Engineers and email workhorse

August 27, 2014

email-workhorse-plm

We love and hate email at the same time. Since early beginning (back in 1962) email remains one of the fundamental ways of electronic communication. One of the major email transformation back in 1990s was influence of internet and significant expansion of email content and functionality.

In the world of software vendors banking on collaboration, the death of email was predicted long time ago. Engineering software (CAD and PLM) vendors are part of that group. The need to transfer large CAD files was on of the most critical reasons used by companies developing PDM/PLM software against email in communication and collaboration.

Nevertheless, despite all predictions, email is alive and transforming. I’ve been reading Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet. Article explains why email will never die and provides a very good set of arguments to support that statement. Here is my favorite passage:

You can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the Internet, and I mean that as a compliment. This resilience is a good thing. Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled "web we lost." It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

Speaking about email transformation, I want to mention (again) the strategy of "unbundling" of email. The article brings few interesting examples of email unbundling – newsfeed, identification platform, direct social communication, digital package delivery service, business and work communication, etc. However, one of the key issues related to remaining popularity of email is the role email plays as a communication platform. The main point here is how to make communication smarter. Here is an interesting explanation from the same article:

This change might be accelerated by services like Gmail’s Priority Inbox, which sorts mail neatly (and automatically) into categories, or Unroll.me, which allows users to bundle incoming impersonal communications like newsletters and commercial offers into one easy custom publication. That is to say, our inboxes are getting smarter and smarter. Serious tools are being built to help us direct and manage what was once just a chronological flow, which people dammed with inadequate organization systems hoping to survive the flood. (Remember all the folders in desktop email clients!)

I found the topic of "smart communication" interesting. This is can be a refreshing idea. At the end of the day, engineers are looking how to make communication easy and smart. At the same time, the adoption of new communication tools can be hard and limited if you need to communicate across multiple organizations and individual networks. I was discussing some aspects of unbundling in the field of 3D, CAD and PLM. Email or let’s call it engineering communication platform can be another "unbundled" service.

What is my conclusion? Efficient collaboration and communication is a key. PDM/PLM vendors are trying to find a new innovative way to re-invent collaboration. Internet, cloud, social… we’ve heard many names and buzzwords for the last few years. To re-invent communication leveraging email communication platform by making your email inbox smarter can be a refreshing approach. What do you think? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How to re-think activity streams for enterprise?

July 23, 2014

controlled-collaboration

These days manufacturing businesses are more connected than ever before. Every manufacturing company (even smallest startup) has a tremendous need for collaboration – help multiple engineers to get involved into the design process, communication with suppliers, plan manufacturing processes, etc. Social networks and open web inspired many companies to develop collaboration software that mimic consumer social software. One of the main attribute of every social software (Facebook, G+, twitter and others) is so called "activity stream" or "news feed". The trend was strong and produced lots of copycats. The successful and lucky ones got acquired. Many of less successful died.

The idea of activity stream is very powerful. It allows you easy share and consume information. However, here is a thing – it is not protected from "noise vs. signal" problem. The more people you follow – more information will flow into your activity stream(s). You end up with messy stream of information you cannot keep up with. It is probably okay for public news or even for executives in a company interested to keep up with what is going on. However, it is probably not a good experience for engineers that need to work together on the same design or discuss next engineering or manufacturing change request. Also, it is probably not a very useful as a tool to communicate between departments and suppliers. And… this is absolutely wrong model to use for process management.

All problems I mentioned above is actually making the adoption os social system for collaboration questionable. I can see many confirmations to that. CMSWire article The Problem With Yammer? People Don’t Use It speaks exactly about the problem. Here is key passage:

But what if the problem is not about difficulty or learning curves but about culture? What if the problem with Yammer has nothing to do with the product itself and nothing to with usability, but rather with the fact that enterprise workers are holding onto email for dear life and are not prepared to give it up? Microsoft itself appears to be aware of this. The addition of complimentary Yammer for the new Office 365 plans appears to speak to that. However, if Microsoft’s updated offerings are a step in the right direction, they won’t solve the problem of social and collaboration in the enterprise.

