How to eliminate PLM customization problems?

March 28, 2014

plm-customization

I’m following strategic visions of the major PLM vendors 2014+ publication by Jim Brown – well known analyst and my blogging buddy for last few years. It started as a publication covering Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, Siemens (vendors listed alphabetically). Last week, Jim expanded his PLM vision publications by adding Aras Innovator to the list. Navigate here to read about Aras 2014+ vision. Aras is well known by their Enterprise Open Source strategy. One of the interesting differentiation I captured in Jim’s article is related to Aras’ strategy to break rules of PLM customization. Here is the passage:

Aras has decided to break the rules [of PLM customization]. They aim to become the PLM company that defies the conundrum, allowing manufacturers to customize their software and still upgrade to future releases without major disruption. They can do this because customers can update the data schema, business rules, workflows, and forms without jeopardizing the integrity of the system. How does this work? Aras’ XML-based, model-oriented approach coupled with their willingness to provide customers with the business flexibility and tools to make it feasible. Aras has effectively morphed themselves into a PLM Platform with solid core functionality with a built in ability to be extended by customers and partners. To put this strategy into action, they have told me they are “putting their money where their mouth is.” They now include upgrade services as a part of their subscription service. I haven’t seen that from anyone else anywhere, particularly while encouraging people to enhance and modify the package. This is a clear differentiator and makes Aras unique in the PLM market.

PLM customization is a tricky deal. Honestly, nobody is dreaming to make PLM implementation with zero customization effort. It all starts from flexible data modeling, which imply certain level of data customization. Time ago, I posted – Is PLM customization a data management Titanic? Earlier this year, I’ve been discussing options and reasons on How to de-customize PLM? The story of PLM customization is tightly related to PLM system flexibility data modeling. Typically, every PLM implementation contains some portion of customization that usually done by service organization and/or internal IT department. Lifecycle rules, data import, workflows, integration with other enterprise systems – this is only a very short list of customizations done during PLM deployment. Another huge aspect of customization is related to system upgrades. That one is actually mentioned by Jim Brown in his Aras’ review.

So, is there a way to solve customization problem? In my view, the answer is – it depends. In my view, you cannot eliminate specific implementation activities. Adding of new features and infrastructure technologies (eg. RDBMS) will require certain upgrade activity to happen. However, if you are selling services, the interest will be to optimize this work. Cloud vendors have similar incentive to optimize infrastructure upgrades and maintenance, otherwise operational cost will go up. So, smart technology can optimize cost and customization efforts.

What is my conclusion? Business and technology are going together. To have good business incentive to optimize technologies is always helpful and can put pressure on development organization to optimize cost of infrastructure upgrades. Service based offering (open source and cloud) are two great examples where business interests of vendors and customers are going at the same direction. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Do We Need Engineering Note App?

March 27, 2014

engineering-notes-app

Yesterday’s post about how engineers can collaborate in the office, made me think about another aspect of collaboration – taking notes. You may argue… Taking notes isn’t specifically collaborative activity. However, I can see it very tightly coupled with our ability to communicate and collaborate.

There are lots of applications for notes taking these days. Just to mention few of them – Evernote, OneNote, Word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and Google Docs. You can see a comparison of some popular applications here. Mobile is another interesting platform today for notes taking and it created a separate niche. Take a look here – Five best mobile note taking apps. Expanding even more, Evernote is transforming into platform and allows to other development specific note taking apps – The Best Evernote Apps for Organizing Even More of Your Life.

Do you think engineers are taking notes? I think, they do. I have to admit that I do… I also know few other engineers that taking notes. Now think about engineers using CAD systems and many other engineering and manufacturing applications. Do they need a special application to take notes? Maybe CAD should develop "note function"? Maybe new social collaboration tools will provide it? I don’t know. Nevertheless, I want to outline some specific functional requirements for engineering notes app:

1- Engineering context support. When you take notes, you want to be able to capture snippet of a specific content coming from CAD and maybe other engineering content creation tools (analysis, bill of materials, etc.)

