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

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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


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


CAD Collaboration & Cloud: Chat With GrabCAD’s Hardi Meybaum

March 12, 2014

hardi-oleg-collaborative-collage

I had new kind of experience yesterday. It was on demand webinar. To me it was more like live blogging conversation. In case you following my twitter closely, you probably noticed Engineering.com webinar yesterday – CAD Collaboration & the Cloud: On-Demand Webinar with GrabCAD & Beyond PLM. I had a chance to meet and talk to GrabCAD CEO Hardi Meybaum. That wasn’t our first meeting. Hardi and I had many conversations in the past. The first one was back in October 2010 when we spent couple of hours in nearby Starbucks shop speaking about what GrabCAD is up to. This is an old post with my thoughts after that conversation. I’ve been blogging about GrabCAD and related topics such as CAD files sharing, Collaboration, Cloud and others a lot. Somehow, Hardi and I developed an intensive conversation via blogs and twitter. So, yesterday webinar was a first experience to turn our online social experience into live conversation.

If you want to listen to the record of our conversation, navigate your browser to this link with webinar recording. I found myself in agreement with Hardi about many related to CAD, Collaboration and cloud. I captured top 5 things to outline my agreement with Hardi:

1- CAD collaboration is very relevant and cloud is a right way to improve the collaboration among individuals in engineering and manufacturing companies. The fundamental questions related to how people can work together are still with us.

2- Globalization create an additional need to improve collaboration. Even small companies these days are not located in one place. Engineering and manufacturing can be done in multiple places to optimize for the cost. Individuals can work from home. This is an absolutely different environment and eco-system compared to what we had 10 years ago.

3- Expectations of people about collaboration, usability and speed of communication are changing these days. The reason is a lot of technologies and products developed in consumer, social and mobile space for the last decade.

4- Engineering workflow is absolutely important. CAD collaboration tool must be focused on how to make collaborative workflow painless and simple.

5- IT and other parts of organization must be focused on how to simplify communication and collaboration and stop behave as "police force" and focus on policies and restrictions to make collaboration more complex.

One of the feedback I’ve got after webinar is that it went too peacefully. It was also final Hardi’s conclusion – we need to disagree more. So, to inspire future conversations, I wanted to bring top 5 things to outline my disagreement with Hardi:

1- Hardi: File is primary things people are working on and file will be still important.

I think by keeping "files" in focus, we’re increasing the complexity of user workflows. If you think about social tools and web today, files are getting less and less important. Think about photo sharing. It was complicated when the scenario required to download files from SD card and publish it on the website. With development of modern mobile applications, photo sharing skyrocketed. One of the reasons – the ability to bypass "file" representation and publish directly from phone/camera. So, file must disappear and software vendors must do it by deep integrating with CAD and other tools.

2- Hardi: There is no technical challenge to get CAD data to the cloud.

The challenge of getting files to the cloud is significant. CAD and engineering data is very complex. Today it is resided on PCs and corporate network drives. It is huge (in size) and complex (in terms of dependencies). To make this data available online for collaboration via slow speed connections is one of the major competitive differentiation specialized vendors can develop against mainstream collaboration tools like Dropbox, Box.net and others.

3- Hardi: Goto market & price is a challenge

Price is not a challenge- cost is a challenge! The challenge is how to keep cost of CAD collaboration services low. Despite the common perception of web as a free resource, cloud is expensive. Storage, viewing, communication, global access, etc. – this is only short list of factors that can push cost of CAD collaboration services up. Dropbox and other mainstream vendors will use scale as a factor to bring cost down. So, to succeed in CAD collaboration and compete with mainstream vendors, every vendor needs to develop technologies to keep cost of the solution down.

4- Hardi: To develop tools with good user experience sounds like an ordinary development task.

User experience is never easy. To get data to the cloud seamlessly is very complicated tasks. Most of CAD engineers today are using Windows based desktop CAD tools. Majority of people are saving data locally. Asking engineers to bring data to the cloud can be a challenge. Another challenge is how to make desktop based design tools seamless connected with cloud environment without disrupting traditional engineering CAD desktop workflow.

5- Hardi: Local PDMs are not allowing to non-engineers to use the data.

I want to defend existing PDM technologies and products. So-called "local PDMs" developed multiple tools to allow people outside of corporate firewall to stay connected with data. Most of them developed web clients or mobile apps. In SolidWorks community, e-Drawing is another successful tool to share and collaborate on CAD data. Yes, these tools are not ideal. But companies are using them a lot in production these days.

