5 questions to ask before buying a 3D collaboration tool

August 29, 2019

A moment of silence for all the 3D professionals left behind during the cloud collaboration revolution.

As companies released cloud-based collaboration tools for file sharing, word processing, spreadsheet management, and more, 3D designers were left wondering, “What about us?”

It goes without saying that it’s not a niche group of people working on CAD models or developing projects in Unreal Engine or Unity. 3D designers occupy vital roles within the gaming, automotive, construction, engineering, and manufacturing industries. They aid product development while also conveying product benefits to prospective customers through compelling marketing.

Read Related: Your top online resources for creating real-time 3D content with Unity and Unreal

And above all, they work (or try to work) with several collaborators to do so.

Fortunately, the tech is catching up, and there are a number of 3D collaboration tools on the market that allow teams to work on models in real time. That said, every buyer should ask these key questions before committing to any solution.


Does the 3D collaboration app strip out data richness?



If you’re working with a CAD tool or a game engine, data fidelity is a non-negotiable. Every feature, line, and shading choice is intentional, and your files carry contextual data that allows your models to appear how you intended. When you stream your models to a collaborator, you want to maintain the integrity of your files while maintaining a smooth interactive experience. The thing is, data-rich files are unwieldy beasts that take their sweet time moving around.

Traditionally, people have dealt with this using compression, but not all compression techniques are created equal. Whereas text files always use lossless compression (e.g. no data is removed), larger files like photos and videos have to use lossy compression (e.g. seemingly unnecessary elements, like colors hard to detect by the human eye are removed). While this may be acceptable for casual use cases, it’s often a deal-breaker for professional enterprise uses.


Does the solution move source data to edge devices?



Understanding where your data sits and how it’s transmitted is an important component of effective cyber security. In a data streaming environment, it’s important to understand where your source apps or data sits before streaming is initiated. Moreover, protecting and maintaining a single version of truth for the base file is a high priority for creators.

A chief benefit of a cloud-based 3D collaboration platform is the ability to use powerful GPUs in the cloud to interact with data-rich models from any device. The actual processing power sits in the cloud, expanding the number of devices (e.g. tablet, mobile phone, laptop) that can receive renderings, unchaining designers from dedicated workstations.

That said, be mindful of where that base data will sit prior to streaming. Will it remain on the server and be encrypted during streaming, or will the data be copied to an edge device (the intermediary between your enterprise’s LAN and the Internet) before being streamed? If your data is copied to an edge device, you face a potential vulnerability.

You want to work with a partner that prioritizes secure data management, so ask your potential vendor if they keep source files and app on the server.


Is your solution future proofed and designed to grow along with your business?


The executive team or procurement department will want to know how well a given solution fits into your organization’s long-term growth strategy. If emerging trends suggest a given solution will be obsolete within a few years or a vendor isn’t actively working on building its expertise in emerging tech, then it may not be a smart investment for your company.

On the face of it, a future proofed cloud-based streaming solution may not sound urgent. After all, renting cloud-based servers, rather than buying your own dedicated workstations, is an operating expense rather than a capital expense. Even so, your vendor will expect you to lock into a contract with a fixed term, so you want to ensure you’ll be working with a partner who can meet your business’s evolving needs, and your needs may evolve even within a one- or three-year term.

And this isn’t just about finding a partner who will guide you through emerging tech. It’s also about future proofing for your own business growth. Most SaaS contracts are designed to protect the vendor’s interests, and this won’t always be aligned with your own interests, namely keeping your operating expenses low. For example, as CIO notes, if your company’s rapidly growing, but your contract doesn’t take this into consideration, you may miss out on significant volume discounts”.

Ask your potential provider how it stays ahead of the curve on behalf of its clients, as well as how it will work with your company, in terms of volume discounts and additional user access, while the company grows.


How much experience does the vendor’s team have?


When assessing a vendor’s experience, you’ll want to look at two areas: its project experience and the experience of its leadership team.

For its project experience, look for published case studies. These case studies should walk you through a client’s specific pain points, how the client’s solutions addressed these challenges, and above all, how the company specifically supported the configuration process. If the published materials don’t specifically address your needs, ask if there are unpublished examples the team can share with you that are more aligned with your business’s challenges. In some cases, it may be worth distributing an official request for proposal (RFP) so you can gather case studies and references that meet specific criteria.

When assessing the leadership team, take a look at the background of each member. Do they have experience in the 3D visualization space? Real-time rendering? Data protection?

If you’re in a highly regulated industry like healthcare, do they have experience providing a high-quality experience while adhering to complex cybersecurity, privacy, and regulatory requirements. Again, if publicly available materials don’t answer your questions, simply ask.

Finally, do they have experience managing enterprise IT challenges? Do they have experience implementing a new solution and onboarding different stakeholders with varying levels of IT knowledge? Do they understand how to provide valuable resources and information to your enterprise IT team to ensure they have the info they need to be proper stewards of this new tech?

Organizations are resistant to change. If the point of this tool is collaboration, you want everyone in your enterprise to feel comfortable using it as soon as possible.


Do you have primary control of your data?


For most people, it seems like a given that they’d own data managed by a cloud provider. Much like a bank, you’d assume you’re paying for storage services, while the stored assets belong to you. Things aren’t always this black and white in the cloud computing environment.

Ask your 3D collaboration vendor whether you have sole ownership over data held in the cloud, particularly when it comes to data created while using those cloud services. For example, an organization may hold your data in their servers long after you stop using their service.


Choose a 3D collaboration tool that works with you and for you


When you’re choosing a 3D collaboration tool, you want to work with a vendor that understands your business challenges and designs solutions for them. You can do this informally through ongoing discussions with a sales representatives or formally through an RFP process. In any case, conduct a needs assessment to ensure the requirements of all stakeholders are accounted for before sourcing potential solutions, so you can ask the right questions, is a must.

Read Next: 8 collaboration trends propelling game engine projects


If you’re interested in a 3D collaboration platform that delivers high fidelity data, facilitates real-time interaction, and stores source files securely in the server, learn more about our PureWeb Spaces solution.

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