Put on Your Implementation Hat

Spring is in the air and, just like every year, there are more things blossoming than pretty flowers. In fact, Autodesk has a fresh new bounty of products available for your CAD pleasure. Not the least of which, of course, is AutoCAD® 2015. As we all know, new releases mean that it is time for CAD managers everywhere to put on their implementation hats and get to work rolling out the new releases.

You do have an implantation hat … don’t you?

In a Perfect World

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we lived in a world where installations are instantaneous and every workstation is prepped and primed for the pending upgrade? What would it be like if users were 100 percent cooperative and willing to accommodate installations and all you had to do was show up and perform the install? Certainly we have wished for a world where installations of the newest AutoCAD release were headed for workstations with plenty of free hard drive space and RAM to spare.

The Cold, Harsh Truth

Sadly, the real world of CAD management and production can be a far cry from the “perfect” version we wish for. CAD managers must deal with the perils of planning upgrades to the latest release of AutoCAD for even the smallest work groups. The list of issues and complications can seem nearly endless to all but the most experienced CAD managers.

If your firm is not part of the subscription plan, then the simple act of getting sign-off for the software acquisition can be a daunting challenge. It often seems as if no amount of new features or improved workflows and user interfaces can sway some bosses. Even worse are the poor CAD managers caught between a subscription and a boss who feels that yearly upgrades are a waste of time and would rather “skip” a release or two. The number of CAD managers who have gone gray fighting the uphill battle against this sort of situation must be too many to count.

As difficult as it may be to actually get the software, don’t believe that the bumps in the road end once you’ve ridden the upgrade cart past the boss. The very people you are trying to help can most often be unintentional obstacles themselves. That’s right, the users.

From production schedules that make scheduling software installations all but impossible during normal business hours to the “helpful” user who finds the deployment and upgrades himself—users can be difficult.

Sometimes even the simplest thing such as a list of who needs the new software can require a surprising amount of effort due to less-than-cooperative personnel. Then there are the users who just never seem to get around to returning those pesky emails. I think we love them the most.

Finally, there are the workstations. Those little beige or black boxes hiding under people’s desks are just waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting CAD manager. You can find outdated versions of the operating system or even a total lack of updates, both minor and critical. All of this not only contributes to the stability of the workstation, in general, but also makes for a poor foundation for a fresh install of AutoCAD. Yes sir, from OS updates to hardware requirements, workstations are a topic that deserves attention in the planning of any upgrade process.

A Better Path

Things do not have to be all doom and gloom where AutoCAD upgrades are concerned. There are always solutions to whatever problem may present itself. It is just a matter of planning and steady execution.

The first step to successful implementation is to be aware of the obstacles users face on a daily basis. This should be an observational effort that we, as CAD managers, make throughout the year. An active CAD manager will make note of the issues that arise in the course of normal production. These notations will account for questions beyond, “What’s the name of that command?” that require us to put on the old thinking cap. Similarly, “workarounds” that we develop in the office to circumvent some issues should also be noted. This list of notes, along with some generalizations about lost production time, can be invaluable when trying to justify software upgrades to management.

Immediately following the announcement of the new version release, take your list and search for solutions in the description of tools that are new or improved. Correlate what you find in the new capabilities with a positive impact on your group’s production up time and you are sure to get the sign off to acquire and install the latest revision of AutoCAD.

That will put you past the “getting” stage and get you closer to the “installation” stage, and that means dealing with the user.

Regardless of the office location or type, the AutoCAD end user is a production or design professional who is in business to design or produce. That means that every moment their workstations are unavailable to them is production revenue lost. So we must do our best to plan and execute the upgrade process so the user is impacted as little as possible.

The key to a smooth upgrade process is “communication.” The initial announcement of the upgrade should come at least two weeks prior to installation. While this may seem like an excessive amount of time, we all know that there are those in the office who seem to take special pleasure in avoiding communications. In these cases, we must build in extra time for repeated contact with individuals and even the odd personal visit. Let your users know what to expect.

Explaining some of the exciting improvements made in the new AutoCAD release will relate the upcoming benefits to a users’ work. Detail any preparatory steps they should take to ensure all is smooth. And finally, fill them in on your upgrade schedule and how long the actual installation should take. Lay out appointment slots and allow them to choose their own install times.

Users will make short work of replying to you and setting up times once they understand the benefits in store for them. There will always be some users who require a little nudge, but in the end you should have a staff of users who are excited about the new AutoCAD version. Now you are ready to put some boots on the ground.

When approaching the workstation take all the normal precautions when working with PCs and be sure to assess the condition of the workstation before beginning installs. A quick checklist might include the following:

  1. Are there old installations of AutoCAD (more than one release back) on the workstation for no reason?
  2. Are there old shared directories from previous versions of AutoCAD?
  3. Are there broken references in the registry from old AutoCAD installations?
  4. Does the PC meet the recommended requirements for the new release of AutoCAD?

If any of these areas raise a flag, be certain to address them prior to installation. Removing old installations and making sure you get all those little directories that may be left behind by the uninstall process can make a world of difference. Not only will you remove the temptation of using the old installation, you will also remove any lingering directories that could be a nuisance in the future. Using a tool such as CCleaner from Piriform ( can do wonders for cleaning your registry while also creating backups of removed data.

While removing previous installation is a good rule of thumb, some users may need to hang on to those installs for various reasons. Whether they have to use specific plug-ins that have not been rewritten for the new release or they simply need to finish a project, exceptions to the general rule may be required.

Evaluating current hardware may prove it to be subpar, defective, or absent. All of these should be listed and reported to your IT department (which may also be you). In such cases, inform the user that you are not able to install the new release of AutoCAD and what parts require attention. It will be up to your IT support to upgrade or replace that workstation. There is no benefit to cramming a new release of AutoCAD onto a slow, insufficient, or failing workstation. That is a recipe for unhappy users and repeated calls and emails for you!

Following a process similar to the one listed above will provide a workstation that is a clean slate of capable hardware for the new installation. Now you are ready to get in there and install that awesome new AutoCAD.

Don’t Forget the Icing

Adding the final touches to this AutoCAD installation is all about the “little things.” Little or not, these points can be very important to your end user! So never forget to finish what you start with this little checklist.

  1. Check that custom support paths in the Option > File listings are correct
  2. Check for plotter support files and drivers
  3. Check for shortcut icons present on desktop
  4. Transfer command alias and environmental settings from the previous install

These are the final touches that will allow the user to sit down and get right back to work and they will thank you for it. Now it is time to make that next appointment on the list or serve up that long stretch of support until the next upgrade cycle.

A CAD manager's job is never done!

In Conclusion

Moving your firm to the latest version of AutoCAD with all the latest tools and features is always a cause for excitement. Take this situation as your opportunity to take a more managed, measured approach to upgrades. You may suddenly realize that your little team of two drafters has erupted into a 30-person workforce. In situations like this, playing things by ear just won’t cut it anymore.

Proper planning, good communication, and dedicated execution will make the endless advancement through the AutoCAD releases much easier to handle and not something to fear. However, if you follow all this sage advantage and there still happens to be something that goes wrong, that’s nothing to be upset about. The good news is that you’ll get another chance to get it right next year!

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