PLM and Social Tools: The Odd Couple?

The number of companies and products that are trying to jump into the social tools bandwagon is growing. At the time when social tools impose a significant influence on the minds of corporate decision makers, I want to discuss how potential implementation of social tools will influence the development of PLM and PLM processes management in the organization. There is no strong definition about what is “a social tool”. When I’m thinking about them, I assume the number of tools focused on the ability to provide communication and collaboration in the style development by Web 2.0 -like websites. Web 2.0 communication practices moved from the web inside of organizations. You can take a look more on this in the following wikipedia article, which, in my view, requires on going review and adjustments.

PLM and Process Management

For the last few years, PLM implementation started to focus on the practice of collaborative business process development. It was an interesting turn, since it provided a way to move out of simple data hostage with check-in/checkout/release procedures. For PLM it was a way to develop business process management practices for the organization in the area of product development and engineering.

I had chance to discuss PLM process management before. You can take a look on some of my previous posts: PLM Process Management Technologies and What is beyond Collaboration and Process Management in the organization?

Social Tools and Collaboration.

Collaboration was always in the hot spot of PLM process management discussion. Design and engineering require massive involvement of people communication and, therefore, was different from typical BPM (business process management) practices. Social tools presented a new, attractive way to collaborate between people. Web groups, online chats and instant messaging are going to convert themselves into Business Communities and Social Collaboration. It looks like a very nice marketing. What technologies are behind of that marketing buzz? Wiki, Blogs, Microblogging and Social Networking tools with modern web based user experience. These technologies emerged as a new wave of tools that might change the game of collaborative practice in the organization.

There are few very interesting examples in this space. Last week I came across the following announcement made by Chameleon Software Launches its New App on’s ChatterExchange. Also, I had chance to discuss various options in the development of social tools for PLM before in the following post – Social PLM Options. There are many other examples too…

PLM Process and Social Tools Flirt
What happened to PLM Collaborative Business Processes Practices? The situation became really though, in my view. Part of PLM business process management move was to provide a valuable solution in their competition with ERP and BPM tools. However, the situation changed and social tools presented as a new attractive game changer for the enterprise organization. The obvious reaction of PLM market was to develop various offerings such as – Social Product Development, Social Innovation, etc. By doing that, PLM is trying to slide on Social Tools Wave and proliferate their offering into additional groups of users in the company. The place, which is currently occupied by Email and Microsoft Office. I see that as a nice flirt…

What is my conclusion? I think, social tools bring a new a significant wave into enterprise software development. However, I see social software entrance into PLM space as a very disruptive. PLM has a chance to lose all collaborative product development practices developed over the past 5-7 years and replace it by new technologies for social collaboration, which are basically a copy of Web 2.0 technologies transferred into enterprise. Where is the danger for PLM? Social tools and Web 2.0 practices impose a significant openness and absence of control over the content. It comes from the open web world. This is what users want. CAD/PDM/PLM considered a significant control over the content (IP) and processes. This is what IT wants. So, for me, they are looks as an odd couple. Will they be able to succeed together? This is a good question we’ll continue to ask in the coming years…

Just my thoughts..
Best, Oleg


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  • Herve

    Politically non correctness demonstrates a openmindness. I appreciate.

  • Herve, Thanks for your comment! I know, you are much more experienced in blogging… However, where do you see “Politically non correctness”? Best, Oleg

  • Craig Rode

    Everyone I talk to in this space is discussing “Social PLM” but I think like “PLM” itself, the phrase is rather poorly defined. I do not think we’ll ever see ‘wiki-engineering’ unless some company can figure out an open source model for physical goods. What companies ARE trying to do is use social networks to gather information from their customers. It’s a real challenge right now. Let me give you an example. Three years ago I wanted to get a GPS for my motorcycle. I didn’t go look at ads, I didn’t go to, I went to, a social site for motorcyclists. I posted a query. “Hey, what GPS should I get?”. There was a ton of feedback…”I got X, it’s a piece of garbage”, “I got Y, it’s ok but I wish it were waterproof”, “I got Z, it rocks, I wish it had….”. THIS is the kind of stuff that engineers and product managers would like to know when deciding what to make next. I think this is the near future of Social PLM, tying in this kind of information.

