Issues Associated with the Delivery of Electronic CADD Files

Today, many clients of engineering and architectural design firms demand that CADD files which are delivered as part of the document delivery contract will meet certain requirements that encompass issues such as line weights, symbology, and level structure (to name a few of many). These requirements represent a potential professional liability risk as well as a potential impact on traditional plan-production cost estimates and parameters. The design professional is fully urged to understand and address these issues before agreeing to scope, schedule and compensation in the design services agreement.

Listed below are several key points that the prudent designer should address with the client while discussing the project's scope of work, schedule, and fee.

What does the client really want

Make sure you completely understand why the client wants your CADD files. Often times the client simply asks for all CADD because that is the easiest way to contract for this delivery. However, does the client really intend to use all the files? To what purpose? Does the client think that material quantities can be derived from your design drawing? Does the client understand that not all the material needed to build the project is shown on your drawings? Does the client want to archive the CADD files in case the project undergoes changes years from now? Does the client understand the limitations of long-term archiving of CADD electronic files?

Delivery to other parties

Make sure you understand to whom you are expected to deliver the CADD files and do not deliver these files to any party with whom you do not have a contract or agreement covering the delivery of these files. Your agreement with your client or with other parties should clearly state the terms and conditions under which the CADD files may be used. The agreement should also have a "hold harmless" clause against any subsequent use or modifications of the CADD files.

Project archive files

CADD files are not readable forever. They have a very limited life expectancy. Do not rely on the ability to recover these files beyond a few short years. Even files that are recovered and displayed on the screen may not be complete and accurate.

There are several causes that limit the useful life of CADD files. For one, the magnetic media may only hold the charge for a year or two. Unless the charge is renewed (or the file is copied), data may be lost over long periods of time. Another cause is the continuous change in software. New releases that update the software may not be fully compatible with older releases of the same software product. In addition, software applications change over the years. Are you still using a Wang word processor?


Do not rely on the claims of translation software to fully translate CADD files from one system to another. Verify all file translations. The most common CADD file translator is called DXF. But even DXF files may not be complete if the CADD standard specifications of the first system do not have a one-for-one match with the standard specifications of the second system. For example, a line type, color and weight on one system may not have a direct match with the second system unless so specified by the user.

File security

Document your electronic deliveries and make sure that the contract establishes that the sealed mylars govern over electronic files. Any electronic file can be changed as soon as the other party receives it and you have no control over who has access to these files and how copies are made. Your original set of drawings could be copied several times by several people in the client's organization. Which set of copies now governs? How do you know if changes are made to one set and that set is then accidentally used for a bid set of documents sent to all contractors bidding on the project? Whose title block and name is still on all sets of copies now spread all over the client's computer network?

Electronic seals and signatures

Simple rule: Don't! It is also a good idea to remove your name and title block from all electronic files delivered to your client or other third parties.

Software licenses

Read and comply with all software licensing agreements. Failure to do so is a federal offense and a felony. The so called "software police" are looking to make examples out of firms that violate software license agreements. This author knows of many firms that have already been stung for huge fines, many extending into six figures.

Computer/CADD accuracy

Just because CADD software may store graphics with coordinates using three or four figures behind the decimal, does not mean that the coordinates are that accurate. For example, data from aerial surveys may only be accurate within several feet. Later, that same data may be shown at a different scale and be assumed to be accurate within inches. That assumption may not be valid.

CADD deliveries from clients

Make sure you understand the accuracy and content of all CADD files delivered to you from the client. Make sure your contract states that the client is responsible for the accuracy of these files or include a scope of work to verify the accuracy of the files. Make sure you have an adequate budget and schedule to review and edit these files if necessary to make the files readable and usable with your CADD system.

CADD deliveries to clients

Make sure that the contract defines exactly what files and format are required to be delivered to the client and when (intermediate deliveries, final delivery, record drawings). Make sure you understand the impact on scope, schedule and compensation of these delivery requirements, especially if the delivered CADD files must conform to the client's format and organization specifications. Overly complex CADD specifications may add significant time and cost to complete the CADD drawings. The contract should also define ownership of the files, an acceptance period by the client and who has the right (or limitations) to edit and use the files.

The agreement should have an "indemnification/hold-harmless" clause for any subsequent use or modification of the CADD files beyond the original design as submitted on the mylars. The contract should also establish that the sealed mylars govern over electronic files.

CADD documentation

Electronic procedures and plans need to be subject to the same project documentation standards as the nonelectronic project documents. Do not rely on being able to read electronic files after the project is closed out.


New contract delivery requirements require new contract terms and conditions. Do not just simply agree to turn over your CADD files at the end of the project and think that the effort to do so is minimal because you are going to do the work on CADD anyway. Conforming to the client's CADD format and organization specifications may take many more hours than you have budgeted in the project's proposed fee. Your total lack of control over the CADD files once delivered to your client could expose your firm to potential professional liability risks not originally considered.

Addressing these issues is time well spent during the proposal and contract negotiating phases of a project.

The author, Michael P. Ingardia, P.E., is president of Systems Management Consultants, Inc., (SMC) of Overland Park, Kansas, phone 913.681.1530; Internet address: SMC's consulting services specialize in the management aspects of automated systems for design professionals, including CADD systems, office automation tools, project accounting systems, computer-related policies and Internet website design

Note: The author has written a book on this important subject entitled "Contracting for CADD Work: A Guide for the Design Professional." It may be ordered from ACEC headquarters (202.347.7474), or from Systems Management Consultants, Inc


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