2- Integrated camera for 3D, photo, voice and video capturing. It is very important to be able to capture real world content. Engineers can take this app to field trips or use it at shop floor. Ability to take photo, video or even capturing 3D model is extremely useful.

3 – Integrated measurement tools. Measurement is another aspect of engineering activity. To have ability to take measurement in the field or check dimensions can be extremely important.

What is my conclusion? There are lots of general purpose application for taking notes. Nevertheless, I think, customization is important. To have note taking app tailored for the needs of engineers can be an interesting option. Especially, if this app will support a specific engineering context. If you know one, please let me know. I didn’t find it yet. How to make this app? This is a tricky question. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


CAD and Future Office Design Walls

March 26, 2014

cad-office-design-walls

Collaboration is inspiring. It is very overloaded word in engineering space. Collaboration is often used in the context of CAD, design and engineering environment to allow engineers and other people to work together when they are located remotely and disconnected from each other. This is sort of mainstream collaboration scenario – to connect people.

While, this is absolutely true and important, I want to raise another perspective on collaboration. What about people working in the same office? How team of designers located in the same office can collaborate and discuss their ideas. What can help to the team to exchange information and discuss what they do. You may think – it is not a problem. When people co-located, the collaboration is not an issue. I don’t think. Sharing information together in the same place, exchanging ideas and discussion design options can be equally hard.

I’ve been thinking about office collaboration comparing it to our home communication. Our homes are getting more and more digital these days. Think about such a popular communication as photo sharing. Everybody knows Facebook, Instagram and other social apps. I’m sure you use it a lot, but it is mostly imply to the situation when you share photos with people connected by internet. However, rules are different if you are at house or in the party. You want to exchange photos and information. Facebook is too complex and won’t provide you the way to collaborate. My attention caught by Google Photowall announcement. This application allows you to share and stream information from multiple mobile devices to Chromecast player connected to TV set. Read more here. The following video give you an idea how it can work:

Google Photowall app made me think about potential opportunity to help engineers and designers to collaborate at office. Are you familiar with the way people stick drawings on office walls for review and discuss design options? What is you can replace it with special "design wall" collaboration app that will beam drawings on the screen from multiple devices and computers? It can be scalable, easy and won’t require to print paper and stick it on the wall. To me it sounds like a good digital alternative for 21st century.

What is my conclusion? We are moving into digital life everywhere. Screen size is getting bigger. New visual experience will replace the traditional paper communication. It is fascinating to see how it will happen. It is not in the future. It is here and coming. Just my thoughts…

Oleg


Will cloud PLM go shadow?

March 25, 2014

plm-shadow-it

If you are not familiar with the term "Shadow IT", you better do. The term is not completely new. Wikipedia article provides definition and speaks about different aspects of shadow IT activities. Interesting enough it has both negative and positive aspects. While (in general) usage of non-approved by IT applications is not a good things, it provoke innovation and overall tech progress.

Shadow IT is a term often used to describe IT systems and IT solutions built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. It is also used, along with the term "Stealth IT," to describe solutions specified and deployed by departments other than the IT department. Shadow IT is considered by many an important source for innovation and such systems may turn out to be prototypes for future approved IT solutions. On the other side, shadow IT solutions are not often in line with the organization’s requirements for control, documentation, security, reliability, etc., although these issues can apply equally to authorized IT solutions.

Lately, the wide spread of SaaS application created a new dangerous trend in the development of shadow IT. At the same time, it introduced a new opportunity for innovation. My attention caught the article speaking about research McAfee did together with Frost & Sullivan- The Hidden Truth Behind Shadow IT. You can download research here. It provides some very interesting numbers about adoption and usage of non-approved SaaS applications.

non-approved-app-usage

It is not surprising, but IT people itself are representing a significant portion of non-approved SaaS applications usage. Also, not very surprising the categories of applications.

types-of-non-approved-app-usage

Nevertheless, I found the follow passage the most important. The reason for high interested in SaaS application fast adoption is the fact they people just want to get a job done. For most of them IT approval is an overhead and extra work.

