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By John Evans, February 28, 2014
Eagle Point's Pinnacle Series Business Edition is a platform for delivering training and support designed for design and engineering professionals in architecture, engineering, and construction offices. I found it useful, especially based on the broad ways to use the system. I would expect its usefulness to actually increase over time. In this review, I describe my experience with the software.
Pinnacle Series is developed by Eagle Point Software as a more useful method of learning. The company designed it to be available on your computer precisely when you need it. It consists of a collection of video lessons, text tutorials, and chat-based help sessions that are organized conveniently into a single dialog interface.
The entire Pinnacle Series covers many AEC and MEP software packages:
|Civil Industry||Architecture Industry||Structural Industry||MEP Industry|
Each resource is placed into its own tab along the top of a dialog box, as follows:
The resources are represented by the icons shown in figure 1.
Workflows are text-based step-by-step instructions. We can read them before and after a video demonstration to focus on areas we might be unsure of - in addition to using them as step-by-step guides. Being text, they are fully searchable.
Each workflow is segregated by the respective CAD software. We navigate it through in a collapsing tree-type browser interface or flowchart diagram. Under each software package, major sections are presented for the software, which are further subdivided into concepts and performance.
Figure 1: The Workflow tab in Pinnacle's interface
Each topic breaks down the steps required to perform a particular project task. Within these descriptions and explanations, there are links to Pinnacle training items and will launch the commands of the related software package; these are handy for speeding us along. Listing the software commands is helpful especially for new users, who typically are unsure how to navigate a software program's command tools.
I found the instructions to be quite complete and easy to follow. For instance, the Civil 3D training package contain the standard compliments of teaching roadway, grading, and utility design; in addition, the workflows connected it to other products in Autodesk's Infrastructure Design Suite, such as 3ds Max and Navisworks. Companies that purchase Autodesk's suites and wish to move forward with incorporating the suite's additional capabilities into their designs will find this quite useful.
Cheat Sheets are a collection of tips developed by Eagle Point's support staff. They wrote up frequently experienced problems and issues in need of troubleshooting. I found them a great addition to the platform.
As Pinnacle is cloud based, cheat sheets are added and updated as new items come up. They represent a really nice way to distribute knowledge to everyone on the network.
The videos are the visual compliment to the hands-on text. These tutorials are performed by the Eagle Point staff, who demonstrate each step in the process as they talk us through various points along the way.
The length of each recording ranges according to the complexity of the task.
The training calendar represents a collection of upcoming live classes, including a previous recording of each class. During these, Eagle Point staff answers questions from attendees.
The calendars I saw were filled out every working day (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Pinnacle Series' training calendar
The chat dialog is just like any other chat dialog box, but with a few exceptions. Two types of chats are available, with our design team and with Eagle Point employees.
We can select multiple team members with which to chat. An option to save the chat is available as a way to provide an internal method of cataloging company tips and procedures that were discussed; this is a great way to reduce repetitive questions that need to be answered by internal support staff.
This is also used to save the solutions that Eagle Point's experts come up with, which can be saved by the company as customized content.
This part does not seem to me to be fully implemented yet. In speaking with Eagle Point, however, I learned that the community will be providing members with solutions to the same problems solved by Pinnacle, but related to any topic, such as business topics like accounting, human resources, and IT. The solutions will come from other community members rather than from the content delivered through the Pinnacle resources.
History provides a list of the content we already reviewed, and is listed in chronological order. If we were to look at specific features frequently, then this list would make it easy to get back to the topics that are reviewed more recently.
This can be accomplished in another way, using Favorites. This is a list of items that we tagged so that we can refer to often.
All content, no matter where it is in the Pinnacle Series product, is searched. Even the saved chats are cataloged in search results. The benefit is that when we solve a problem about the odd behavior of software, for example, the solution will come up years later in the search (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Search results
Each search result is ordered by a hierarchy using concept matching. Pinnacle Series employs an algorithm that reviews the keywords and brings best matching content to the top of the list. For example, if AutoCAD appears to be acting up and a user enters "Don't get dialog boxes," the search results bring up near the top the chat about the FILEDIA system variable I have every year with teammates. They get instant help without needing to track me down.
During my time with Eagle Point, I think they began to realize just how much I dislike videos: because largely they are unsearchable. Eagle Point's staff worked around the problem by integrating each video topic into the workflow content. This allows us to search for very feature-specific words to find obscure references to a process. Each video corresponds to a detailed step-by-step workflow, and its text is searchable.
When we start up software, such as Autodesk's AutoCAD Civil 3D in my case, the Pinnacle system automatically logs in as well (see figure 4).
Figure 4: (left) Log-in screen
Once the CAD software is up and running, Pinnacle Series will also be running; its window can be found in the last place we moved it to. In my case, it was on a separate monitor in its rolled up state (see figure 5).
