How to re-think activity streams for enterprise?

July 23, 2014


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

How PLM can join semantic enterprise graph?

April 10, 2014


Connectivity is a key these days and graphs are playing key role in the development of our connectivity. It doesn’t matter what to connect – people, information, devices. Graphs are fascinating things. Actually, I came to conclusion we live in the era of fast graph development. More and more things around us are getting “connected”.

It is almost two years since I first posted about Why PLM need to learn about Google Knowledge Graph. The story of Knowledge Graph is getting more power every day. GKG is growing. It represents “things” in the knowledge base describing lots of topics – music, books, media, films, locations, businesses and many others. Part of Google Knowledge Graph is fueled by Freebase – large collaborative database of structured data. Originally Freebase was developed by Metaweb and acquired by Google in 2010. It is still not completely clear how Google Knowledge Graph built. You can read some investigations here. Nevertheless, it is hard to undervalue the power of Knowledge Graph.

Another well known and publicly developed graph is Facebook social graph. Last year I posted – Why PLM should pay attention to Facebook Graph Search. Facebook graph represents structured information captured from Facebook accounts. It allows to run quite interesting and powerful queries (also known as Facebook Graph Search).

In my opinion, we are just in the beginning of future graph discovery and expanded information connectivity. It won’t stop in social networks and public web. I can see graphs will proliferate into enterprise and will create lots of valuable opportunities related to information connectivity and efficient query processing. article Let Enterprise Graph Tell You A Story speaks about enterprise as a set of Facebook pages. It explains how we can build a graph story of enterprise communication, collaboration, people activities, related data and other things. Here is my favorite passage from the article:

Wallace relies on Hadoop and graph database technology, with network data represented as a property graph. “Property graphs are utterly, totally extensible and flexible,” she said, and “the system gets smarter as you add more data into it.” The enterprise social network data generates triple sets (that John Smith created X Document that was downloaded by Jane Doe) that get pocketed into the graph, for example, as is metadata extracted from relational databases. A general set of algorithms can find a user within the graph and calculate his or her engagement level – activities, reactions, eminence and so on. “We now have a Big Data service with a set of APIs so people can query the enterprise graph,” she set, and then run analytics on those results that can drive applications.

I found this aspect of graph development very inspiring. To collect enterprise information into graph database and run a diverse set of queries can be an interesting thing. If I think about PLM as a technological and business approach, the value of graph connecting different part of information about product and activities located in different enterprise systems can be huge. These days, PLM vendors and manufacturing companies are using a diverse strategies to manage this information – centralized databases, master data management, enterprise search and others. Graph data approach can be an interesting option, which will make enterprise looks like a web we all know today.

What is my conclusion? The growing amount of information in enterprise organizations will change existing information approaches. It doesn’t mean all existing technologies will change overnight. However, new complementary techniques will be developed to discover and use information in a new ways. Graph is clearly going to play big role. PLM strategist, developers and managemers should take a note. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

picture credit

Why WhatsApp is Red Flag for PLM Collaboration

February 25, 2014


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

What Social PLM Can Learn From Facebook Decline?

December 2, 2013


It is hard to find a company that are not trying to do "social" these days. The number of Facebook copycats everywhere is skyrocketing. Engineering and manufacturing software is not an exclusion and run into this game too. Social PLM is part of this trend. Even I can see less trials to develop a system called "social PLM" these days, there are lots of services that claim "social roots" in what they do.

In my view, this is a perfect time to watch some Facebook trends and see if we can predict some potential correction in the growing pile of social services for engineering, manufacturing and enterprise at all. Two data points. One comes from the article – Teenagers say goodbye to Facebook and hello to messenger apps. Author speaks about growing popularity of focused messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp) and interest of specific groups of people to maintain communication in a closed groups. Here is an interesting passage:

No surprise, then, that Facebook is no longer a place for uninhibited status updates about pub antics, but an obligatory communication tool that younger people maintain because everyone else does.

Another data point comes from Reference Heap. Facebook site became much less useful within time. Sometimes algorithm present lots of pointless and useless information. At the same time, you are in danger to miss a very important message from your friends and families. Here is a passage with angry passage from Dear Facebook, You Suck article:

“One of my best friend’s mother lost her battle with cancer the other day, my friend wrote a beautiful status update commemorating her mother, it got 297 likes and tons of comments before I noticed it… You know how I noticed it? My mother called me and told me about her mother dying and I went to her actual page to see for myself. But you know what I did notice? Becky hates Mondays. My 3rd cousin whom I haven’t seen since a family reunion 10 years ago started playing his umpteenth game on Facebook.”