Another interesting example – Facebook. Clearly the king of social networks recently introduced simple and very effective feature to get out of noise of your information stream – Save. It can quickly remind you old and well-known list of favorites. Navigate to TNW article – Facebook introduces Save, a new bookmarking feature to help tame your News Feed. Sounds like a simple feature, but it allows you to keep specific post out of noisy channel and focus on them later in a more controlled way.

These and many other examples made me think about what is needed to provide a better way to collaborate. My hunch is that "controlled list of topics" can better serve the need of engineers and other people to work together. How to make it? This is probably more tricky question. I can see it as the next logical step from email that still one of the most favorited tools to communicate. It also reminded me my post Why PLM shouldn’t miss next email move earlier this week.

What is my conclusion? Activity stream is a good way to present flow of information. However, the type of experience it creates is way too open and subject to be affected by information noise. I believe engineering tools should provide more tight way to communicate, exchange information and share data for collaboration purposes. This is main reason people are holding onto email as a best tool. New ways to collaborate is not here… yet. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why PLM shouldn’t miss next email move?

July 18, 2014

plm-email

Email is a king of communication in every company. Many companies are literally run by email. People are using it for different purposes -notification, collaboration and very often even record management. You can hear many discussions about how companies can replace or integrate email with enterprise and social collaboration tools. I captured some of them in my previous blogging: How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration?; PLM Workflows and Google Actionable Emails; DIY PLM and Zero Email Policy; PLM Messaging and WhatsApp Moment.

You may think email doesn’t change. I wanted to share with you two interesting examples related to changes and innovation in email that caught my attention for the last few weeks. The Verge article speaks about Gmail API announcement.

Google announced that any app could now talk to Gmail using today’s faster, more modern languages — languages that every web developer speaks. The Gmail API lets you ask Google for threads, messages, drafts, and labels three to ten times faster than with IMAP. What it can do is provide an interface for any app to interact on a small scale with your Gmail account without having to create an entire mail client. When that happens, Google won’t have replaced email — it will have actually extended it. Instead of killing email as some hoped it would, the Gmail API gives email new life.

The following video present some additional details about Gmail API usage. Take 5 minutes to watch it, especially places where video speaks about integration between Gmail and enterprise systems.

Another example comes from TNW article – Inbox launches as an open-source email platform to replace legacy protocols.

A new startup, Inbox, is launching its “next-generation email platform” as an alternative to aging protocols like IMAP and SMTP. The core of Inbox’s efforts is an Inbox Sync Engine for developers that adds a modern API on top of mail providers, including Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com.

As stated in the article, Inbox is a platform play. The intent of founders is to create new generation of messaging platform. And it is an open source play. The first step for Inbox is to create Sync engine that can expose existing email providers:

The core of Inbox is an open source sync engine that integrates with existing email services like Gmail, and exposes a beautiful, modern REST API. We’re pleased to announce that beginning today, you can download the Inbox engine, sync an account, and begin building on top of Inbox in your local development environment.

These articles made me think about a potential play PLM and engineering application can make by building their collaboration application tightly integrated with email services. It will allow better communication for people and ease of data integration between PLM solutions and communication platforms such as emails. You may see it as a pure technical play. Who cares how to integrate email and data? However, in my view, this is a place where differentiation in user experience and seamless data integration can become a critical to drive user adoption.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to change people’s habits. Email is part of our every day routine. Existing systems are integrated with email, but the way it done as well as the level of data integration is very sporadic. Lots of unstructured data about customers, engineering decisions, requirements and many others stuck in the email and lost there forever. New email approach may help to have transparent and seamless integration between business applications and email. It can make a difference for users. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Design Collaboration and Google+ Lessons

May 15, 2014

social-design-collaboration

Recent management changes in Google+ attracted lots of conversations about social products experience as well as speculations about Google+ social future. It is also made a reflection on how "social theme" will be developed in enterprise companies. In the past few years we’ve seen few examples of social products for enterprise – eg. ExoPlatform, Jive, SAP Streamwork, Socialcast, Yammer, etc.

