State of the CAD Industry: Questions for CAD Managers7 Nov, 2017 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Do your experiences in the CAD environment align with the messages that software vendors are promoting?
Thanks to my work as a writer and consultant in the world of CAD management, I receive a lot of correspondence from developers, vendors, and PR firms. They are typically keen to persuade me that their company knows the path to CAD nirvana; they have solved the pressing problems that plague CAD environments, so CAD managers can finally breathe easy. In practice, however, I talk with many CAD managers who eye these “perfect solutions” with suspicion, and take issue with the direction the CAD industry is moving. This disparity begs the question, “What do you think?”
In the coming weeks, I’ll be attending Autodesk University and talking to lots of CAD managers to get their input. I also want to cast a wide net to get as many diverse opinions as possible, so in this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll set out a few questions, provide my perspectives on these issues, and invite you to share your thoughts via e-mail and social media; then I’ll continue the conversation in the next edition. Here goes.
Question #1: Should All CAD Software Be on the Cloud?
The software industry is pushing the idea that running CAD tools on a desktop computer without an Internet connection is an old-fashioned way of working that has gone the way of the dodo bird or T. rex. They’d have us believe we should all be using cloud-based software instead.
Perspective: I’ve seen too many cases where connectivity is questionable, or slow wide-area networks (WANs) with pathetic bandwidth have made running CAD tools via an Internet-connected cloud untenable. There are other problematic situations too — such as remote sites where even a cell phone signal is dicey, and Wi-Fi is simply out of the question. All I know is that running software on a local machine, with no Internet connection required, continues to serve my clients well.
What’s your position on this question? Should everyone switch to cloud-based software, or is locally installed software is still the way to go?
Question #2: Should Software Be Rented Instead of Purchased?
Another idea the software industry (not just CAD companies but Adobe, Intuit, etc.) is pushing is that software should simply be rented on a monthly, annual, or per-use basis rather than purchased outright and operated until an update occurs at some future date.
Perspective: Software companies make the argument that renting software leads to a lower cost of ownership as compared to purchasing the software outright. They typically quote a cost scenario over multiple years to justify their point. What can’t be denied, however, is that when you quit paying rent, the software stops working. A purchased/perpetual license, in contrast, will continue running until an update to your operating system environment eventually renders it obsolete — which could be years from now.
I still run QuickBooks 2011 for my business, because it does everything I need it to do. I also have many clients running licenses of Autodesk, Bentley Systems, Dassault Systèmes, and Adobe products from as far back as 2008.
Where do you stand on the software rental question?
Question #3: Should CAD Software Move from the Desktop to Mobile Devices?
The CAD software companies have been pushing CAD utilities for tablets and smartphones for years. Some companies produce apps, some push a browser-style interface; either way, the idea appears to be that you simply won’t need a desktop or mobile workstation to do CAD anymore.
Perspective: Perhaps it’s because I have big fingers, but I find it very difficult to do anything beyond basic zooming and panning on a phone-sized mobile device. In addition, most of the iPad-based apps I’ve used are very basic (think inserting blocks in a floor plan while taking measurements, not modelling buildings). And depending on the app in question, the data produced may be stored on the device, or it could be in the cloud. Perhaps because of these limitations, I don’t have a single client that does production CAD work on app-based CAD tools (such as the AutoCAD mobile app) or even browser-based CAD tools (like AutoCAD 360). It just seems that CAD tools running on workstations still beat out app- or browser-based tools.
Are you using CAD software on mobile devices? Do you think you will do so in the future?
Question #4: Is Training a Thing of the Past?
Start reading about any new CAD software tool, and the phrase “easy to use” or “simple to learn” will likely come up. If the marketing people are to be believed, the software should basically run itself! While no CAD company has actually said “training is no longer required,” many are implying that the need for training is greatly reduced because their software is so simple to master.
Perspective: Software is only easy to use if everybody sets their projects up the same way and has a consistent usage model. Guess what makes those factors possible? Training! CAD managers are very sensitive to the fact that letting users loose on a piece of software with no training begets big management problems, so why don’t the software companies get it? And furthermore, if training isn’t really required, then why are there so many training companies creating videos and other training resources for CAD users?
Do you provide training for your users, or do you just put them in front of the software and let them figure it out on their own?
Question #5: Are Online Stores the Way to Buy CAD Software?
As the age of Amazon and Internet-only purchasing has become entrenched, many CAD software vendors have begun moving away from local reseller partners to an Internet-based sales presence that lacks that personalized, consultative selling approach.
Perspective: In past years, purchasing software was largely a face-to-face experience with an actual human being. In fact, many times the salesperson knew your company’s needs, and the reselling organization could provide training and configuration service assistance as needed. As the CAD companies have moved to direct Internet sales, this method of doing business has been largely lost, and local sales support substantially reduced — and there is no reason to believe this trend will not continue. As less guidance in the buying process gives way to the trial-and-error of Internet downloads, CAD managers may find themselves spending more time researching their software options.
Do you buy everything via direct sales online, or do you prefer to work with a knowledgeable reseller organization?
Over the next few weeks I’ll be collecting comments from my CAD Managers Unite! Facebook group, from in-person conversations at Autodesk University, and from your e-mails to RGreen@CAD-Manager.com. I look forward to seeing how the responses stack up, and I will be sharing the input with you in future editions of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Until next time.