2011 – The Year Social Computing Explodes in NPD and PLM?


What I learned this week … came after reflecting on this video on social computing in PLM I ran across on PTC’s website. I spent a significant amount of my time and energy last year trying to understand the implications of the social networking explosion on product innovation, product development, and engineering. It was interesting to listen to the podcast with the benefit of time moving on a bit to reassess the situation and see what will likely happen in 2011. So what happens next?

Brief Background and Views

Take a look at the video, but my viewpoint in a nutshell is:

  • Social networking and social media have ramped up significantly in our personal lives (Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
  • Social computing is continuing to gain ground in work environments and applications (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.)
  • Product innovation is a team sport (inherently requiring collaboration and cross-functional participation)
  • Facebook and similar tools aren’t appropriate for new product development (NPD), but the concepts are (see Facebook fail post)
  • The content for the social interaction around product development and engineering is the product (making it a natural to integrate it with PLM)
  • Early adopters are on the move and gaining benefits (see early results from the Spike research I worked on with Kalypso)

My Crystal Ball Says 2011 Will Bring…

First, I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see the future. All I can do is tell you that this is one of the most obvious directions companies will take. This is as close to a “no-brainer” as they come. I do believe that social computing is happening in product innovation and NPD and will continue to expand. The tie to product data is also intuitive to me, although it will take more time and work. So here are my thoughts:

  • Collaboration – This will happen sooner rather than later, it is the proverbial “low hanging fruit.” Companies will leverage generalized applications like Microsoft SharePoint, as well as specialty applications like Vuuch. The PLM vendors are actively working here as well, including PTC with SocialLink and Dassault Systemes with SwYm, and Siemens PLM. Integration to product data and existing PLM process will take longer, but the direction has been set. With so many companies still trying to get the basics in place (let’s face it, there are a lot of product data management (PDM) projects still in the works to put the foundation in place) I don’t think that this will cross into the majority this year, but there will be a lot of projects going on.
  • Discovery – Finding ideas, people, and information internally is coming. While collaboration is typically within the known product development or engineering team, discovery extends this to a broader group. I think we will see progress on this in 2011. This can start relatively easy with discussion groups and innovation portals. I see a lot of companies experimenting with this. I believe a lot of this will be internally focused, however, which doesn’t stretch business models or existing processes but enhances them.
  • Product Knowledge Management -This is an interesting one, and I think it will take longer. The promise here is not only to collaborate and discover, but to capture that interaction for future reference. This requires integrating the interactions back into the product record and storing them. The value is there, but it has to be done in a coordinated, integrated fashion so will take longer (in my opinion).
  • Community, VOC, New IP -Developing external communities and gathering ideas from the outside is something I have always said will take longer. I am rethinking that. It requires people to think differently and develop new business models. But I have seen innovative companies get behind this.  For example, Kimberly-Clark talks about an innovative program in this interview. My opinion has changed as I view this as a standalone initiative. Full integration to innovation processes and NPD (and particularly engineering) will likely take longer, but a good idea that doesn’t require a huge investment is not going to wait in an innovative company. I see vendors like Brightidea, Congistreamer, Imaginatik, Spigit, and a host of others making an impact here in addition to the traditional companies.

Implications for Manufacturers

Things are happening. The world is changing the way we communicate, and the leaders will find a way to be more innovative and drive higher levels of profitability. Innovation has started and will continue. When? That is the big question. My crystal ball only works backwards (researching what has already happened). But I think we will see a lot of progress this year. Check back with me in 2012 when my crystal ball (aka rearview mirror) is working.

So those are my thoughts for 2011, I hope you found it interesting. Let me know what you think, or more importantly what you are planning to do about it!