What drives employees to “go rogue”? Is it boredom? Restless energy? A desire to rebel? Alas, the truth is less romantic. It turns out users overwhelmingly turn to non-approved apps for one reason: they need to get their jobs done. As shown in Figure 3 below, the top drivers cited by both LoB and IT respondents are related to gaining access to the right tools, fast. Nearly half of respondents indicate a comfort level with their preferred software package. While whimsical personal preferences may play a role, it is equally likely that respondents’ familiarity with a package means they can avoid a learning curve and thus get their work done more quickly. Users also cite slow approval processes for new software, and inadequacies of “approved” software.

So, here is the question – what does it mean for future of cloud PLM? Usually, product lifecycle management programs are going through long process of evaluation, approval and implementation. I can see two potential scenarios in which cloud PLM activities can go shadow. First one is related to activity driven by departments and/or divisions. At the time, department finds difficult to get everybody aligned, implementation of cloud PLM can be a good alternative to have usage and get job done. Another one is individual productivity and cross company usage. Think about supply chain scenarios, for example. In the case BOM planner can achieve better collaboration with other suppliers, he can decide to use cloud PLM without getting company and IT aligned.

What is my conclusion? I want to differentiate PLM business strategy and PLM software. Business strategy requires alignment, planning and getting everybody on board. The situation is different with PLM software. In my view, it should be first about getting job done. Today’s perception of PLM software to be slow, complicated and expensive. Cloud is going to change that. In the past, popular software was very often stolen. In the world of SaaS, non-approved and free software is probably a good starting point for future success. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How not to miss PLM future?

March 23, 2014

plm-future-strategy

The world around us is very disruptive these days. Nothing stands still. You cannot stop innovation and progress. Engineering and manufacturing software is not fastest changing domains. It explained by slow changing process, high level of complexity in product development and significant capital investment manufacturing companies made in existing PLM and other enterprise software. Nevertheless, to think PLM will stand still is probably a mistake that potentially can happen in the community PLM vendors and experts.

I’ve been reading Google CEO Larry Page Spoke At TED article. Unfortunately, TED didn’t stream his talk, so everything based on twitter stream. My favorite passage was related to the Page’s explanation about why companies are failing. Here is the quote:

"The main thing that has caused companies to fail, in my view, is that they missed the future," Page said.

larry-page-why-companies-miss-future

The article made me think about what potential "future" that PLM companies can miss today in our fast moving engineering and manufacturing software ecosystem. So, I decided to look into my ‘crystal ball’ today and pickup top 3 things that potentially can be missed by PLM vendors:

1- Downturn in premium price of PLM software

The price of PLM software is a challenging factor. Which is true, in general, about enterprise software. I think, customers are worrying about what will be total cost of ownership for PLM software. Result – huge interest to develop ‘predictable business models’, which include scalable parameters identifying how to pay for PLM software. The strategic mistake that can be done by PLM vendors is to miss the point where new TCO models will be conflicting with existing business and revenue models.

2- Switch from data ownership to openness and data share business values

Openness is another heavily discussed topic in engineering software. The demand of customers is not be locked on a specific vendor. The situation when company is using software from different vendors is not rare and if we include supply chain scenarios, openness requirements is probably one of the most critical. However, most of business models today are fundamentally assuming customer lock on a particular type of software, file types, databases, etc. Technology and business disruption in this space can remove lock and become a surprising factor for existing vendors.

3- The importance of vertical integration.

Integration of enterprise business and information systems becomes more and more important. Manufacturing and production environment is moving towards digital forms of mass customization. The involvement of engineers into the process of manufacturing is getting more tight. The future cost saving is in even deeper optimization between product design and manufacturing. By missing the importance of these aspects existing vendors can be outperformed by modern cloud (and not only) vendors and newcomers.

