Faced with the challenges of enabling a remote workforce and improving collaboration and connectivity, businesses today are re-examining their legacy technology systems.  Increasingly, many firms are turning to digital and cloud solutions to address product development challenges and improve their ability to address future business needs. 

A recent global business survey by McKinsey and Co. has noted the trend towards digital. In the survey, 85% of executives indicated their firms have accelerated the adoption of digital technologies to improve employee interaction and collaboration – including videoconferencing and file sharing.  

This pivot to digital and cloud is understandable.  An increasing number of employers, including leading bellwether technology firms, have indicated that pandemic-induced remote work policies will continue indefinitely into the future.  Similarly, a recent “future of work” survey by ServiceNow found strong support for remote work with 94% of employees seeing the benefit of remote work – primarily from reduced commuting time and improved work-life balance.  

In this new reality, firms realize they need to transform their technology with digital and cloud solutions to keep employees connected and productive.  In addition, cloud-industry analysts at Tech-Clarity recently noted that almost two thirds of respondents (65%) said that digital transformation was critical or important to their product development organizations. 

Source: “Future of Work” survey by ServiceNow.

The Challenge of Product Design and Collaboration

For organizations designing and creating new products, the challenges created by remote work are even greater.  Historically, designing products has required a significant degree of in-person communication and collaboration between designers and engineers and other team stakeholders throughout the development process. In addition, as many designers and engineers know all too well, legacy file-based CAD technology has always presented significant challenges to efficient, effective collaboration.  These limitations include the need for expensive, on-premise workstations – making remote work virtually impossible – and no mechanism to easily share and collaborate on design files.  

In many ways, the recent challenges of remote work have simply served to elevate and expose these existing challenges and shortcomings of existing technology and created renewed urgency for change.  The significant limitations of file-based CAD should in some ways not be a total surprise. After all, many widely-used file-based CAD systems, developed prior to the commercialization of the internet itself, simply “computerized” the existing processes (and extensive limitations) of the age-old “blue drafting paper and pen” design processes.

As a result, today’s, file-based CAD users face significant challenges to collaboration and efficient communication.  Want to share an idea with a colleague? Like the old days of huddling over a drafting table, today’s file-based CAD users must sit tightly together and examine an image on a single workstation. In an age of masks and social distancing, this dynamic is increasingly infeasible. 

In addition, the more common scenario of sending design files by email creates other significant problems.  Users face the challenge of explaining nuanced design ideas through lengthy comments in emails, and also face the inherent challenges of delays in receiving feedback. Not to mention the always-present danger of version control issues.  This cumbersome process is not dissimilar to the dynamic in the old days of sending a paper design blueprint in a rolled up cardboard tube to colleagues across the office.  Today’s file-based CAD provides no way to easily collaborate.  

Overshadowing the time-consuming nature of incorporating multiple sources of input manually and the challenges of version control errors, the biggest issue is the shortcomings of the process itself. Fundamentally, there is really no element in email feedback that resembles true collaboration. Asynchronous comments and suggestions are not the same as true collaboration that comes from working on the same design at the same time.  The bottom line? At a time when the collaboration, freedom and flexibility afforded by cloud-based solutions is widely acknowledged and recognized – think of the ubiquity of commonly used apps such as Google Docs and Dropbox – file-based CAD users remain trapped in the past.  

How Cloud-Native Collaboration Tools Accelerate Product Development

Fortunately, manufacturing companies have other options.  Today, cloud-native product development platforms like Onshape are enabling designers and engineers to accelerate the development process.  These digital and cloud-based systems are helping teams address key challenges, including: 

  • Remote Access – As designers and engineers seek to work from any remote location, cloud-based solutions are enabling them to stay connected and productive from any web-connected device including mobile (iOS and Android). In addition, users are assured that they are always working on the latest design file due to the single source of truth provided by the cloud. 

  • Better Collaboration – A critical improvement delivered by cloud-based product development solutions is simultaneous collaboration. Now team members can work together on the same design document regardless of location – across an office or across the globe. Designers and engineers can now eliminate the frustration and challenges of serial emails and multiple responses in favor of true, real-time cloud-based collaboration. In addition, built-in features like “branching and merging” lets users improve existing designs by taking a good idea, branching off and trying new variations to make it truly great.  The cloud provides users with the confidence that their original idea is never in danger of being lost or overwritten, as every stage of their work is always available in the cloud-based document history.  This enables more frequent sharing of ideas and also a new level of collaborative freedom. 

  • Accelerating Review and Approvals – Another key challenge faced by engineers using file-based CAD systems is the cumbersome and time-consuming process of sharing designs with an array of internal company stakeholders.  Whether a design needs to be reviewed by operations, manufacturing, sales or executive team members, cloud-based platforms like Onshape simplify the sharing of CAD models by just sending a web link. Opening up CAD-viewing access to everyone enables a faster and more efficient review and approval process. Extended team members can review designs and provide edits, comments or approvals from any web-connected device. 

  • External Partners – The last critical area that the cloud addresses for product firms is the need to improve collaboration and communication with external supply and manufacturing partners.  As travel restrictions have limited traditional means of visiting these partners, firms have sought ways to improve how they work together. Cloud-based product development solutions like Onshape are enabling firms to share and review design files and even release files for production with a secure web link.  In contrast to the delays and concerns around possible version control errors that plague file-based CAD product releases, a cloud-based platform provides assurance that everyone is always working on the latest, most-up-to-date version of a file. This minimizes costly manufacturing mistakes. 

Today’s rapid pace of change has been a wake-up call for organizations of all sizes. Ranging from startups to established global enterprises, many businesses now realize the urgency to improve their legacy product development technology. These improvements are needed to address the immediate collaboration needs of their designers and engineers and also to improve collaboration with an array of internal stakeholders and external partners.  Increasingly, these firms realize that only digital and cloud solutions can make this transformation possible, enabling them to not only find an answer to the challenges they face today but also to build the agility needed to address whatever unexpected changes lie ahead. 

Get Your Copy of “The New Collaboration” eBook

Interested in learning more about how forward-thinking companies have benefited from switching to a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CAD platform? 

In this eBook, you’ll be introduced to a brand new class of real-time CAD collaboration and sharing tools, engineering productivity features made possible only by a cloud database architecture.

Cloud-based CAD and data management are no longer a nice-to-have technology, but a must-have technology. Download your copy of “The New Collaboration: A Guide to Transforming Product Design” today and find out why!