How CAD and PLM vendors will compete with “Facebook at Work”

November 18, 2014

facebook-at-work-for-engineers

Social software was hot topic in engineering software ecosystem for the last few years. The results are somewhat mixed. Start-up companies and well established CAD/PLM vendors learned by mistakes, some of them failed and some of them is still in process of developing new type of collaborative engineering software. I captured some of my thoughts about that here – Why Social 1.0 failed

One of the most famous messages of social software was to create “Facebook for XYZ”. Many companies tried to deliver this message in variety of forms in engineering software. The most impressive one was GrabCAD, which created a community of about 1.5M engineers sharing 3D CAD files. Even so, GrabCAD put their focus on development of cloud PDM software – to find a way to monetize. Some of my comments on what GrabCAD did are here – GrabCAD – from Facebook for engineers to PLM. GrabCAD is probably a company that unofficially can own the tag of “Facebook for engineer”. Google search is a good confirmation for that.

A very interesting news came from “original” Facebook. Earlier this week, Facebook leaked the information about Facebook’s intent to create so called “Facebook at Work”. Forbes article gives you some details about Upcoming Facebook at Work service will rival LinkedIn and Slack.

Facebook is preparing Facebook at Work, a service aimed at enterprise customers that will allow them to chat with colleagues and “collaborate over documents,” according to a new report in the Financial Times which cites anonymous sources.

Social business wasn’t an easy job for many companies. For the last few days, I see many speculations and reports about how easy (or not, actually) Facebook can capture a new business niche. Here is the article from ReadWrite – Why Facebook For Work Will Be A Hard Sell To Employers. This is my favorite passage:

Users will be able to chat with coworkers, collaborate on projects, and build catalogues of colleague’s contacts, with each of these services directly competing with Microsoft’s Yammer, Google’s Drive, and LinkedIn. All the services Facebook at Work will offer already exist. Slack, Google Drive, and LinkedIn already do these features well, and have the market for these respective services cornered. If Facebook at Work is going to have a chance of competing, it’ll need to extremely improve on its competitors’ services. And from the little we’ve seen of the service (with Facebook declining to comment), it’s hard to tell if Facebook for Work even has a chance.

“Facebook at Work” news made me think about what it means for engineering software ecosystem? First of all, it reminded me how is dangerous profession of industry analyst. It is still unclear how successful Facebook at Work is going to be, but Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity should be probably concerned about his 5 years old statement – We are not Going to Design an Airplane on Facebook!

All engineering vendors (CAD and PLM companies) just got a new mindshare competitor in everything that can be considered as social and collaboration. In my view it will be hard for Facebook to focus on “project collaboration” for design and engineering teams. The space is too narrow. At the same time, “social collaboration pond” is not as safe as it was before such a big fish as Facebook jumped into it.

My special attention caught by feature related to document sharing and collaboration. In my article – The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive, I mentioned few examples of companies working on how to leverage cloud for CAD files storage and collaboration. Cloud file storage is an interesting place and I expect to see many changes in this domain in coming years. Every engineering company will have to think about pros and cons to have a special CAD files sharing tool. Facebook is just another behemoth convincing companies to store files on their servers and developing slick user experience to collaborate and share project information.

What is my conclusion? Facebook just captured a piece of attention for social project collaboration from everyone. “Facebook at Work” won’t compete directly with engineering software businesses. However, most probably, CAD and PLM vendors have to review their sales and marketing presentations. How to differentiate engineering collaboration software from Facebook? I will put security and CAD viewers on the top of my list of differentiators. Facebook won’t be able to change security perception overnight. Also, it will be challenging to develop 3D viewing solutions. Some specialized vendors can decide to jump and partner with Facebook about 3D CAD viewers. At the same time, there is one thing, which will challenge CAD and PLM vendors already tomorrow. Together with Google, LinkedIn and other web giants, Facebook will challenge engineering teams by setting even higher bar for project collaboration user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

photo credit: aldoaldoz via photopin cc


Competitive edges of SharePoint and PLM collaboration

November 5, 2014

microsoft-sharepoint

SharePoint is an interesting product and technology. I’m following it already few years. I can see some kind of love and hate relationships between PLM vendors and Microsoft SharePoint business. You can catch up on some of my thoughts about SharePoint in my previous posts – SharePoint PLM Paradox; Why PLM should care of SharePoint?; PLM SharePoint thoughts. SharePoint technology was successfully used by some PLM products (eg. SolidEdge SP) and discontinued by others (eg. PTC ProductPoint). With these two extreme examples, I guess most of CAD/PDM/PLM vendors are keeping neutral position with regards to SharePoint. Most of them are supporting some sort of integrations typically done by partners and service providers.

One of the issues that makes many customers and vendors confused is a comparison and sometimes even competitive positions of SharePoint. With increased demand for enterprise collaboration and information sharing, many customers are concerned about how both technologies can interplay in the organization. I put some of my thoughts about that in my post last year – How to stop comparing PLM and SharePoint?

Real story group blog SharePoint is no longer a swiss army knife caught my attention and made me think about SharePoint and PLM again. Also, chart shows SharePoint usage by different type of application. It also made a highlighting of new, mature and light usages.

sharepoint-usage-survey

The following two categories – project oriented collaboration, document management and simple file sharing shows probably a dominant place of SharePoint mature usage. From my experience, these categories demonstrates why many companies are confused about PLM and SharePoint. For many of them, the initial phase of PLM – project collaboration and CAD file management can create a feeling of functional overlap.

