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DesignProcessTechnologyValue, A Conversation

Conversation regarding the architectural design process, and the technologies used.

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IT

Hard Questions for Software.

 

This conversation series is about technology utilized in the design process; this week the conversation is about software purchases.

While we will focus in detail on software products in future posts, this post is looking at general questions to ask before you commit to a software.  Put simply, you need to make sure you’re going to get along.

When you acquire software, you do so in a number of ways and also have a number of things to consider resulting from that acquisition – this is the point  of this post. What are the things that result in the acquiring of software? If these things are not considered prior to committing to a software then surprises – usually unpleasant surprises – result.

Two examples of what I encourage you to consider:

  1. A friend of mine once told me that,  when considering the purchase of a new car , the measure of how expensive a car will be is to ask what the cost of an oil change will be. This will tell you how expensive the car will be to own – or will it own you?
  2. Someone tells you they have a free cat (or puppy or gold fish) just needing a good home…everyone knows there is no such thing as a free cat. Puppies and goldfish have very different requirements and responsibilities – computers and software are no different.

Think about owning the system and process more than acquiring a software, system, or process. This is where you can determine whether there is a value there for you.

Questions regarding software purchase considerations fall into 3 large categories:

  • Software: sometimes called software, sometimes just an app. It’s hard to tell the difference anymore.
  • Hardware: The host system of the software installation – this can be a machine or network – depends and affects complicated-ness.
  • Users: Somebody’s got to run the software, right? Look around and take inventory – are they already busy and covered up? Are they jumping at the chance to run this new software or running for cover? Be honest here, purchase may be a one-time thing, but using it is forever (or can seem like it!).

Software is what you think you are acquiring, but hold on – before giving them that credit card number and pushing the “complete transaction” button, think about the following:

  1. Can the software be hosted locally or does it require the Cloud?
  2. Is it a license, subscription, or one-time purchase? Long gone are the days of a delivery of an installation set of disks or going to a big-box store and purchasing a set of disks to install to have “forever.”
  1. How does it update?
    1. How often?
    2. Is it forced, invited, or pushed on you?
    3. How are they managed? By whom?

4. When you acquire the software, who owns it? What account was it purchased under? Who’s log-in account was it purchased through? Do you have a company account or individual accounts? Have you kept record of those log-ins and passwords?

5. Where does the software do its work? Some software coding and structure results in the processing not occurring within the CPU (as you would assume) but rather in the GPU – this is especially prevalent in graphics intensive programs. Be careful with this – we recently purchased a graphic intensive program and it was a better performer on a machine with a lesser CPU (due to spec of the CPU and the needs of their software).  Sure, a hotter CPU would have looked great on paper, but would not have been as fast or productive as the lesser CPU that was available. We were happy to purchase the machine with the less costly CPU and NOT the machine with the hot rod CPU that we did not need.

6. Where is the work product saved?

1. Locally on the machine?

2. Locally on a server?

3. Remotely?

4. In the Cloud?

7. Is the software comparable with multiple OS’s? If so, which one is the stronger performer? WHY?

8. Can more than one user be working in a file at the same time? What does this require?

9. How is the new process and product going to be used? Shared? Published?

10. What kind of service can I expect from this company? Call them. Email them. Text them. Whichever is their process of communication – see how quickly they respond and how helpful they are BEFORE you need them.

11. How long can I expect this software to be relevant?

12. Does this software require a software upgrade?

1. What are the minimum OS requirements?

2. What are the recommended OS requirements?

3. Go ahead and let yourself nerd-out on this with a trial, if available. You may be surprised what you find – and surprises before the purchase are much better than after. Do your homework!

13. What kind of training is typically required? What is offered? How do you get it?

14. Who in your office will be operating this software? Who in the office will “own” it?

15. How will this software make my design process better? Where is the value? How can this value be measured?

16. How will this software make my design process more complicated? If you haven’t figured this out by now, insertion of a software that is going to require training you may not already have, potentially new hardware to be purchased and, producing new information or product you untill now have not had access to – how can it NOT make things a little more complicated till you get this figured out?

17. How proven is this software?

18. How many folks in the industry want to do this?

19. How long will this process take?

20. How many copies or licenses are you going to need to acquire? Take this number and multiply the above responses by that factor – especially when considering hardware and training. Until now, the software purchase is the easiest thing you’ll do.

21.  Lastly – knowing your responses to all of the above – how much is this consideration going to cost?

New software can be exciting like a new bike or family pet – and it should be. But make sure you consider living with it before bringing it home. Ultimately, it’s your decision – get it if you want to. I encourage you to get it if the above considerations result in a “let’s do this thing” response, but do so with your eyes wide open.

