed with the new Tool Palette functionality and how portable the Tool Palettes are compared with migrating compiled menu structures, as one example. So even though the AutoCAD product team may not be building my particular dream version of AutoCAD, it is building new releases that take portability and easier customization to heart, which lets me tweak AutoCAD just the way I want it. I guess I see the glass as half full in this case because I'm getting more CAD manager-friendly functionality in an easy-to-tweak package.

A Lesson for Me
As I read through the reader feedback from CAD Manager's Newsletter 99, I can't help but conclude that almost all the negative feedback comes from CAD managers at small companies who are juggling their full-time design duties with part-time CAD management. These CAD managers aren't pondering big new document management projects or thinking about how to deploy CAD tools to 100 people over wide-area networks-they're trying to keep their company running. I have to admit that many of the technology trends I cover in this newsletter are geared to medium to large companies. I can see how the small company CAD manager would take me to task for this. Therefore, I'll be more mindful to supply tips, tricks, and editorial coverage for the small-company CAD manager in upcoming issues. I may even dedicate a few newsletters specifically to CAD management challenges at small companies, so stay tuned.

Wrapping Up
Next time, I'll complete my CAD market evaluation by highlighting some changes in work trends and practices that I think will impact CAD managers no matter what size their company. Until then.