CAD / PLM vendors made their experiments and products to bring social theme in designers, engineering and manufacturing communities. The fundamental idea was to leverage all social experience from Web 2.0, social networks and online communication and change the way people communicate in business. We’ve seen few successful product. Few companies got acquired. However, speaking about CAD/PLM specifically, most of products got declined. The adoption level of PLM social initiatives was very low. I wrote about it last year in my post – Why Social PLM 1.0 Failed? In my view, the idea of structured enterprise discussion made a promise to lead re-thinking of social collaboration. However, as we learned from Facebook decline, social communication is getting noisy. Signal to noise ratio is declining and, as a result of that, the attempts of companies to make collaboration easier adopting social networks techniques requires some re-evaluation.

I’ve been reading TheNextWeb blog – Product Lessons We Can Learn from Google+ by Paul Adams. Even the article is very focused on specific Google+ related topics, I found some of them resonating well with what CAD/PLM companies are trying to do in the space of design and product collaboration. I summarized some of my thoughts about that as following 4 major lessons: 1/social collaboration & product silos; 2/ease of use; 3/life is messy; 4/network effect.

1. Social collaboration won’t solve product silos problem.

Design groups, engineering departments and manufacturing companies are running into the same problem of applications and data silos. It is natural to people in different departments and even in the same group to store data differently and use different applications. Application and data interoperability is well known problem. Social tools won’t solve this problem magically. The main goal of social application is to make communication easy. Social design collaboration should provide something beyond traditional data-message-comment user experience from Facebook. To build product focusing on how to improve communication scenario is a key to for social apps to success.

2. Ease of use vs. effort required.

The effort needed to make social design collaboration work is a critical element to success. Significant effort leads to slow adoption and decline in usage. Facebook and other social tools drove the adoption by capturing data (photo, videos) via mobile devices and exposing them directly to people. People stalked photos and videos of close friends, co-workers, ex-girlfriends and other people they barely know. It is fine. And it drove adoption. Designers and engineers is another story. To capture design data is not a simple task. People want to re-use free stuff, but in general protective about IP and work they do. To capture organization structure with all dependencies, groups and authorization is even more complicated. Without these two elements, social design collaboration won’t ramp up.

3. Accept the fact "life is messy"

People don’t like to be organized. If social design collaboration requires formal work organization and getting data under the control, it will hit the wall or rejections. The reality is that data and communication are messy. To accept that and help people to communicate on top of data mess can be a possible approach to start without changing the way people work. By trying to force people and data to order system can get rejected in the same way many other "data management" initiatives got rejected for the last 10-15 years. .

4. Build for network effect

Adoption. Adoption. Adoption. Social tools success is heavily built on network effect. Low adoption is a red flag. The use of social design collaboration should be skyrocketing. If it happens, you are on the right path. If not, check your fundamental assumptions and look for a problem to fix.

What is my conclusion? Technology made a significant impact on the way we communicate. Mobile email, internet, web and cloud file sharing – these are examples of successful technological applications. However, technological changes cannot be applied automatically to all fields. Design and product collaboration is a tricky. It requires deep understanding of data and innovative communication techniques. In my view, simple Facebook copycat won’t work. Innovation will happen – lots of opportunities are still open. Developers need to crack the magic of social design collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Dropbox Harmony will knockdown PLM collaboration

May 1, 2014

File sync and sharing became the most requested feature to enable collaboration. The days when everybody were co-located in the same office and working from desktop computer are gone. According to Forrester review file sync and sharing can bring real business value. One the picture below you can see what are the most typical tasks for users related to file sync and share.

file-sync-share-tasks-forrester

Few days ago, I was reading ReadWrite article about Dropbox "Harmony Project". In a nutshell Dropbox allows to work virtually on the same files, while physically files are synced and distributed across the network via Dropbox. The following quote is important.

Document sharing can still be a painful process, and Project Harmony appears to have some handy features for sidestepping the back-and-forth with emailed documents many people experience in business settings. When Dropbox files sync, a little green check mark appears to let users know everything is uploaded; with Project Harmony, that little checkbox takes center stage.

When a user opens a PowerPoint presentation in Project Harmony, for example, that green check mark lives on the right side of the window. When a collaborator joins that presentation, a plus one (+1) appears. This lets everyone know there is more than one person working on a document, and all involved can use an instant messaging tool right inside the document.

The following picture presents chat window that allows to two people to collaborate on the same document.

dropbox-chat-doc

The source of the picture in the following Dropbox blog article. The new functionality is coming as part of Dropbox for business. While it is clear that main Dropbox goal is to compete with Google Apps/Drive and Microsoft OneDrive and new Office apps, it may provide some benefits to people looking today for PLM software.

