PLM Social Detours

PLM Social Detours

I had a chance to read Enterprise Road Kill by The Vuuch Voice. The discussion Chris suggested in his post is going around usage of social tools in the enterprises. The idea of using social web experience in PLM is actively discussed by many people these days. Just to mention few references. Jim Brown published a very interesting publication Why Facebook Fail for Product Development? PTC is investing in Social Product Development with the new ProductPoint based on SharePoint’s social tools. In one of my previous posts, I discussed “Top 3 elements of successful social PLM strategy” – data, connectivity and devices. According to Chris, Enterprise Social Systems (ESS is a new invented term) will be capable of provide a better model for applying social software principles in organizations. In comparison to consumer social model of “following” or “friends”, the new ESS model defines “content” as a fundamental differentiation factor. It made me think in a broader scope of enterprise software trends and problems new software can solve for enterprise organizations.

Enterprise 2.0 Trend
E 2.0 is about to bring all experience of Web 2.0 and social web sites to enterprise. Thinking in the context of manufacturing organization is about to change the way people communicate. Nowadays, people can communicate easy online via IM, Skype, Facebook, Twitter and other social tools and websites. However, life is not as good inside of enterprise organizations. There are lots of rigid, complex and cumbersome tools. The implementations are long and expensive. Enterprise 2.0 supposed to change it.

Social vs. Collaborative
This is an interesting comparison, in my view. The “social web” or Web 2.0 was created as a web of collaborators. This is Wikipedia’s definition: The term Web 2.0 is commonly associated with web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centric design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Thinking about buzzword’s simplification, I need to replace a word “social” to “collaborative”. So, the fundamental question is how to re-use Web 2.0 technological and user experience to provide a better collaborative solution for organizations.

Content is a King
What make Web 2.0 powerful? This is my ultimative answer – content! Photo, video, blog article, message, comments – these are all elements of Web 2.0 content. What happens in the enterprise organization? Email is the mainstream content used by everybody in the organization. In order to collaborate successfully, the appropriated content need to be shared between people. Emails and Excel are two major tools that used today to successfully share content to collaborate between people. Rest of the tools is either complicated or very expensive or both.

Social Detour
What social detour can be provided by new tools to resolve problems related to people’s collaboration? I found the following quote from Chris’s post interesting:

OK so why not make the PLM tools social?  PLM tools cannot be social.  PLM targets structure, control and is only embraced by a small number of users.  Design issues are connected to everyone in the enterprise and cross multiple applications.  Imagine a simple design problem that connects together a purchase order, a part and people from purchasing, the vendor and engineering.  This simple problem touches the CAD and ERP systems and maybe PLM (in many cases it would not), but most certainly it connects to people who will never be a PLM user.

If we want to address issues that require involvement of many people in the enterprise, we need to have a tool that everybody can use. Obvious. These tools need to use PLM content to collaborate. All major PLM providers are experimenting with social technologies to improve their collaboration tools. PTC Social Product Development with SharePoint, DS Social Innovation with BlueKiwi,Siemens with HD3D and TC communities. PLM is pretending on the role of a tool (or set of tools) that allows to everybody in the organization to collaborate on product design issues. However, this is not what happens.  The reality is  that Email and Excel are these tools today. PLM social detour is about how to improve PLM or create a new tool that can be used by broader community of people in the organization to collaborate. Web 2.0 and other social software experience can definitely help. To find appropriated Web 2.0 tools technologies and practices is the right way to do it.

What is my conclusion? PLM doesn’t proliferate well in organizations. The main reasons are complexity and cost of implementations. However, there is a need for better mainstream collaboration in the product development organization. Enterprise 2.0 trend presented a set of interesting options related to broad introduction of Web 2.0 technologies and experience of social websites (Facebook, Twitter and others). Will it serve as a “social detour” to take product development collaboration on the next level? This is a valid and important question, in my view.

Best, Oleg


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  • Yoann Maingon

    Hi oleg,
    i think you’re going in the wrong direction regarding your plm-social comparaison. You’re comparing on one hand the plm, as you said an expensive tool, and on the other hand social tools which are free for users and which are known not to be very reliable for their data security and which has no management of sustainable information nor knowledge capitalization. I think the reflection should start from the statement that PLM software, because of the technology offer, are still quite expensive. So let’s see what are the other expensive tools we can think of ….. hey SAP !!! what is incredible for SAP is that, when you’re a first time user, you usually hate it, hate the interface… (very different reaction than a social network user) but after a month or two, users get into it and usually likes the fact that it does things right and quickly (i’m not talking about SAP-PLM or DMS for which i don’t know much about). The other thing is, who makes the choice to buy SAP? user?? not at all! it’s the companies headrquarter. Why? because it makes shareholders happy. PLM while focusing on the product gives a very good opportunity actually. If you are able to link all your research and discussions activities to a product, it means you’re able to evaluate all the cost of your product lifeycle ressources. Sell this to the financial controller and he’ll be the happiest man, because now he can automate the cost performance on each product more easily.

    by the way, it’s the first time i answer you from my new ipad ahah (well its easier as my brother offered me the keyboard for my birthday, i love it)

    (have you seen the stopmotion video?)


