The Incredible Disappearing CAD/BIM Manager


I’ve danced around this topic a bit before, but let me strike at the heart this time.  One of the benefits of only having customers who are Architectural firms means we get to see some of the trends that happen in the industry, sometimes even a bit earlier than those working directly in it.

One such trend is the minimalization (is that a word?) of the role of CAD Manager, or BIM Manager, or Design Technology Manager, whichever your firm calls it.  In the early days of CAD (when papyrus was used), the CAD Manager bordered on semi-deity.   Computers were scary enough – CAD on computers (yes, redundancy, I know) was even scarier.  Licensing. LISP. Confusing commands, whole other languages!  Users (and leadership) had no problem signing off on the idea that a CAD Manager could be 100% non-billable, and that was still perfectly OK.

Fast forward 10-15 years, and that “unassailable” guy or girl?  Not so much.  The mystique started to roll away.  Many of the functions that CAD Managers had created in LISP became integrated into the product.  Then Revit hit, and the window was cracked open slightly for BIM Managers.  The reality today, however, is that *most* firms use Revit simply as AutoCAD on steroids.  Plans, elevations, and some modelling.  “True” BIM, or BIM as part of IPD, is still some way away.  So whatever awe that BIM Managers were first held in disappeared shortly after leadership realized, hey, we’ve moved X percent to Revit, and we’re doing just fine.

So a devaluation of the position based on the perceived ease of using both AutoCAD and Revit has contributed, but there are other factors.  Someone I respect opined that the reason Leadership doesn’t value the role is that the decision-makers are all right-brained, design-oriented individuals; and that the actual CAD/BIM production process can be very left-brain. And because of that, they have a hard time valuing the role.

Another opinion is that the proliferation of technology in general has devalued technology support roles overall;  that a much higher comfort level with technology – at all levels, including leadership – leads to more questions of “why”, rather than blind acceptance.

Personally, I think all of those contribute, but right now, the economy plays a large role.  A number of AEC firms are slowly emerging from this economy with a much greater desire to be aware of, and to control, finances.  Unlike when we’re all fat and happy, there is a huge focus on the absolute bottom line – what are my dollars in, and what are my dollars out.   In scenarios like those, “soft costs” tend to play a very minor role in comparison to their big, hard cost brother.

And that, in a nutshell, is why the CAD/BIM/DT Manager is slowly fading away.  It isn’t malevolence, it’s just a case of “I have this person who costs me X dollars and they generate Y dollars”.  If Y-X is positive, you’re OK.  When it isn’t, look out.  Because that is a black and white, very easy to see calculation of how you are contributing to the firm’s bottom line.  And it isn’t reasonable to yell at Leadership for thinking this way; too many people in the negative, and no more company.

Many of you have participated in group/individual personality labeling, for more effective communication.  You’re an INTJ, they’re ENFP, or you’re a muffin and they’re an orange, however your particular program divided up people.  At the end of the day, however, most have the same goal: how do you effectively communicate to an ENFP/Muffin?   Current CAD/BIM/DT Managers should be looking at their *organizations* as a personality type that likes cold, hard facts dished up in an analytical, unbiased manner.

So what does that mean?  Metrics.  Stats.  Black and white numbers, without the BS.  You can say to Leadership “I play an essential role”, or “CAD standards are hugely important to productivity” and you’ll get a nod and a “uh-huh”.  You need to be saying “My role saved this firm $250,000 worth of billable man-hours last year”.

This is *not* easy.  Much of what you do *is* soft.  You help.  You create.  For all intents and purposes, every hour you spend non-billable is a complete money sink.  That’s the hard view.  As difficult as it may be, you should start trying to create actual metrics – statistics – for your role.  Especially those that pertain to supporting billable hours or overall productivity.  An easy one is Save-to-Central times.  Let’s say, because of your optimization efforts, each project STC averages 5 minutes faster, and each staffer saves 4 times a day.  And you have 100 Architects.  And they average bill at $150/hour.  Congrats, that’s a million dollars worth of labor saved over a year.  Or how much time is saved from reusing families you’ve created.  Or how much time is saved by team members who move from one project to another not having to learn a new file structure.  Those metrics are out there.  You need to start finding them, and start assigning numbers that aren’t crazy or unrealistic.  They need to pass the B.S. test.

