Wisdom from the Trenches (User Profile)

1 Feb, 2009 By: Kenneth Wong

CAD manager Charles Prettyman shares his software rollout tips.

Charles Prettyman, CAD manager for information technology at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, returned from Autodesk University in Las Vegas last December with the typical trade show booty. Back in his office in the Big Apple, he picked through the sample CDs, brochures, and promotional gizmos. Eventually, he said, he found three gems among the loot: Adapx Capturx, a high-tech pen and software combo that digitizes handwritten drawing markups on the spot; Autodesk Stitcher software for composing 3D panoramic views from a series of digital photos; and Autodesk ImageModeler for producing 3D building models from 2D photos.


Prettyman has wrestled with CAD for more than 15 years, managing 241 CAD seats in a 300-person firm, so he knows technologies with real potential when he sees them.

The magnitude of the data Prettyman oversees — roughly 1.5 TB of active project data, growing at a daily rate of approximately 4 GB — might intimidate many of his peers. Unlike some CAD managers whose projects are hampered by a contentious relationship with IT, Prettyman managed to forge an alliance with other departments, which help with implementations and rollouts. Asked to reveal the secret to his success, Prettyman said, "My involvement with the staff, the training programs I run, and my willingness to take others' best ideas and incorporate them into the office-wide CAD standards."

While many architects were on holiday, Prettyman was testing and running new software versions and tinkering with his new discoveries in preparation for the next major upgrade. The move will involve not only Prettyman but his colleagues Chris Voynovich, IT director, and Matt Richards, graphics manager.

"Chris is responsible for basic Windows installation, to set up a clean, stable foundation," said Prettyman, "and Matt will configure the Adobe Creative Suite, a collection of graphics utilities, and a searchable image database." For Prettyman, that leaves AutoCAD Architecture; AutoCAD Raster Design; Autodesk Revit for building information modeling; Autodesk 3ds Max for 3D modeling and rendering; SketchUp, the conceptual-design tool from Google; McNeel Rhinoceros for freeform 3D modeling; Motive Systems' MColor, a presentation plotting tool for AutoCAD; Autodesk Buzzsaw for project management; and Rapidform, which builds 3D models from point-cloud data captured by 3D scanners. This three-pillar foundation assures him that the latest software deployment will go smoothly as well. He shares three software upgrade tips for CAD and IT managers:

Don't assume the staff will use the software the way you use it. "I spent a lot of time setting up tool palettes as a way of having standard dimension and text styles and other common items, only to discover that several teams ignored them in favor of inserting an old drawing that they had been passing around for years," recalled Prettyman.

Remember, the user's job is not to master software, but to design. "The software is just a tool," said Prettyman. "If it's good, it helps [the designers]. If it's not, it gets in the way. They're rarely excited about a new software feature for its own sake, so don't pitch something to them just because it's cool." Instead, explain how it will improve the design workflow.

Realize that being on the bleeding edge of technology has a cost. "We wouldn't want to be in a position where our consultants keep asking us to save our files to a format compatible with a previous version of the software," Prettyman noted. That's a clue that you may be using a program that hasn't been widely adopted yet. By the same token, he said, if you find yourself repeatedly asking your consultants to save their files to an older version, it might be time for your own upgrade.

Despite his reputation for being progressive, Prettyman's approach to new software adoption is actually very practical, as well as considerate of users. "I love a lot of the new tools I see coming out, and I see a place for many of them in our work, so in some areas, we're right out in front," said Prettyman. "But for our core, day-to-day production applications, we tend to stay one release back."



Editor's note: Cadalyst introduces "User Profile" to showcase CAD users who stand out from the crowd. E-mail suggestions for future profiles to

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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