Why Slack can be a communication tool engineers want?

April 9, 2015


Communication is an important element of our work. We live in an extremely connected world. To communicate with people you work on the same team and between teams can be a critical factor to make project successful. I’ve been learning Slack for the last few weeks. Slack is online communication platform that is catching lot of attention for the last time. It is a startup with more than $1B valuation. Take a look on it over the weekend. It is polished and provides very slick UI.


My experience with Slack made me think about collaboration in engineering teams. It has some connection to old discussions about “social PLM”. However, social PLM idea was doomed. I can mention few reasons why it happened – it provided bad experience for communication, it wasn’t open and didn’t provide an easy way to publish data.


Things changed for the last few years, Engineering software is getting better in terms of user experience, but openness and integration are two things that not changing much. Look over collaboration tools provided by PLM vendors and you will see limited number of integration capabilities. It is still very closed world, it is hard to push data in and out. Moreover, it is very difficult to integrate with tools engineers are using these days.

Opposite to that Slack impressed me with the number of integrations and openness. If you think about online digital environment, it basically integrates with everything. Navigate to the following link and take a look on a number of integrations. However, community-built integrations list is every more impressive. It is basically integrates to any language, framework or too.

What is my conclusion? There is a clear need for engineers to communicate. However, think how many social platforms do we need? My hunch- we don’t need many. But we need one… a good one. We need one for engineers to communicate between themselves and outside world. So, the competition for this single communication tool will be tough. In my view, integration will be one of the most critical elements. Imagine great communication and collaboration platform that hard to integrate with. It will fail exactly in the same way as previous “social PLM” initiatives failed. So, there is a chance engineers will like Slack. This is a lesson to learn for PLM vendors. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Do we need PLM walkie-talkie?

August 28, 2014


Continue the topic of efficient communication started yesterday about future of the email for engineers, I want to speak about some other interesting alternatives engineers can use to stay connected and work together. Instant messaging is crazy popular. We use it everywhere. Last year I posted about opportunity to develop instant messaging app for enterprise and engineering workspace. Navigate to my post – PLM messaging and whatsapp moment. My main point was how to create an efficient context for communication.

New startup CoTap looks like trying to bring Whatsapp moment to enterprise customers. My attention was caught by TechCrunch article – Cotap, A WhatsApp For The Workplace, Adds Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive And Desktop App. CoTap takes the direction to integrate variety of contextual data sources by adding support for file sharing from Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and Desktop apps. Here is an interesting quote:

The Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive integrations that are being announced today are a part of that bigger concept, … the idea here being that you can send flyers to staff with information, pictures of lost property, or other communications — as well as the latest marketing strategy. After a user has connected up the service in question, sending a file is as easy as sending a photo in a messaging app. Cotap also used as an API layer across all four to power search and to surface recent documents. Effectively, what it means is that Cotap sits as the mediation point between the four storage services — imporatant since in many businesses you often end up with a mixture of services between official company accounts and those you have created for your own documents when you are working on a nonwork device. Recently modified files show up first on Cotap.

It made me think about engineers in manufacturing companies. How do they communicate? Email too complex. At the same time, it is hard to add a specific engineering context in IM like Lync, Skype and others. In my view, the demand for new engineering communication tool is there. Companies are looking how to use the ideas coming from social platforms in enterprise communication. However, the experiments with "twitter for engineers" and some others are questionable. To create list of "followers" is not practical. You quickly getting to the point of "too much noise" in your social channels".

What is my conclusion? The idea of walkie-talkie style of communication between people you are working on daily basis is a refreshing one. Especially when it disconnected from platform (desktop, mobile, voice) as well as provides a good content integration (video, photo, drawing, 3D, etc.). It removes noise and allows to engineers and their peers in an organization to focus on their work and problem solving. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Engineers and email workhorse

August 27, 2014


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

Social PLM and Structured Enterprise Communication

November 15, 2013


Social is one of the topic that keeps trending these days among enterprise companies. The last few years demonstrated lots of advantages of social technologies and their applications in different fields. Enterprise is obviously looking on social as one of the hot topics following consumerization of IT and mobile. While software business models are moving from ownerships to usage, the adoption of tools and ability to get people to collaborate becomes one of the most important imperative.

