CAD Collaboration – Are You Taking the Best Path?
By its very nature, CAD and CAM activities are collaborative. Unlike other professionals, the work of the design and process specialists must ripple through the organizational processes to provide the input and impetus for delivering the products. However, the level of collaboration is only going to increase substantially in the next few years, as the demands for reducing time to market and increasing efficiency continue.
And the tools for collaboration are changing as well. There are new options and the impact of the Cloud is starting to come to the fore as well. The result is new and changing options for improving CAD collaboration.
Beyond Software Standardization for Collaboration
For many years now, the most common approach to collaboration among CAD professionals has been to standardize on one software product and share files. In some cases multiple packages have been used, as long as there was a common file format for sharing and thus, driving collaboration. This approach was also common between CAD and CAM disciplines as well as the files were used at different stages of the manufacturing process.
However, this approach is getting harder to maintain as changes occur in the business. One of the most trying changes is the increasing use of contractors and third parties for discrete tasks or entire aspects of the design. The problem is that these external resources may already be committed to a different software product, and having them change to the company standard is not going to happen. In addition, as organizations merge or combine on projects, the same problem of driving software standardization occurs.
As a result, the reality is that for some period of time we will continue to be reliant on file sharing and conversion into other tools. The key is to look for software that allows for file conversions without loss of fidelity.
The Cloud – Good & Bad
Another solution for collaboration is the cloud. However, the cloud’s most effective use is as a place to share files and documents, and many services provide strong and highly usable solutions. However, it is critical to realize that using the cloud for file sharing and project file storage has some serious risks. First, your cloud solution needs to provide bullet proof security. As the recent hack of DropBox shows, security has a ways to go in some offerings. Second, there has to be management controls for these services. The organization’s crown jewels will be in the collaboration systems, and it must be possible to see what has been shared, when, and who has had access. Finally, there has to be strong access control. In many collaboration services, any member of the team can invite and give privileges to others. That’s not acceptable in many scenarios.
Collaboration is still essential and despite some advances, there is still a long way to go. In many ways we are still beholden to file sharing and conversion within software packages. The key there is file fidelity. The cloud offers some very useful sharing focused collaboration solutions, but insuring the right management and security tools are in place is critical.