Which CAD Tool Is Right for You, Part 3?

8 May, 2007 By: Robert Green

Learn from past mistakes, but don't let them paralyze your next move.

In the last two issues of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I discussed evaluating CAD tools based on company needs and presented a couple of examples to drive home the concept. In the last issue I focused on companies that stick to old CAD tools even when newer tools would be beneficial to them. I received some email from readers who disagreed with my take on the situation, and I'll share that with you in this issue.

So if you haven't had a chance to read the last issue, I recommend you do so now to understand the background discussion. I believe that addressing these concerns will provide some great dialogue. Here goes.

Improper Analysis
In response to my analysis of the architectural firm that refused to move to Revit-based technology even though benchmarking showed that labor and time savings were clearly indicated, reader TI took me to task for not analyzing the situation thoroughly enough. Here are some of his comments:

"Architectural firms (except for the one you mention) seem particularly vulnerable to falling for new toys, then scrapping them when they don't immediately deliver all that was promised. I suspect that maybe your client had a dose of this in the past and when you presented what you felt was a perfectly logical solution, the collective minds started saying, 'Here we go again!'

"Training ramp-up time for new software is largely lost production time. Perhaps their bean counters were applying the projected losses in production against the implied labor savings; perhaps the result was negative.

"Efficiency is a qualitative element. What one person perceives as being efficient may be viewed by others as wheel-spinning and out-of-touch. Comfort factor notwithstanding, you may have misanalyzed the needs of this firm."

I think TI's points about firms being burned with new software in the past are spot on. However, just because a mistake has been made in the past doesn't mean that a paralytic fear of changing tools should pervade all future plans.

When most senior managers analyze technology, they do their best to understand the total cost and savings and make decisions based on those metrics. I know that when I consult I look at all the factors and, yes, cost savings are the mother's milk of change. No savings equals no change for most companies.

Having said that, even when compelling savings are identified and market trending shows change in software tools is achieving critical mass, the building trades tend to be overly skeptical of new tools. On the other side, manufacturing industries, electronics designers and now civil engineers have grappled with the rough stuff of change (hardware updates, learning curves, etc.) to reinvent how they work with great success.

If somebody shows me, a business owner, in concrete terms how I can save money (via labor) with a manageable degree of risk, I'm willing to make the changes required to realize those savings. I know the change will require me to rethink how I work and will jolt me into a new learning curve, but if the savings are worth it, why would I not do so?

Doing What's Right
A senior manager, WG, wrote me to express these opinions of my analysis as well:

"We are a small manufacturing company with 25 engineers, 250 shop employees and only one layer of management other than the president. Our culture is not to talk about money. We talk about getting the job done, about doing things better and faster, about customer satisfaction, about helping each other. If an engineer came to me asked for Revit, the conversation would be, 'How does this make things better?' ROI would not matter, but company culture would. I guess this is a different view than the one you presented."

    One point WG brings up that is very valid is company culture. Some companies are "method focused" where others are "money focused" exclusively. The companies that focus on methods are, as WG states, trying to "do the right thing" for the company.

    What is interesting to me is that companies that are method focused almost always make good business decisions because doing the right thing tends to be good for business. In fact, many of these companies have very solid business analysis behind their decision making but choose not to emphasize the money aspect.

    My point is, no matter why you make the decision to change CAD tools, you'll do so only if it makes things better for the company regardless of the stated reason for making the change. If a company becomes more productive via a method of making things better, it may even achieve better results because its users feel good about the changes instead of everything being about dollars.

    Summing Up
    I hope this issue has piqued your curiosity about making changes in CAD tools for the betterment of your company.

    In the next issue of CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll finish this series on CAD tool selection by giving you a way to decide what type of CAD tool is optimal for your company. My goal is to give every CAD manager a process they can use to clearly illustrate software tool benefits to their senior management. Until next time.

    About the Author: Robert Green

    Robert Green

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