File sync and sharing became the most requested feature to enable collaboration. The days when everybody were co-located in the same office and working from desktop computer are gone. According to Forrester review file sync and sharing can bring real business value. One the picture below you can see what are the most typical tasks for users related to file sync and share.
Few days ago, I was reading ReadWrite article about Dropbox “Harmony Project”. In a nutshell Dropbox allows to work virtually on the same files, while physically files are synced and distributed across the network via Dropbox. The following quote is important.
Document sharing can still be a painful process, and Project Harmony appears to have some handy features for sidestepping the back-and-forth with emailed documents many people experience in business settings. When Dropbox files sync, a little green check mark appears to let users know everything is uploaded; with Project Harmony, that little checkbox takes center stage.
When a user opens a PowerPoint presentation in Project Harmony, for example, that green check mark lives on the right side of the window. When a collaborator joins that presentation, a plus one (+1) appears. This lets everyone know there is more than one person working on a document, and all involved can use an instant messaging tool right inside the document.
The following picture presents chat window that allows to two people to collaborate on the same document.
The source of the picture in the following Dropbox blog article. The new functionality is coming as part of Dropbox for business. While it is clear that main Dropbox goal is to compete with Google Apps/Drive and Microsoft OneDrive and new Office apps, it may provide some benefits to people looking today for PLM software.
PLM is not only about complex 3D models of aircraft and automobile. It is about zillions of other documents – requirements, bill of materials, spec sheets, visualizations, product presentations, etc. These documents are part of the everyday activities in manufacturing companies and engineering organizations. Today, Microsoft Office files and pdf documents are representing a majority of these documents. Excel is clearly a king here. To be able to share bill of materials in Excel via Dropbox and work on this with my supply chain partner, can be an easy option. Yes, it is not fully functioning BOM tool, but to have 80% of functions for near zero price is very cool.
Thinking more about it, I can see some opportunity to use the same technological approach to bring CAD collaboration to the cloud. It will be a bit more tricky to intercept CAD desktop tools to synchronize activities between two desktops, but it is not impossible tech task. While CAD companies are not running fast forward with pure CAD in browser tools, it can be a good technological path to implement collaboration between engineers and re-use Dropbox (or alternative horizontal storage) for files.
What is my conclusion? File sync and share is must have tool to improve the collaboration. The ability to see the same document when working with other people provides huge value and as Google Doc user I can confirm that. To provide an easy path to Excel and maybe desktop CAD users to collaborate via Dropbox for the price of storage can be an interesting tech approach and interesting business opportunity. CAD and PLM collaboration tool will see an additional competitive pressure coming from Dropbox tools. It is a time to think about unique CAD/PLM collaboration features to compete with Dropbox economy of scale. Just my thoughts…