How CAD and PLM vendors will compete with “Facebook at Work”

How CAD and PLM vendors will compete with “Facebook at Work”

facebook-at-work-for-engineers

Social software was hot topic in engineering software ecosystem for the last few years. The results are somewhat mixed. Start-up companies and well established CAD/PLM vendors learned by mistakes, some of them failed and some of them is still in process of developing new type of collaborative engineering software. I captured some of my thoughts about that here – Why Social 1.0 failed

One of the most famous messages of social software was to create “Facebook for XYZ”. Many companies tried to deliver this message in variety of forms in engineering software. The most impressive one was GrabCAD, which created a community of about 1.5M engineers sharing 3D CAD files. Even so, GrabCAD put their focus on development of cloud PDM software – to find a way to monetize. Some of my comments on what GrabCAD did are here – GrabCAD – from Facebook for engineers to PLM. GrabCAD is probably a company that unofficially can own the tag of “Facebook for engineer”. Google search is a good confirmation for that.

A very interesting news came from “original” Facebook. Earlier this week, Facebook leaked the information about Facebook’s intent to create so called “Facebook at Work”. Forbes article gives you some details about Upcoming Facebook at Work service will rival LinkedIn and Slack.

Facebook is preparing Facebook at Work, a service aimed at enterprise customers that will allow them to chat with colleagues and “collaborate over documents,” according to a new report in the Financial Times which cites anonymous sources.

Social business wasn’t an easy job for many companies. For the last few days, I see many speculations and reports about how easy  (or not, actually) Facebook can capture a new business niche. Here is the article from ReadWrite – Why Facebook For Work Will Be A Hard Sell To Employers. This is my favorite passage:

Users will be able to chat with coworkers, collaborate on projects, and build catalogues of colleague’s contacts, with each of these services directly competing with Microsoft’s Yammer, Google’s Drive, and LinkedIn. All the services Facebook at Work will offer already exist. Slack, Google Drive, and LinkedIn already do these features well, and have the market for these respective services cornered. If Facebook at Work is going to have a chance of competing, it’ll need to extremely improve on its competitors’ services. And from the little we’ve seen of the service (with Facebook declining to comment), it’s hard to tell if Facebook for Work even has a chance.

“Facebook at Work” news made me think about what it means for engineering software ecosystem? First of all, it reminded me how is dangerous profession of industry analyst. It is still unclear how successful Facebook at Work is going to be, but Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity should be probably concerned about his 5 years old statement – We are not Going to Design an Airplane on Facebook!

All engineering vendors (CAD and PLM companies) just got a new mindshare competitor in everything that can be considered as social and collaboration. In my view it will be hard for Facebook to focus on “project collaboration” for design and engineering teams. The space is too narrow. At the same time, “social collaboration pond” is not as safe as it was before such a big fish as Facebook jumped into it.

My special attention caught by feature related to document sharing and collaboration. In my article – The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive, I mentioned few examples of companies working on how to leverage cloud for CAD files storage and collaboration. Cloud file storage is an interesting place and I expect to see many changes in this domain in coming years. Every engineering company will have to think about pros and cons to have a special CAD files sharing tool. Facebook is just another behemoth convincing companies to store files on their servers and developing slick user experience to collaborate and share project information.

What is my conclusion? Facebook just captured a piece of attention for social project collaboration from everyone. “Facebook at Work” won’t compete directly with engineering software businesses. However, most probably, CAD and PLM vendors have to review their sales and marketing presentations. How to differentiate engineering collaboration software from Facebook? I will put security and CAD viewers on the top of my list of differentiators. Facebook won’t be able to change security perception overnight. Also, it will be challenging to develop 3D viewing solutions. Some specialized vendors can decide to jump and partner with Facebook about 3D CAD viewers.  At the same time, there is one thing, which will challenge CAD and PLM vendors already tomorrow. Together with Google, LinkedIn and other web giants, Facebook will challenge engineering teams by setting even higher bar for project collaboration user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: aldoaldoz via photopin cc

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  • Suna Polat

    Hi Oleg – Another nice blog. Facebook @ Work could potentially provide a nice social collaboration layer leveraging users’ familiarity with its interface if it can only interoperate with CAD and PLM solutions and data assets. Agree that overcoming the perception of being open and less secure will be a tough one for them.

  • beyondplm

    Suna, thanks for your comment. To interop on data is a tricky thing. Native data integration is a biggest value for most of social collaboration products. That’s why I believe, CAD/PLM vendors have some advantages over general purpose web companies. However, the danger for CAD/PLM companies is be a niche players for engineering department folks.

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