Managing Today’s Hybrid CAD Office Part 2



October 13, 2021

By: Robert Green



CAD Manager Column: How to Manage Personnel, Training, and Workflows to Keep Your Hybrid Office Running Right.

In the last installment of the CAD Manager newsletter, we looked at the complex 2D / 3D / BIM / Cloud world of the hybrid CAD office. We focused on the issues that arise in the hybrid environment and started a discussion on how to come up with the ideal combination of tools that you will need. In this edition of the CAD Manager Newsletter, we’ll end our discussion by looking at some specific workflow, staffing, and training strategies that you can use to reduce complexity and costs in your hybrid CAD environment. Here is.

Image source: vegefox.com/stock.adobe.com.

Determine “the right mix”

I envision the hybrid CAD office as a mixed environment where a wide range of tools and formats come together to form a functional CAD ecosystem. It sounds simple when you say it, but it can be hard to know what the right mix is. Consider the following:

  • What is 2D, 3D or BIM? What work processes are best accomplished with what types of tools?
  • What formats should you deliver? The actual file formats you deliver to your customers (DWG, RVT, DGN, etc.) can also indicate the tools you should use to create your finished products. In some cases, the client may be a construction company who wants PDF files. Alternatively, the “customer” might be a laser cutter that requires a DWG file entry with all toolpaths implemented as polylines. From these two examples, you can see how output requirements may or may not dictate specific tools.
  • What’s in the Cloud? Will you be using cloud-based applications or classic CAD / BIM tools with data stored in the cloud? How are you going to manage the users and data synchronization needed to keep everyone working on the same files?
  • Where are the interface points? What tools need to work perfectly together to get the job done? In some cases, BIM tools and 2D CAD tools must be integrated; in other cases, you may need to aggregate data from field instruments or digitized point clouds into CAD tools for design purposes. Knowing which tools to connect with is essential.
  • What does all this cost? Of course, you’ll want to manage all of these different tools at the lowest total cost over time and that will also indicate which tools you’ll be using.

It doesn’t sound easy, does it? This is not the case ! In fact, it is a complex equation with many variables that need to be solved, so we need some additional constraints to come up with a solution. Let’s explore how to achieve the best possible mixed hybrid environment.

What do the staff need?

CAD tools change, workstations change and cloud architectures change, but the one thing that never changes is that your business only succeeds to the extent that your people allow you to. Or, in other words, you can buy all the networking hardware, software, and tools you love, but without the right people deployed properly, you’re just going to be in trouble. So here are some things to consider when determining the best mix for your hybrid CAD office:

  • Understand how 2D and 3D / BIM workflows are different: How easy is it to take a 20 year old AutoCAD veteran and move it to BIM? Usually no. Change is difficult and requires a lot of training.
  • Not everyone needs 3D / BIM workflows: Instances such as shop floor users, construction managers, or engineers who perform annotations typically need view, print, and redline functionality. Do you really need these users on 3D / BIM tools?
  • Not everyone even needs CAD: If a user only needs the view / print / redline functionality, does he even need CAD tools? Think how much cheaper it would be to have these users on free visualization tools rather than expensive CAD tools?
  • Place the right people in 3D / BIM positions: Most of the personnel issues I see in hybrid 2D / 3D environments involve selecting the wrong personnel for a given CAD tool. By selecting users who demonstrate the ability to learn quickly while maintaining a positive and motivated attitude, you will have fewer staffing issues and higher productivity. (I’ve also noticed that rewarding those who exhibit positive learning techniques tends to gain senior management approval more easily than a ‘let’s train everyone in 3D / BIM’ approach.)

Standardize and train

To function effectively, define which design and documentation processes should use which tools. (Remember the task defines the tools!) If you don’t standardize the use of the tools, users will end up choosing what they personally like and all kinds of versions and file formats will follow. Make sure to standardize whether these tools are cloud-based, desktop, PC, or iOS-based, etc. The goal is the smallest possible set of standard tools with the minimum number of variants to be supported.

As you standardize, consider the staffing tips above to determine who needs training and how best to deliver it over time. In my experience, choosing the smallest number of people to train usually gives quick results. And remember, not everyone needs training on everything.

Only after you have standardized the office with the tools you will need and your training plan in place, can you be sure you can get the ideal hybrid mix of tools and users.

Data management

Another difficulty in the hybrid CAD office is keeping track of files. After all, isn’t tracking the files and information produced by CAD the raison d’être of CAD management?

The diversity of file formats and cloud information makes data management much more difficult in the hybrid CAD office. Whether you are using a commercially available cloud data management tool, a smart series of synchronized folders between branch office servers, or a mix of both, the point is that all information should be stored logically and all files must be taken into account.

Data management issues tend to get out of hand in hybrid offices unless you fix them early with good procedures, controls, and standards. Make no mistake about it: As users create four different types of files on three different CAD tools, it’s much more difficult to gain control than if you had planned ahead. So take control now, before it gets worse! It is imperative that you have a plan for managing the data produced by all the tools used in your hybrid environment.

Abstract

More than any other set of issues you will face, the hybrid CAD office presents a multi-faceted challenge for the CAD manager. These challenges include understanding complex systems, managing users and training, interfacing systems, and managing data. No wonder hybrid CAD management seems difficult – it is!

Hope you take a look at your business needs and people to come up with a hybrid CAD environment that gives you the easiest, most cost-effective set of CAD tools to get the job done. So don’t just fight blindly with the hybrid CAD office, think about it and plan it. You will be richly rewarded for it.

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