Sometimes, it just makes sense to
walk away from a fight. Thats what Kevin J. Connolly,
AIA, did when software giant Autodesk released the first version
of its Architectural Desktop (ADT) software. At the time, his
firm, Connolly Architects, in Milwaukee, was using AutoCAD Release
14, and Connolly was wary of ADT because it represented a major
change in features and function compared to AutoCAD. We
intentionally stayed away from it, Connolly, president
of the five-person firm, recalls. When ADT 2 came out,
we upgraded to that version, he says, confident that any
bugs in the program would have been fixed by the second release.
Connollys firm has since switched
to a new design platform, Graphisofts ArchiCAD, but
the owner still refrains from adopting every major software
release as soon as it hits the market. He believes new-release
bugs are endemic in the industry, not an ailment of any one
vendor. When a big new version of ArchiCAD comes out,
maybe well take every other one of those, he says.
Connollys wait-and-see attitude
isnt unique to small firms with modest IT resources.
Some technology managers at multiple-division companies that
employ hundreds of CAD users take a similarly restrained approach
to the regular incremental and blockbuster upgrades common
among software vendors who serve architectseven adopting,
like Connolly, the philosophy of installing every other new
release. I like to be number two and let somebody else
do the debugging, says Michael Walters, director of
IT in the New York office of Perkins & Will.
In the hotly competitive and innovative
world of software development, regular changes to applications
are a fact of life. No one can blame architects for being
cautious. The initial cost of upgrading CAD software can range
from $200 to $600 per workstation. Multiply that by the number
of CAD users, and the bill quickly climbs into the thousands
of dollars. But thats just the beginning.
Additional costs accrue from hardware
upgrades. Often, new software requires architects to pack
their machines with more memory and storage capacity. In some
cases, a newer, faster CPU may be necessary to run the revision
effectively. Hardware upgrading is one of the scariest
parts of adding new software, says Michael Horta, principal
of Computers in Design, a New Yorkbased training and
consulting company. Do you buy new machines or spend
$2,000 to upgrade existing computers? He notes that
the minimum hardware recommendations provided by vendors arent
always practical. Whatever the box says, automatically
double that, Horta advises.
Firms must also consider personnel costs.
CAD specialists may need 4 to 8 hours of instruction, at $30
to $40 per hour, to learn the softwares new capabilities.
Chris Barron, AIA, vice president of architecture for Graphisoft,
recommends budgeting for training costs at two times the price
of the software upgrade.
Putting new features into practice takes
even more time. You take your production person, who
is running 80 miles an hour and cut them back to 50 miles
an hour while they learn to use the upgrade, says Horta.
Do that across the whole office, and its a sizable
cost. A company may not fully benefit from a revisions
enhancements until users get comfortable after four or five
projects, Horta adds.
For their part, makers of CAD software
recognize the resistance toward upgrades that require extensive
retraining and corresponding hardware upgrades. Architects
tend to be quite resistant to discontinuous upgrades,
says Graphisofts Barron. Autodesk says it is avoiding
big revisions every 18 to 24 months in favor of smaller, incremental
releases that boost behind-the-scenes performance but keep
changes to the user interface to a minimum, according to Alex
Neihaus, senior director of marketing for the building industry
division. One increasingly common option used by these software
suppliers, along with MicroStation vendor Bentley Systems,
is software subscriptions, where users pay an annual fee,
in addition to the cost of the software, in return for free
upgrades and technical support. Revit, the parametric building
modeler recently acquired by Autodesk, has evolved with 12
incremental releases over the past two and a half years and
is marketed exclusively on a subscription basis.
While subscriptions may assuage some
upgrade pain, they dont make everyone happy. Connolly
complains about paying up-front for new, unknown features
that his company may not need. Adds Horta, Ive
seen people who just shelve many of those smaller upgrades.