Doing so will assist in making your new acquisition of software a happy new member of your design process family. Everyone will get along – right?

Enjoy! Now you can do new, better, and exciting things in your adventure.

Let me know how it goes.

Hooked Up, Plugged In.

How connected are you?

Are you hooked up, plugged in?

These are all terms we have heard before – but regarding IT? Do you know how you are using your connections?

Wireless? Bluetooth? Hardwired?

Hopefully these are things you don’t have to worry about, but you better know the ways you are “connected” – otherwise you will find a time when you discover you have been functionally illiterate, working and productive until you suddenly aren’t, and you don’t know why.

Usually the timing of events are not convenient or beneficial to anyone. Making a presentation, downloading or uploading a large file, or needing to allow a client to connect as part of a design meeting – times when you need everything to run smoothly. Events like this seldom have a great recovery – keep them as few and as far between as possible. We have one client that I swear has bad IT juju and brings technology  – almost no matter what kind – to a screeching halt. Does that sound familiar? Be prepared for anything. Know what your reaction will be if connections won’t work – Plan B, C, and D.

Nimbleness in connectivity and command of at least the concepts of your software and hardware is critical. Sure, you can have someone be the gate keeper of things, but at least know the basics of how your devices are working with each other – or not working – so you don’t find yourself in a tight spot with no idea of how to wiggle out.

Can you diagram your IT world – your software and hardware? And their connectivity? Do this. Share it with your office. Have your IT folks correct you – and they will.

Recognize the difference between a router and a switch.

Know which devices need restarting, what passwords and admin log-ins are for those devices. Do you share access with others? Be ready to assist them in connecting.

Regarding the basic means of connections, I suggest you know the following:

Hardwired:

There are several versions: Cat-5, USB, HDMI, VGA, MIDI, RCA, etc – most are falling away as time marches on, so for now we will focus on CAT-5 (CAT-6 is out there as well and coming on strong).

Always – always go hardwired if you can. For what will soon become evident if it hasn’t yet, hardwired connections are the most reliable connections you can have. No dropped signals, no interruptions of other devices  – one pipe of data quickly moving from one machine to another. Speed is king. KING, I tell you. If you want fast and reliable, go hardwired. In your office, in your conference room, even in your hotel room.

Drawbacks?

The hard. wire. It cannot be denied.

A physical connection restricts. You have to conceal it, step over it, sometimes even pass it around like a joint…in meetings it seems like the Little Feat song, “don’t bogart that joint, my friend…” Sometimes you have to share the hardwire.

Do you know how to make a cat-5 connection? With the purchase of a few items you can be the master of your connectivity.

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Parts needed:

  • Wire (CAT-5 or some better version)
  • Crimping tool (beware, the knife blades are sharper than sharp).
  • Instructions and patience

Look at your devices – make sure they are all at the fastest speeds you can get. If one is slow, they ALL are slow. Check your switches and routers to make sure they are coordinated in speeds. Differences can be in factors of ten, so it makes a real difference.

Look at the wiring demarks and switches – are the different network cables labeled and marked? Are they organized? How about the data ports you plug into? Label these – keep record of them and you will be able to plug-n-play, swap, and adjust as needed. If you don’t, you will be forever trying to figure out what “they” did as they placed your lines.

Seriously, knowing this makes you much less dependent upon others. It’s not that complicated and it makes communicating with your IT staff much easier.

Wireless:

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This is the connectivities club’s sexy, cool kid. Everyone wants wireless.

Wireless wants to be as dependable as hardwired, and it almost is.

Wireless is infinitely more flexible and accommodating, allowing almost endless combinations of applications of hardware and devices. But beware of conflicts and surprises…

We use wireless to connect everything in our office from computers to our network, computers to Apple TV, and computers to our stereo, but it is not without its problems. You don’t want your Pandora station to start playing on your Apple TV during a meeting in the conference room…unless it’s a really cool station and a really cool client.

Wireless is probably the hardest working connectivity we use – it connects each user to our 3D printer, Pandora, Spotify, Stereo, and Apple TV. But we have to make sure it’s secure.

Case in point: I have had my dry cleaners down the street ask if they could jump on our wireless signal.

Ever use a hot-spot on your phone? Wireless. Protect it. Turn it off when not in use! Your data plan will thank you.

Keep it secure. Keep it secure. Keep it secure.

Consider the clients connecting in your office. They can – and should – be able to go wireless in order to have meaningful conversations and access info they need. But keep it secure! Maybe it’s a separate guest wireless account or other security measures (additional log-ins to go past guest-level access). There are several possibilities.

Then there’s BlueTooth.

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I never paid much attention to Bluetooth, it has been the lesser of the methods of connectivity until now. You have an Apple Watch? You are probably utilizing Bluetooth. How about an Apple Pencil? Bluetooth. We utilize Bluetooth mainly on a personal level with personal devices.