  • beyondplm

    Yoann, Thanks for your insight!

    I like your comparison with SAP. I’ve seen SAP customers in the past. The idea of “control” is very strong proliferated by SAP. You have SAP – you have control on what is going on. However, in my view, PLM failed to realize such a “control system”. As I mentioned in my yesterday’s blog – Functional Perspective (, process match in case of Product Development was very problematic because of high diversity of product development and manufacturing shops. ERP (and SAP is one of them) didn’t have such a problem with organizational business and finance processes, which has a less diverse structure. To realize a collaborative notion of PLM requires a significant organizational effort. Once you did it, you will have all benefits of PLM. I’m 100% with you on this. However, to get there is not simple. Therefore, PLM Social Detour can take you there via realizing some Web 2.0 principles. This is also now a “silver bullet”, because Web 2.0-like collaboration can be easy killed by PLM content.

    Best, Oleg
    Btw, I’ve seen your stopwatch… This is in the list to share on my blog. Congrats with your new iPad!

  • Lev Desmarais

    Granted PLM is very much about control and routing and target to a small number of hard core engineering users. So from a broad corporate social tool, the bar is set too high in terms of complexity and cost of the system. However the power of PLM is in the integration with external tools. Once engineering releases a design and is ready to expose it to the rest of the company, the social tools can come into play. It was common for the PLM implementations I’ve worked on to create a viewable version of the released product design that was accessible using a free or low cost viewing tool. Integrate the released viewable into an Enterprise social tool and then you have a powerful communication tool.

    I think the bigger challenge is enterprise acceptance of social tool. Companies do not want employees wasting half their day playing Farmville on Facebook. Can a corporate version of a Facebook like tool be created? Of course. Just take Facebook and eliminate the games on an in-house implementation. Create an in-house version of YouTube that has product and training videos instead of videos of cats playing the piano. Many tools like this are possible to implement in a corporate setting, the question is “What it the return on investment?” That question is hard enough to answer when dealing with proven technology like PLM, but justifying an in-house version of Facebook would be an uphill battle. Collaboration is an intangible that is difficult to monetize. In this economy I doubt there are many companies with the extra overhead dollars to invest in collaboration tools.

  • beyondplm

    Lev, thank you for your comment and insight! The main idea behind the “social PLM play” is how to have wider adoption of PLM tools in the enterprise organization. This “social play” can be combined from two aspects – 1/marketing hype to promote old collaborative ideas with new package; 2/re-use of Web2.0 technologies and ideas. The 1st need to be turned down and the 2nd need to be evaluated. Some of your ideas like corporate Facebook are implemented today by multiple vendors. See my blog post. Best, Oleg

  • Chris

    An Enterprise Social System for Manufacturers is focused on content that matters, parts, assedmblies and products. Web 2.0 defines content as pictures, video, blogs and comments… well this stuff does not matter to a product development team. A designer engineer is not going to blog about his/her part. Content must be aligned to the task.

  • Chris

    You need to rethink your view of social and grasp the idea of an Enterprise Social System for Manufacturing. It is not as simple as Facebook without games. The content in this type of system is about products and parts… Take a look at this chart and you will see CAD spending created huge productivity but PLM spending has not been able to deliver SUSTAINED productivity. You are right about collaboration, but an ESS is not a collaboration tool.

  • Chris

    Cost is not important. Value is the important point. Customers will pay if there is a value.

    I do not think the point about social is teams should use Facebook. The point is about the ideas of and constructs of social.

