Facebook At Work and Designing Airplanes

Facebook At Work and Designing Airplanes


We are not Going to Design an Airplane on Facebook! Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity said it on his blog back in 2009. That was the era of early debates about PLM and social software. Navigate here to read the historical blog and COFES 2009 debates. You can find audio-recording of these debates on COFES web site.

What I learned this week … came from a participant at my session on Social Computing in PLM at COFES last month. A quote from the session has been haunting me since that time, and I haven’t been able to place my finger on why it has resonated in my head. I think because it is both meaningful to me and meaningless at the same time. The quote was “We are not going to desgin an airplane on Facebook!” The statement drew a lot of chuckles, and I have to believe it’s a true statement of fact. But I think why it haunts me is that people are willing to discount the value of a hugely important trend (the use of social computing technologies in business) because the examples they have don’t quite fit the way the currently work.

Fast forward into 2016.  Although we are still not designing airplanes on Facebook, the things have changed a lot. After almost two years of experiments, Facebook is coming with Facebook At Work next month. Navigate to the following Techcrunch article to read more. My favorite passage speaks about how Facebook will be able to prove value delivery:

Facebook At Work’s biggest strength could be its familiarity. It should find onboarding users easier than many SaaS tools since people will already have a login, password, and know how to use it. That quick registration could help it leapfrog competitors that can often seem foreign or confusing compared to consumer software. If a customer prefers it for security purposes, employees can also set up entirely separate accounts for business. The launch will come just as Microsoft scraps the Yammer Enterprise tier many companies rely on, who might be looking for a new way to keep the whole team on the same page.

Another interesting article- Why Facebook at Work is a new Deal for Enterprise World by Dany Vilela Agostinho brings an interesting perspective on Facebook At Work features.


I’m not sure how fast companies will jump to use all features outlined in the picture above. After all, inertia is a big deal for enterprise organizations.

At the same time, my hunch is that Facebook has a good chance to bring people on the same page. The familiarity of the environment can play an important role here. Especially when it comes to engineering collaboration. I can see, engineering people, are bad organized. In many situations to run processes among engineers is similar to herding cats. To manage process in an engineering organization is a challenge. This is a place where PLM vendors usually fails to provide a reliable and simple solution. Engineers are asking for additional flexibility and vendors have a tendencies to provide a complicated solutions. Many PLM tools are providing sort of Workflow designer to create a process model. Later on, you can discover that engineers tend to abandon these processes. Main reason – these processes are not reflecting the reality. This is a place where Facebook At Work can provide something nobody can do today.

What is my conclusion? Some of questions asked by Jim Brown back 2009 are not obvious to answer as it was before. I’m sure the questions about security, IP protection and collaboration can be addressed differently today. Facebook still has nothing to do with engineering data, CAD files, etc. But with growing interest in building hardware, Facebook actually can figure out how to view 3D files in Facebook environment.  Also, some new vendors in engineering software domain might consider bundle with Facebook as an interesting opportunity to reach a broader group of potential users. So, we might see a growing number of partners from engineering world. The issue of the trust is one of the most complicated. It will raise bunch of tough questions. The jury is out. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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  • Thanks for bringing this back to the front. As I said before, even if Facebook isn’t the answer (and I suspected it wasn’t, but now we’ll see with Facebook at Work) the concepts will stick. I always believed that social capabilities would become part of product innovation and engineering software as opposed to a separate tool. These same familiar features are already showing up in many PLM systems. But people are also using simpler, web-based tools for collaboration and file sharing, so I guess the evolution to social product development continues…

  • beyondplm

    Jim, completely agree – the evolution of social product development continues…

  • CADgump

    Most engineers I work with avoid social networks due to the lack of privacy, and the onslaught of verbal garbage offered. It would be a sad day indeed to be forced onto facebook in order to keep your job. That said, how can anyone think it will make for better collaboration?

  • I think there are two keys to making this useful as opposed to a huge distraction during design.
    1) Use the concepts of Facebook but apply it to processes that require data sharing and feedback, like design review or ECO, or possibly validating requirements
    2) Limit the community to people you want to hear from
    Otherwise, you could face a torrent of feedback you aren’t interested in.

    On the other hand, if you want to test a concept at the conceptual phase before any design has begun you can use social media tools to analyze the feedback. Instead of slogging through each reply and responding, companies can use sentiment analysis to try to get a feel for what people are reacting to and then drill in to learn more. I think that might be less useful for design collaboration and more market testing.

  • beyondplm

    CADgump, I think, there is misunderstanding here – as far as I understand, Facebook @work is a separate system and it is not overlapping and forcing you to use regular Facebook to keep you job.

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