As managers grapple to ensure their companies use the best technology in the right ways, sometimes what really matters are the simple human aspects—interactions between technicians, designers and managers—to make sure that we all draw maximum productivity from one another.
As the IT manager at the architectural and engineering firm of Paulus Sokolowski and Sartor, I have learned that there are three key areas where IT leaders and business managers must focus to ensure technology works well in the organization:
-Building Trust—The technology team must build a good working relationship with their end users: engineers, designers and project managers. -Collaboration—IT and CADD leaders must work together to realize common goals by sharing knowledge, exchanging ideas, and creating a team environment. -Communicating—IT can only be integral to the business with regular and meaningful interactions between technology leaders and management’s executive team.
To build a good working relationship with engineers, designers and project managers, members of the tech team must truly work as a support team by striving to understand how users do their jobs.
For many, the technologist is just the person you call when you have trouble with your e-mail or need your password reset. But IT is much more effective when the technologist puts down the smartphone and interacts with the engineers and architects being supported.
For example, we learned that our project managers struggled with managing e-mails. Mail needed to be stored in a searchable database accessible to every member of the team. After observing team members spending as much as five minutes to archive a single e-mail, we put in place Newforma software — a project file and e-mail management system which is simple to use. The software cut processing time per e-mail to two seconds by allowing users to drag and drop e-mails into a file system that is searchable by all team members.
Asking simple questions to determine the technical struggles team members encounter can lead to better efficiency and productivity. Understanding how these issues impact the project workflow will make it easier to identify and prioritize core problems, enabling the team to focus on the technical resolutions that can have the greatest impact on a firm. Excellence in this area will instill the trust and confidence of fellow co-workers and increase the tech team’s effectiveness and influence across the firm.
In many AEC firms, CAD and IT Departments have segmented their services, when in fact it is their cooperation that is essential to effectively implement technology solutions.
Today the engineering design and modeling processes are more dependent on technology than ever. The technologies used push processors, memory and storage to the limit as designs switch from two-dimensional flat drawings to three-dimensional models and photo-realistic renderings.
The IT world is also rapidly changing with the maturity of server and desktop virtualization, increased mobility options, and the exploration of cloud technologies. There is now simply too much information for one person to master. That makes working collaboratively among the CAD and IT teams essential.
Regular meetings between IT and CAD leaders create opportunities to learn from one another as they discuss successes, struggles, and emerging technologies. Through this type of collaboration the CAD and IT teams bring their respective skillsets together to solve design challenges. Ultimately, the CAD/BIM manager and IT manager should work side-by-side to coordinate their teams to work together to build solutions not independently obtainable.
For example, on a recent assignment of designing a new dormitory for New Jersey’s Montclair State University, PS&S was confronted with significant time and resource constraints. The size of the model required for the project would push beyond the capabilities of the existing workstation configuration, making it appear impossible to meet the shortened deadline.
An easy, but expensive solution would have been to purchase an additional 20 powerful workstations. Because the IT and CAD team had already been working together evaluating production readiness of a new operating system and design software enhancements, they were able to mobilize quickly and provide the required computing power for the Montclair dormitory model by upgrading 20 existing workstations with 64-bit operating systems and additional memory within two weeks.
There were times on the Montclair project, and others, when the computer resources demanded by modeling and rendering made it impossible for designers to use their workstations for any other purpose.
As a result, designers were requesting second workstations at their desks so they could complete simple tasks, such as e-mail or accessing the Internet, while a design program was running. To provide these resources the IT and CADD team collaborated to build a high-performance virtual desktop environment housing more than 25 virtual workstations on only three servers. The new approach allows PS&S to provide project team members on-demand access to the computing resources they need without having to physically provision a second workstation at individuals’ desk. It is the cohesion between CAD and IT that enhances the capability to provide strong technology solutions that improve the project delivery process.
Successes need to be shared. Regular communication with your executive team is essential for overall IT effectiveness. Put simply, IT leaders must educate the executive team on the ways technology contributes to process improvements and profits. Failing to communicate technologies impact to an organization can result in IT being viewed as only a cost center. IT leaders must learn the language of management and then be able to communicate their vision. A vision where technical change serves to meet specific business goals and investments in new technology can cut costs and boost profits.
A firm is better equipped to meet the changing needs of both employees and clients when management and IT are in synch. Companies that make IT central to design, that build effective teams among middle managers and also ensure effective communications between IT and senior executives, are well served in our dramatically changing tech environment and, in turn, deliver better value to their customers.
Eric Davis is IT Manager at New Jersey-based Paulus Sokolowski & Sartor, a 50-year old provider of environmental consulting, engineering and architectural services.