What I learned this week…is that it is really fun to pick on Facebook because it doesn’t have the capabilities to support product innovation, product development, and engineering. Of course, it was never intended to and that is probably not a market that they are really very interested in. But it is fun, and also helps to bring home some of the requirements that are important for social computing in PLM. This post started as a reply to Stan’s comment on my not building an airplane on Facebook post, and I realized after about 17 pages of comments that maybe I had better turn it into a blog post. Thank you Stan for bringing up a lot of very good questions.
Some Good Questions
Stan brought up a lot of good questions. Some I have thoughts for, others are just good questions that will require the thoughtful development of a solution – one that works in the real, complicated world of product innovation, product development, and engineering (and yes, just to take one more shot at it, that is not Facebook). I have pulled out what I consider some core questions from the comment and offered my thoughts below (hopefully well paraphrased):
How do we have Time to Pay Attention to This (in addition to everything else)?
People will make time for what is valuable. If people can get the information they need faster through social computing capabilities, then it will pay for itself. If we can eliminate 90% of status e-mails (and their redundant replies) then we will save time overall. Or, if we gain access to technical, market, or customer insight that we didn’t have access to before, the value will come in more profitable products. Social computing should be replacing innefficient communications and processes with more efficient and/or more effective ones. If not, it is just a sinkhole for time. As much fun as it might be to share Dilbert cartoons with coworkers, social computing in PLM must focus on enhancing communication and collaboration in a business context.
What Good is Sharing Status Updates (like Facebook)?
I believe status, even like Twitter or Facebook, can offer business value. But it has to be status in a business context – not a social context. For example, there is little business value in me knowing that you are visiting your son for the holidays. But if we are coworkers and I know you are visiting one of our key suppliers next week, I might be able to leverage your visit to accomplish some of my goals with that company as well. Or if we are on a project together and you say “I am redesigning the left widget today,” I might really like to know that because I am working on the right widget, and we may be making incompatible decisions. Considering the distance between team members these days (globalization, outsourcing, etc.) I probably won’t hear about this at the water cooler or over the cube wall, but maybe on a “social” network we are both on for our project. This is where a company today could use an internal tool like Yammer or maybe even SharePoint.
What Good is Sharing Photos (like Facebook)?
I think the commenter may have been baiting me with this one. Sharing product information visually can go a long way. Whether it’s a 3D representation of my widget (with rotation, sectioning, measurement, explosion, etc.) or something simple like sharing a photo of some sketched artwork for the packaging, the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousdand words” rings very true in product development – particularly product development across language and cultural boundaries. Even Facebook photos (or Twitpics) could help here.
What about Security and Protecting IP?
Now, we start getting to some hard questions. If we believe that some of the things above are useful, we probably also believe that we only want to share the information with the right people. On Facebook, it might just be our competitors as easily as it is our coworkers. Or on Twitter, we are just posting into the public timeline (viewable by all, unless you protect your updates which makes it much less useful overall). Today’s social networkings are just not built to handle the kind of robust data access needs that you would find in a product development/engineering environment. What about auditability? Revision control? Regulations like ITAR? Nope, not yet – and probably not ever for a “social” social computing tool as opposed to a “business-oriented” social computing tool, or even a “PLM-oriented” social computing tool (through development or extension of an existing platform).
So that is what I learned this week, I hope you found it interesting. Thanks to Stan for his thought-provoking questions, and thanks to Facebook for being such an easy target. I doubt their product managers are reading this, but if you are please know that I realize you never intended to support these kinds of requirements. Well, except for stability, and I know you will get that right eventually. Let me know what you think.