Thusly armed, go forth on a marketing mission.  You can have the best stats in the world, but they won’t help you one bit if no one knows about them.  Don’t wait for the day when they come with bankers boxes.  Either team up, if your firm is small, or find someone in Leadership who believes in your role, and have them help you craft a simple presentation.  Make your case heard, at the very minimum, of once a year.  If you belong to a group, make sure the group leader is doing this at an executive level.

Because believe me, the case needs to be made.  I believe in your role – very strongly – but I’m bucking the trend.


8 thoughts on “The Incredible Disappearing CAD/BIM Manager

  1. Beautifully written…thanks for sharing what most if us don’t always get to see outside ‘OUR BOX’ !

    The new focus for these folks will also be, ‘Can You Put A Set of DD or CD drawing sets together @ any level…no more worry on file/cad structures…more on design/architecture…which is where it should have been when AUTOCAD was introduced 25 yrs ago !

  2. I would disagree with Ray. The question is not about putting a “set” together; it is about, can you communicate the design in a more efficient meaningful way? How can we get the building built better, faster and for less money? That is the difference between using a BIM tool to produce the traditional (2,000 year old) set and using the tools to support a new deliverable.

  3. The tasks that BIM / CAD / IT Managers (what ever you want to call it) do to help organizations deliver a product are not disappearing. As with any position, the tasks can be outsourced or absorbed by other positions when organizations are looking to downsize or fudge numbers to make a report look good. Eliminating the CAD / BIM / DT Manager position will still cost the organization the same amount of money and more likely increase the total costs. The net affect will likely hurt the quality and the timely delivery of the product as well. Whether the charges are direct or indirect, the tasks still need to be done.

  4. Great article! Thank you in particular for the part about providing metrics / stats about our roles. I’m now on a marketing mission! 🙂

  5. Well articulated Mike! I very much enjoyed this blog posting and reading Ray and Jim’s comments that followed. In a way the CAD/BIM manager role has come to suffer from the same Achilles heel or challenges of any management roll that is not project specifically billable at all time. When a firm’s value system is based on solely accountable billing hours and what can be justifiably billed to the client it is easy to devalue or brush over genuine and essential contributions made by key naturally, take care of arising needs, multi-hat wearing people that are not simply titled “staff” on the payroll ledger!! For those folks your point about going forth on a internal marketing mission, making your case, with hard facts & #’s, heard is critical to their corporate survival let alone thriving!! And its not enough to “find someone in Leadership who believes in your role” but that that person or persons are the ones who have at all times the right executive leadership ear to keep you regarded as essential! I have always felt it very shortsighted and ironic that firms in the business of selling Creativity end up run by bean counting accountants or risk averse attorneys or actuaries but alas that is when the true upcoming talent of those iconic companies seems to depart and forms their own creative firms or collaborative efforts!! In the past the fear of not having someone in that fail-safe/safety net titled position of CAD manager scared the friggen heck out of firm’s leadership which didn’t truly understand the technology that their firms were becoming more and more dependent on to deliver their services. This fear was I think more behind the semi-deity perception than the awareness and realization of the the very valuable contribution that this manager brought to bear; And as is usually the case with human nature, actions based in fear usually last only as long as that fear is there…so the minute the fear or worry is perceived to be alleviated by the, in this case, perpetuating of alternative more warm and fuzzy user friendly interface-able technology, the first instinct is i don’t need the safety net anymore! or at least I don’t need it in-house! But then again such evolutions and redefinitions in job titles have been a reality as old as time and usually means what once was a corporate position is now outsourced as needed….In that the CAD manager title is not alone.

    Thank you guys for a stimulating exchange enjoyed with my morning coffee 🙂

    Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

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