CAD Management in a New Technological Era13 Sep, 2017 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Thanks to a host of network, IT, and other technological factors, the CAD environment is undergoing big changes. How can you face up to the evolving challenges in your workplace?
Now that Cadalyst’s Summer on the Cloud is almost over, the CAD Manager’s Newsletter will dedicate the fall season to exploring the fundamental realities of CAD management and the ways that new technology is changing those fundamentals. In this edition, we’ll set out a broad range of responsibilities that CAD managers must grapple with, identify a few complicating factors to be aware of, and set out some strategies for dealing with the evolving CAD management landscape. Here goes.
No matter what, there are some bedrock responsibilities that CAD managers must always deal with, so let’s start the conversation by defining them:
- Facilitating production. No matter what, the work must get done, so supporting CAD production is still a CAD manager’s foremost responsibility.
- Forecasting software needs. What software tools will the organization need to best support production?
- Hardware planning. Taking into account those changing software requirements, what workstations should the company purchase, and when?
- Staying within budget. Since there is never an infinite amount of money to spend, the question becomes, How can the company get the most CAD value for its money?
- Securing intellectual property. Keeping the CAD files/models safe and secure while operating in a more open digital infrastructure.
- Standards formulation and deployment. Creating, optimizing, and rolling out standards is an essential and ongoing task.
- Training users. Be it software or standards training, the goal is to always make users more efficient.
- Working closely with IT. Ensuring that IT policy supports — rather than conflicts with — CAD user needs is more important than ever.
New Technology Complications
Now that we’ve laid out the fundamental responsibilities we all must deal with, let’s look into the ways that new hardware, software, and IT technologies will make it more challenging to fulfill those responsibilities.
- Facilitating production. Increasing complexity of any sort means more opportunities to make mistakes, and mistakes typically impede production.
- Forecasting software needs. Software is changing rapidly: Locally installed applications are evolving into cloud software, licensing models are being affected by the move to the cloud, and software bundling or “suite”-style packaging seems to change annually. As a result, it is a lot harder to forecast what you’ll need — and what it’ll all cost — in the coming years.
- Hardware planning. Workstation hardware grows more powerful every year, while costs remain about the same. In the past, we simply bought the fastest machines we could afford, and life was simple. But now the type of workstation required for cloud-based software may be entirely different than that required for heavy-duty modeling, analysis, or rendering tasks. Knowing what sort of hardware is required for each type of software user makes planning more difficult.
- Staying within budget. Since software and hardware uncertainty makes planning more difficult, it stands to reason that budgeting will be more difficult as well.
- Securing intellectual property. As files are increasingly stored on cloud-based platforms such as Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive, which users can access with tablets, phones, and home-based computers, security is much more complex than in the past. In many ways, file security has become a far worse problem as the cloud has become more widely used.
- Standards formulation and deployment. Dealing with CAD standards has always been tough, but it is getting tougher as cloud-based tools and cloud security issues are now a core part of using CAD. Standards are no longer just about CAD, but are now involved in everything that affects how CAD runs.
- Training users. Perhaps the one bright spot in the CAD manager’s daily task list, training is growing easier as remote learning tools become more common, less expensive, and simpler to deploy.
- Working closely with IT. CAD managers haven’t always had to be IT-aware in the past, but that has totally changed in the past few years. As CAD requires more security, more remote access, and ever-more-complicated licensing schemes, IT needs to be involved more than ever.
Given the technologically changing CAD environment and the non-negotiable requirement that all the CAD work must get done, the question becomes: How can CAD managers deal with all these issues? While there is no iron-clad procedure for being a CAD manager, I can share some strategies that I use with my clients to better plan for technological change:
Become more IT-aware. Some of the biggest changes in the CAD environment we’ll see in the coming years aren’t CAD issues — they are network and IT issues. Think about how comparatively little a program like AutoCAD has changed in the past five years relative to how much networks, cloud programs, and smart devices have changed our use of CAD, and you’ll start to see that IT issues are the real challenge. The only solution is to learn all you can about IT and about how these key new technologies will be implemented in your company. Don’t guess how IT will affect you — go find out!
Think in terms of longer time frames. Making changes to key infrastructures such as networks, security procedures, hardware implementations, and cloud software rollouts don’t happen overnight, so your planning horizon needs to be longer. Start thinking about CAD resource planning as a 2- to 3-year exercise rather than an annual budgeting issue.
Increase your focus on security. CAD intellectual property is no longer a bunch of DWG files in a server directory. The reality is that to get our work done, we must now have large collections of files scattered across multiple branch offices using shared storage. How will you provide security for those files to prevent data overwrites, inadvertent deletion, or outright theft of digital property? Don’t assume that IT knows the answers to these questions!
Question everything. In a rapidly changing technology environment, it is safe to assume that your CAD environment will experience disruption and change as well. The more you ask how these changes will impact you, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with them. Never assume that everything will continue working properly in the future just because it is working today.
So it turns out that we CAD managers have a lot to think about, and lots of it isn’t really about CAD! As we continue into the final quarter of 2017, the CAD Manager’s Newsletter will tackle these fundamental new CAD management realities and suggest how you can modify your CAD management planning to not just survive, but thrive with the changes.
If you have any items to add to the list, or comments you’d like to see included in upcoming issues of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time.