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The Turnkey Customer

Large companies typically spend many millions of dollars each year simply to determine general strategic directions for their companies in CAD/CAM/CAE. These companies typically identify individuals, or groups of individuals, who are vested with the great responsibility of charting that future course within the company. Representatives from Engineering, Manufacturing, Design and occasionally MIS regularly meet in long, intensive sessions about what will be the technological basis for the next generation of CAD/CAM.

What they are attempting to find, of course, is one single, grand solution for the company's CAD/CAM needs. The fact that this process has been going on essentially without change for the last twenty years in the American manufacturing industry is evidence of how important this is held to be.

The CAD/CAM selection committee is a creation of such thinking, and is responsible for the support of a generation of CAD/CAM consultants who continue to recommend variations on the traditional theme to these corporate users. The actual product which is the result of the consultant's analysis or selection committee's conclusion varies with the consultant's background, the target company's needs, and the weather. But it is ultimately tied to a checklist of features which CAD/CAM selection committees assemble as the ultimate measure of a system's worth.

This feature list is common to those of you who have had some association, however brief, with a turnkey company. The presence of one of these features automatically activates a check mark next to that item on the list, and a tally of checkmarks is made at the end of the process. The majority of check marks does not automatically guarantee the selection of a particular turnkey system, however, since personal bias still plays a great part in the selection process.

See how the selection/purchase process for the turnkey system differs from the same decision for a user of desktop CAD. The purchase of an expensive turnkey system is a decision in which a large number of people have an influence. Generally, unless it is an addition to an existing pool of product, it must also pass the test of the CAD/CAM selection committee, be signed off by the head of the department from whose budget it will ultimately come, and very often by the President of that company.

In addition to being a major purchase due to its large price, the decision is of major import because it is part of the process of determining the strategic direction of that company for its entire future. People who buy drafting systems, even at the corporate level, do so based only on the utility of that system, not having to worry about justifying its strategic impact on the company's future.

This is one of the most important lessons to learn about the difference between turnkey CAD and desktop CAD. Desktop vendors are merely providing useful solutions, whereas turnkey vendors are providing future direction; they are dealing with strategic issues, not just practical ones.

One may disregard the importance of the criteria by which large companies buy CAD/CAM products only at one's own risk. This is actually how large companies spend their money. Drafting systems represent old and developed technology, and fail to cause any excitement in those who are charged with determining future strategy. Future directions must involve advanced technology, and the more advanced, the better. No one discusses drafting systems in the corporate boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies.

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Editor: John Walker