The human side of a CAE software investment

The graphs above show the best and worst case scenarios for a new upfront CAE implementation. Assume a typical product development team made up of 8 multi-tasking Mechanical Engineers. Let’s unpack the differences between the two outcomes.

Leading up to the purchase
Notice this looks the same in both graphs. During the pre-purchase investigation phase, interest & enthusiasm in the potential simulation tool peak just prior to the investment. It’s all fresh and exciting to the Engineers, and the vendor frantically fans those flames until management cuts a purchase order. There are software demonstrations, questions, and continual phone calls to various levels of the organization.

Even before an investment is made, I would argue that there is a small decline in ROI. All those phone calls and demonstrations take time away from normal revenue generating activities. The vendor works hard to keep some of the prospects’ brain cells focused on completing the investment. The prospect is genuinely excited and pushes other activities to the backburner until it’s done.

After the purchase
Immediately following the investment, both the vendor and customer take a collective breath of relief. Everyone has accomplished a major task together! The customer enjoys the same initial “mission accomplished” satisfaction that a fat guy feels when he buys a treadmill. Now it’s time to address all those items on the back burner.

There is a sharp, instantaneous hit to ROI as the money exchanges hands. Then a slow decline as some of the Engineers play with the new software prior to training.

Leading up to training
Again, this looks the same in both graphs. Enthusiasm starts to build again as folks begin to refocus on the simulation tool and push other activities to the backburner.

Training: the turning point
The top graph is worst case. A standard training class meant to teach the fundamentals of any tool may in fact result in adequate ongoing usage. That really depends on the drive of the individual trainees and the complexity of the tool. Still, I see this worst case happen often enough to recommend always putting yourself in the better starting position offered by the bottom graph.

If you change nothing else, identifying real projects to attack immediately following training will make the material stick better and have immediate impact on ROI. These initial successes allow Engineers to taste the candy and develop confidence in the tool.

Management will see immediate fruits and remember to ask for this work to be done on future projects. Across the board, enthusiasm rises sharply to a high plateau that sticks. At that point, the new tool is embedded in the way you do business and your ROI will continue to grow.

So, why do people fall into the trap of the top graph? I think it has to do with past experience with CAD implementations. When you hire a new employee, you probably schedule CAD training within his first month of employment. That’s totally independent of project schedules, and it tends to work just fine.

Why doesn’t that work the same way for upfront CAE training? CAD gets used everyday, no matter what part of the project life cycle the Engineer happens to be in. So, when the Engineer returns from training, she is applying the knowledge on live projects by default. Upfront CAE, however, gets used in a specific period at the beginning of a project. It might get used heavily for 2-3 weeks in that phase, and then be set aside until the beginning of the next project. So, it’s unlikely that your Engineer will return from some random training class at the exact moment a new project is starting.

So, your best option is to build some customized training around a real project (rather than generic training material) and time it for the beginning of that project. It’s not always possible to get those stars aligned, though. So the next best option is to identify upcoming projects or fairly representative models to customize the training experience. Then you simply have to remember to add upfront CAE to the official timeline at the beginning of the next project… and make your Engineers stick to it. Once they taste that first success, usage will explode on future projects.

Thanks for the info, but I already screwed up our implementation.
If you find yourself towards the right side of the top graph, never fear. You can easily turn it around anytime. Ongoing usage may be light or non-existent. There might be little enthusiasm about the tool and less competence in its use.

But, you already own it!
You don’t have to go fight for capital funding!
You just need to pick a good project and try again!

Find a real project where the upfront CAE tool could have an impact. Work with your vendor to develop a training event based on this project. Look at it as half refresher training, half mentoring, and half consulting. Do that, and you can cause the right half of the bottom graph to happen at any time. I promise.


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  1. […] The majority of companies that succeed with upfront CAE follow the path described in my post on The Human Side of a CAE Software Investment. […]