What is my conclusion? I think CAD Collaboration is very interesting and still very relevant. There are lot of challenges and lot of opportunities. Seamless communication and efficiency are clear priority for companies and individual. The demand for new business models and pricing will push company to develop cost-effective services to support it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Who will create Google Sheets BOM (Bill Of Materials) Add-On?

March 11, 2014

bom-google-add-on

For the last few years, I’ve been chatting about the opportunity to use Google infrastructure and tools to innovate in PLM, engineering and manufacturing. Google enterprise apps influence on PDM/PLM market is still minor these days. However, I believe, Google cloud infrastructure and tools are consistently inspire established vendors and new companies to develop better solutions.

Earlier last week, I was discussing about how PLM can take over Excel spreadsheets. For long time, PLM tools have love and hate relationships with Excel. MS Office applications are very popular in every organization for collaboration. Think about SharePoint, Word, Excel. Specially Excel spreadsheet is a king tool in everything that related to BOM management. My old article “My Excel Spreadsheets: From Odes to Woes” speaks about pains related to the use of Excel for collaboration.

Online tools can solve many problems people are facing when use standalone Excel spreadsheets. Earlier today, Google informed about launching so called “add-on store” for Google Docs and Sheets. Read more here. One of the killing aspects related to Google Sheets Add-on is a transparent way to integrated application user experience within spreadsheet. Watch this video to see more.

Several applications were announced together with Google Sheets Add-on. I selected few of them that can make a lot of sense for engineering collaboration – Project Sheet (from forscale.project) and Workflows (from letterfeed.com). The following passage from TechCrunch article is my favorite:

With the help of add-ons, Google is clearly hoping to create a developer ecosystem around Docs. But maybe more importantly, these integrations will also make it more competitive in a landscape where Microsoft is now finally taking the online versions of its Office productivity suite seriously. For many desktop Office users, the ability to bring add-ons to the desktop versions of Word or Excel remains an important selling point

What is my conclusion? Eco-system or how it is now called “community” is an important element of future success. Microsoft relied on openness of Office and ability to develop add-ins very long time. In a modern world, Google Apps is a good infrastructure foundation for collaboration. It is still not clear if manufacturing companies are ready to trust Google as IT provider for their needs. I believe, a critical mass of application can be one of the factors that can influence future CIO and engineering IT managers decisions. Another obvious alternative is Office 365. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why WhatsApp is Red Flag for PLM Collaboration

February 25, 2014

plm-whatsapp-collaboration

I think Facebook buying WhatsApp for $19B was a refreshing experience for everybody. For the last week, I’ve got tsunami of blog posts, tweets and other messages talking about Facebook, WhatsApp, founders, VCs and investments, influence of Soviet Union past on WhatsApp collaboration ideas and many others. Funny enough, I even found my own post – What Social PLM can learn from Facebook decline just few months ago. Did I predict the deal? I don’t think it matters… Two important points from my previous post I want to repeat again – (1) the relevancy of Facebook social stream is questionable and I can hardly rely on this to follow important information; (2) to communication in small group is sometimes much more efficient than broadcasting messages in wide audience of confused listeners.

Another WhatsApp related post on Medium caught my attention yesterday – A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket. Have a read – I found it insightful. This post reiterated the same point of small number of friend we actually have in real life opposite the number of "friends" we decide to stalker on Facebook. I liked this passage:

"In buying WhatsApp this week, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will depend not just on broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants — those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone. … Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. But the average adult has far fewer friends — perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say — whom they talk to regularly in their real-world social network…"

Facebook bets on co-existence of these two social networks. It made me think about people collaboration, which is a part of every engineering and manufacturing organization. PLM vendors were building application for PLM, design and project collaboration for years. Collaboration was and still is one of the most overused words in PLM and probably in enterprise software too. For the last few years, CAD and PLM vendors are trying to bring new concepts into the world of collaboration. Some of them called "social". However, it is less important how to call them. What is important is that some of them are repeating the same mistake of broadcasting messages in a wide group of people.

I think CAD/PLM vendors must learn a lesson of inefficient collaboration in large broadcasting tools. Having even department group of 50-100 people posting messages in activity stream can be an annoying behavior. I experienced it by myself in some social collaboration experiments. I’d prefer to have a search for more efficient information navigation (actually Facebook Graph Search is a good example of improving efficiency). However, I’d like also to have the ability to collaborate in small groups of people focusing on a specific problem or design issue. Another example of close collaboration is small team working together on a specific project.

What is my conclusion? I think WhatsApp and Facebook story should be red alert for all enterprise vendors mimicking "social collaboration" into enterprise. It finally confirms to me inefficiency of large group message broadcasting and need to find more efficient collaboration principles and user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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