I wanted to touch the topic of “collaboration” today. The term collaboration is very broad. Hit Google to search for “collaboration” and you will see Google counter jumps to ~240’000’000 results in 0.2 sec. The word “collaboration” has lots of meaning. Navigate your browser to the Wikipedia link about collaboration and you will see all of them – from arts to business and technology, including kibbutz, military, business and some historical meaning coming from a second world war. I found the following one as the most appropriate in the context of engineering and manufacturing software:
Due to the complexity of today’s business environment, collaboration in technology encompasses a broad range of tools that enable groups of people to work together including social networking, instant messaging, team spaces, web sharing, audio conferencing, video, and telephony. Broadly defined, any technology that facilitates linking of two or more humans to work together can be considered a collaborative tool. Wikipedia, Blogs, even Twitter are collaborative tools. Many large companies are developing enterprise collaboration strategies and standardizing on a collaboration platform to allow their employees, customers and partners to intelligently connect and interact.
Now, let’s move to PDM, PLM and other “sorts” of collaboration. Engineering software (including PDM/PLM) is practicing active usage of word “collaboration” for the last decade. For some reasons, marketing fellows decided that the term is selling well. So, they oversold…
These days, “collaboration” means almost nothing. Collaborative PDM (cPDM), Collaborative PLM (cPLM), Collaborative… Engineers actually hesitate to say “I’m collaborating”. One of the most strong opinions, I’ve heard about collaboration came to me in the comments to my previous blog post about collaboration:
I work as an engineer. So after seeing this social trend proposed for CAD/CAM/CAE/PLM I cannot bear anymore and have only one thing to say! This is all bullshit and we engineers do not need it! Let me explain a of course…
First of all in a typical environment the only person to whom I want to collaborate is another engineer and I will come to him ,or email, with direct problem or issue to seek advice or help. In most cases he is even sitting in the next room to me. I do not want to collaborate with all the people in the company, I do not want to collaborate with people who do not understand what is the difference between bolt and nut, and I will not :)! And later constantly get email updates that new answer is posted, this is worse than SPAM! I do not want to collaborate with PR, Marketing, Manufacturing etc in an endless thread of useless suggestions about the fastener type, color, button, shape etc. Because all these things should be defined already in specification, if they are not and you still have to ask all that from the people mentioned above, this means that this project will lead to a disaster and will be a huge money drain. Management should act immediately if these things are happening in a company
New Social Way
Last two years, we are facing a massive influence of social networking and other internet-related technologies (i.e. Web 2.0) on what before we call collaboration. One of the most “passionate” about that – Vuuch is proposing to stop usage of word “collaboration” in the context of collaboration software. Vuuch proposes a very interesting term called “Enterprise Social System” to explain the technology to revolutionize the way engineers can collaborate (oops.. work together) based on the more efficient contextual information sharing. Navigate to 1 hour length webinar which will take you step-by-step into a new “social way” of working together. When I think, Vuuch is really innovating by trying to find a new way to solve the old problem, I found the following passage from Vuuch blog a bit provoking.
But we never use the C(ollaboration) word to describe Vuuch. In our minds, there’s a bright line between the capabilities and usage patterns in Vuuch and a legacy system like SharePoint. And we understand that until the conventional wisdom catches with Vuuch, many people need to use transitional terminology to feel comfortable.
It explains, actually, why Vuuch is using word collaboration internally in the software:
The Reality – People Just Want To Drink a Beer
I can see these days are really going to change a lot in the way people collaborate or just simply working together. The changes are coming from a complete new set of technologies and tools we have at our disposal to communicate and share information. Here is my short list – mobile, communication and data sharing. It becomes much easy these days to communicate. Think about a mobile device you keep in your hands. Your ability to contact people changed completely for the last 3-4 years. It is true not only from the standpoint of capability, but also from the cost standpoint. Communication, including broadband web access, video conferencing and tele-presence allows us to talk with people remotely almost without any problems. Finally, data sharing technologies were improved dramatically. In my post – PLM Online Data Sharing: From Spreadsheets to Databases, I discussed various products and technologies that can help you to share data. Here is a part of one comment I’ve got related to data sharing capabilities of Google Docs: The bigger advantage is total freedom of device…your laptop, an associate’s laptop, your phone or iPad… Just look at what college students are doing with cloud technology…a good barometer of what they will expect once in the workforce.
What is my conclusion? I think, collaboration is a word that will continue to live with us forever. However, technologies, product development and marketing will move towards something simpler and well understood. I think, future engineers will share screen, part, bill of materials to work together without thinking about how collaborative or social a particular software is performing. This is my view on the reality of collaborative software. What is your take?