Critical choice

Engineering consultants should select their CAD resellers with care, checking out that the range of services they provide are what is required, says Claire Bass

Some of the most forward-thinking engineering consultants are not aware of the full range of services provided by design software resellers. Many do not realise that this new generation has evolved to provide much more than just product.

With CAD products becoming increasingly specialised and discipline-specific yet simultaneously interoperable, resellers no longer just sell AutoCAD, or its equivalent, without knowing much about what the end-user is going to do with it.

Today, the better resellers can provide a valuable, cost-effective consultancy service, helping you to maximise the benefits of the latest technology — and also your return on investment.

So if your existing reseller is still talking to you about its latest special offers and what it can sell you, rather than what you need, it may be time to look around for someone who can provide the whole spectrum of services.

But how do you go about choosing someone new, and what questions do you need to ask? To begin with, you should enquire about the reseller’s expertise in the engineering industry. As CAD has become more industry-focused, the better companies have built up staff with a background in the industry they serve, thus providing a common language and understanding.

This ability to cross-function and inter- operate between the engineering and design services is increasingly important. So you don’t want a firm that focuses too much on a single design discipline and fails to understand the need for a broader design requirement.

For example, you may need advice on visualisation products as well as Inventor or the usual engineering solutions. Or you may have an interoperability requirement between mechanical services in a building design project. Real awareness of both the profession and the market are crucial.

Another important question to ask is whether the reseller has vision. New software is a big investment. Old-style resellers will force-feed you with what they think you need now, but the new generation will also look at what you will need in two or three years’ time.

Of course, it is difficult to assess who has business vision and who hasn’t. But it is a good sign if they start asking about your strategic plans and how you see the practice developing. Also, all good consultants should demonstrate an understanding that software implementation is not an end in itself. Your business success comes from the people using the software and the processes and workflow around it, rather than the technology itself.

You should also know whether they operate globally. Even if you are not an international operation now, you may be in the future and might have to outsource. While there is a mature and robust market in the UK, dealing with users in Russia or Abu Dhabi sometimes throws up problems that inexperienced resellers can’t deal with.

Other issues to consider are the accessibility of training, the reseller’s financial stability and licence and subscriptions.

Resellers should consider increasing their number of customer services managers trained to give advice on asset management, software inventory and subscriptions queries. These can help customers optimise their CAD investment by researching which licences can be upgraded or made live again.

When you have finally chosen a reseller, make it a long-term friend. The reseller role has been transformed and it looks set to go on changing. If the current trend towards integrated working and moving data from one solution to another continues, there will be even more new ways for third-party consultants to contribute to your business.

Events in the CAD industry have forced these specialists to look carefully at where both the technology and architectural processes are heading. They have become experts, too — so make the most of them.

Claire Bass is sales director of design software supplier CADline