CAD Manager's Newsletter #81 (Mar. 19, 2003)

18 Mar, 2003 By: Robert Green

Is New Software in Your Future?

As promised in the last CAD Manager's Newsletter, we'll be examining how to prepare for upgrading your CAD software during the next few issues. This spring is producing a stream of new products from Autodesk (the new AutoCAD 2004 product line) and PTC (Pro/E Wildfire [Look for a review in the April 2003 issue of CADENCE magazine]) that are competing for scarce software budget dollars. Since upgrade revenues for most CAD vendors have been low over the past two years, we can expect to see an aggressive push from vendors hawking new products.

Whether you use AutoCAD, Inventor, SolidWorks, Pro/E, or any other popular CAD software, you can utilize the same basic procedures for readying your department for a software upgrade. By using these procedures you should be able to evaluate your true needs and the necessity of a given upgrade.

Building Some Checklists

The days of automatic upgrading to the "latest and greatest" release are long gone so far as management is concerned, so you should evaluate your software needs in a more rational manner.

Here are some helpful recommendations:

  1. Get Organized Before Upgrading!

    I highly recommend that you use the CAD Manager's Newsletter issues #78, #79, and #80 (Cleaning the CAD House Parts I-III) as a blueprint for gaining organizational control of your CAD department. I've also included reader feedback on the series at the end of this newsletter. By undertaking these key organizational tasks prior to upgrading, you'll instill a culture of discipline that will assist you with upgrading as well establishing as a cleaner basis from which to start your transition. One fact I've seen validated over and over since my first major AutoCAD upgrade in 1985 is this: The more organized you are before you upgrade, the smoother your upgrade will go!

  2. Make a Features Gripe List.

    Chances are you've compiled a list of gripe items over the years. These are the exact gripes that should be compiled into your inventory list of shortcomings. It just makes sense to know which problems have been vexing you, so you can see how to eliminate them with upgrades. View it as the list of problems you'd like to see any software upgrade fix.

  3. Make a Features Wish List.

    It is also a safe bet that most CAD managers have uttered the words, "I wish our CAD system would do <fill in the blank> better!" These wish list items tend to document the types of tasks you do repetitively that could benefit from some automation or, at least, a reduction in steps/keystrokes. While wish list items tend to be specific to your company's needs and are less likely to be in a software upgrade's list of features, you should still look for them.

  4. Consider Your Staff.

    Create a realistic inventory of your personnel's current skills and project how well (or poorly) they might respond to a new software release. How well can your design staff accommodate sweeping software changes? These issues not only focus on the raw ability to learn new software but also on how well the upgrade will be tolerated within a work culture. If you feel that your current staff doesn't want to change their software tools, you can bet that implementing the upgrade will be rough. On the other hand, if you have fast learners who are motivated to make the swap, you can look forward to a positive upgrade implementation. This is an area where you must be honest with yourself and not gloss over potential problems. Remember that even the perfect software upgrade will be horrible to implement if your staff isn't ready and willing to undergo the change.

  5. Consider Your Budget.

    Here is another area where realism rules. If the money isn't available in sufficient quantities to purchase software, provide training, and offer support through implementation, you'd be better off not upgrading. Businesses are much less tolerant of the technical anarchy that comes with an undercapitalized software upgrade, even when they may be encouraging you to cut corners on the costs. Be sure you don't end up trying to implement a software upgrade unless you are sure you have the money you need to get the job done.

Summing Up

Now you should be able to compile your lists and build a framework for justifying (or not justifying) a CAD software upgrade. As you do your homework, be sure to keep a business frame of mind and try to avoid getting lost in the new feature hype that software upgrades typically foster. Remember that the more you think about these issues now, the better off you'll be later in the upgrading process.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll provide some nuts-and-bolts recommendations for handling software upgrades that I've personally used with my customers.

Reader Feedback to "Cleaning the CAD House" Series

I've received more than 60 responses to my "Cleaning the CAD House" series. Most replies were positive, though a few IT managers did take me to task for advocating independent CAD management backup and archiving systems. What became apparent pretty quickly was that many IT managers were doing a great job at backing up company data, but many more had to fend for themselves! I was genuinely surprised at how many CAD managers had become the de facto IT managers as a result of downsizing.

Included here are some of the responses I consider valuable. Some contain concrete recommendations, while others simply struck a chord with me. I want to thank everyone who emailed in their replies!

Many of the responses I received were similar to this one from TK in Ohio:

I just wanted to thank you for your "Cleaning the CAD house" series. Up until now I thought I was the only one who had these problems, and it makes me feel better to know I'm not. The series so closely covered the issues at my company that I was beginning to think you had a spy in my office!

From JD in Illinois:

I'd like to offer another technology for backup that wasn't available a short time ago. We backup our data to an external 120GB hard drive. With the advent of USB 2.0 combined with low cost drives, this is a very effective solution for us. Our data storage server currently contains close to 65GB of drawing files that can be backed up in approximately seven hours. And at a price of $250 per drive, we can even justify storing separate monthly backup drives offsite.

From JG in Georgia:

We recently installed UNDELETE software on all of our servers. This software saves any files deleted from the server and has reduced our need to access daily/weekly backups.

From BT in Connecticut:

In the directory where we delete junk files, we created a readme.txt file with the names of the deleted files, the date they were deleted, and who to go to for the backup CD. This acts as double insurance in case the CD is misplaced. Knowing the date the file was deleted speeds up the approval process when submitting paperwork for a backup-restore.

An Especially Savvy Analysis from JS in Pennsylvania:

About three years ago, our office went through exactly the pains you describe. It took a mountain of evidence to convince our Partners (most of whom are not very technologically savvy) that tolerating those who do not follow standards and cannot keep their project files organized was losing the company more than their collective salaries. Those folks are now working elsewhere. I have been showing the skeptics your columns and trying to keep the I-told-you-so attitude to myself.

Needless to say, I required a few allies before starting the painful process. While I am the CAD manager, I am not the IT/Systems Administrator. He was the first to get on board, though, and he has been very supportive as I have made his job much easier. If you are a CAD Manager but not the IT Administrator, you must get this person to sign on. If there is a turf battle, you must work out a solution with this person before trying to work on management. Otherwise, they could use the IT person's opinion (real or imagined) against you. In the end, you can argue that by giving you some authority the IT administrator reduces his or her stress level.

I would add one additional little note to your office CAD clean-up procedure. Inform your staff when you are going to delete the junk--just do it quietly. Those who ignore you will still ignore you, but it gives some of the folks a shot at redemption, and one last chance to fix their own mistakes. I found that those who knew they did not follow standards, but wanted to do things right would come to me a day in advance and ask, "Can you help me correct this?" It was music to my ears! I got an opportunity to train them, and they were saved the embarrassment of screaming when I deleted their project.