The situation is getting even more interesting with new wave of cloud products developed by CAD/PLM companies and new startups. The focus of some of them is clearly to solve a problem of document management for engineers, file sharing and project collaboration. It is not obvious that these companies are going after the same market niche as Microsoft. At the same time, I can smell some levels of competitiveness there.

What is my conclusion? SharePoint is mature and successful technology. Microsoft has strong enterprise positions and with new Microsoft strategy for enterprise cloud can become even more dominant player. My hunch, PLM companies should make another round of thinking how to live together or compete with Microsoft SharePoint and connected social collaboration products. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit Microsoft SharePoint and RealStoryGroup


The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive

November 4, 2014

cad-files-cloud-drive

I’ve been talking about future of cloud file system and CAD data trajectories the other day on my blog. It goes back and connected to multiple discussions about future of file system. What will be future of file systems and file paradigm. Can we announce the death of file system? So, file system is dead, long live cloud file system. The cloud eco-system is developing fast and I wonder how CAD companies will keep up with the speed of changes, environment, technologies and adoption. One of the things is related to cloud storage. Navigate to one of my earlier posts to read more – CAD companies and cloud storage strategy. One of the main points – storage is a temporarily market.

It looks like CAD companies are certainly following the trend. Autodesk just recently released a completely refreshed version of Autodesk A360 Team version of project based collaboration tool. Navigate here and you learn more about how to share documents and cloud storage. Here is a short passage, which summarize A360:

Our customers are in the business of creating things and they organize people and data around their business and their projects. A360 is a tool that brings together people, design and project data, ensuring everyone is informed and involved.

a360-1

a360-2

My attention was caught by another announcement few days ago – MySolidWorks Drive. According to SolidWorks blog MySolidWorks drive provides a way to collaborate on data located on public cloud – Google and Dropbox.

Connects cloud-based file storage services, such as Dropbox and Google Drive with MySolidWorks. MySolidWorks Drive enables SOLIDWORKS users to view their designs online with the eDrawings online viewer and easily share large designs files with manufacturers, colleagues and vendors from anywhere.

I captured few screenshots showing more details about MySolidWorks drive from Michael Lord’s blog.

solidworksdrive-1

solidworksdrive-2

Both examples made me think again about transition of design environment to the cloud. The biggest challenge here is to operate in the environment with mixed data. Existing design data is heavily persisted on engineers desktops and company shared network drives. At the same time, new products are providing customers with the opportunity to improve design collaboration using new modern cloud environment. The third factor is related to mainstream cloud providers. Cloud storage is a temporarily market and cost of storage is decreasing very fast.

Autodesk and SolidWorks examples are not unique. Recently, on my blog, I was talking about cloud file sync features developed by Kenesto. In addition to that, you might remember by discussion with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD about CAD file sharing collaboration tools.

What is my conclusion? We are coming to the point of potential collision between CAD vendors strategies and giant cloud vendors strategies. Customers are tempted to move their data to Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Box.com and other non-CAD specific cloud storage. At the same time, CAD and other engineering software vendors are developing cloud collaboration software with specific value proposition tailored to engineering and CAD specific data. How new CAD collaboration and data management products will navigate in such environment? This is a good question to ask. My hunch, cloud file collaboration will be in a focus of all CAD vendors in a near future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


PLM collaboration – your inbox is a to-do list

November 3, 2014

plm-to-do-list

Collaboration is fascinating place. So many things were done to improve collaboration for the last decade, but it still remains a place many people are trying to improve. Technology around us is one of the reason companies are keeping to focus on collaboration. What was efficient and new 10 years ago, is completely obsolete now.

Actually not… Email is one of the things that we still keep on the top of our lists when it comes to communication and collaboration. Despite all innovations, social technologies, mobile, etc. we keep email as one of primary ways to collaborate. I touched this topic earlier few months ago in my post – How engineers find path from emails and messages to collaboration? One of the main points there – stop using inbox as a to-do list. From my experience, PLM software vendors as well as other companies focusing on collaborative software are spending a significant effort by trying to take people away from their email inboxes.

So, I wanted to get back to this question again. How to kill email inbox? Here are two examples I wanted to bring into this discussion today. One of them is a very recent announcement of Google about new app – Inbox. If you haven’t heard about that, navigate here to learn more. The following video can give you an additional idea of what Google is up to.

In a nutshell, Inbox looks like a sort of intelligent combination of everything we’ve been trying to accomplish with email- invitations, reminders, todo lists, messages, etc. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but I’m sure will share more as soon as I do that.

Another example of innovation in collaboration comes from Slack. I’ve been looking on Slack some time ago. It caught my attention again by TechCrunch article – Slack confirms $120M fundraise led by Google Ventures and KPCB at $1.12B valuation. Slack is an interesting combination of twitter streams, cloud file storage and messaging service. I’m trying Slack with some of my personal projects and share some thoughts about my experience soon.

What is my conclusion? Two examples of applications I shared is demonstrating a bit different approach how to disconnect us from email inbox. Google Inbox is organizing your work by extracting data intelligently from other Google apps and email itself. Slack is integrating activities via many other services, but keeps you focused on collaborative channels. In my view, both services are sharing one important characteristic – integration of information in a single place. This is one of the main reasons many of us stick with email. It is hard to following multiple places and channels to get your work done. So, I wonder, what will become the next place for engineers to communicate and collaborate. Just my thoughts…

Best Oleg

photo credit: @superamit via photopin cc


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


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