It is not easy to add “social” to PLM

It is not easy to add “social” to PLM


My recent post Social PLM: How to pull a trigger? became a trigger for me to think and discuss “social” topic again. I found certain level of disagreement with Jim Brown’s position about how to put social in PLM. Here is Jim’s comment:

@jim_techclarity: @olegshilovitsky There is a lot more low hanging fruit elsewhere. Easier to add social to PLM than PLM to social. Talk to you in 2019

I’m sure Facebook is not coming after PLM market. Getting back to my Facebook at Work post, my hunch is that Facebook is trying to crack the complexity of social behavior at work. And… this is not easy. And, therefore to add social to PLM is probably not easy too. We’ve seen so many established vendors and startup companies that tried to “add social” to CAD and PLM tools. Even to develop new tools.  So far, it ended up mostly with Facebook copycats and collaboration around comments in CAD models and drawings. Is it all about social at work? I stuck with the statement of “easier to add social to PLM”. I don’t see “social” as feature or add-on that you can add to existing tools or technologies. In my view, social is a reflection of people relationships, behaviors and fundamental needs. It took me more than few days to come with some thoughts about that and I wanted to share it with you.

I came back to one of my posts from the last year – Why Social PLM 1.0 Failed? My main conclusion back there was about value proposition of social tools. The fundamental interest of people in social tool was driven by variety of social behaviors. Facebook added true identity into social networking and it gave a spike in usage among people interested in other people activities, social status, relationships, photos, etc. LinkedIn helped to develop our professional identity and find beneficial connections for our carrier and business. Twitter gave us ability to follow variety of information stream in a very easy way.

Adding social into PLM, ERP and other enterprise tools means to improve communication. In my view, this is a place where all enterprise social tools have some sort of mixed achievements. Let me bring some examples to explain what I mean. I can see two fundamental communication patterns in a company – enterprise transaction system (ERP, PLM, CRM) and email.

1- Transactional communication. The main focus of this type of communication is about business processes. It is about adding new position in your organization using CRM tool, creating new Part Number in ERP system and approving ECO using PLM system. There are many other examples. But, in all these cases, people need to perform a transaction – this is a main purpose of their communication.

2- Email. Everything that doesn’t fit transactional communication goes into email. We have many complains about email overload. At the same time, we like email. It creates communication record, can prove what you did and in many situation serves a document. The ubiquity of email and mobility makes email a convenient tool to communicate.

Enterprise social tools are pretending to simplify communication and make information in the organization more transparent. It is true. I can see few situation where social tool can be successfully used by sales and marketing team to update company and synchronize about their activity. I also can see social collaboration as a good tool that can help to find an expert in a company based on previous records and projects. However, it doesn’t replace the fundamental capabilities and functions of email and, as a result, turns out to be another communication channel.

What is my conclusion? Similar to successful social networks, enterprise social tools need to find a single purpose for people to use it. Not as a vitamin, but as a painkiller. It is like a Facebook that gave you a way to watch people activities online. What is that function for enterprise organization? How it will be able to replace email or other tool? How it will make people to justify “another communication channel”? All these questions need to be answered. As a result we will invent “social tool for enterprise” that will become powerful as Facebook or LinkedIn. In my view, enterprise social tools and specifically engineering (PLM) social tools didn’t provide enough value to people to change their traditional communication…. yet. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: Nimages DR via photopin cc


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  • Ketan Suri

    Like my kids – if I have to justify, it becomes more oppressive. If you can make it “human like” it is accepted well. Social has to come as a “human like” addition where we do not have to push ourselves to doing it but in turn feel the need to do it cause it is right. Begin to tag data the right way for a start and make it available to search and connect. It is possible.

    Collaboration is the top on the list of the business needs for my next project. Any clues !

  • beyondplm

    Ketan, Thanks for your comment! To make it “human like” sounds like a good goal. The problem is how to discover a recipe for “human like” social add-ons. It is a bit tricky and looks like software vendors didn’t discover it yet…

  • David

    Hi Oleg
    I tend to agree, however here is my spin on the topic.

    As you say Social tools get used or adopted for a specific purpose, and not everybody has found the reason to use social in the context of PLM.

    In my case , living abroad in a country where I don’t speak the language perfectly, and working predominantly from home, or on the Rd but needing to communicate with 100s of colleagues, I have a great use of social tools, namely facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, and to arrange social gatherings, and Yammer to broadcast relevant information and start focused discussions with my industry groups at work.

    Like most ‘good’ or effective users of new technology I have adapted to the available tools to get the most out of them, facebook for family and social arrangements, yammer for work, LinkedIn to maintain a professional network, Skype for gaming etc.

    What many people struggle with is the apparent – do everything nature – of social tools in the work place. I.e. They ask themselves the question: for what do I use email, the intranet forums, Yammer etc , and end up defaulting to email.

    In the engineering workspace there are a few patterns:

    –Formal document communication with strict workflows for sigh off and review. Often called document control
    — If you are lucky the same for models
    –Formal email communications
    — Informal email communications
    –Formal meetings (face to face or virtual)
    — informal other communications (chat, coffee machine catch up, calls etc)

    I believe that the formal document control and formal email comms. are is not the major problems, but instead it is the latter 3 , i.e. the many discussions that are needed to make engineering decisions, and solve complex problems. Meetings, informal email and other informal (or unorganised) communications do not have an easy to follow audit trail and tend to be chaotic, amongst many other cons.
    It is in this area where some of the learnings from social tools could be come useful. for example the general idea of curating communication around a central object, be that a engineering tag, part, or logical item, or a problem.
    Just my thoughts.

  • beyondplm

    David, thank you for sharing your thoughts… I think you successfully illustrated the biggest communication and collaboration (social?) challenge- multiple channels of communication. Like in your example, Facebook is good for family and social arrangement because all people are there. For product development (PLM?) the biggest challenge is to decrease the number of channels. People are struggling with multiple channels and, as a result, the adoption level is low. Just an opinion. -Oleg

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  • At the core of the issue is history. That’s why we cling to email; email is long-lived to the point that companies struggle from a data retention/liability standpoint. Left up to the users email is immortal. In social history is irrelevant and obscured. The social technologies can’t easily make up this deficit, thinking that a simple search should be good enough. But it will take much more than that to displace email.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, thanks for this comment. I agree, email is immortal because it gives users what they want in terms of their working activities (communication record). Social tech are too unstable to provide it. Another thing – it is easy to keep email communication offline. For most of social systems to keep record of communication offline is complicated thing.