Whose Side are You On?

Whose side are you on? I get asked this a lot. And, no, I don’t get into bar fights or attend political rallies. It’s not asked in the context of sports (everyone knows the Chicago Bears are the best, er, second best team in the league). I get asked this by people wondering who I advocate for as a Civil 3D consultant. On one side are the end users of the technology and on the other are the owners/managers. Let’s look at the two sides of this question to see if we can answer it once and for all.

Siding with End Users

On one side of the question are the people that use deisgn and drafting software every (or nearly every) day. This group includes the surveyors and contractors; the engineers and designers; the drafter and technicians. These folks are in the trenches getting into the nuts and bolts of the software/hardware. They know the nuances, what works and what to avoid. They often spend a lot of their own time learning how to push the product. The end users may attend training seminars, read technical journals and blogs, and participate in online discussion groups. They know the product and how to use it to get their job done.

In a typical office setting, the end users are the workhorses that perform the tasks required to get a project done. Without this group, a project would simple not get completed. Because of their intimate knowledge of what steps need to be done and in what order, they are often the “trusted advisor” to owners and managers and either directly select or provide valuable input on Civil 3D purchasing decisions.

When working on a Civil 3D implementation project, I often spend several weeks or months, and hundreds of hours working closely with a small group of end users. I get to know them very well and develop a strong working relationship. In many cases they confide in me work issues they don’t care to share with other employees or owners and managers. As an outside advisor, they often ask me for objective opinions about decisions the managers have made in regards to technology selection and implementation. As an end user of many Autodesk products, I can relate very well with the enthusiasm and frustration associated with integrating a new product into a work environment and using it on a regular basis.

I know the end user. They are on the critical path to project completion. They know what works and what doesn’t in their environment. They are the ones that will be using the Civil 3D day in and day out. Because of the important positions they occupy and their influence (either direct or indirect) on the outcome of a Civil 3D implementation project, of course I side with the end users, right?

Siding with Owners

If the end users represent one side of the debate, then the owners and managers are on the other. At some earlier point in their careers, most owners were end users themselves. They possibly were using different tools and likely using different technology. Now, their responsibilities have grown from the important task of working in the business to working on the business. They prospects for clients, lands projects and deliver a final product. They make sure projects adhere to schedule and budgetary constraints, administer personnel issues, plan for the continued success of the organization and hopefully build a profitable business or financially responsible government department. Owners and managers have the knowledge of how the whole organization operates. Owners must collate information from many sources, including end users, outside tech consultants, accountants, legal counsel and so on and make decisions that can have both long and short term impact on the organization and the staff the works for them.

When it comes to implementing a new software or hardware product, owners must weigh several components beyond those that affect the typical end user. While Civil 3D may meet all the feature requirements of the end user, the owner must consider costs to purchase the software, install and configure it, and integrate it into an existing business process. Included in these costs are potential lost productivity and impacts on project delivery and client satisfaction. They must also consider long term costs of ownership including upgrades, ongoing training, ability to hire personnel with knowledge of the specific product, and time before return on investment.  They know the business.

While the nature of a Civil 3D implementation project dictates that I spend much more time with the end users, a critical part of the whole process involves time spent with the owners. The success of integrating Civil 3D depends on the owners understanding what the product can (and cannot!) do for their organization and in understanding the financial and personnel issues mentioned above. As a project progresses, regular meetings and discussion with owners is vital. They, too, often look for outside opinions, validating and confirming their decisions or the recommendations of their trusted advisors. As the owner of a consulting firm, I can relate very well to the need to grasp the big picture of the Civil 3D project and the potential benefits and drawbacks.

I know the owners. They must coordinate all aspects of the organization. They must make financially responsible decisions. They must make sure projects are delivered on time. They bear the legal and financial risks. They write the checks and pay the bills. At the end of the day, the buck starts and stops with the owners. And because of this, of course I side with the owners, right?

The Third Side

The ultimate goal of any technology upgrade is seldom the use of the technology as an end in itself but rather a means to an end or ends. These ends include making tasks easier and less time consuming; increasing accuracy and reducing errors; increasing productivity and efficiency; and attracting and retaining new clients and new employees.

However, at first it seems that ends users and owners have different goals when implementing Civil 3D and as we just discussed, trying to choose sides with either results in a no-win situation and would ultimately lead to a failed implementation. Luckily for all involved (end users, owners, and me!) there is a third side to this discussion: there are no sides! Implementing and integrating Civil 3D into an organization requires that everyone works together to understand the pros and cons, identifies the hurdles, and works together to conquer them. It?s important that open dialog exists among all stake holders, regardless of position and function. Through constructive discussions and proper planning, owners and end users gain a better understanding of the items that impact each other and the organization.

As a consultant, it is often my job to help facilitate this understanding. Sometimes this is easy and other times it is not, especially when I’m working with a group with a workflow that has been successful in the past. However, when end users appreciate the financial considerations and other goals of the owners and owners understand the day to day technical needs and productivity goals of the end users, they all end up working on the same side towards a mutually beneficial goal of making the organization better. And that’s the side I’m always on.


  1. Nice piece Mark.
    From my end, I’m also in the spot you describe. I’m not as good at it by I try.
    I probably haven’t done enough to coordinate your firm’s efforts to help us with Management. But, in the end, all implementation efforts are imperfect, you just have to be effective. And without your firm’s help, my firm wouldn’t be this far along.
    Just a simple Thank You.

  2. Thanks, John, for the compliments, the constructive critism and the opportunity to work with your firm.