The State of CAD Management at the Start of a New Decade11 Dec, 2019 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Conferring with hundreds of CAD managers and vendors at Autodesk University provides perspective on which issues are most pressing for the profession as we enter 2020.
I recently returned from Autodesk University (AU) 2019, where I had a chance to interact with about 600 CAD managers over the course of three days. This year I was not a speaker, so my perspective was a bit different than prior years, but I attended a number of classes and panel discussions — ranging from management tips and tricks to deployment and programming for standards compliance. Between the classes I attended, discussions with CAD managers, and conversations with vendors on the show floor, I tried to form a broad opinion about the current and future status of CAD management.
In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share with you what I learned, in hopes it will help you set out your agenda for the coming year. Here goes.
Why AU Represents the Industry at Large
I do realize that many CAD managers (including myself) support non-Autodesk products as well. So why should someone managing multiple vendors’ software products care about or go to AU, which focuses exclusively on Autodesk’s offerings? Here are a few of the reasons I’ve found to be true over the years.
That’s where the CAD managers are. There’s no larger gathering of CAD managers anywhere that I’m aware of. It therefore seems that tapping into the knowledge of such a large group allows for a glimpse into broad market trends and techniques that benefit everyone. Of course, if you don’t manage any Autodesk products, it may not make sense to attend.
You can see and interpret the trends early. Autodesk is a big company that tries to set industry trends. Things like new product evolution, cloud implementation strategies, licensing, and IT management structures from Autodesk tend to be unveiled at AU. And once announced, these policies and initiatives — whether deemed good or bad — are a big topic of conversation on the show floor and in the halls amongst CAD managers. Doesn’t it make sense to know what’s going on sooner rather than later, and to be in on the conversation?
Management of CAD tools is surprisingly product-agnostic. When you think about the use of standards, programming, and management strategies in detail, you start to realize that managing Autodesk tools isn’t much different than managing SOLIDWORKS, BricsCAD, Bentley Systems products, or anything else. Therefore, CAD management courses at AU really are representative of CAD management at large — even though the technical product sessions may not be.
Current Impressions via Informal Survey
Beyond the announcements, what else can we learn at AU? My answer has always been to talk with other CAD managers and ask the same questions over and over to see what types of responses I get, then note how the answers have changed over the past several years. I try to survey a broad variety of topics, then note particularly passionate responses so I can draw conclusions about problems and trends facing CAD managers. This year, I also placed poll questions on my CAD Managers Unite! Facebook group page to assist in observing some current trends I wanted to measure.
CAD managers still lack authority. Yep — the classic problem persists. When I asked, “How many of you have the authority you need to enforce standards?” and “How many of you have the budget authority to get the hardware you need?” almost nobody said yes. The problem for CAD managers continues to be how to do the job when management doesn’t give you the authority or the money you need to do it. Alas, some things never seem to change.
CAD on the cloud is still viewed with skepticism. Despite unending PR and hype, the fact of the matter is the great majority of those I talked to at AU are using AutoCAD, Inventor, Civil 3D, or Revit on fixed workstations. While some users are moving to cloud-based tools (think BIM 360 or Fusion) and cloud-based APIs (think Forge), these platforms and technologies aren’t nearly as popular as desktop-based products running traditional APIs, such as .NET, C++ or even AutoLISP.