Upgrade or Switch?
To Upgrade or Switch?
As the business leader of an architecture firm, you must identify the occasions when what has been presented to your IT staff as a routine upgrade is really a major migration project. This is the time to evaluate the alternatives.
Indicators that an upgrade is more than routine include major changes to the user interface or data format; need for retraining (even a full day is excessive); need to rewrite customization or interfaces with other applications; need to recreate or rework reports, templates, symbol libraries, or other standards; major changes in licensing terms; and removal of features that are important to your company, requiring you to purchase back that functionality at an additional cost.
If the upgrade presented has these characteristics, then it really is a product migration, and it provides an opportunity to take stock. Do the benefits of upgrading exceed the costs? If not, what is prompting you business to upgrade? If it is new functionality you seek, can it be found in another product at a lower total cost (including retraining, installations, etc.)?
If the upgrade is providing no real benefits, why are you undertaking it at all? Again, if you are upgrading just because the vendor is discontinuing support for your version of the product, there may be a more attractive option: possibly another product that will provide your business with additional useful functionality at a similar total cost.
Selecting New Software
If you decide not to upgrade but to buy something new, you need to question whether to choose the market leader in a software category. It's not always the best choice.
Market domination does not necessarily devolve upon the technically superior product. Market leaders typically have a superior "total product," which means that there are many: places to buy, trained users, knowledgeable consultants, training sources, and third party add-ons and interfaces.
In the case of applications that are not mission-critical — for example, word processing — selecting products that are market leaders makes sense. In the case of applications that your business expects to provide competitive advantage, more thoughtful consideration is required.
Competitive advantage also typically requires doing something different from the "rest of the pack." It requires that you provide your service or product in a way that makes a client take notice.
Looking beyond Market Leader
OWP&P is a Chicago-based full-service architecture firm. Their healthcare practice has adopted Aperture Technologies products, described by the vendor as "visual asset management software." OWP&P cut 10 to 12 weeks from a major hospital master planning project by employing this "visual database."
Deborah Sheehan, OWP&P associate principal in the healthcare practice, explains that the use of Aperture has created a very different and powerful process for design decision-making. "We actually trained the senior partners and other senior personnel," she says, "and now we take it out into the field and use it during meetings with the client. We project the drawings so everyone can see them and we actually change the drawings as we go."
Sheehan explains: "The strength of Aperture is the linking with the database. We can go out with program intent; we can evaluate change requests by testing to fit and evaluating adjacencies. There's also an integrated cost matrix so we can get new construction costs, high/low, and renovation construction costs, high/low.
"This gives us some really powerful abilities: an ability to document a meeting, to make decisions, and to update documents immediately. It used to take a two-meeting cycle, which would be one to two weeks. You would go into a meeting, you would discuss changes to the program or to the drawings, and then you would have to go back to the office to test the impact of those decisions. We can actually do that now with the client. It's immediate. We can reduce the two-meeting cycle down to one meeting."
Every AEC business is facing increasing pressure to execute projects more quickly. OWP&P's healthcare practice chose this software, not because it was the market leader, but because it allowed them to squeeze precious time out of the master planning process. Their results speak for themselves. It is also significant that the user group for this strategic application consists of senior partners and staff.
Arleen Boyd, president of Fishtail Consulting, has 20 years of experience working with suppliers of CAD technology and companies using the technology in architecture, engineering, and construction. Kristine Fallon, FAIA, is president of Kristine Fallon Associates, Inc. Since the 1970s she has been a pioneer in applying information technology to the AEC industry.
This article is excerpted from Leading the Digital Practice: The A/E/C Firm Manager's Guide to Information Technology, copyright © 2002, available from PSMJ, Resources, Inc.