What is my conclusion? Some people calling what happens these days in manufacturing as the next industrial revolution. I don’t want to put specific stickers. Nevertheless, engineering and manufacturing business is getting even more competitive. Internet, cloud, diverse competition, cost pressure and new business models – this is only short list of disruptive factors that will be very important in the future of digital manufacturing. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why PLM vendors might decide to beat Amazon?

March 21, 2014

aws-for-plm-cloud-options

Amazon is an absolutely marketshare leader in cloud computing. Because "cloud" is such a big and vague word these days, we must clarify and say "public cloud". So, you may think for most of us, cloud is equal to Amazon. AWS EC2 allows us to spin new servers quickly and provide great services to everybody interested in development of SaaS packages.

Not so fast… Questions are coming too. I can see two major ones – cost and strategy. I’ve been posted Cloud PLM and battle for cost recently. Amazon public cloud is coming with challenging cost sticker to some of us. Strategy question is connected to many factors – PLM PaaS opportunity, security and storage alternatives. Finally, with huge respect to Amazon, I’m not sure how many CAD / PLM companies are interested in catholic marriage between cloud PLM platforms and AWS. To provide PLM solution independent from Amazon IaaS and to control data storage is an interesting option for many vendors and partners. How to do so? I think, this is part of strategy for every PLM vendor these days looking how to develop long term relationships with manufacturing OEMs and suppliers.

My attention caught Gigaom article – Want to beat Amazon in the cloud? Here are 5 tips. Read the article. It provides some interesting opportunities how to compete AWS. It raises the point that in 2014 AWS became an elastic service commodity competing on cost. This is an interesting quote explaining that -

But fast-forward to 2014: there are dozens of IaaS providers offering similar capabilities. The selling points — like self-service, zero CAPEX and elasticity — that once made the cloud look exciting are not as appealing anymore, and they are no longer the differentiating factors. In the current context, selling cloud for its self-service capabilities is similar to Microsoft trying to sell the latest version of Windows only for its graphical interface.

Cost is important. However, for enterprise, value is often even more important. Therefore, speaking from the perspective of PLM players, my favorite passage is related to how to support scale-up and shared storage:

AWS’s philosophy of throwing more VMs at an application is not ideal in many scenarios. It might work wonders for marketing websites and gaming applications but not for enterprise workloads. Not every customer use case is designed to run on a fleet of servers in a scale-out mode. Provide a mechanism to add additional cores to the CPU, more RAM and storage to the VM involving minimal downtime. The other feature that’s been on the wish list of AWS customers for a long time is shared storage. It’s painful to setup a DB cluster with automatic failover without shared storage.

Here is my point. I think, CAD and PLM vendors will have to discover how to provide a balanced and scalable cloud platform. This platform will have to answer on questions how to scale from the solution for small manufacturers and mid-size companies to enterprise OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. The border between these segments is vague. It is hard to develop two distinct PLM offerings and support two separate platforms. It was hard in the past on premise software and it is even more complicated on the cloud.

What is my conclusion? PLM providers will have to discover how to grow up from AWS-based offering and develop scalable cloud PLM platforms. It must include diverse options for data storage as well as computing power. So, to beat Amazon can be not such a dream option for PLM vendors like it looks from the beginning. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM Return on Mobility Challenges

March 20, 2014

plm-return-on-mobile-tech

Almost two years ago I posted my Mobile PLM gold rush – did vendors miss the point? post. Mobile usage is skyrocketing. It is hard to imagine our lives without mobile devices. Is it a good time to get back to the conversation about PLM, engineers and mobile? What is a special purpose of mobile applications for engineers and product lifecycle management?

