An Open Letter to CAD Software Companies25 Feb, 2014 By: Robert Green
Here’s what we really need from our tools — and from the firms that develop and market them.
Over the years, I've received lots of feedback from CAD managers telling me what they think CAD software companies should do to make their products better. I've heard a lot of complaints, some compliments, and a lot of expletives through the years, but the main thing I've concluded is this: CAD managers don't think that CAD companies listen. In addition, I've noticed a strong uptick in CAD managers' grumbling since cloud-based CAD has become such a hot topic.
In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along the collective comments I've heard from CAD managers in the form of an open letter. Let's hope that CAD companies hear its message. Here goes.
Dear CAD Company CEO:
As CAD managers, we toil in less-than-ideal conditions. We work long hours, deal with irritated users, and have little budget or authority, yet we're expected to make CAD/building information modeling (BIM) software work all the time. We have to help our companies meet deadlines and profit goals, while keeping all our users trained so that the wheels don't fall off the CAD bus. It isn't an easy or glamorous job, yet we do it because we love CAD technology and want our companies to succeed.
We're some of your biggest fans, because you produce the software we work with every day. Unfortunately, we often struggle to manage the tools you produce and to make them work well. If you could listen to us, better understand the frustrations we deal with, and address a few requests, we'll be more than happy to sing your praises.
Here are a few things you could do to help us.
Quit Telling Us What We Need
In the past, CAD companies have told us all about which kind of software we need to get our work done. We've been told we need Internet extensions, proprietary viewing formats and utilities, cloud applications, rental software, and more. To be fair, some of these declarations have become reality (such as Internet-enabled CAD), but it took years for the changes to permeate the marketplace and show up in our day-to-day workflows. On the other side of the coin, many of the changes advocated, such as the need for proprietary viewing formats, were never able to overcome our company's needs to use industry standards (that's why most of us still publish and share PDF files).
The moral of the story is that the marketplace and our customers' requirements determine the software we use, not your marketing department — which leads me to my next request.
Ditch the Buzzwords and Get Real
In the go-go Internet years, every piece of marketing material the CAD companies sent out talked about paradigm shifting of the design process. When paradigm shift had been beat to death, collaboration replaced it as the new buzzword du jour. Recently everything has BIM associated with it, and you can't look at a CAD company's web site these days without seeing "cloud" (or the even worse "cloud-based collaboration") a half-dozen times. I don't need to hear about "cloud-based collaboratively optimized BIM"; I need to learn how to design buildings better. I don't need glossy pictures — I need knowledge.
I humbly request the following: Please ditch the glitzy marketing materials and spend that money producing materials that help my team use your tools better. Rather than trying to persuade us to buy something from you using buzzwords, teach us how to make better designs. I promise we'll be more interested in buying your tools if we can use them more effectively.
Deliver Speed and Stability
In addition to learning how to better use your tools, we need improvements to the tools themselves: specifically, we need software that is lean, fast, and stable. No one has ever been yelled at because their software rendered too quickly or performed design functions without crashing.
If you want to really get CAD managers on your side, focus on providing software updates that are more compact, quicker to install, less likely to crash, and just plain faster than the previous version. Do this and I'll stand over my boss's desk until the purchase order is signed for our updates, and I will install them the minute I receive them.
Stress Functional Simplicity
As software tools become more mature, we invariably see more icons, floating dialog boxes, and system tray components in the user interface (UI). In fact, there are sometimes so many UI components that the screen space available to work in is too small. If the software UI was minimal and really worked well, my users would have less to learn and more space to work in.
Sometimes it seems that software interfaces are updated just to make us think the latest update is more substantial than it really is. Every change in the UI generates user questions, and user questions mean I have to do more training. If I have to spend time training, I'd rather focus on topics that facilitate better design rather than how to navigate an updated interface.
Make Software Maintenance Easier — Much Easier
Have you ever had to update 60 seats of your software overnight and be ready to go the next morning at 6 a.m.? I have, and so have most other CAD managers. Let me tell you, it's not easy.
In fairness to CAD companies, they've made progress in this area with deployment kits that check for service packs during installation, but how about after the initial install? Just knowing what service packs are available for my operating systems and graphics cards is a challenge to keep up with.
I shouldn't need to be an IT expert just to install a CAD update. Shouldn't the software be able to figure out when it needs to be updated? Microsoft, Adobe, and Intuit are examples of companies that have figured out these problems — you should too.
Support Your Secret Weapon
While users will always appreciate saving a keystroke here and there or finding new options and commands that can help them, the CAD manager is the one who usually finds the real productivity boosters hidden in your software. When I find them, I teach them to my users and advocate for using your software more efficiently. I'm the evangelist who promotes your software and influences others to use it better. This makes me your secret weapon.
Why not use CAD managers to your advantage by providing us with the types of functionalities I've described, along with stability and documentation so it is easier for me to advise my users and managers alike to use your software more fully? I guarantee you that my boss would much rather pay for the types of productivity-boosting functions I've described than speculate on a bunch of buzzwords.
The best thing you can do for me is to provide me with software that works well, is easy to maintain, and doesn't overburden me in terms of training and tech support. That is software I'll be happy to purchase and promote.
Help Me Persuade My Boss
When I have to go to management and ask for money to upgrade or purchase software subscriptions, I'm always met with the same response: "Why do you need that?" The burden then falls on me to explain to my boss why my company should spend money on your product. I guarantee that you would sell more software if you provided your purchasing advocate — the CAD manager — with business-based tools to explain why we should make these purchases.
Remember, I (usually) don't have budget authority, so I have to convince my boss to invest in support services and updates for CAD tools. Doesn't it stand to reason that if you help me explain your technology to my boss, I'd have an easier time purchasing it?
I know this letter may sound like I'm griping, but I'm honestly trying to forge a working relationship with you that is based on the actual metrics of CAD performance, including improved ease of use, lower training costs, easier maintenance, and faster performance. I'd love to discuss CAD needs with you, and my hope is that you want to have that conversation with me, your customer.
Robert Green, on behalf of CAD managers everywhere
What do you think of this letter? What would you add to it? Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll do my best to get word to the CAD companies any way I can. Until next time.