PLM is not only about complex 3D models of aircraft and automobile. It is about zillions of other documents – requirements, bill of materials, spec sheets, visualizations, product presentations, etc. These documents are part of the everyday activities in manufacturing companies and engineering organizations. Today, Microsoft Office files and pdf documents are representing a majority of these documents. Excel is clearly a king here. To be able to share bill of materials in Excel via Dropbox and work on this with my supply chain partner, can be an easy option. Yes, it is not fully functioning BOM tool, but to have 80% of functions for near zero price is very cool.

Thinking more about it, I can see some opportunity to use the same technological approach to bring CAD collaboration to the cloud. It will be a bit more tricky to intercept CAD desktop tools to synchronize activities between two desktops, but it is not impossible tech task. While CAD companies are not running fast forward with pure CAD in browser tools, it can be a good technological path to implement collaboration between engineers and re-use Dropbox (or alternative horizontal storage) for files.

What is my conclusion? File sync and share is must have tool to improve the collaboration. The ability to see the same document when working with other people provides huge value and as Google Doc user I can confirm that. To provide an easy path to Excel and maybe desktop CAD users to collaborate via Dropbox for the price of storage can be an interesting tech approach and interesting business opportunity. CAD and PLM collaboration tool will see an additional competitive pressure coming from Dropbox tools. It is a time to think about unique CAD/PLM collaboration features to compete with Dropbox economy of scale. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


How CAD collaboration can avoid competition with OneDrive?

April 15, 2014

web-services-recombination-cad-plm

Collaboration is the name of the game today for many vendors. CAD and PLM vendors are included. Cloud technology is opening many new capabilities to collaborate and it is captured by existing players and newcomers. Sometimes, it happens so fast that it even create an internal competition. Image and Data Manager article Is OneDrive for Business the SharePoint alternative? speaks about interesting transformation that happens these days around file collaboration using Microsoft family of product. We knew about SharePoint capabilities to collaborate and share content (files). However, the new born child – OneDrive is growing fast and potentially can capture some spaces occupied by SharePoint today. I liked the following passage explaining how OneDrive takes on SharePoint:

OneDrive has a very simple interface (one that has been simplified further with recent updates). So it’s easy to upload your files and share them. You can also sync to all your devices, desktop, tablet, smartphone, giving you direct access to your content when you are online or offline. You even have mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows 8 and Windows RT.

OneDrive even has this cool feature that allows you to grab a file from your PC even if you haven’t uploaded it to OneDrive. You have to turn that feature on, but it’s pretty nice to have.

SharePoint’s interface is OK, but it’s the subject of much debate. It’s not very intuitive to use and requires a fair amount of planning and organizing to get it set up in a way that’s easy for people to understand. Getting access to SharePoint on mobile devices has been spotty at best. Access via mobile (tablet or smartphone) has improved a lot with SharePoint 2013, but for those on SharePoint 2010, the story is not so good.

What I learned from this article is that file sharing, collaboration space is getting busy and competitive. Which brings me back to the discussion about specialized CAD collaboration tools. It made me think about some strategies CAD collaboration tools can use in order to avoid frontal competition with OneDrive, Dropbox and other file sharing and sync tools.

The name for this game is "layers". Creating of layered architecture will allow to CAD collaboration tools to store data using OneDrive (or other storage and share service) and, at the same time, enhance it with the data layer providing rich access to CAD specific content, viewer and other CAD data relationships. Think about it in a similar way how Google organized information from web for you. You are not necessarily store data on websites and other locations. Nevertheless Google gives you easy access to this information via different services. The basic service is search. Enhanced services can provide a specific vertical slices of information (think about Google Flight as an example).

What is my conclusion? To separate vertical application and horizontal services is getting more and more important. It was true in the past to build right enterprise architecture, but it is getting even more important in the era of cloud services. To be successful, cloud vendors will have to learn how to recombine and reuse technologies provided by different players. File Share and Synchronization is a very good examples to start with. For CAD vendors it means to learn how to share data on OneDrive or Dropbox, but at the same time to provide vertical experience specific for CAD content. 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


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