PLM Social Detours

by Oleg on August 18, 2010 · 489 comments

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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