Going Social with Product Development

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A quick peek into some research on … how manufacturers are taking advantage of social computing and “Web 2.0” technologies to raise the bar on product development performance in my new report Tech-Clarity Insight: Going Social with Product Development: Improving Product Development Performance with Social Computing. SPDthumbThe paper discusses the intersection of social computing and new product development (NPD) processes and tools. I have posted frequently about the intersection of social computing and PLM and product innovation, and this research provides some examples on how these strategies are starting to play out for manufacturers like Microsoft (think PC hardware and game consoles, not Windows) and Pitney Bowes.
The Research Findings

The paper discusses uses of social computing from the basics of collaboration to the adoption of more innovative business models. Most companies will start with more conservative extensions to existing processes like design collaboration. In these cases, incorporating tools like instant messaging into the product development workflow can help streamline interactions. Capabilities like presence detection and interactive file sharing help make existing collaborative processes better. For many companies, these capabilities are readily available and require little change to underlying business processes.

Other forms of communication, such as blogs and wikis, offer a combination of better communication and knowledge management. These online discussion tools change the product dialogue from a one-way push of information to a two-way, interactive, dynamic, electronic conversation to help people better share information and ideas. Beyond better communication, the simple fact that the conversations are happening centrally and in electronic format turns product-related discussions and decision-making into a searchable knowledge asset.

Social computing can also be used to extend collaboration and information sharing to broader communities. This allows product developers to collaborate with the people they know, but also extend their search to find others in the corporate network that have valuable knowledge and expertise that previously would have gone untapped. By connecting people around product and project context, companies enable “social discovery” which fundamentally changes the available talent and expertise available to a project.

Beyond the corporate community, companies can also develop new product intellectual property (IP) from social computing. By extending the online community to customers and the market, new opportunities to gather “voice of the customer” and test ideas emerge. While these concepts require more change to the business and the way it operates, they also offer an even greater potential return by leveraging larger communities.

Implications for Manufacturers
The implications break down into two categories. The first implications are about the applicability and importance of social computing in product development. You have probably heard me talk about this before, and this report helps confirm and expand my thoughts on the subject. There is clearly something of value happening with the intersection of this exciting and popular new way of communicating and the business of developing profitable products.

The second set of implications fall into the category of practical advice and lessons learned to take advantage of this new opportunity. The opportunities are available, but the most important thing is that manufacturers don’t discount the applicability of social computing concepts based on their personal experience with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any other social networking sites. Manufacturers have to see through the use of these communication techniques for “fun” and see the significant business potential. This potential will likely never come from the public social networking sites, but instead by incorporating these “Web 2.0” concepts into existing infrastructure and product development solutions. This is the most practical method to both achieve the value, but also ensure that product data and intellectual property (IP) is protected and that the solutions are used in the right context – to improve products and projects that drive corporate profitability.

So that was a quick peek into some recent research on social computing in product development, I hope you found it interesting. Does the research reflect your experiences? Do you see it differently? Let us know what it looks like from your perspective.

Please feel free to review more free research and white papers about PLM and other enterprise software for manufacturers from Tech-Clarity

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