Friday, 20 February 2009

CAD & BIM - A Business Critical Resource

What's that noise? It's a delicate, almost musical sound, like a light falling of rain, only slightly more metallic. Could it be the sound of pennies dropping in boardrooms across the AEC industry?

For too long, CAD has been seen as a bit of a pariah within many architectural & engineering firms. The poor cousin; the whinging child in the corner. CAD 'Managers' are dismissed as slightly odd creatures, always working late (unpaid), often crawling around under desks with a pen or mini-screwdriver firmly planted behind one ear, slightly dishevelled, with odd socks and bits of network cable dangling around their necks like ill-conceived costume jewellery. And I use the term 'Manager' lightly, because how many firms actually extend their CAD leaders the courtesy of a senior management position? And yet, they are often the unsung heroes (or heroines) of their firm. Try being without them for a week and see what anarchy ensues!

But lately, it would seem, perhaps as a necessity brought about by the decline in our collective economic fortunes, that things are starting to change. There is a shift in the breeze and senior AEC management are waking up to the idea that CAD (and more likely BIM) might actually be a bit more relevant than they first thought. And furthermore, it might even be the very thing that keeps them in business long enough to enjoy the inevitable upswing in the economy.

Because what is the main deliverable of an architectural firm? Designing buildings, you say? No! The chief deliverable for an architect - it's 'product', if you will - is working drawings, production information, models! Ditto for engineers. And what medium do they use to create said products? That's right - CAD (or latterly BIM) software.

So the firms who have had their lightbulb moment, their penny dropping experience if you will, are now involving CAD & BIM not just at the periphery of their offices - but at the very heart of their enterprise. Not just as another costly, balance-sheet-sucking IT resource, but as a business critical investment that can be the difference between bids won and lost.

Take, for example, clients such as ASDA or the Army Corps, who are now specifying BIM tools as part of their project briefs. Without the ability to demonstrate proficiency in these tools, firms won't even make the long-list, let alone the short-list for future work.

CADsmart finds itself at the heart of this technology debate. Consider the following testimonial from one of our large customers (400+ users, multiple offices, mix of Autodesk & Bentley tools);

“CADsmart is fundamental in the assessment of CAD abilities for existing and potential staff. It provides increased business awareness of current skill-sets, records valuable cross office KPIs and enables management to better resource and deliver training within budgets. It improves business efficiency, productivity and profitability, enabling staff to gain skills and confidence to the mutual benefit of all concerned. It enables line managers to better assess their teams’ skills and contributes to annual staff reviews. The business is able to recognise and reward the best staff whilst encouraging them to become mentors to others. It fosters a healthy competitive environment amongst staff and establishes a desire for self improvement. CADsmart drives capital investment in CAD/BIM technologies and has become an important business management, analysis and ROI tool.”

Not surprisingly, this firm has posted some of the highest test scores amongst our large customers. It has a well managed CAD & BIM resource, which sits at the heart of the business - and which has the attention of senior management.

Could this be the model for all firms to follow, as we head down the road to BIM? How seriously does your leadership take their commitment to CAD & BIM?


Monday, 2 February 2009

Recession - a good time for CAD & BIM training?

As the recessionary typhoon continues unabated, drawing us all into its swirling centre, the question of staff development crops up time and again.

It seems as if everyone is looking at their budgets to see how they can be reduced. In most firms, financial controllers are looking at training budgets and assessing the benefits of immediately using some of the funds elsewhere or removing them all together! It is a difficult situation and one that presents CAD & HR Managers, and others responsible for training staff, with a serious challenge. How can they reach their targets - and keep projects on track - if their workforce is under-developed?

In Britain, the Learning Skills Council is encouraging businesses to take advantage of government funding for training, which may increase motivation and productivity; "Those (businesses) that make the right investment in training and development will be in a much better place when we come out of the recession. Training is one of the cornerstones of any successful business today, as it makes the organisation adaptable to change and therefore more productive. The last thing you should do is cut your training; now is not the time to lose employees to competition."

Research from the Cranfield School of Management shows that it is cheaper and more effective to 'grow your own' employees rather than shop around for talent. Cranfield's 'Nurturing Talent' report, which canvassed the views of 1,200 training and recruitment decision makers, found that three quarters of employers would rather nurture and develop talent in-house than recruit externally.

Almost half of small and medium sized businesses that develop in-house talent noted a cost saving, 20% recorded improved staff motivation and 45% increased employee retention. The report concludes; "For employers, the nurturing talent concept means managing and developing employees to achieve business goals. This could include training, employee coaching, staff mentoring and job enrichment to stretch employees with new tasks."

A leading US business performance coach states simply; "Train intensively in tough times... and less so in good times. In good times you want employees to be working hard, setting new performance records and serving customers; taking advantage of the good times. Prepare for the good times with intense internal training in tough times - you won't get a better opportunity!"

From our experience at CADsmart, we see AEC firms falling into two distinct categories; those who 'get it' and those who don't. The ones who do understand these principles have a rolling, continuous improvement environment for their CAD & BIM teams, including regular assessment, targeted training, buddying & mentoring schemes - and a clear path from basic skills through to advanced CAD & BIM applications for projects.

The ones who don't, seem to be taking more of a head-in-the-sand approach to their planning. They cut skills assessment from their priority list, along with training & development programs. Their rationale? We're not hiring, so we don't need skills evaluations. These same firms, when it comes to the unfortunate position of letting people go, have no real clue who their best - most productive - users are! They slice 5%, 10%, 20% from their payrolls - losing super-users alongside inefficient ones - without thought for the medium-term consequences!

Sensible business leaders are keen to keep staff motivated at all times. Good leadership is critical during times of fear, uncertainty and pessimism such as these. Companies need leaders who can manage their emotions, stay positive and show resolve. Providing development through internal mentoring, using senior users to mentor less experienced colleagues, can be very effective especially if salaries and promotion are temporarily pegged. The best CAD users will stay only if they are receiving development.

So, when faced with that budget challenge from your FD or CFO, make the case as strongly as you can that your training resources should take priority - and your training programs should be tailored and targeted. If you can achieve this - you can guarantee it will be effective.