However, we need to face the truth – social PLM failed the first attempt. I’ve been blogging about it in my previous articles – Why Social PLM 1.0 failed? Many people in manufacturing organization and specifically engineers didn’t get a point of ‘social’. The utilization of social applications when down- engineers didn’t see social as a utility they can rely on similar to email and other communication tools. Navigate to one of my writeups about this – PLM and common social platform behaviors. In my view, the important takeaway from that discussion is related to how social tool can provide a single utility for engineers and other people in manufacturing and engineering companies to deal with data. This function is practically doesn’t exist in most of current versions of social tools. Think about sharing of CAD models or other engineering and/or manufacturing data and you will understand the distance between Facebook photo sharing. Rich enterprise content is different. Sharing CAD data and manufacturing information is very different.

However, there is another aspect. Social collaboration and communication are main factors that drove adoption of systems like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. However, thinking about these systems, the main people behavior was about following friends and their posting on social site. To share photo or link is probably one big mainstream function today. But, it is different in the enterprise and business. Noise factor is very high and it drives efficiency and usage down. In order to solve “information noise” problem, social systems proposed grouping and activity streams. The idea is nice and I found some interesting examples to confirm the benefits of the idea. I called it “structured social conversation”. Earlier this week, my attention was caught by company called Hexigo that can be a good example of what I mean by “structured social conversation”. In a nutshell, Hexigo provides they way to follow up social activities to insure nothing get lost and by doing that, helping people to following decision process in a social way. Nice idea, in my view – you can see it in the following video:

What is my conclusion? We have to re-think how social collaboration is coming to enterprise organization. The unstructured social discussion similar to what people having on social networks is good, but probably too noisy to busy enterprise people and engineers. In my view, there are two big things every social collaboration system should adopt in order to be successful in manufacturing, engineering and probably other enterprises as well – (1) rich data and (2) structured discussion. It is not clear how much of the original twitter and facebook ideas will remain afterwards. However, without that the adoption of “new ways to collaborate” will be pretty low among busy engineers and other decision makers in enterprise. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM, Digital Native and Human Interaction

November 7, 2012

Digital Native and Digital Immigrant. Have you heard about these terms? Lately, we are starting to hear about it more and more. Our familiarity with technologies is different. This is not only a result of our professional interest, but also something in our roots and… age. Navigate to Wikipedia’s article about Digital Native. I captured few definitions there:

A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technologies and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts. Alternatively, this term can describe people born during or after the latter 1960s, as the Digital Age began at that time; but in most cases, the term focuses on people who grew up with the technology that became prevalent in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to evolve today. Other discourse identifies a digital native as a person who understands the value of digital technology and uses this to seek out opportunities for implementing it with a view to make an impact.

The same article provides us with a definition of "digital immigrants". As you can imaging, these are people that need to accommodate to the changes digital environment brings to our life and work. Here is the passage from the same Wikipedia article, which explains also the term as well as some additional aspect of relations between generations and different communities of people.

A digital immigrant is an individual who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life… Due to the obvious divide set between digital natives and digital immigrants, sometimes both generations are forced to meet which commonly results in conflicting ideologies of digital technology. The everyday regime of worklife is becoming more technologically advanced with improved computers in offices, more complicated machinery in industry etc. With technology moving so fast it is hard for digital immigrants to keep up… This creates conflicts among older supervisors and managers with the increasingly younger workforce. Similarly, parents clash with their children at home over gaming, texting, YouTube, Facebook and other Internet technology issues. The Pluralist Generation, with birthdates between 1998-2012, is made up of digital natives.[5]

I’ve been reading and observing different aspects of digital immigrants and digital natives, including the way they are interacting. It made me think how we build products and communicate these days. Clearly, the majority of manufacturing companies and engineering firms are run by people born before 1960s. As we move forward, I can see many questions arise. Some of them are related to existing product and working methods. However, it is also important to analyze and see how modern software products and eco-system will influence a product-development process.

The following Instagram photo caught my attention. It provides a quote from Facebook’s S-1. I found this passage interesting and connected to PLM and product development – We think a more open and connected world will help create a stronger economy with more authentic businesses that build better products and services.

Another example that came to my attention is related to the company taking their roots in Facebook, the internet and "digital native" paradigm – GrabCAD. The company grew up fast as "facebook for engineers". Recently, GrabCAD announced their new strategy to develop "collaboration platform and products for engineers". Navigate to the following GrabCAD blog by Hardi Meybaum speaking about the future of GrabCAD engineering collaboration with Jon Stevenson (VP Technology). This passage caught my attention:

Having built the world’s largest active community of mechanical design professionals, GrabCAD will change the way products are designed and manufactured. GrabCAD is changing the way engineers and companies collaborate to build better products.

