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Social PLM Model Gets a Reality Check

By Marlee Rosen

Product lifecycle management (PLM) can provide the ability to boost development speed, enhance customer satisfaction, optimize operations, and create new revenue generation opportunities. However, several challenges have cropped up to complicate the process in recent years, including:

·Product designers and engineers managing their company’s PLM are becoming increasingly mobile or distributed.

·An aging engineering workforce prompts the need to capture their knowledge and pass it on to younger engineers.

·The role of IT is expanding–thanks to social IT networking and collaboration tools deployed in other departments.

When you add to the mix the sophistication of today’s product development processes, it is easy to see how teams can feel overwhelmed by the options to address these challenges, especially while dealing with security and being in compliance.

The innovation of collaboration tools, which historically began with email, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, instant messaging, LinkedIn, wikis, and other social forums are further progressing into next-generation collaboration dashboards. The idea is to provide companies with real-time visibility to product data and share information across planning, design, costing, sourcing, manufacturing and logistics.

There is no doubt that collaboration tools are quickly evolving and helping growing companies to create even better and more effective “virtual teams.” The extended reach of these virtual teams have advanced as well, to include internal employees, a company’s supply chain partners–vendors, outsourced services, distribution houses, consultants, integrators, distributors, etc.–and even customers, private-labeled partners and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This results in bringing together the right people at the right time, even when they are in different locations to deliver higher productivity, operation optimization and often more creativity in product designs and innovation. According to ARC Advisory Group, collaboration is driving better business performance because it enables teams to tackle business challenges more effectively, speeding up decision-making and transforming key activities like new product development.

The Social Computing Era

The emergence of Web 2.0 capabilities has taken center stage in positioning widespread adoption of social computing–where individuals, at home or at work, can easily and simply engage with peers and colleagues. According to ARC Advisory Group, what we are witnessing is the convergence of social real-time collaboration and PLM across product development organizations in connecting the people and the products they develop to create communities that solve problems and develop product ideas.

There are PLM vendors along various points of the spectrum, from Dassault Systemes promoting its Social 3DExperience platform to PTC and Autodesk with Social PLM to Omnify Software’s Social Collaboration Portal.

In reality, the use of social media in product design still has a long way to go in terms of adoption. Companies are using social media as a low-cost way to broadcast a message, but not necessarily as a means of collecting customer input that can be turned into valuable information. Josh Bernoff, senior vice president, Idea Development at Forrester Research, puts it more bluntly: “We’re several years into the social marketing boom, but still many executives are going about social strategy backward: picking technologies like Facebook or Twitter first instead of focusing on what they want to accomplish.”

Omnify Software advocates conducting perception studies with customers to prioritize how its social dashboard could provide the most value. The firm went about identifying how users would want to communicate PLM data with suppliers, customers, manufacturing partners, and other external resources, and uncovered that customers want a web-based social platform that can allow for communicating product information in a secure environment that eliminates the need for partners to directly access their Omnify Empower system.

Omnify partnered with Sabisu, a social business platform provider that makes complex operational environments manageable. Their work together has yielded a social business portal that eliminates the use of emails and spreadsheets to share information with external resources, and instead provides the ability for these channels to access real-time information.

Social Networking Tools

Today there is even more sharing and shifting of power from marketers to customers where the manufacturer can’t afford to ignore customer sentiments that are presented through the conversations going on in the social media sphere. According to ARC Advisory Group, soliciting these conversations, paying attention to the advice and integrating them into the product lifecycle, will save manufacturers marketing dollars.

Social Collaboration and Global Outsourcing

Sourcing advisory firm ISG reports that social media collaboration, mobility, cloud computing and big data are the key factors that have affected global outsourcing during 2012 and will reshape outsourcing in the long term. Companies will use collaboration tools to accelerate growth by using the skills and knowledge of suppliers, partners and customers in an “extended enterprise.”

In her books, Patricia Seybold, a strategic business and technology consulting/research consultant, coined the process term for this as “Outside Innovation.” PLM customers often outsource functions, whether engineering, manufacturing or logistics, to gain greater scale or reduce costs.

The speed of product design into a life-cycle process is hastened through the addition of social technologies and the impact they can bring. Innovation management is a critical business process that is most effective when implemented as an end-to-end continuous process driven by a culture of innovation and enabled by technology. According to Michael Fauscette, group vice president, Software Business Solutions at IDC, “building a collaborative enterprise is about a lot more than just some new software tools, it’s about fundamental changes to culture and behavior.” There are four phases of innovation management: idea-source, develop, produce and feedback, built on new social technologies that are integrated across a business. Such an approach will help companies compete more effectively in the rapidly changing global, hyper-connected business environment we have today.”

It’s not a revelation to see PLM slowly adopting social habits, just like some other enterprise processes and tools. Manufacturing industries and engineers have been slower in adoption than marketers and media. Managing security and compliance continues to be one of main struggles. There are real risks to using social media, ranging from damaging the brand to exposing proprietary information to inviting lawsuits. Even the most responsible employees have lapses in judgment, make mistakes or behave emotionally.

Dealing with a confidential design comment in the office is one thing; if the comment or slip up on providing confidential product design details is made on a work-related social media account, then it’s out there, and it most likely can’t be retrieved. Most industry experts agree that without putting in place a social media policy for your enterprise, you may be inviting disaster. Companies need to spell out and be up front with the goals and parameters of its social media initiative. Otherwise they are not properly mitigating risk. It is important to predetermine who is allowed to use social media on behalf of the organization and what they’re allowed to share.

Bertrand Sicot, CEO of SolidWorks, understands that while people still have some insecurity about data sharing in the cloud, the general belief is that more and more people are growing more comfortable about using it: “Regardless of the platform, our customers are always ensuring their IP is protected.” He continues, “there is a bigger concern when data residing outside their infrastructure is contemplated. We have seen a similar scenario with how unsure we were about conducting online banking just a few years back and now people have come to embrace it. We anticipate the same will happen in our industry. People in time will become more comfortable with the security put in place to protect their designs.”

Social media and collaboration tools are changing how product development was once regarded. Gone are the days of the closed-door, experts-only approach to designing products. There is a new force made up of social-savvy mobile employees. PLM users have no choice but to expand, rethink implementation strategies, plans, and embrace the fundamental shifts in PLM enabling technologies and their use for collaboration.

Experts are concluding that the enterprises that seize the opportunities offered by these shifts in PLM software models enabled by social business tools–in particular, leveraging their mobile connected workforce will be in a better position to utilize new collaborative skills being brought to the workplace and will result in better engineered products. DE

Marlee Rosen is an industry market researcher. She wrote this article on behalf of Omnify Software. Contact her via de-editors@deskeng.com.

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This article was contributed to Digital Engineering by a guest author.