CAD Manager's Newsletter #101 (February 26, 2004)

25 Feb, 2004 By: Robert Green

Issue Focus: Trends to Watch For
Your Comments
Changes for Large and Small
-Trend 1: Submitting information in neutral formats
-Trend 2: Electronic tracking of transmittals and versions/revisions
-Trend 3: Ever-Tighter Reins on Implementation and Training Budgets
Wrapping Up

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In the last CAD Manager's Newsletter I took myself to task for not focusing enough on the small-company CAD management perspective (both financial and technical) and promised to keep it in mind in the future. I received a fair amount of feedback from readers, some of which I want to share with you:

On the issue of small company CAD managers wearing multiple hats, DS wrote:

It's not just the small companies where the CAD manager has to juggle design work with CAD administration. The company I work for has more than 10,000 employees worldwide. In addition to the CAD management issues I deal with, I still have my regular full-time design and drafting duties. I was moved to salary (rather than hourly) becaue of the number of hours it takes to complete everything I am given daily. To clean up and finish my tasks, I am here some weekends and even holidays, besides being on-call to resolve issues.

On the issue of subscription-style software upgrades being forced on users lest they have to pay full price for future upgrades, CM wrote:

The newsletter mentions the guy who upgraded because he didn't want to pay full-seat prices next time. I agonized over the same thing, but after doing a little math decided not to upgrade. Why? I reasoned that the enhancements would not justify upgrading. If the improvements come at the same rate for the next four years, the money I've saved on upgrades or subscriptions will pay for the full seat at that time.

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In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I promised that this time I'd cover some changes in work trends and practices that will impact CAD managers no matter what size their company. I've based my conclusions on a combination of market factors, software trends, and personal experience with my private clients. So, in no particular order, here goes.

More and more companies are swapping information with one another in nonCAD formats such as Adobe's PDF (portable document format), Autodesk's DWF (design web format), and Solidworks' EDRW (eDrawings). Even though it may seem counterproductive to convert a CAD file to a nonCAD format, several key factors are conspiring to propagate this trend. Surprisingly enough, they have little to do with the intense competition between Adobe, Autodesk, and SolidWorks.

Factor 1: Increasingly, globalization of manufacturing means that any information sent to anyone in a CAD format could, at least in theory, be stolen by someone other than the intended recipient. This sort of industrial espionage is leading more companies to be extremely careful about letting go of any native CAD files for fear of losing intellectual property. So, though technology lets us move electronic information around effortlessly, the ease with which information can be misappropriated leads us to seek out a data format that will prevent misuse. Neutral formats provide the benefits of electronic transmission while thwarting information theft.

Factor 2: The American economy remains rife with legal hurdles to digital signatures, even though President Clinton signed legislation in 1998 that made digital signatures legally binding. Even though many CAD vendors, Autodesk included, have embraced VeriSign's digital signature encryption technology within their products, the lawyers and their collective pessimism regarding its legal admissibility still rule the day. Neutral file formats do not have a digital signature problem because they are a noneditable representation that can't be altered.

Note to CAD Managers: CAD vendors are making strides with their own neutral document formats (DWF and eDRW, for example), but your IT department may insist on PDF standardization. My recommendation is that you evaluate the new CAD neutral formats against PDF from time to time to see how your needs match the product's key strengths and keep your IT department in the loop.

Ordinarily I would lump transmittals and version control in with document management, but vendors are giving us more ways to achieve these functions in core CAD packages. Though keeping track of what you've sent to whom has always been a key part of recordkeeping in engineering and architectural offices, the realm of transmittal control has remained stubbornly paper based. My opinion is that the sheer lack of reasonably priced, commercially available software to do the job means that an electronic transmittal control program, by definition, necessitates custom programming and the price tag that accompanies it.

Increasingly, CAD vendors are building transmittal functionality into their own CAD packages (think Autodesk's eTransmit as an example). We're also seeing the ability to archive entire packages of drawings with date-sensitive storage of dependent files like xrefs and images. You'll be reading a good bit about AutoCAD 2005's Sheet Set Manager and how it handles job organization, transmittal, and archiving. The Sheet Set Manager doesn't solve every information transmittal problem, but it's instructive to see just how much you can do within a CAD system rather than a document management program.

Note to CAD Managers: I'm optimistic about this trend. When CAD vendors start to attack a problem, the natural forces of market competition give us better solutions at lower costs. I think transmittals and archiving are now at the forefront of the development curve.

With all the neat software updates out there that promise to solve all our problems, the budgetary constraints CAD managers must operate within are growing tighter all the time, even though the westernized world's economies seem to be getting better.

My observation is that as software tools become more mature, upgrades are easier to understand and take less time for users to absorb. Implementing software upgrades still has all the disadvantages it's always had - file format changes, verifying customization functionality, interaction with third- party tools, and so forth - yet the interfaces are more stable and thus seem less threatening. And even complex software offerings like mechanical modeling systems and building information modeling systems strive to reduce learning-curve time

Note to CAD Managers: Be aware that management will eventually wonder why they've purchased subscription-based software contracts that aren't getting implemented, even when your budget for implementation is shrinking. Be prepared to show why a new software release is required and how the company can benefit so you can argue persuasively for the implementation funding you need. Don't try to implement software without the resources you need to get the job done lest you preside over an implementation disaster.

I truly believe that all CAD managers will experience a movement toward increasingly format-neutral electronic control of design data no matter what size company you work for. The simple market reality that small companies work with big companies and vice versa forces a cross-pollination of work methodologies that provide increased speed, efficiency, and security for everyone involved with moving CAD data. I urge you to either develop a plan for dealing with these trends or, at minimum, be sure you have some contingencies in place to deal with them should your business partners force the issue.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll give you my initial impressions on the new AutoCAD 2005 series of products and how they may alter the way you're approaching your AutoCAD installations. Until then.