What to Expect-and Do-in 2007 (CAD Manager Column)31 Dec, 2006 By: Robert Green
Trends for the new year and how to deal with them.
Another new year is here, so I'd like to take a stab at forecasting the CAD manager's job for 2007. I'll base my prognostications on my CAD Manager Survey data I've collected over the past six years, combined with gut feel and many conversations with CAD managers I've met at speaking engagements. I'm trying to give you some concrete advice about how to react to each trend as well. So here are my 2007 predictions and recommendations, in no particular order.
As the subscription model of software purchasing seems to be ubiquitous, CAD managers are receiving a lot of software. The question no longer is "Can I afford this?" but rather "Is this software worth it?" CAD managers find themselves in the position of analyzing new software releases to find the killer features that will make it worth their while to upgrade. From my discussions with hundreds of CAD managers, I've settled on a few conclusions that seem to indicate whether updating your software is really worth it:
Bug fixes and/or new features that make the job easier. If a new version fixes a problem that impedes your users or delivers a great new feature that would be really useful, then go for it! And the only way you'll know the above is to really dig in and investigate each new release. But you're doing that already, right?
Design-assisting features. Does the new version really cut keystrokes, allow you to automate repetitive tasks or deliver wizard-style design assistance that can radically change how you use the software tool? If so, the update is worth your time. Otherwise, what's the point?
3D makes sense so long as it delivers the above. The reason you'll actually implement 3D isn't because it's 3D but because it allows you to cut design time. This is the reason for the adoption of 3D software packages with extensive libraries of elements—bolts, windows, etc.—and/or design wizards that facilitate actual design.
Advice: Simply having the newest version isn't a good reason to upgrade. If a new software release doesn't save you money, time or both, leave it on the shelf, even if you've already paid for it. So stay on top of the new software releases and be ready for change, but don't actually pull the trigger unless you find a compelling reason to do so.
This past year has seen two distinct trends in hardware that portend a big upgrade year. Here are the trends worth noting and why they matter:
Plunging prices on single-processor architecture. Need a good, fast, basic machine that can run most office applications but costs less than $500? Well, they're out there in spades with plenty of RAM, fast hard drives and decent graphics cards. Just ditch the old CPU and recycle your monitor, and you're in. Oh, and if you need higher-end hardware for CAD, the lower prices for everyone else can push more money into the CAD hardware budget.
Multicore-processor machines at reasonable prices. Need a machine that'll burn through CAD, analysis or rendering tasks? Multicore machines run rings around single-processor machines via faster RAM architectures and increasingly multithreaded software applications—particularly in the CAD world.
Flat-panel prices in a tailspin. Want a big, bold flat-panel screen running at ridiculously high resolutions? This will be the year. Nobody in the technology financial center foresaw how fast the price for large flat-panel screens would drop in the past six months, but CAD users might as well get in on the action. Seriously, really big monitors allow better visualization, less desktop clutter and more space for toolbars, property windows and other space-eating features that are common in CAD applications, so why not upgrade your CAD stations?
Advice: With technology advances so compelling and prices so good, what should you expect? I believe that 2007 will be the year of the CAD hardware upgrade based on the price/performance trends noted and the fact that we've now been through two cycles of hardware obsolescence (measured in thee-year intervals) since the big technology realignment of Y2K. Budget accordingly, and get ready to score some new hardware!
When was the last time that CAD managers actually cared about an operating system upgrade? Windows 95, with its true 32-bit multitasking operating system (clearly superior to Windows for Workgroups and its WIN32S processing core), was the last really big deal in operating system advancement that CAD managers had to worry about, and I think 2007 is going to see a similar change with Windows Vista.
With Vista's ability to enable true 64-bit processing support at the server and client side, the new hardware (see above) that provides the multiple processing cores and RAM resources that Vista needs to shine, we'll see Vista show up on all new machines. Software developers will start writing applications that use the Microsoft .NET framework and exploit multicore processors more fully, which will push CAD software users further to Vista. And even if CAD managers don't embrace Vista immediately, you can be sure that IT departments all over the world will be looking at the technology.
Advice: Start talking to your IT staff now and make Vista the operating system of choice for any hardware upgrades you make. Point out that CAD applications benefit most from the new hardware/OS combination, so you should get the upgrade first.
As in all past years, successful CAD managers will be the ones who best understand the business needs of their companies and how CAD technology can meet those needs. To know your company's needs, you'll have to grasp the following key concepts:
- 1. Is your company growing?
- 2. Is your company going global or buying branch offices?
- 3. Does your company have money to invest?
- 4. Does your company face stiff competition?
- 5. Is outsourcing a possibility for your company?
You can take your knowledge of the above factors and draw some general conclusions about what you need to do in the coming years. The more your company grows, the more you'll need to worry about more machines and software. The more competition or outsourcing pressure your company faces, the more you need to worry about efficiency and better use of the tools you manage. See what I mean?
Advice: Make it your New Year's resolution to figure out what business environment your company operates in and adjust your budgets and plans accordingly. I promise that your management will notice your new focus and will reward you with rapid budget approvals when they see how you understand the company's needs.
More Pressure to be Billable
The past five years of survey data paints a picture of an increasingly pressured engineer, architect or designer being pushed into part-time CAD management, and this trend is confirmed every time I speak to a group of CAD managers. This part-time status is essentially the end result of management's desire for more billable hours with less overhead. And, you guessed it—the perception is that CAD management is overhead. In my opinion, this trend won't change, so CAD managers can either accept more pressure or work to make themselves more billable in CAD management tasks.
Advice: As you gather requests for CAD management tasks such as training, programming and setting up standards, go out of your way to make these tasks job specific. When you make CAD management a job-based task that increases production, you can make your CAD management time job billable. So make CAD management something that can be billed to jobs and watch your billable hours go up while you work at the job you love and lower your overhead at the same time!
Manage Work, not Tools
CAD software has been around a while and now is viewed simply as a tool that facilitates getting a job done. Therefore CAD managers are increasingly expected to manage jobs rather than CAD software. As this perception takes hold, CAD managers will be judged more on their ability to manage than their technical prowess. So if our management wants us to help them get the job done, we should think about how we can use our technicality (our key strength) to facilitate getting more work done (what management wants). Think about how this trend could affect your job, because ignoring it could cost you credibility with your management.
Advice: Assess the CAD programs your users should be using better. Think about how you can teach your users to more efficiently accomplish job-specific tasks, and you'll be on the right track. Amend your training topics and support focus to facilitate better tool use, put the changes into effect and watch user efficiency increase.
What's to Come in 2007
Being a CAD manager isn't getting any easier. We have to manage more software in less time with more pressure to drive efficiency—and that's a difficult balancing act for anyone. At least in 2007 we're going to see some really great hardware and operating system advances that should allow us to run our software faster and explore new software possibilities. If you can balance the technology aspect of your job with the need to stay billable and support your company, you'll do great.
For the remainder of this year, I'll be concentrating on a variety of technology and management topics to help you stay on top of your game and become a more valuable asset to your company. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to e-mail me at any time.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.