What is the biggest value asset of your brand? Two decades ago, I attended a management couch session where the team failed to put “customers” at the top of the list. I remember that session and it became pivotal in many things that I was doing afterward including writing a blog and building software. Building a community of users can become one of the most powerful elements of your company engagement model and help to build a unique value for your product and business.
For more than two decades, I’m following the SOLIDWORKS community, which, n my view, is one of the strongest groups of engineers gathered around a single MCAD product – SOLIDWORKS.
I attended many SWUGs and talked to many community managers and engineers. I love this group of people. After attending many Solidworks events in my life, I found this group is an amazing place to learn from if you’re building engineering software. Yesterday, I had a chance to join IronSWUG:
IronSWUG is a SOLIDWORKS User Group tour of the 6 different user group meetings in 5 days, but this tour is wildly different…it will be completed on motorcycles only. The term IronSWUG is derived from the “Ironbutt Association” long-distance motorcycle group and the SOLIDWORKS user group network.
In my article today, I want to share some thoughts about building communities with a specific focus on PLM software. If you’re a founder of a startup or a marketing manager, you might find this eBook helpful – The Community Playbook For Founders by Flybridge Capital. #
3 Things You Need To Build A Community
Building a successful community requires planning and hard work. However, before you start, the most important thing to think about is the persona and the purpose. You need to find a unifying reason for why this community will exist. Here are examples of what can anchor a successful community – shared interest, a common goal, or a specific struggle and/or aligned value system. Finding this is absolutely important before you build a successful community. These days, software businesses and, especially, startups think about community as an important attribute of what they do when building their businesses. This is fine, but keep in mind what will anchor together users or customers. Not all businesses should have it, in my view.
Communication strategy is another thing you need to think about. This can take the form of discussions, events, content, or other forms of interaction. A community that actively encourages and facilitates interaction among its members is likely to be more vibrant, meaningful, and lasting. Engagement strategies should also involve recognizing and appreciating active members, fostering a positive and welcoming environment, and continuously providing opportunities for members to learn, grow, and connect with each other. These days, you can find multiple ways to engage and community – in person, online or mixed.
The last, but very important is leadership of your community. To make a community strong, it has to have strong and organized leadership. It includes multiple elements such as vision, accessibility, transparency, membership management, and supporting community growth.
However, keep in mind, that every community is unique and what works for one might not work for another. Thus, understanding your specific community, its needs, its dynamics, and its culture is also crucial.
CAD and PLM Communities
Engineering software has a history of building communities. it includes CAD and Product Lifecycle Management software I can bring a few examples of communities and user groups built around successful CAD products such as AutoCAD, Revit, Solidworks, CATIA (COE), and a few others. Aras free download combined with open source community-built software created a large number of followers. An example of an online GrabCAD community, built around the idea of 3D CAD model sharing was an interesting example as well. Some of these communities exist in the form of ‘user forums’ for products with a large customer base such as Teamcenter, and PTC User Group, and some of them are around the large and growing number of free users and customers (eg. Autodesk Fusion360). I can also bring Onshape community as an example of a new company that created an online forum with a large number of engagement. Among some other products, the Shapr3D community is also very engaging.
Modern manufacturing involves many disciplines connected together such as product lifecycle management, product data management, and supply chain management. PLM system is a foundation of future digital transformation and this is a foundation of the information platform where the digital thread begins. The product development process and product lifecycle are complex and the implementation of PLM solutions efficiently can make a big difference. I know many passionate PLM professionals, however, for many engineers, the topic of data and process management is boring. I think the main reason for that is that old legacy PLM systems forced people to be involved in data management processes that must be hidden. As we move into a digital future, the information available can change the trend and make PLM very engaging through the use of data.
PLM Playbooks and Community Building For Digital Transformation
What shared interest can have people engaged in product lifecycle management-related activities? Is it a strong enough factor to build a community? Earlier this week, I read in a blog from Monica Schnitger that users are getting sick of big “digital transformation” project names and buzzwords.
Also from my very unscientific survey (over breakfast, mostly): these users are heartily sick of digital twins, digital threads, and digital transformation. These sound big, complicated, expensive, and like they’ll get in the way of designing the best battery, robotic arm, or engine part. I can’t say I blame them —these are big, possibly messy IT projects— but I wonder how SDIS (and we industry analysts) can reach these people, given the language we all use—something to ponder this summer.
What can help to build a community is sharing common interests and goals. Software alone cannot create a community. While software can facilitate communication and interaction among individuals, the essence of a community lies in its members and their collective engagement. Building a community involves social dynamics, shared interests, and human connections that go beyond the capabilities of software alone. The software can provide platforms or tools for community engagement, but the community itself relies on human participation, collaboration, and a sense of belonging.
One of the major trends, the manufacturing industry is living today with is digital transformation. Deep inside, it requires industrial companies to build better practices to manage their work and business processes. This process is complex and requires finding best practices for technology selection, communicating with people, changing processes, and delivering results. What can be a PLM playbook for digital transformation beyond software? How to build a strategy for your PLM and digital transformation? These are questions to think about if we would like to make future PLM implementation successful.
What is my conclusion?
Software alone cannot create a community. People need to find a common interest, shared goals, or vision. How to apply modern technological advantages combined with the unique needs of industrial companies and form a strategy for successful digital transformation? We are moving into the information phase of the technological revolution. In the coming decade, the ability of industrial companies to turn product data and product lifecycle into business will be a key element that differentiates success from failure. Every industrial company needs to have a playbook for digital PLM implementation. Check my ideas about the unstoppable PLM playbook for successful implementations. A few hundred years ago, placing your factory on the bank of a river was part of a winning strategy, these days, the ability to manage data and turn it into business processes is a key. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital thread platform including PDM/PLM and ERP capabilities that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.