These two data points above made me think about potential danger turn "social enterprise" software can make by bringing everybody in the company to the "social game". The social stream will become overloaded. The chances to miss the right information will be too high and to signal/noise ratio will become too low. Dangerous place…

What is my conclusion? Social networks became so popular by their ability to connect people and enable communication and data sharing in a much more efficient way. However, I can see a limit to social user and data experience. Think about lots of people in a company sharing their updates and information in the same way we share photos on Facebook. I can see the effectiveness of this communication going down. Pretty much in the same way we are diving in zillions of emails in our email box, we will be smashed by a tsunami of social updates. Kinda different social way? Or maybe not much different from an email? Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM and Common Social Platform Behavior

September 3, 2013

It has been long time since I discussed PLM and social trend on my blog. Social is going mainstream these days. It is hard to surprise people with social things now. People made their conclusions and follow their own social patterns and habits. One of the topics that often brings discussion is related to how “engineers” are getting into social work. Few days ago, my attention caught the following tweet from UpFront.eZine (voice by Ralph Grabowski):

Being an engineer, I just don’t get the whole “social” thing. Engineers are, by nature, not social. So, Dassault, stop forcing social on us.

This tweet made me think again about what means “to get social”. In my view, social network functionality is getting more and more standard. Like Windows File Explorer 15 years ago, the social stream becomes a commodity in terms of what it should provide. Different social networks are experimenting in providing an innovative way to communicate and the functionality gets cross-copy between products.

I’ve been reading Why Twitter’s new Conversations view is a big deal and why it matters for its IPO by GigaOM over the weekend. One of the points in the article is related to the fact all social networks are look the same (or similar) these days. However, I found the notion of standard social behavior interesting. Here is the passage I liked:

What is going on? Well, how about the standardization of all social platforms around the concept of objects and comments, especially on mobile. Objects are photos, videos, links, location data, status updates — and people like to share these pieces of comments. The behaviors around these objects are also getting standardized in the form of likes, shares and re-shares. The content shapes too are getting standard — squares mostly — thanks to the shift to the mobile. In very near future, it would be hard to distinguish the difference between the timelines/social streams/news feeds on anything social: Instagram, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.

While I agree with the opinion of authors about standardization of social platforms around such concepts like “object” and “comment”, the first one is the most important when it comes to the conversation about PLM and social. PLM “objects” are special and very different from photos, videos and web links. The nature of PLM objects is structural information with quite complex visualization rules. Think about CAD assemblies, Drawings, Bill of Materials and more. Standard social commentary around photo and video links just cannot work with such complex context. The ability of social PLM to navigate to the right contextual object is also complex.

What is my conclusion? The majority of innovation in PLM and social field will happen around the ability of the system to expose right engineering or design contextual object – CAD model, drawing, BOM, etc. The ability to link the conversation around a specific contextual object will become a competitive advantage as well as unique value proposition of social PLM vendors. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Why PLM should pay attention to Facebook Graph Search?

January 22, 2013

One of the biggest tech events for me last week was Facebook Graph Search. If you haven’t heard about this, you better to catch up. There are tons of articles about new Facebook Graph search, but service is still in the Beta phase. You can submit for Beta here and hope to get it soon. So, the best you can do for the moment is to read about other people experience. The stories about Graph search are mixing technical, user and business content. Many of reviewers are taking Facebook graph search as a new Facebook monetizing mechanism. You can read Forbes article Facebook Graph Search Runs On Likes That Advertisers Have Already Paid For, which provides a good review of what Facebook announced. You can have a read of the following blog Under the Hood: Building Graph Search Beta sharing some beta experience with Facebook Graph Search. Finally, watch the video with Zuck presenting Graph search as as third pillar of Facebook.

Graph Search is clearly technological challenge fro Facebook in terms of scale of data. Here is an interesting quote I captured from Digital Spy article.

Graph Search has been a huge engineering challenge for Facebook, as it involved the indexing of data from 1 billion accounts, 240 billion photos and over 1 trillion connections on the social network, but also factoring in the myriad of privacy settings dictating who should be able to see what.

Why Graph Search is important for PLM?

Here is a question you may ask me – why is it important? Here is my take so far on a reason why PLM and enterprise vendors should pay attention on Facebook experiments with search. As we learned for the last decade – scale matters. For the last 10-15 years, the really scalable systems were developed for public web first and then replicated in the enterprise. This trend was different back in 1980s and 1990s when complex problems first were solved in military and defense. What we learned from Google for the last 10 years is that system can scale up enormously. However, Google public web search never faced the problems of privacy, accounts separation and diversity users. Google came to the similar problem earlier last year with injection of personal social results. To me, this dimension of scale is not well developed. Noise vs. signal problem in highly diversified by multiple accounts data corpus is an interesting problem to work on. Facebook is chasing long tail of all Facebook accounts, likes, connections, etc. This is a level of scale I can imagine in enterprise systems or even value chain of OEM and suppliers. This is where things get interesting.

What is my conclusion? Remember, 3-5 years the question of web scalability was introduced as a serious showstoppers for enterprise systems to scale up outside of corporate data center. Almost nobody is talking about that nowadays. It is clear to all of us that public web powerhouses like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. proved that systems can scale. Facebook Graph is a step in a direction that can be very close to social collaboration in any enterprise company and beyond. Important. 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, 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] /


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