Another passage from GrabCAD blog related to human interaction and collaboration (now between engineers and sales people)

GrabCAD was started by mechanical engineers to build tools for mechanical engineers. We are not going to make overly complicated, difficult to use PLM/PDM/ERP tools for enterprises. We will not sell our product through middle men who cause higher prices and prevent direct feedback from customers. Instead we are going to build a product engineers enjoy using, something that solves engineers’ problems. Everything we build is distributed through GrabCAD.com, so we can work to create an amazing experience from start to finish. Everyone in the GrabCAD team responds to customer questions and needs, so we know your pain and can act quickly to resolve issues.

What is my conclusion? Human interaction. It is something that different between digital natives and digital immigrants. What is the difference? Here is my take for digital native – open, online and the internet. Opposite to that, this is how I can summarize it for digital immigrants – close, offline and email. It will create a big difference during the next few years. Companies are going to build a new experience of designing product, engineering and manufacturing stuff. Interesting time. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of [watcharakun] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PLM, Microblogging and Communication

April 23, 2011

Communication is a vital part of everything we do. How do we communicate these days? Email is one of the most popular ways to communicate. Recently talking to many people I found that many young people these days have no email account. So, what is the next way to communicate? Social networks and microblogging software (like twitter) is a new way. However, manufacturing companies are still run by email systems. What will happen to these systems in a near future? What transformation required to make it more efficient?

I read CMS Wire article – IBM Says Merge Your Email into Activity Stream. IBM is under going transformation of their Lotus system to make it more efficient. Ed Brill, Director Messaging and Collaboration IBM Lotus Software is talking about future transformations into Activity Streams. No surprise these days, IBM is using "App" concept to present a new way to transform communication. Here is my favorite passage:

…But IBM doesn’t think we should live in our collaboration tools. The activity stream will be the app Brill told us — on the desktop, on the mobile, in the browser. Imagine getting up in the morning, opening Activity Stream app on the mobile and seeing what’s important to do that day/right now…

IBM roadmap is talking about big mix of tools coming out of Lotus and even Cognos to create meaningful information streams. IBM research team is working on this. IBM is not mentioned dates.

Now I want to turn from "research" space to the software that available today and can be used inside of the organization. Rawn Shah Forbes blog article – Corporate Microblogging Helps Employees Migrate Work Conversation Online. There are two examples of software mentioned in the article – Yammer and Socialcast. Both are microblogging platform for enterprise. When started few years ago, Yammer presented as Twitter for enterprise. I found quite many people in my eco-system mentioned that their companies are implementing Yammer and successfully use it for communication.

Enterprise microblogging systems have a different and significant role in conducting business than what you may find in public systems like Facebook or Twitter. They provide insight to what is actually going on within the company, and allow employees to breakthrough the often thick glass walls of organizational silos. They are going to be a vital component of social business. By starting with simple conversations they help employees transition to conversations in an online mode, beyond phone calls and face to face meetings, lifting the whole organization to new levels of social business maturity.

Information Streams

The biggest criticism I’ve heard about social communication is related to the definition of "noise". Do you really want "everybody following everybody" noise coming to you via new social tools? No, I don’t think so. However, the problem of email nowadays is exactly the same. Email is a single overloaded stream of information. Opposite to Facebook and Twitter, we consider everything in our email box need to be read. This is a source of so called "email overload". The new way to handle communication is to use "information streams". I have them in my twitter account as "lists". Similar organization can be applied to other communication tools. Yammer has three possible way to group communication between people – networks, groups and community.

PLM and Microblogging

The term "collaboration" is one of probably most confusing. PDM and PLM vendors presented multiple concepts and products that supposed to help people to collaborate. None of them was able to shift the way people communicate and email was king of the road all the time. Microblogging tools may create a new way to communicate also inside organizations. Is it possible to use the same tools like Yammer to communicate between people in product development organization? I think positive about that option. One of the key elements to succeed in this transformation is to connect information to this communication. This is a tricky part of this transformation game.

What is my conclusion? The internet and mobile tools created new ways to communicate. Tools like Yammer and Sociacast can transform communication paradigms. Manufacturing organizations and product development can use these tools to make communication easier. PLM tools will integrate towards mainstream communication platforms to leverage the power of microblogging and social networking.

Just my thoughts.
Best, Oleg

PLM Prompt: Outlook Social Connector

November 24, 2009

Short Prompt. I enjoyed video and examples of Outlook Social Connector. If your life is around Outlook and Microsoft Office, you will be surprised by a great job done in Outlook to connect multiple social networks. If you are working as an engineer or designer you can now consolidate email information stream together with social networks inside of outside of your organization.

What do you think? Are you going all day around between your social community accounts and mails? Do you think your social communication will be improved consolidating all discussion threads under Outlook umbrella?

Best, Oleg


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