Managing today’s hybrid CAD office

Sep 22, 2021

By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Being an expert in a CAD environment is not enough, you need to understand the other options as well.

I vividly remember sitting in an office at Parametric Technologies in 1995, where we were told that there would simply be no 2D CAD left by the year 2000. Yet I still see 2D CAD everywhere. In 2005, I remember going to Autodesk University and hearing that in 2010 everything in the AEC industry would be in BIM. Yet today most industry analysts say the penetration of the BIM market is around 40%. And, still sitting at Autodesk University, in 2015 we were all told that everything would be in the cloud by 2020 and that desktop CAD applications would be a thing of the past. And, like 2D and BIM before that, that didn’t happen either.

We now find ourselves chairing a hybrid CAD environment of 2D and 3D applications scattered across desktop machines and web-based cloud applications. What a mess! In this edition of the CAD Manager Newsletter, I’ll share some of the best strategies I’ve used and how to deal with this messy situation. Here is.

Image source: SergeyNivens /

How did we get here?

Why did the hybrid CAD environment appear in the first place? In my experience in the industry, it all started because 3D was harder and more expensive to implement than software companies had let us believe. It turns out that teaching people to ditch their familiar AutoCAD or MicroStation software and learn something entirely new took hard work on user parts and a lot of training, implementation and support from the user. from CAD managers, not to mention hardware costs and schedule impacts. It wasn’t that simple.

What about BIM? Much the same argument as generic 3D before it, BIM required not only new hardware and software, but a huge shift in mindset and workflow management. BIM is not that simple either.

What about the Cloud? Cloud tools can pose a lot of IT implementation challenges, and the costs associated with many named user cloud tools are now becoming much more expensive than we have been led to believe.

The old tools still work. In many cases, companies became so good with their old 2D tools that a move to 3D was not justifiable. Small architectural firms have found the same for BIM.

Long story short: change is difficult, new software is expensive to implement, and traditional tools like 2D and 3D desktop applications still do the job well in many cases. The reality is that software change is happening much slower than industry experts and software companies would have us believe.

What does all this mean?

This is where we need to draw informed conclusions about what today’s hybrid CAD office environment means for CAD managers. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it represents the main business rules that gave us the hybrid CAD office in the first place:

The work dictates the tools. If you have to do 2D production drawings, you will likely use an inexpensive 2D application rather than an expensive BIM application, as this is the cheapest and best tool for the job.

The workforce also dictates the tools. If your business has 90 AutoCAD users and 15 Revit users, you won’t be 100% BIM anytime soon as your ability to train staff will be the limiting factor.

Computing increasingly dictates cloud tools. Cloud-based tools consume network bandwidth and require extensive security configurations to be configured. In some cases, cloud tools and storage are even expressly prohibited by security sensitive customers. Even if you wanted to go 100% in the cloud, you are limited by the realities of IT.

Return on investment (ROI) dictates change. If the switch to BIM allows your projects to be completed twice as fast at half the cost, then you will switch to BIM immediately because the financial returns are there. Conversely, if your business has been designing single-family homes for the past 20 years using a highly optimized 2D CAD environment, the switch to BIM is unprofitable.

Project completion and timelines trump everything. You might want to be entirely 3D, BIM, or cloud based, but if that delays projects or throws up errors, you can bet you’ll be back to using your old tools.

Your challenge as a CAD manager is to understand these rules and manage the tools at your disposal to achieve the best workflows and the lowest costs. Let’s see how.

Tackle the real issues

If you are faced with a hybrid CAD environment for the foreseeable future, what is the best way to resolve the issues it presents? In my experience, it all starts with how you answer these basic questions:

What is 2D, 3D or BIM? Using the work dictates the tool above rule, assess which work products should be made with each type of tool. Make these decisions based strictly on the speed and profitability of the job, and you will choose correctly.

What is the cloud? Use the work dictates the tool and the IT drives cloud tools rules above for asking what business functions can really benefit from cloud-based connectivity. Compare cloud tools to cheaper desktop apps to understand if cloud tools save enough collaboration time and errors to justify the additional costs associated with them.

Where are the interface points? Will 2D DWG files and BIM projects use a cloud tool to exchange information or will you implement these workflows using reference file methods on your WAN? Who controls which file and who is the coordination point that will manage the exchange?

What will the cost of the change be? New software tools require hardware, software, and training, none of which is free. Any change in working methods must take these costs into account, and tools must pay for themselves in reduced labor costs.

If you follow these guidelines, you will have a much more pragmatic view of how the job is done and what it will cost. What I described above is the kind of stuff that management wants you to explore – not so much the bits and bytes of software.

Get smart

Before you can tackle any of the above issues, you must Understand the software you are offering well enough not to make bad recommendations. You don’t need to know every tip, tip, or shortcut for every software, but you do need to know it well enough to plan every aspect of the implementation.

For example, if you are working in a hybrid Revit / AutoCAD environment and only understand one of the tools, it is impossible to make sound judgments about the interface of the two systems on the projects. But, if you understand both tools well, you are more likely to make a good recommendation. Understanding tools is an essential part of mapping tools to work processes to best define interface points – there are simply no shortcuts.

The above logic also applies to cloud-based CAD tools. Just because a software company offers a cloud-based program doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job. You will only know it if you have taken the time to understand the tool.

The sad truth is that hybrid CAD environments demand a lot from CAD managers. Those who do not understand all the tools they manage will soon preside over the wrecks of the project trains. You can’t just be a 2D CAD manager, BIM manager, or cloud CAD manager to manage a hybrid CAD environment, you have to be all three.


More than any other problem you will face, managing today’s hybrid CAD office is a multi-faceted challenge for the CAD manager. Hope you now think about this challenge from a practical point of view and analyze the situation with the help of business rules.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager Newsletter, we’ll look at some specific staffing, training, budgeting, and transition planning strategies that you can use to develop a multi-year CAD management plan. Till next time.

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