I was reading The Future of Enterprise Mobility article earlier this week. Article focuses on the research done by 451 Research and Yankee Group about mobile applications and enterprise. I captured two main challenges – data and device type. First one is easy and complex at the same time – too much data is flowing through mobile devices these days. IT cannot protect the environment from mobile devices- this is a reality. Another one is related to a diverse number of mobile developers – Apple, Samsung, Nokia (Microsoft) ,Blackberry. Here is my favorite passage:

Among the changes Yankee Group looks to take place is that mobile applications will move front and center. It’s only in fairly recent times that the tools to help companies affect this shift have been available. Tools that are both enterprise-grade and that offer the type of agility, scalability and flexibility for enterprises to innovate in a truly mobile-world have not long been a reality. They are beginning to emerge, but enterprises are still being sold either the false promise that traditional approaches have all along allowed this capability or the false compromise that you can’t have both.

Another market change is mobile cloud platforms will look to become the new mobile middleware. New mobile cloud development and infrastructure platforms have emerged during the past 18 months with a steely gaze on the enterprise, on the proliferation of internal and customer-facing applications being considered, and on becoming the new mobile enterprise middleware. By abstracting much of the traditional back-end engineering complexity to cloud-based services, these vendors offer a compelling approach, one that will continue to have market-wide impact and be key to helping enterprises scale not only their applications and projects but also their innovation.

So, what are potential problems and issues vendors are facing developing their mobile strategies. Is it just "another screen" with a little bit different user experience? From my view, many of enterprise people including engineers, this is how mobile devices was perceived for the last few years. Mobile applications for engineers and PLM, specifically, used mobile coolness factor, but didn’t deliver much value. Thinking about that, I thought ROM (Return on Mobility) topic introduced in the article is a good parameter to manage before deciding about future mobile options for PLM and engineers.

The Return on Mobility scorecard is a new research methodology that calculates the value enterprises achieve from their investments in the platforms they use to develop, deploy and manage mobile technologies and services. It’s an ROI specifically for mobility. With the increasing importance of mobile, social and cloud technologies enabling business success, it’s crucial for companies to make the right, informed decisions concerning the solutions and platforms they use. – The focus of the RoM scorecard goes beyond total cost of ownership to measure ROI for enterprises through benefits such as application integration, employee productivity and customer experience.

It made me think what can be an easy ROI from mobile technologies in product development and manufacturing. Here is my guess. Process speed. By increasing and optimizing processes, we can improve decision making and information flow. An example can be ECR/ECO process. Cost of ECO is one of the highest for every manufacturing and development organization. One of the opportunity to get ECO process faster. Email and messaging are two top scored mobile applications. We use it everywhere. It must be a very good way to get people involved into the process and speed process up. For the last years we gathered lots of experience in mobile email. To connect mobile email to ECO process with right context can provide high ROM.

What is my conclusion? In my view, we came to the end of "mobile for the sake of mobile" story. ROM is an absolutely right approach that must be taking into account before every mobile application for engineers will be developed. PLM process speed and specifically ECO/ECN turnaround can be a good application for mobile platforms and tech. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM, Mass Customization and Ugly BOM vertical integration

March 19, 2014

plm-mass-customization-1

A car can be any color as long as it is black. This famous Henry Ford quote speaks about how manufacturing handled customization in the past. That was the era of mass production. The idea of limited customization options combined with high level of standardization and high volumes of batch production allowed to decrease cost and improve productivity. The concept of mass production is applied to different products in process and discrete industries – food, chemicals, fasteners, home appliances and automobiles.

However, mass production is getting less popular these days. What comes next you ask? The next trend in manufacturing is going to be "mass customization". This is the idea of total "custom output". Manufacturing is looking how to create a possibility to produce goods in smaller batches to meet customer specific requirements. Wikipedia article provides a good summary of mass customization concept together with explaining economical value.

The concept of mass customization is attributed to Stan Davis in Future Perfect[2] and was defined by Tseng & Jiao (2001, p. 685) as "producing goods and services to meet individual customer’s needs with near mass production efficiency". Kaplan & Haenlein (2006) concurred, calling it "a strategy that creates value by some form of company-customer interaction at the fabrication and assembly stage of the operations level to create customized products with production cost and monetary price similar to those of mass-produced products". Similarly, McCarthy (2004, p. 348) highlight that mass customization involves balancing operational drivers by defining it as "the capability to manufacture a relatively high volume of product options for a relatively large market (or collection of niche markets) that demands customization, without tradeoffs in cost, delivery and quality".

