Why Social Networking in PLM is More than Just Collaboration


What I learned this week … came as the result of a conversation I had recently with some of the people I know who are passionate about the use of social computing to improve product development. The examples that we kept discussing were good, but to me I kept hearing about better collaboration. Important, but from my use of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I kept feeling like there was more to it that I wasn’t able to articulate. In one of those “aha” moments (aided by one of my favorite innovation tools, the white board) I finally got it. I would like to share that with you if I can.

Whiteboard Discovery

Why Social Networking Complements Traditional Collaboration
After trying to crystallize my thoughts on this for a few months now, I think I have come to the essence of why social networking adds significantly to current the current capabilities of PLM:

  • Collaboration – Working and sharing ideas with people you already know
  • Social Networking in PLMdiscovering new people and ideas that can further your product innovation and engineering efforts

In short, the difference is about discovery. PLM today offers great ways to share product data and 3D visual
product representations with others. Redlining, mockups, visualization, and other collaborative techniques help companies develop better products (and develop them faster). This is an important aspect of PLM, because it empowers cross-functional teams to work on the same information and share ideas. Given today’s global, dispersed product teams this is a necessity. Taking to the next level, it helps manufacturers work more closely with suppliers
and customers, allowing them to develop different aspects of a product in parallel but still stay in sync. Many manufacturers are already collaborating effectively internally and externally with some great results including better products that are being brought to the market much faster than before.

So Why Social Networking? Why Discovery?
The “aha” for me was looking back on my time at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and our use
of Lotus Notes. When we wanted to find out where the expertise was in our vast (even then) network of information and people, you could search a database and find relevant projects and information. It was not perfect, but it helped you uncover important information. But, that wasn’t the value. The value was finding the people associated with the projects and clients, and then tapping into them. It gave us the ability to:

  1. Find relevant projects or information
  2. Review the information (if authorized) and learn from their documented
  3. Find out who was involved

But of course what was documented was far less than what the person really knew. Now, extend that capability with an ability to:

  1. Communicate with that person
  2. Tap into that person’s extended network to discover even more ideas and people

Now we are talking about significantly greater business value because social networking drives discovery. This discovery includes leveraging what some call “weak links,” which are people that are in your extended network that you don’t know well enough to know what they know (grossly paraphrased and interpreted compared to the original, with apologies). And then after we discover new ideas and the people that have
them … drum roll please … we start collaborating
. And social computing capabilities alongside “traditional” collaboration step in to make that work even better. Brilliant!

Perhaps I am just slower on the uptake than the rest of our community and this has been obvious to others for a while. But to me, I don’t like to bite on using technology for the sake of technology, and this is the first time it is crystal clear in my mind why social networking in PLM is:

  • More than just collaboration
  • Makes collaboration better
  • A significant, complementary addition to the PLM toolset
  • An important evolution in PLM (processes and tools)
  • Here to stay

Implications for Manufacturers?
I believe this is a significant evolution for PLM. It does not replace the core PLM capabilities that companies need, including product data management (PDM), project and portfolio management, business process automation, or countless others. It doesn’t even replace collaboration. What it does is draw more innovative ideas and people into your product innovation, product development, and engineering processes. And then,
yes, social computing capabilities like chat, presence detection, threaded discussion, unified communication (and more) can help better enable companies to collaborate. But to me, the real opportunity is that it can do more – it can help a manufacturer find out who they should be collaborating with in the first place!

So that is what I learned this week, I hope you found it interesting and share my excitement for this new development. Let me know what you think.

Note: This post was originally posted in my blog on Manufacturing Business Technology, reposted here in parallel