CAD Manager's Newsletter #77 (Jan. 9, 2003)

8 Jan, 2003 By: Robert Green

At the beginning of each year, I ponder the state of the CAD industry and forecast how I think things will change in the next 12 months. I've been rewinding my mental tapes from Autodesk University (AU), where I taught a number of CAD-management classes, and I've singled out some industry trends that I think are worth watching. Since AU has a high concentration of CAD managers, I had a chance to swap stories and opinions with many of them. I found these exchanges to be of great value since they were from real-world CAD managers who were "in the trenches" every day. At the same time, I was able to meet a number of software vendors, allowing me to speak with both users and manufacturers.

Of course I realize that AU is very AutoCAD-centric, and I'm fully aware that many of you either don't use AutoCAD or use it in conjunction with other systems. However, by revisiting my AU experiences, I hope to point out industry trends that are relevant to all software packages and offer some insight into how you might manage your CAD department.

Flat Software Markets

One of the first things I wanted to know was how AU vendors and participants thought the CAD software market was performing. While I expected rosy marketing spins from the vendors and brutal honesty from the users, I was surprised to find that both parties had a frank assessment of how poorly the software market was doing.

Not surprisingly, most vendors blame the software market's lethargic performance on cautious spending prompted by poor economic conditions. Upon further probing, though, I was able to get some vendors to admit that many customers had the technology they needed to get the job done and just weren't seeing great benefits from buying new releases.

Most CAD managers I spoke with expressed a cautious attitude towards software purchasing and the annual subscription agreements. One CAD manager even said, "If [the software companies] can figure out faster ways to lay down lines, circles, text, and dimensions, I'll upgrade; otherwise, I don't have much need for anything new!"

After some reflection, I concluded that the software market was affected just as much by user indifference to new releases as it was by bad economic conditions, and that the software vendors understood it too.

CAD managers are now more aligned with management's view ("show me something worthwhile") and less aligned with the technologist's view ("give me the latest and greatest").

I think the news for CAD managers is really good; the industry now knows it has to offer CAD managers productivity tools rather than a bunch of bells and whistles. Furthermore, the industry now understands the importance of the CAD manager, more than ever!

High-End Software Market

My other mission at AU was to determine how the high-end systems--including Autodesk's Building Systems, Revit, and Inventor--were faring in the recession. The way I saw it, high-end 3D packages were evolving rapidly; therefore, they provided more incentives to upgrade. To my surprise, again, I got no rosy marketing spins from these vendors but rather a grudging acceptance that spending was down, thus technology adoption had taken a hit.

The primary reasons people cited for the decrease in investment in high-end systems were the cost of training and implementation, and adjusting procedures, and design methods.

So, even if a compelling new technology is available, the combined cost of the software and all its implementation requirements is enough to keep companies from forging ahead. I spoke to a number of CAD managers who had done pilot studies with 3D systems but weren't able to get management to authorize the full-blown implementation.

I feel I can draw parallels between Autodesk's products and other software products (such as Pro/E, SolidWorks, Bentley, and others) because financial statements from all the major software vendors show the same picture--a flattened sales forecast. While I fully understand that software titles are different, I would argue that market forces are the same for all software companies.

Development Trends?

As with any trade show, I always like to visit vendors and see what they're selling and where their development efforts are going. I find it instructive.

Since the software companies are having a tough time driving up sales, their software releases now emphasize user-requested items. The speculative developments stemming from the Internet frenzy of 1999/2000 are gone; everything is now focused and customer-driven.

The development teams I talked to at AU were decidedly businesslike and focused on ease of implementation; they also understood value parameters such as return on investment (ROI). Maybe 2003 will be the year when CAD returns to its root of providing faster ways to get drawings done. Time will tell, but I'm willing to bet that development trends in the coming year will favor stable, production-friendly software.

Wrapping Up

I'd like to thank all the CAD Manager's Newsletter readers who took the time to find me at AU this year. It was a pleasure to meet so many of you and connect faces with email addresses. I particularly enjoyed trading CAD-management tips with many readers and learning all about your workplace issues.

As always, please feel free to email me at with ideas for newsletter topics.