The “why” of upgrading to a modern engineering document management system is something we’ve talked about often in this blog. One thing we have not covered much is the “when” of an upgrade. Is there a “best practices” approach to deciding when to upgrade?
My research suggests there are many variables and few absolutes regarding when the time is right to make the move. Most decisions that feel like a discussion of “when” are really driven by the “why.” Reasons like “We are acquiring (or being acquired by) another company” or “we have a big new client” are example of “why” a company upgrades EDM; the “when” is driven by the external event.
Both the reasons listed above are responses to increased activity. “We are going to be doing more work, we need better software” makes sense, but there is a downside to performing a major upgrade as a result of increased work. Everyone in the workgroup is already busy, and now management wants to throw in installing and learning new software.
How Quanex Took Advantage of Downtime
Building products manufacturer Quanex took a different approach. They made a strategic decision to update their document management system when business was slow. “We were probably just a little bit unique in the fact that we did make a commitment in a down economy,” says Quanex Engineering Manager Jeff Sawyers.
The company had already been studying internal operations, using various Six Sigma and Lean Management concepts. One issue identified by the self-study was the growing complexity of managing files from three CAD products: Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Inventor, and Autodesk AutoCAD LT. “We were using Windows Explorer to manage all of our CAD files, ECOs, ECRs, ISO documentation—and anything else we could think of,” explains Jay Lovelady, a senior drafter at Quanex. “We had over 6500 different Windows folders where we stored our work. Our CAD files were being moved in and out of a ‘controlled’ folder, which made it nearly impossible to know which revision we were working on and who else was working on the same file. Documents were getting lost on people’s desks or not being completed on time. We had no way to know if people were accessing the most current version.”
When the problems were pointed out, business was down. But the benefits of upgrading were seen as too compelling to wait until business improved. “It turned out to be a really good time to implement a new system,” says Lovelady.” Instead of being buried in work, we had the time to go deep and learn the system.”
They hired Synergis Software to provide on-site Administrator training to their key staff. “During that time, we set up the Adept server, learned the system, and formulated a plan to move all their files into Adept,” recalls Lovelady.
After a week of mentoring, Lovelady and two other engineers started moving all their CAD files and QMS documentation into Adept. “We created PDFs of all our old electronic data— ECOs, ECRs, and more—and moved them into Adept. Then we moved our entire PDF vault of CAD drawings into Adept. As a result, we have access to our entire pre-Adept history of documentation.”
During a second visit on-site, a Synergis Software implementation specialist completed user training and assessed the implementation with Lovelady and his team. “While training our 43 users, we reviewed everything we’d accomplished to date; created a short to-do list; and focused on best practices for accomplishing our goals.”
Quanex's Growing Success with Adept
Quanex made a strategic decision to upgrade their knowledge access during a downturn in business. They knew staff time was valuable, and it would be better to use it for the upgrade when there was less work coming in the door. Now they have an improved workflow that serves them well as business has improved. As Sawyers notes, “We’re going to continue to look at our systems and roll them into the framework of Adept like we’ve done with our ECR and ECO processes. Adept is an output of our problem solving and our Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. It’s definitely a tool to help us get better as a company.”
If you want more information, Synergis Software has published a case study of how Quanex organized and executed their search for a new document management system.
Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985.