Social Software and PLM – Gap Filler or Intelligent Network?


What I learned this week … came from a great post on Hypertextual titled Positioning with other IT systems: the liquid nature of Enterprise 2.0. I really enjoyed reading the post, and some of the underlying information linked to it including How Enterprise 2.0 fosters Knowledge Capture. There are some very powerful thoughts here. I think the post does a fantastic job of discussing the value that social computing has to offer PLM (and other applications such as ERP, SCM, and CRM). I see things slightly differently regarding social computing and PLM, but I believe it is in a complementary not a conflicting way. I will respond to the post directly, but I felt I had more to say than I could fit into a comment so decided to share here.

Enterprise Applications Roles

To summarize a few key background points from the post (please read the post, it is worth your time and I will not do it full justice here):

Social Software and Enterprise Applications

More importantly, the Cecil goes further to point out two areas where traditional enterprise applications fall short, and social computing software (what he refers to as “Emergent Social Software Platforms” or “ESSP”) “fill the gap”

  • Tacit Knowledge – This is information that is corporate knowledge, and frequently poorly captured. I love the way Cecil describes the issue; “Some studies show that between 25 and 50% of the communication between knowledge workers remains tacit and uncaptured. The question is how can we be productive and comfortable with our daily work if about half of the raw material we’re working with is wandering around ?.” Knowledge management is a tremendous issue in product innovation, product development, and engineering. In the underlying post on Enterprise 2.0, Cecil says “It is easier and less intimidating for knowledge workers to capture knowledge on collaborative platforms (wiki, blogs, forums etc …)  then on word documents and then knowledge management systems.
  • Communities – Product development is about people, or as I have been known to say “product innovation is a team sport.” Again, I love what Cecil has to say. “ESSP make it easy to build communities which, in the enterprise context, are built around common areas of knowledge, business expertise, and professional know-how. These communities juxtapose different types of experts (technical, marketing, sale, integration) on a specific domain. This allows to build multi-dimensional expertise in very confined and otherwise unreachable locations in the company activity and knowledge map.”

I can’t agree more with what Cecil says about how social computing helps capture tacit knowledge and develop communities. I went back to check, I said almost the exact same things in Going Social with Product Development, although in a different way. What I said is that there are three areas where social computing will help PLM specifically:

  • Enhance product development team execution and collaboration
  • More naturally capture and share product knowledge and expertise
  • Enable the discovery of new IP and product value

I think the alignment with the second point and Cecil’s point on tacit knowledge is clear. My thoughts on communities are represented in both improving collaboration within existing teams, but also discovering new product value through “social discovery.” Please see more detail in the report Tech-Clarity Insight: Going Social with Product Development: Improving Product Development Performance with Social Computing.

My Complementary View

So where do I see things differently? Cecil talks about social computing filling gaps in the enterprise system landscape. In his words, “This provides a liquid nature to ESSPs that helps them to seep in and fill up any gaps left by other systems.” I see this very differently. Maybe it is my old scars from the days when enterprise workflow was going to do the same thing. Instead, I see social computing as a new part of the infrastructure that helps connect and extend applications like PLM into a community. The social software is important, but the product lifecycle management domain expertise is crucial.

What is the key difference in views? Integration. I believe that social software is a part of the answer. But social computing needs to be addressed in the context of PLM. See How Will PLM Get Social? for more of my insight. How will PLM capture knowledge and make it useful unless it is tied back to the underlying product record? It will help, but it will miss the mark. To me, the value in social computing is not as a gap filler. Yes, it fills the gaps of capturing tacit knowledge and developing communities. But instead I see it is a new way to connect and extend PLM to capture and discover knowledge in the context of the product. It is also a way to improve collaboration in the product development community. Perhaps Cecil will agree, we may just be looking at different aspects of the same topic.

Implications for Manufacturers

If you have read this far, you clearly have an interest in the intersection of social computing and PLM. I have only one piece of advise. Keep learning. This is going to have a big impact on how companies innovate and bring products to market, and the manufacturers that are experimenting with social computing techniques in PLM and developing corporate understanding will have a big advantage in the future. We don’t know what that future will look like, but I can tell you it will be different and you don’t want to be caught left behind. On this point, I believe Cecil would probably echo my thoughts. And if you haven’t read his posts yet, go back and learn from them. There is a lot you can take away from his posts.

So that is what I learned from Cecil on Hypertextual (Merci Cecil!) along with some of my perspective. I hope you found it interesting. Let us know what you think.