    But as Dennis Miller used to say, “That’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong.”

  • Awadhesh Parihar

    In my view, both will benefit from this association (and in that sense they aren’t odd couples), the society at large and people concerned with engineering design and development.

    If PLM has had misplaced priorities resulting in a huge NPDI failure rate, hearing views and getting to discuss with a great variety of folks out there, will help. Now, as they say, devil lies in the detail, each company or individual will need to understand, what they are looking for in this association.

    My experiences so far, and I am not focussing on the word social networking, but lets say ‘listening’ to the masses be the need, then, following discplines will be hugely benefitted

    a) Voice of customer – Quality function deployment to Product Features
    b) Product performance analytics and feed forward engineering (or product) change management

    I will take craig’s example. you always come across a very convincing story of a product’s performance in the blogs/facebooks, and people do believe in it (and that governs their choices as well). you may always wonder if the product companies/reatilers or OEMs are ever listening to it, reading it? And if so, why arent they doing anything about it?

    Pan the view back to the OEM, you hear views, “yeah we know about it, and we will fix it in the xx.xx release” or “is that so”?

    So, PLM needs social tools, in my view, but it really needs to be an intelligent association. In the form that it exists today, its chaotic at the best

  • Colin Clifford

    This is an interesting topic for me, I am considering how Corporate Social Media can fit into the PLM world. I was intrigued by the Chatter example. Building on this I wonder if we can adopt a Web 3.0 concept of a Robot and see the PLM system as a Social Networker in its own right.

    Surely there are actions within the PLM system that could be Tweeted or Blogged, not sure how to provide a WIKI front end to PLM, but if we consider one role of PLM is to capture the company’s knowledge and make it avaialbe for re-use, and bearing in mind the upcoming generation of users think in a Social Media paradigm, then I do not think we can ignore it.

    What I feel are the challenges are capturing front end ad-hoc collaboration, into a traceable formal, yet still user friendly form, and then as a project progresses making sure the communication to users is both timely and in a an appropriate form.

    I will read any further comments on this blog with interest, it certainly is something our customers ask about, and I am wondering who provides thought leadership, and what Good Practices have been implemented so far.

  • Douglas

    Hey guys,

    Product design and development is about “the funnel”, i.e. generating a lot of ideas and requirements, making decisions which can be successful, converging to one or more potentially successful concepts and then detailing that concept into a producible and marketable product. I see a lot of potential for social media in the “entrance” of the funnel and the first part of it. But by the time you have make your major product-functional and architectural choices the product development process needs to become well orchesrated and disciplined in order to get to market (better: to customer) in time. In this phase there is no place for free for all social chitchat. We’re talking concurrent engineering here (remember this thing from the past?),requirements fulfilment and validation, design data release and change management and so on. In other words: the more formalised part of the NPD to be supported in PLM.

  • Craig, Thanks for your comment! I agree Social is a lot about openness and communication.We need to figure out how PLM can be fitting into that. I can identify at least two trends – applying social communication as a collaboration practice and as a source to gather information. The last one is undervalued, in my view. Best, Oleg

  • Awadhesh, I like how you said “intelligent association”. I think we are going to watch it for the next couple of years. Best, Oleg

  • Herve

    Well, Oleg, I heard of some PLM software vendor that recently entered the social space, caliming they’re doing social software. Your post is clearly claiming this is a risky business, isn’t it?

  • Collin, Thanks for your comment! Enterprises are acquiring usage of Web 2.0 (Wiki, Blogs, Social Nets…). This is, in my view, how things proliferated to become Enterprise 2.0 and all other “social software” trends. I think, we will be able to see how enterprise evolves influenced by these web tools. Best, Oleg

  • Douglas, Thanks for your clarification. I agree, it is very beneficial to use social net/tools as an input into funnel. Can we replace process management by social tools? I have a concern about this last statement. We should have an organized process, but we need to bring usability of web 2.0 tools into this process. This is, in my view, another side of social tools re-use in the organization. Best, Oleg

  • Herve, Yes, I think that it is hard to see results by binding two words “PLM” and “Social” in the marketing presentations and on blogs. Both have their own historical roots and characteristics. So, these things need to be carefully validated. Just my opinion. YMMV. Best, Oleg

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