Figure 5: The rolled-up browser dialog
I decided that I needed to dig into the product some to see how things shook out. I chose the tutorial on using Civil 3D's Intersection Wizard (see figure 6).
Figure 6: The 'Using the Intersection Wizard' Video
I found the instruction to be detailed enough to successfully complete a corridor intersection using the wizard (see figure 7).
Figure 7: A completed Civil 3D corridor intersection using Pinnacle Series Video and Workflow
I found the best route for this application was to follow this approach: Visually scanning the Workflows in text form, and then viewing the video. The Intersection Wizard is a very long workflow, and as a result the text can become quite overwhelming. Scanning the text for the overall concepts, then watching the demonstration, made things a bit easier to grasp.
I tested the team chat, which went as expected; no problem. I also used it to simply connect with team members on-the-fly, and not necessarily as a help tool.
Administration of users and their licensing is handled by the Administration Utility. The options are well organized and easy to use. I added users, changed rights, and so forth, without needing any help. The process was self-evident and well prepared for the user.
The features are broken into four tabs (see figure 8):
Figure 8: Administration of users, reports, permissions, and expertise
Users. The first tab allows administrators to add users, their email address, indicate their software usage roles, as well as their career field (civil, architectural, structural, mechanical, and so on). The available tools are simple: Add, Remove, or Modify.
Permissions. This tab allows administrators to designate the access rights for each user or group in the areas of managing content, administrative rights, limitations on live Eagle Point expert chat and team chat, and so on. Administrators can designate group rights, which are inherited by the group's users by default. Inheritance and individual rights can be toggled for each member, if desired.
Expertise. This tab allows companies to establish areas of users' expertise. It is a simple field that becomes available when using features like team chat and looking for help from within the company. Need hardware help? Chat with the hardware expert.
Reports. I found this tab to be quite useful. It allows us to generate simple reports to identify who is using the training, and who might need mentoring in one or another. It will also point out those who are deficient in their skills, but are not using the training provided to improve their situation and value to the company.
The software titles associated with each Pinnacle Series subscription is based on industry. In the Civil industry, for example, we get access to help and training on the eight titles listed earlier in this review. The Civil series that I reviewed covered software releases for 2012, 2013, and 2014.
Subscriptions and pricing were a concern I had going into this review. I felt that a high price could drive away many companies. However, the more I used the training software and considered how much time it can take to find useful training for a new concept, the more I feel that the value is proportionate to the cost, at the very least.
This software is priced for two models: Business and User. I happen to be reviewing the Business Edition, for which Eagle Point does not have a per-seat price; instead, the cost is matched to the firm's use of the corresponding products from Autodesk. Volume discounts apply. More information on the actual price model is available from Eagle Point directly.
Licensing is handled by checking out of non-user defined floating server licenses. These licenses are administered on the Pinnacle Series servers. This means that companies have a pool of licenses and any users that wants to software can check out a license as desired. Companies can invite the users they want to participate, regardless of who they are; licenses are administered by Eagle Point, while users are administered by the design firm.
Eagle Point wants everyone to try their software for the first year. When a design firm receives the package, there are no limits or concurrent user caps the first year. The software is wide open for all. Just prior to the renewal near the end of the first year, reports and analyses are generated of how many user licenses are being checked out, and how the training software is being used. This allows both parties to make an accurate determination of how many licenses to subscribe to.
When I discussed pricing with Eagle Point, I proposed a 25-seat design firm. They indicated that they would estimate the actual license usage for the first year, and price the subscription accordingly. Then after a year, Eagle Point would suggest how many actual seats were needed based on the analyses of the data usage for the past year.
Overall, I found the product a great idea as it provides a single location to find valid training for most of the basic needs of AEC engineers and designers. The wide purposing of content and features of the application provide useful information for users at any level of expertise.
While price is a significant deciding point with such a training and support tool, the training and expert assistance is available 24 hours a day, and has no limitations. Moreover one of the biggest selling points the software has is the expandability it provides in the customization section.
Among the benefits, I found these:
I'd like to report things that were problematic, but quite honestly the tool provides a straight forward resource, without complications. To say something about drawbacks, I offer these:
Other than these, I really don't have anything else negative to say!
I've always found training costs to be the first area that most companies cut back to save some money. While Pinnacle Series isn't free, I think you should consider the overall value and benefit to having support and training 24 hours a day. Once this type of training tool is in place, the thought of losing its functions may well force companies to look elsewhere to cut costs.
In the past, support has routinely felt distant at best. The greatest value is not in the individual features of Pinnacle Series, but in bringing the entire support channel into the company.
|John Evans has 30 years experience in the aerospace design, engineering and fabrication, as well as 18 years with MEP and civil engineering. He is certified with AutoCAD Civil 3D and Inventor. More…|
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