  • beyondplm

    Chris, PLM (and before PDM) was always about how to manage content – Documents, Parts, Assemblies, Products, Configuration. The fundamental core of PLM is a “model” that keep all information, relationships and allow people to collaborate or manage processes around. The close connection between “content” in PLM and “processes” can make the overall solution very successful. A lot of PLM implementation proved it. However, the practices used by PLM for presentation of content, collaboration and process management are pretty old, complex and cumbersome. Web 2.0 era (2000s) created a huge amount of practices in the “web of collaboration”. Yes, “web of collaboration” is using pictures, blogs, video, comments and not products, assemblies, parts. My understanding of ESS concepts is that ESS is going to re-use Web 2.0 practices to create a novelty in “enterprise collaboration”. This is a strong point. However, focus on content that matter – parts, assemblies, products can create a complexity that already exist in enterprise silos – PDM, PLM, ERP, etc. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Chris, I think, measurement of productivity that applied in case of CAD spending (individual productivity) cannot be applied “as is” to measure PLM impact. PLM is more focused on organizational productivity in terms of cost, process efficiency, etc. You are trying to compare “CAD apples” with “PLM oranges”. At the same time, I can agree that CAD technologies got much broader adoption in organizations compared to PLM. Therefore, impact of CAD has a much broad sense. I can consider 2000s as years of stagnation in enterprise software. The 2000s revolution happened in “consumer web”. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Chris, the absolute “cost” can affect your decision. It is much easier to buy for 100$ rather than for 1000$. This dimension, of course, need to be applied in parallel with the scale of “value measurement”. Best, Oleg

  • Chris

    Step back and look at the graph in a broader way. In no way does the graph nor my assertion compare CAD or PLM. These are nothing more than tools (among other tools available) that manufacturing companies had at their disposal to create productivity and a competitive advantage. Back away from the details and just look at the results of the spending. On the left side of the graph manufacturing companies were spending on CAD and on the right side of the graph they were spending on PLM. On the right productivity was up and on the left productivity was down. Of course you could argue that the reason the right is down is that not enough has been spent on PLM and companies should invest now at a massive rate. I somehow do not think this is what you would conclude.

    All technology spending is about productivity and differentiation. As well the value is time limited. When all competitors have the same tools and apply them in the same way, the differentiation, which is what matters, is dissipated. So just to be clear I am not saying CAD and PLM did not payback value, but I am saying that these technologies now no longer differentiate. You know from selling PLM that it is very hard to even differentiate one brand of PLM from the other… they are all very me too.

  • Chris

    You put at odds Social and Collaboration which to me makes sense as I see these things as very different. It is oh to easy to say collaboration or that something is collaborative. The problem with this is technology providers, especially the PLM market providers, have made this word utterly meaningless. Of course if you read a definition of collaboration you see that it is about people working toward a common goal. Read a definition about collaborative product development and you see it is about people using structured tools to get to a common goal. What is very interesting is if you read about Social Media you find no mention of collaboration, even though it is about people, objectives and content. What you do find clearly articulated is it is about user generated publishing.

    So my take away is if you find yourself say collaboration you are really not saying much at all. Yes of course teams are collaborating. But go read again the definition and you will see it simple has not substance. To differentiate or create value you must get to the meat. Think through the history of CAD, starting back in 1989 PTC understood this and decided to NOT call Pro/ENGINEER a CAD system. PTC clearly articulated a difference, declaring Pro/ENGINEER as a MCAD system. They want on to define the features to contributed value, parametric, features based and associative (there were 5, but I forget them now)… After PTC SolidWorks said 80% of the features of Pro/ENGINEER at half the price and on a PC. Again clear differentiation. And where is CAD today? We have non-history based modeling and lightning.

    My take away is Social is different than Collaboration and it is meaningless to say collaboration.

  • beyondplm

    Chris, my interpretation of the graph is that enterprise software (PLM is part of) didn’t realize the need to grow and improve productivity in current reality of manufacturing companies. The complexity growth in 200-2010 wasn’t supported by technologies. PLM companies are trying to solve these problems with average success. It doesn’t mean that to compare CAD influence in 1990s with PLM in 2000s is “apples to apples” comparison.

  • beyondplm


    I agree with you. PDM/PLM vendors used to oversold “collaborative” features or made them heavy dependent on lots of “infrastructure” things that very hard to implement. In some cases, PLM restricted collaboration between “other-vendor” products.

    Nevertheless, the nature of “collaboration” is “working together”. And Web 2.0 websites alongside with micro-blogging and other internet creatures made very successfully on the World Wide Web. For example, we are easy collaborating and discussion our opinions about this blog article. It cost me almost “nothing” to have this website up and running. You can access it from every device – PC, Mac, Mobile device, computer in Apple store :). We can track chain of comments, I can link my comments to any other websites and track globally appearance of references on this blog post. All these capabilities came due to what happened in technology during 2000s. Now, if Vuuch is taking these collaborative technologies and applies them to manufacturing collaboration the impact can be significant. Just my thoughts…

    Best, Oleg