End of Year Clean-up

As the end of 2010 approaches, I find myself reflecting on how far we have come, technologically, since I entered the A/E/C Industry almost 25 years ago.  Call me “old school” if you will, but there’s something to be said for taking a few moments to appreciate how much wasted effort (and expense) has been eliminated by applying new Technology to old Processes.  For example:

When I learned AutoCAD (v 2.18), it was not possible to Zoom or Pan within a Command.  One would need to Zoom All (or Extents), then Zoom Window to encompass the work scope, then execute the desired Command.  Oh, and each Zoom forced a complete screen Regeneration (read:  get a cup of coffee while you wait).  Transparent Zooming and Panning (introduced, as I recall, in v 2.52) instantly allowed CAD users to become more productive (and take fewer coffee breaks).  Now, these View functions are completely dynamic.  Kids these days – they’ve got it so easy!

My first CAD monitor was a 14” monochrome (actually, amber…or, was it green?) CRT.   Multiple, large screen COLOR flat panels were the stuff of Science Fiction.  Today, they’re a couple hundred bucks apiece.

CPU overclocking, DOS Extenders and RAM Disks were necessary to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of our platforms.  Nowadays, home laptops are shipping with 64-bit Operating Systems, multi-core Processors and tons of RAM.

But, these are obvious things.  Consider what’s happened below the radar to improve workflow:

FAX machines have gone full cycle, from “Magic” to expensive luxuries to mandatory tools-of-the-trade to nearing obsolescence.  Seriously, when was the last time you received a FAX (that wasn’t a Vacation or 419 scam)?

Job site connectivity used to require 45 day advance work orders simply to obtain a land line, which could be hooked to the aforementioned FAX.  With today’s wireless nodes, a job site can be on-line within minutes.

Workers in the field thought it was great their bulky Walkie-Talkies could save a trip back to the trailer to ask a question.  Then came the Push-To-Talk cell phones.  Now, Wireless Tablets bring Construction Documents directly to the worker.

As I was cleaning my office, I stumbled across packs and packs of job site photo prints.  Not so long ago, one would check out “the office camera” and take a few rolls of film along to a site observation.  Upon returning, they would send the film off to be developed.  Expedited service was available, if the job warranted the additional expense.   Then, a collage of photos and typewritten observations were assembled and (snail) mailed off to the appropriate parties (did we remember to request multiple prints?).  How long does it take you to publish an Observation Report now?  I bet you can have it completed before your return flight touches down.

I vividly recall the first time someone in the field was able to send us a digital photo of an item in question.  It was immediately obvious how much time had been saved in that RFI Process.  It even justified the $500 investment in our Company’s first Digital Camera.  Now, we’ve got HD Video publishing capabilities on our phones.

Web Conferencing kind of snuck up on us.  Our first exposure was by way of Vendors, who were quick to recognize the benefit of reaching multiple customers simultaneously, without travel expenses.   As with most such Technologies, costs and complexity came down over time and with increased adoption.  A Collaborative Session can now be set up in the time it takes to send an email and is affordable by any Business’ standards.

It struck me that Autodesk University 2010 was the first event at which I was fully connected while away from the office.  Sure, I’d had a cell phone and a laptop along in conferences past.  But, the way my smart phone (Android platform, for those keeping score) allowed for effortless access to Phone, Web, Search, GPS, Email and Messaging services removed a lot of the obstacles that used to induce stress into remote assignments.  That’s not to say I didn’t experience a certain amount of “iPad envy”…

What’s to be made of all this?  Most times, Technology helps us do what we do more efficiently.  But, sometimes, Technology completely changes how we do what we do.  It’s the latter situation that holds the most promise for the future.

Happy Holidays and I wish you all a Healthy and Prosperous New Year!


P.S.  Shameless plug:   If you know of anyone looking for an IT / BIM / CAD / Digital Design Leader, either on-board or on a Consulting basis, let me know.  Thanks!

About Dave Pluke

Dave Pluke served as "the man behind the curtain" (Principal and VP of Technology) of a successful Structural Engineering firm for over 2 decades. Overseeing the transition from two, stand-alone 80286 Personal Computers, through Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Design to a fully networked, Building Information Modeling (BIM) integrated environment has provided plenty of "life lessons" (sounds better than "battle scars", doesn't it?). This blog's purpose is to share those experiences and apply lessons learned to better assist meeting the challenges of the future.
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