Under Pressure: Bridging the Gap Between CAD Manager and IT

Becoming a CAD manager has been one of my most rewarding journeys, but that does not mean it was easy. Not every CAD manager takes the same path to get to this kind of role. Personally, I had to pave the way and create what my position is today as it was initially established out of necessity.

Going from an end user designer/drafter type role to more of a management role undoubtedly created a very different dynamic in the department. Pairing this with the fact that our department has grown significantly in the last few years, I found myself under greater pressure to make the most of my support capabilities and responsibilities.

The departmental growth affected not only the physical amount of space, but also our support resources that went beyond what I could personally do. Eventually, we were transitioned to a different building, separate from our IT Department, which ultimately created its own set of unique circumstances.

As many of you would know, your peers may see you as the “go-to” person or the maker of magic. Well, it can be quite challenging to be that maker of magic when you feel the pressure of being the “middle man” between two departments that have equally valid but perhaps differing perspectives. So what is a CAD manager to do in order to bridge that gap between a growing Design Department and the IT Department?

Analyze Your Department’s Current Situation

I currently support around 40 people in our Design Services Department. Our exponential growth began impacting turnaround times on projects due to our lack of resources to keep things running smoothly. Many times, simple fixes such as admin credentials for minor trusted software updates were holding up big jobs. Sitting on hold for support caused frustration and delays, and I personally couldn’t do much to help due to lack of admin rights on all design computers.

For a department that targets quick turnaround times on projects, we have to minimize downtime. Being a CAD manager in this kind of environment requires quickly thinking on your feet, prioritizing issues, and utilizing the right resources to provide solutions.

Given this information, I built a case for improvement in collaboration between the two departments. I essentially followed these steps to analyze my department’s current situation:

  1. Find the bottlenecks.
  2. Use the bottlenecks to determine what kind of time/effort is spent in the current situation.
  3. Start building a case for improvement.

Build a Case

One of the most challenging things I do as a CAD manager is build cases for change and improvement. In the instance of building a case for change and improvement in collaborating better with the IT Department, I found it needed to be a multi-faceted approach. The two main themes I saw in this multi-faceted approach in order to achieve a “win-win” situation were technology based and communication based, as shown in Figure 1. Focusing on only one aspect won’t fully result in a “win-win” situation that suits a cohesive work environment.

Figure 1:  Themes

Take Steps to Understand Your IT Department and Become a Trusted Ally

Focusing on technology and communication led me on a quest to learn some essential concepts to be able to talk about issues more effectively with the IT Department. Here are some concepts I’ve had to personally manage when supporting our CAD/BIM users.

File Security – These are the measures put in place to protect data from damage or loss. This could be project files, backup of data, company data such as contracts, directories, etc. Damage or loss of data is a serious concern for the IT Department.

Permissions – This is the user’s access level for altering data. You can assign levels of access in multiple ways, such as Named User, Groups, and Administrator. This was a big one for me because I felt I really needed admin rights to be able to support our design software properly.

Licensing/Databases – These are the keys that a software platform or add-on needs to work as it communicates with licensing and/or a database on the server. This may represent learning about server names or a MAC address to configure a network license file for Autodesk products. Our other software platforms need to connect to an SQL database to work effectively. Simply learning and documenting what is needed is enough to save time when it comes to configuring these things.

The next three concepts reference data on the server as end users work with files. This applies to downloading files, loading files, etc. I’m going to relate this area to cars on a highway as everyone can understand this concept.

Bandwidth – Think of this as lanes on a highway. The capacity of the lanes affects the number of cars passing through an area during a certain span of time. For example, if you have two lanes of highway with 50 cars that can pass by in 30 seconds, that is the highway’s total capacity. Keep in mind, you could always increase this highway’s capacity by adding more lanes. To put it back in data terms, this is about the amount of data you are able to transfer over in a certain amount of time (often expressed in Mb/sec).

Throughput – Think of this as the number of cars you actually see driving by on the highway during rush hour. Sure, there may be multiple lanes of highway to be able to handle so many cars going by in a certain amount of time, but in rush hour, that actual number of cars driving by has drastically reduced because of all the traffic at that time of day. This is the actual capacity of the highway at this time of day as opposed to total capacity, which is what the highway should be able to handle without any other factors involved. In data terms, if there are multiple people trying to download something at the same time, the traffic affects the throughput as it relates to bandwidth. You can increase the bandwidth to help with throughput, and in the end it will average out over the network.

Latency – Think of this as the length of the highway itself and the time it takes to cross it. There are different types of cars on this highway as they travel from Point A to Point B. Some cars may be fast sports cars that can carry only a couple people at a time; some may be slower buses that can carry a lot of people at once. These are different means of transmission as they travel that distance. In data terms, there are distances from server to server and different means of transmission as they relate to throughput (i.e., Wi-Fi versus hardwired in). The data needs to go from Point A to Point B, and that means of transmission will help determine the kind of time involved to do so.

As with the means of transmission, you might also choose to take a shorter route to go from Point A to Point B. These are the things that can help improve latency. Increasing bandwidth, however, is not a way to improve latency. It is ideal to determine the appropriate amount of throughput and a lower latency in a network. Latency is often expressed in msec.

See Figure 2 for a diagram that visualizes these three concepts as they are often easily confused.

