In the previous section of this article, we introduced you to the main advantages of CAD software; here our aim is to help you devise a plan for evaluating CAD software programs that your company will consider buying.
The first step in evaluating your CAD software needs is the same step that you should take for any major purchase, IT or otherwise -- create a team that will be in charge of the process. From there, define your schedule by putting your goals in writing; define key deadlines for identifying all the CAD software programs you want to look at, for narrowing your list to a few finalists and for ultimately choosing your new CAD software package. If these deadlines are not put in writing, they will not be met.
The first major decision this team should make is whether it needs a consultant or other outside expert to help it through the selection process. If your company does not currently use CAD software, or if has been a long time since you purchased the CAD software you are using, then it might make sense to bring in a consultant. (If, in turn, you need help finding the right consultant, ask trusted peers, post your questions about CAD software consultants on sites such as CADForums.net, Cadforum or BIM Fusion, or simply look for consultants online and try to find one nearby.)
Once your team has been assembled, with or without a consultant, you need to spell out the various design processes, job functions and general work habits of the architects and engineers at your firm. You should also consider your company's plans for future growth. This review will help you identify what software features are going to be most important for you and your company. For example, if you have engineers in several different offices, or if you plan to open a new location soon, then CAD software that emphasizes Web-based collaboration may be helpful. In addition, if you tend to focus on residential design or construction but plan to start working on commercial projects, then you should be evaluating CAD software that can be used for all types of design.
Having identified the features that matter most, the next step is to start making a list of products that fit the bill. Our list of CAD software vendors is a good place to start, but it is by no means the only place to look -- ask your peers or visit the forums listed above to post your questions and see what other users have to say. Remember that CAD software built for your specific segment of the AEC industry may cost more than all-purpose, inexpensive CAD software; keep in mind, though, that the former may be more feature-rich than the latter.
Another thing to keep in mind as you are evaluating CAD software are the programs your business partners use, as you will likely want a product that interoperates with, or at the very least can import documents from, the CAD software that your partners have. Your partners will also be able to give you constructive feedback on the software that they use.
Once you are done evaluating CAD software and have identified the finalists, you should be able to put together a document along the lines of an RFP that you can show CAD software vendors. In addition to showing this document to the salesperson, so that he or she knows exactly what you are looking for, keep it handy when you are sitting in vendor demos.
The next section of this article, CAD software comparisons and demonstrations, provides a list of questions about functionality, price and service to keep in mind for vendors.