However, to turn manufacturing from Ford-T production mode to mass-customizable requires lots of changes in the way companies design and build products. My attention caught by McKinsey article – How technology can drive the next wave of mass customization. Read the article and draw your opinion. Author speaks about mass customization trends in manufacturing and how it potentially impact enterprise software and IT. Look on the following picture – the list of "new customizable products" looks very impressive.

plm-mass-customization-options-mckinsey

New technologies in manufacturing are going to make mass production possible – social and crowdsourcing, customer facing product configurators, 3D scanning, dynamic pricing and many others. Clearly, I can see lots of opportunities in new tech development for software and hardware companies. It also requires structural changes in product development and process organization.

You can ask me how is it related to PLM? I’ve been posting about PLM role in mass customization before. PLM becomes one of the most critical drivers in the way development and manufacturing will be organized. Now, I’d like to be more specific. In my view, it is heavily comes down to the way product information and bill of materials related processes will be managed. The ability to have customer facing configurator, with dynamic pricing, optimizing company manufacturing facilities requires significant vertical integration. Today these processes heavily disconnected and implemented in silos. This is not how things should work in 21st century. To connect custom bill of material with specific engineering option and make product delivery lead time short is an interesting process, communication, collaboration and planning challenge. I found the following passage from McKinsey article connected to that -

True scale in mass customization can only be achieved with an integrated approach where technologies complement one another across a company’s various functions to add customization value for the consumer, bring down transaction costs and lead times, and control the cost of customized production

What is my conclusion? Mass customization ends up with ugly bill of materials (BOM) integration challenge. By enabling BOM vertical integration, future PLM systems will make mass customization processes possible, shorten time from the moment customer hits company e-commerce web site and until the moment, product will be shipped. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

[categories Daily PLM Think Tank]


Manufacturing future will depend on solving old PLM/ERP integration problems

March 18, 2014

plm-erp-mes-smart-manufacturing

How to integrated PLM and ERP? This is such an old topic. I’ve been discussing it on the blog so many times. Here are just few of them – The ugly truth about PLM/ERP integration volleyball, BOM and CAD-PDM-PLM-ERP Integration Challenges, 3 steps how to put PLM / ERP each in their place. The good news – the importance of PLM/ERP integration is well known and recognized by everybody. The bad news – it sounds like not solved problem after all years and attempts.

My attention caught last year Wired article – The ‘Smarter’ Manufacturing Enterprise. Article speaks about communicating between devices and people in manufacturing organization and extended enterprise. The common goal – fast production. Speed and efficiency are two factors that rule modern manufacturing and looks like will be even more dominant factors in the future.

However, every manufacturing today is managed by multiple enterprise systems. Communication and integration between these systems will be a show stopper to make the future smart manufacturing dream into reality. Here is my favorite passage from the article.

Why are serious people talking about this now? Because for the first time, the essential technologies that make it possible finally exist at all levels, across not only the factory, but up and down the entire enterprise. Intelligence permeates every corner of today’s manufacturing enterprise, from the RFID tag on the part, to the machine that moves it on the production line, to the truck that hauls it away. Now the trick is to make all these systems work in harmony as one.

In other words, the fundamental systems of manufacturing — enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and industrial automation—have to operate together, seamlessly, like a single well-oiled machine.

It made me think again that current PLM/ERP integration model with complicated data synchronization is bad and won’t work for future of manufacturing. It is heavily relies on the idea of data synchronization and replication between systems. It is too costly to implement and maintain. It is sometimes too slow and requires lots of data manipulation and transformation.

