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A European survey 1 shows UK architects are most optimistic of all about the future and reasonably content with their CAD systems. This survey was commissioned by CAD vendor Nemetschek, though the company's name was not mentioned to respondents.

Of the 767 companies randomly sampled - 93 per cent of which were architects and planners, the others engineers - 100 companies were from the UK, the rest from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain and the Czech Republic. Survey demographics suggest they had a reasonably representative UK sample, with 65 per cent of respondent practices having five employees or less and an average practice size of 12.2 - the familiar small-practice picture, though notably larger than the European average practice size of only 6.4. The UK is also exceptional in having the lowest fraction of new-build work (49 per cent), with the European average at 59 per cent and Italy top of the league at 77 per cent.

When asked about their current position and prospects for the next three years, UK practices were top of the optimism list, with two thirds feeling good or very good about both, well above the European average of 53 per cent. This was reflected, too, in the UK response on how they would deal with future challenges. Top of the list (38 per cent) was investing in new staff and training, twice the European average. The survey report, by Munich-based Maisberger Whiteoaks, suggests that labour flexibility (ie easier hire and fire) was also a significant contributory factor in focusing on staff growth, as well as market buoyancy.

AutoCAD dominates CAD in the UK, used by 68 per cent of practices, followed by Nemetschek (20 per cent), Bentley (13 per cent) and Graphisoft (8 per cent). For Europe overall, Autodesk dominance is less, at 48 per cent. In terms of their software, practices rated the most important features as ease of use, price: performance ratio, good manufacturer reputation and minimal training requirement. When considering service quality, they rated online help and response speed with rapid problem-solving most highly. Hotlines were well thought of too, but there was no great enthusiasm for on-site service, perhaps a reflection of a growing maturity by practices in managing their own systems.

In terms of software investments over the next three years, increasing the number of seats came top (30 per cent) followed by investments in other software (21 per cent), education/training (21 per cent) and new CAD purchase.

Unfortunately for vendors hoping to increase market share, these figures apply to practices expecting to stay with the same basic CAD system. In the UK, only 3 per cent were contemplating switching core vendor in the next three years, though for Europe overall the figure was 8 per cent.

The British are also relatively conservative when it comes to using the software.

While almost everyone has CAD (92 per cent across Europe, seen as saturation), the large majority of CAD use remains two-dimensional drawing, even where practices have 3D software such as Nemetschek's Allplan and VectorWorks. There is no great rush to visualisation planned for the next three years, though practices are moving in this direction. As Harald Krohmer, Nemetschek UK's MD, said at the survey presentation, he hopes the switch to 3D will be the occasion for switching to Nemetschek.


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