If I could have a wish for Apple and Bluetooth, I’d wish that iPad Pros could be drawn on by more than one Apple Pencil at a time – collaboration is stalled slightly when you realize you can’t draw on someone else’s iPad with YOUR Apple Pencil – c’mon Apple, allow piling on here.

All this is to say the flexibility, redundancy, and options for connectivity make your network for design processes a web. Simplifying and managing this web will make you design world cleaner and efficient. You’ll be the better for it.

Wonder how involved this can be? We are an office of 8. And have 70+ connections of wireless and Bluetooth systems. Each device has an IP address, MAC address, and other qualifying information to keep track of. To see this in action in your world let me suggest FING as an app to consider. We have it and use it to organize and troubleshoot conflicts, disconnects, etc.

Knowing the basics of connectivity, the nuances between them, and how to mange them will keep you working, your work flowing, and the conversations going.

When was the last time you looked behind the curtain of your connectivity? Check your speeds, organization, and security. You’ll be glad you did.

Now we can start conversation about what to do with all this connectivity…stay tuned.

Aunt Bee was right.

How long do you use your current versions of software?

It seems there is always some update, some new thing that needs to be loaded and installed. Have you noticed?

Have you measured what it costs to update versus not? How many machines do you have – one or one hundred?

In one of my previous employments, we ended up with a full-time IT guy who worked nocturnally.  He did all he needed to do when no one was around, having things ready when we all came to work the next day. And he ended up needing an assistant! I remember when an architectural firm’s needs were limited to clean and working drafting equipment, clean pens (anyone remember vibrating pen cleaners?), and having lots of scummex on hand. No longer. Sometimes it appears our software owns us.

Are you going to the Cloud? Why? Because it was your idea and you can’t wait? Or is it because the software product is pushing you there. 

What happens if – no, when – you lose internet connectivity?

My point is, it’s all getting complicated.

And with this complication comes the need to simplify.

If you cannot diagram your IT world and how you use it, you need to. This can be a chart or a spreadsheet – something that makes sense to you and the others in your office. Something that your IT guy can reference when he is called in to help.

It’s a frustratingly numbing process, but it’s vital to begin and maintain. Our record of licenses change at the software provider’s pleasure and it’s never just one piece of information to keep. License codes, authorization keys, email records of activations, user/ account records, versions past and present, machines these softwares are being used on, what virtual account the software was purchased on – and, of course, passwords. The list goes on.

For example, when you look at a computer today, if you see a simple operating system and let’s say 5 software programs, you are probably looking at a user account that has at LEAST the following:

1. a username

2. password

3. authorization

4. probably credit card info as well ( with name, billing info, security code, card number – all the stuff the bad guys are looking for). This is just to get the OS purchased and running…

Now add 5 software programs that also need:

1. a user account

2. email account

3. login

4. license code

5. authorization Code

6. version

7. I’m sure I’m missing something…

Seven components of vital information regarding ONE account of software. Multiply by 5 and you get 35 items, plus at least 4 for the OS…39 items of vital information to maintain ONE COMPUTER…how many computers do you have in your design world?

Add my little friend, the virtual machine, and all this compounds into multiples of the above – for ONE MACHINE.

The take away?

Keep records of everything regarding your software.

EVERYTHING.

Have a system that tracks the information of purchase, install, and update. If the software developers decide to update things (do you let this happen automatically? Oops!) you start to lose your handle on EVERYTHING regarding your software licenses.. There really should be an app for this. If you know of one let me know.

Our solution?

Spreadsheets. 

Numbers spreadsheets, in fact.

Software companies update (“to serve you better”) at their discretion – not on your schedule. How often do we receive an email to update our programs?

Annually.

The anniversary of your license subscription purchase.

Product update.

New version launch.

“Bug fixes” (this covers a gamut of things they really don’t want to share with you).

All provided – forced on you in an automatic update – without regard for the other softwares you are using. Provided without knowing details of the compatibilities of the other softwares you are using. Of course, they have no knowledge of what you’re using. But you do. 

Manage your software. Only YOU know it best in your process, your flow, your deadlines.

Did I say never update before a deadline? NEVER DO THIS.

Manage your software – updates, installs, accounts, versions, account locations, or do not at your peril.

Protect your software – always save .exe files or .dmg files within your system so you don’t rely on the software companies to save legacy versions for you.

In the old days you kept your scales and triangles clean, your drafting table surface dent-free, and your pens clean and unclogged – for good reason. Treat your software no differently.

As David Wagner reminded me 34 years ago, Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show said, “Take care of your things and your things will take care of you.”

Remember this. Live it.

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