Figure 2:  Putting it together

So, what’s the importance of knowing this? Learning these concepts will help you better describe issues when communicating with your IT Department so you can provide more timely solutions to end users. The goal here is to take those first steps away from phrases such as “it’s slow,” “it doesn’t work,” or “it’s broken.”

I once had to troubleshoot why a third-party add-on that was calling an SQL database on the server in a different building caused a file to crash at one point of the day but not at another point of the day. The person loading the file was in the same physical location in relation to the server and was hardwired in both times.

In this case, we were able to determine that latency was likely not a direct factor in the crash, but throughput, as it related to bandwidth, was a contributing factor. There was more traffic at a different point of the day, and it caused a bit of a chain reaction that ultimately led to a file crashing. Latency may be an underlying issue, in general, if things seem slow no matter what between servers in different offices, but in this case, it seemed like bandwidth was the ultimate culprit.

Had the person loaded the third-party add-on with the file at home at a different time of day, the latency and bandwidth variables would likely be different. We would then be considering the latency in going from the server through a whole different network path to the person’s house. We would also be considering things like the kind of Internet connection (bandwidth) and traffic on that bandwidth. That person may not have a sea of designers also downloading data at the same time at his or her house, but he or she likely would have other devices that may be tied into that bandwidth, creating extra traffic.

As you can see, by at least trying to understand the concepts, you can then effectively describe the situation and troubleshoot. From there, the IT Department can help provide you with options on how to proceed and improve the situation. This is just one way to help bridge the gap between two different departments, and it doesn’t take an extensive background in IT to be able to do it.

Understand the IT Department’s Position

From understanding these IT terms, it can be inferred that the IT Department is understandably paranoid for a good reason. The IT Department needs to protect data in not just your department, but also in multiple other departments. When something bad happens, support people such as IT (and CAD managers) are expected to fix it. It is for this reason that everyone needs to be on the same page.

Try to address IT’s concerns while bringing up your own. For instance, I understand my IT Department doesn’t want just anything installed on end-user computers, but I still need to realistically support the installation, configuration, and updates of approved software. Admin rights for the CAD manager are essential to be able to do this. Local admin rights or admin credentials set up on individual computers wasn’t an ideal scenario, so I made the case for being granted admin rights that worked on a group of computers specifically in our department. This allowed for a much more realistic scenario for support.

Be Transparent

To help build my case and prevent any surprises, I provided the IT Department with a list of all software platforms I support in some way. I understand that “going rogue” is very much frowned upon, so I’m very willing to provide any sort of transparency to build that trust. My motive is to be a trusted resource and ally by collaborating and providing secure software solutions, and this often results in getting faster turnaround times.

A test of this transparency presents itself when I turn down totally valid requests that might seem risky. It’s nothing against the person who requests it, but if I sense that it might not be the safest way to go, I suggest going through the proper channels and presenting it as a case instead of going around IT and inadvertently causing damage.

Putting on my “IT hat” in these situations helps everyone stay afloat because I try to bridge that gap and communicate in ways that make sense to everyone. To build upon that idea, I have no problem asking questions if I am ever unsure about something. I would much rather come up with a recommendation based on what I do know and collaborate with IT to fill in the rest than to try to wing it on my own.

One of our software platforms comes with more than a hundred pages of release notes on a bunch of different installation methods, many of which create a decent amount of downtime for all end users. It gives me anxiety just thinking about it, so I come up with my own game plan recommendation and run it by IT, allowing us to collaborate on a solution that results in the least amount of downtime.

Aim for a “Win-win” Situation

Aiming for a “win-win” situation should be the main goal. Taking the time to understand concepts and different perspectives will help create a scenario where everyone triumphs.

To reiterate my themes, I’ve found that a “win-win” situation has both technological and communication components. It’s okay to not know everything, but learning technological concepts certainly helps. When in doubt, be very descriptive about issues to reach a solution faster. Always look for ways to improve the flow of information. This could take place by documenting procedures, creating backup plans, and collaborating together on tasks to be better prepared for the next time.

CAD managers need to evolve and collaborate with IT more than ever. Gone are the days of traditional drafting tables and drafting tools. Technology is advancing rapidly and with that comes unique challenges to do what we do best while also protecting data.

My Win-Win Results

After years of building a case to better fulfill my role and turn it into what it is today, here are results from my own “win-win” situation:

  1. I was added to a “group” that gave me admin rights that worked on all our Design computers.
  2. Because I was a trusted resource that provided a list of software I supported to IT, several approved installs and updates were implemented with faster turnaround times. I also keep IT in the loop if I need additional help with network licensing on their end or big installs that involve multiple steps.
  3. As a whole, there is much better communication between the two departments. IT still has a secure hold on data, and we as a department are often able to achieve faster turnaround times.
  4. My transparency in communication and willingness to learn has set me apart as a trusted ally to the IT Department. Not only am I a “go-to” person for software, I am also the liaison between two different departments. We are now both able to provide timely solutions to our CAD/BIM users.
  5. This goes without saying, but I don’t experience nearly as much pressure anymore because I can leverage my own elevated capabilities and collaborate resources when needed.  

These results prove the benefits of learning technological concepts as well as communication tools to bridge the gaps between your department and the IT Department. I hope that my own experience and approach to something so crucial in our roles as CAD managers will help inspire you to create your own “win-win” situation.

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