Are Engineers Good at Sharing?
At the start of 2012, Design News declared that the top hardware and software trend of 2011 was integration with mainstream document collaboration tools, like Microsoft SharePoint. The trend toward greater collaboration is part of a larger effort to make CAD files more accessible to a broader audience, according to the magazine.
As you’re probably all too painfully aware, CAD drawings frequently need to be reviewed by a wide variety of stakeholders, including analysts, planners, construction workers, production employees, purchasers, marketing executives, regulatory officials—and oh yes, clients. So naturally, having an easy way of managing documents and making them available to everybody will have a positive impact on performance. And, having them accessible online increases mobile productivity.
To be effective, the right solution has to provide users with access to the CAD drawings, even if they don’t have the CAD application. You also need to be able to control the system, so that users can’t make unauthorized changes or accidentally delete documents. And finally, you need a way to capture related data and information, reference files such as emails, instant messages, blog posts and the like.
I’d venture to guess that most CAD users still share data the old-fashioned way, relying on local hard drives and networks to do the heavy lifting. Such a disorganized and inefficient system is causing people to look at what content management programs like SharePoint can do to consolidate and distribute information more effectively. Simon Floyd, Microsoft’s director of technology strategy, enterprise solutions, says that SharePoint is “a facilitator of business processes,” adding that “we’re working very hard for SharePoint to be a decision engine, to surface more and more information to support decisions.”
While SharePoint has certainly proven itself in an office setting, some people that it needs a little help if it’s going to be useful for CAD data. The makers of CAD collaboration tool Dv TDM, for example, say that “SharePoint lacks the ability to control the directory location of the document library, which can cause problems for CAD files that depend on other materials,” such as reference files and xRefs. “This can be especially problematic for organizations that require the management of document files from their inception and all the way through to archiving.”
So we’re starting to see several solutions—like Dv TDM, Cadac Organice, Autodesk Vault, Bentley Systems ProjectWise and CADtoWIN—that can harness the power of SharePoint and use it to better serve CAD users.
When evaluating these and other collaborative solutions, be sure they offer the following features and benefits:
- The ability to access SharePoint within the native CAD application
- Document viewing support for multiple CAD applications and file formats
- Accelerated file access
- Collaboration in real time on work in progress
- The ability to organize and manage documents and drawings (including version control) throughout their entire lifecycle
- The ability to search entire collections of documents and reference files
- Enhanced Microsoft Office application integration
If you already use SharePoint, a SharePoint-based solution or some other system for sharing and collaborating on content, please let us know how it’s working out. And if you’re considering a collaboration advance, tell the CAD/CAM Performance community about your objectives and challenges. We really want to hear from you!