What's in Store for 2008? (CAD Manager Column)

31 Dec, 2007 By: Robert Green

Expect increased pressure to keep your users productive and your time accountable throughout the New Year.

It's a new year, and that can only mean it's time for my annual attempt at predicting the future for CAD managers. As I've done for the past eight years, I distilled my list of predictions from CAD Manager Survey data, observations from the field, conversations with many groups of CAD managers, and old-fashioned gut feelings. Along with my predictions, I'll also offer some advice on how to deal with the trends. I'll try to give you some concrete ways to react to each trend as well.

Software Backlog Continues

It used to be that CAD managers had to beg their bosses to purchase software upgrades. Then they would implement the new releases with Christmas morning–type zeal. No more. Now we receive software on subscription faster than we can implement it. I believe that 2008 will continue this trend in software backlogging, as more advanced 3D and data-intensive tools await implementation while 2D stalwarts (AutoCAD and MicroStation) continue to run in almost all workplaces.

From my discussions with hundreds of CAD managers, I've settled on a few conclusions that can help you to determine what new technology is worth implementing as you move from 2D to 3D:

Fix and patch existing systems. If you can't get bold new technology implemented, then focus on updating your current CAD system when new updates fix problems or provide useful new features that save you time. In plain English, upgrade if the new software saves you enough user time to pay for itself.

Constantly evaluate newer tools. Just because you don't have the luxury of putting your whole company on the latest 3D technology due to time or budget constraints, you still need to be well informed. So install the latest software on your machine, learn all you can about it, and then start talking it up with other influential users around the company. This methodology gets the new software out in the open, builds advocacy within your user base, and allows you to see where the warts are prior to implementation.

Look for easy pilot/test studies. When you do get the chance to break the backlog and install new software, you need to do so in a controlled, small test environment to limit the chance of error. The time to find these easy pilot/test studies is before you're pressed into duty. Constantly keep an eye out for a test project that would allow you to get new software up to speed with minimal risk, so when you get the approval to proceed you'll be set.

Hardware Upgrades

Hardware continues to get faster, better, and cheaper on all fronts. But there's more to the mass hardware upgrade trends that I foresee for 2008. Here's my logic:

Multicore processor machines are cheap. Dual- and quad-core machines are widely available, and the 4 GB of RAM they crave is cheap as well. Throw in a high-quality graphics card, 30" flat-panel monitor, and a RAID hard drive array and you've got a workstation on your hands! These machines burn through CAD and handle high-end 3D software with relative ease. With prices as low as they are, there's no longer a reason to put off purchasing high-end hardware.

New software assumes big hardware. Want to model large tracts of land? Want to crunch through huge point clouds of terrain data? Want to model a whole building or mechanical assembly? These are the sorts of tasks that newer software technologies are tasked with, and they need high-end hardware to do it. So in a very real sense, new software will require new hardware, and that should trigger upgrading when new software is adopted.

Special advice. Make sure to include new hardware prices in your budget this year. With this much change in technology — both hardware and software — you don't want to miss out on your chance to upgrade your hardware, right?

The Vista Issue

The majority of CAD users in the field are still using Windows XP, but XP is going away as hardware vendors drop support for it. I believe 2008 will be the year that you'll start using Vista for your machines. To be honest, I'm surprised at the slow rate of Vista adoption, but it's starting to pop up more in the field. If 2008 will be the year when Vista can't be ignored anymore, here are a few methodologies that can ease the transition:

Setup a test laptop. Chances are that whenever someone in the company gets a new laptop, it will have Vista on it. Why not take the opportunity to load up your common CAD tools and see how they behave for a couple of days? Sure, the laptop will be slower than a desk-top machine, but you'll get used to Vista's differences and see if you have any major problems to overcome with your software.

Go through XP deprivation. Take your laptop with Vista on it and set up the traditional office applications such as e-mail and MS Word and force yourself to use only that laptop for a couple of days. You'll be slow at first and you'll have questions as you get used to it, but you'll know your way around when you're done.

Take notes as you go. As you go through the deprivation therapy I outlined above, keep track of what confused you so you know what tips and tricks you can deliver to your users when they migrate to Vista.

Special advice.Vista will happen to you, it's just a matter of when. You can't avoid it forever, so why not go ahead and get ready for it now while the pressure isn't so great?

Being More Business Savvy

CAD managers are under more pressure than ever to support users in a variety of business environments, sometimes rapidly changing environments at that. As work environments change, so does the technology that you must budget for and manage. I see no changes in this trend for the new year, except that it may be accelerating.

Because CAD managers need to be concerned with networks, filing, data accessibility, and security, you need to understand what your company is up to and evaluate how that might change your CAD management duties. Here are a few key questions to ask to help you assess your situation:

  • 1. Is your company hiring more people?
  • 2. Is your company purchasing other businesses or branch offices?
  • 3. Is your company going to be purchased by someone else?
  • 4. Are business conditions good, bad, or OK?

You can take what you learn and see whether you'll need to budget for more machines, whether wide-area networks (for branch offices) might come into play, or whether you may have to conform to another company's IT infrastructure. Plan accordingly, budget accordingly, and never quit asking these questions. Your goal should be to always know what's coming at you in time to react without panic.

More Pressure to Be Billable

The past six years of survey data I've amassed shows a continuing trend toward part-time CAD managers being pressured to lower overhead, perform more work, and do whatever it takes to keep their users working. This pressure to be billable means CAD managers are more haggard and hurried and have less time to do the standards and development work that could really make users more productive. You can expect more of the same in 2008.

So, how can you make this pressure work for you? Here are a couple of ideas:

Tell your boss about your problems. It does lit-tle good to suffer in silence, so talk to your manager about the time pressures you're under. He or she may be unaware of the magnitude of the problem.

Work on cost-saving ideas. Show your management your ideas for generating savings so that it can see the benefits of CAD management. If you can show that the standards and development work you do can save a ton of money, management will be more likely to let you do the work.

Turn overhead into billable time. Doing a project kickoff meeting? Get the project manager to pay for your time while doing so. Creating a custom program for the electrical department? Ask to apply your time toward a project that benefits from the programming. Don't just accept overhead, fight back and make your time billable.

Summing Up

Being a CAD manager isn't getting any easier, but you probably knew that. You'll still have to navigate the minefield of hardware, software, and budgeting just as you have in years past but under greater pressure than ever. If you can sell the value of CAD management to your senior management and find creative ways to reduce overhead time costs, you should be able to thrive in today's changing marketplace.

No matter how much pressure I'm under, I still find CAD management a fascinating job that's never dull.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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