What is my conclusion? Previous siloed enterprise models used data ownership as one of the fundamental models. To own data and allow access in a silo (such as PLM, ERP or MES) was one of the first priorities. Today and tomorrow the speed of communication will be more important. To make collaboration and communication fast will be a criteria for future models to survive. For manufacturing companies and PLM vendors today it means one simple thing – to fix old PLM/ERP integration problems. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration?

March 14, 2014

email-message-collaboration

We are really bad about managing ourselves. The natural people behavior is to create mess. Life is getting more dynamic these days. We are swamped into the ocean of information, data streams, social networks, emails, calls, etc. If you want me to do something, send me an email. I’m pretty sure you are familiar with such type of behavior? I’m sure you do. This is our way to get our of mess, so we can track everything. It is true for both private and business life. One of the most requested feature in all PLM workflow systems I developed was to send notifications via email. HRB article Stop using your inbox as to-do list speaks about why we should stop this bad behavior. I liked the following passage:

The reason so many of us fall into the trap of conflating email and task management is that email is inextricable from much of what we do in work and in life: many of our tasks arrive in the form of email messages, and many other tasks require reading or sending emails as part of getting that work done.

While there are those who solve this problem by simply tracking their to-dos using the task manager within Outlook (or another email platform), that approach comes at too steep a cost. Keeping your tasks in your email program means you can’t close that program (and its attendant distractions) when you want to plow through your task list. Having both activities as part of one application also means that you’ll still have to flip from one view to the other; even if you open a separate window for your task list, you risk losing sight of it in a sea of open emails. Most crucially, defaulting to the task manager that is built into your email client means you don’t get to choose the particular task manager that works best for your particular kind of work, or work style.

Email became the pile of all activities I need to do. It is a mix of emails, tasks, alerts and everything else that eventually comes to my inbox to distract me. I want to resolve this mess. At the same time we all panic when messages are starting to come into multiple channels, since we are afraid to miss them. So want both – to keep all messaging activities together and focus on what is important and what needs to be done. It is a time to come with David Allen’s Getting Things Done method. Such method and systems can work for individuals, but what happens in groups, especially when these groups are sharing common tasks? This is where we get social these days.

Social became such a buzzword for the last few years. How many times you’ve heard "Facebook for xyz" or "Twitter for abc". I guess a lot… One of the companies that comes to my mind in that context is Yammer. The idea of Yammer was simple – go viral by combining people messages in activity streams. Microsoft snapped Yammer for $1.2B few years ago. Now Microsoft is converging Yammer with SharePoint – an attempt to create social collaboration system. Mobile has very strong impact on our life these days. Does mobile+social is a future big deal? For some of people it is really big deal – especially when we speak about Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Companies are recognizing the importance of messaging platforms. Example in engineering and CAD space – Autodesk (disclose – my current employer) just released mobile group messaging application Autodesk Instant.

So, social chat, social messaging, social networking are good. However, where is the line that turns emails and messaging into collaboration? The difference is big. What can differentiate between social email facilitating communication and system that allows people to collaborate (work together)? I posted Will Microsoft-Yammer kill social PLM? Not yet… The topic differentiating messaging and collaboration is context (piece of data). This data is presented in a contextual form allowing people to make operations and activities together. The simplest "collaboration" is commenting on Facebook photo. In the context of engineering activity, it can be more complex. What about drawing or 3D model? This is a good context for common work. So, collaborative nature of the system is first of all to allow access and common activity on the contextual data. Technically it can be done by sending email with link to the file on FTP site. But it is so 95…

What is my conclusion? I don’t think there is a clear boarder between email,messaging and collaboration. It is blurred. However, access to contextual information and data representations such as photo, spreadsheet, drawing or 3D model is the most important thing that differentiate between any type of fancy email / messaging and collaboration. By accessing these pieces of information together people can work together and get job done in an organized form. Engineers are surrounded by huge amount of complex information. So, collaboration is clearly way to go. However, don’t underestimate simple messaging, especially for some downstream tasks. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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