One of the greatest challenges facing small to medium sized engineering consultancies is the management of the design data. Today there are literally hundreds of options for design software, from the big players such as MicroStation and Civil3D down to regional leaders such as 12D which has become the only approved design software for all of Queensland Main Roads designs in Australia.
But what do you do when the software you are using become obsolete, or you upgrade to a newer version, and like AutoCad’s Civil3D, there is little or no backward compatibility. Some companies are running different versions of the same software across their machines, due to licensing or budget constraints, (after all, the software is not cheap to buy!).
There is one school of thought that says, don’t upgrade any software until you are ready to upgrade it all, that way, there are no compatibility issues across the machines within the company. I subscribe to that philosophy, there is no way an organization can operate efficiently without a standardized set of software and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to go with it.
So how do organizations get off track?
These are some of the ways that I’ve seen, and under each observation, I’ve tried to offer some thoughts and solutions to each particular problems as well…
Deciding not to pay maintenance agreements
Now I hate the typical maintenance agreement that today’s software providers use, where you pay somewhere between a tenth to a quarter of the cost of the software each year to receive upgrades and patches. When you don’t play the game their way, you’ll typically end up with versions of software purchased as you need them, not as a set of fully up to date software. This is the topic of a whole ‘nother post, but I believe that companies can get much smarter in how they market their software to Engineering and Architecture firms.
Using unlicensed versions of software
I’m sure we all know of someone who has a cracked version of software, usually not the latest version, but perhaps one from a couple of years ago or something. Regardless of how the firm ended up with the unlicensed software on their machines, (by staff putting it on out of frustration or laziness or with the full knowledge of IT and management), it is illegal. No one likes buying thousands of dollars of software, then having to keep upgrading hardware to match the software, but in today’s computer and technology driven world, that is where the efficiencies can be made, right on the cutting edge. Pay for the best software you can afford, and budget in the maintenance agreements or costs of regular updates, you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.
Not having an IT inventory
This seems like a pretty simple issue to overcome, but I’m sure there are lots of managers out there who have no access to a master list of what software is available on the machines in their department or office, and even those who do, may have no understanding of the capabilities and differences between different versions or variations of the software. Sometimes this happens when there is a major turnover in staffing, but whatever the reason, you need to understand what you’ve got in your company and what it is used for, then make decisions.
Software is a necessary evil in the design world, you need the best to be competitive, and to attract the right people to work for you. Sort out your IT situation, do an audit of what you have, what you are paying for, and what could be better. And ask the guys that are using the software what they think, after all, they’re the one’s in the programs every day.