How to build online community around CAD/PLM software?

October 13, 2014

community-engineers-CAD-PLM

There is one thing that seems make everyone interested and listen carefully these days – online communities. To build a successful community is a tricky thing. To make a money out of community is huge. Successful online communities can provide a lot of insight about how people are communicating, what is the value of community for different users and businesses. Communities are also a good reflection of business and software vendor ecosystem.

I’ve been discussing communities and marketplaces earlier on my blog. One of the most earliest discussion about that was Marketplace and Engineering software back in 2010. The interest of people to stay in the community is one of the most interesting factors to watch and learn. What will keep users to stay in the community and how to make it grow? Some of my earlier thoughts about that is here – PLM communities and let go threshold.

Online activity is a good indicator of community potential. I’ve been using blogging community as one of my own checkpoint about potential of users and customers to form a successful online community. Go online and try to find number of blogs about specific topic and their traffic. Do it for well-known MCAD packages (CATIA, Creo , Inventor, NX, SolidEdge, SolidWorks) as well as for PDM/PLM products. Google is of course not the best reflection of community size and activities. But it can give you some idea anyway.

CAD-PLM-communities-google-trends

Another interesting observation is related to how customers are sharing their knowledge. You can see very different behavior models. One of them is practically – share everything. This model is creating high viral content online. For this group it is not unusual to see how users are sharing their best practices and problems. Another group is conservative and closed. It is hard to get people to speak about this software. Most of information about it is curated either by software vendors and customers.

So, what are examples of successful in creating CAD/PLM communities? I can come with few examples. The list below is alphabetically sorted and I’m sure miss few communities (so, please don’t hesitate to suggest me additions to this group)

Aras. Back in 2007, Aras Corp. turned their Aras Innovator PLM product into so called “Enterprise Open Source”. This community demonstrated steady growth and I can see lots of information about Aras customers, open roadmap and open source development.

AutoCAD. The community of AutoCAD is big and reflect wide spread of this package in a very diverse set of verticals. I can see some association with community of users working with DWG. However, these users have the tendency to follow specific CAD packages developed around DWG formats.

GrabCAD. This is an interesting example of 1M+ engineers sharing 3D CAD models and related work online. GrabCAD website contains about 400K CAD models and this is probably one of the biggest in this kind.

SolidWorks. The community of SolidWorks is not a typical online (web) community. It was created around SolidWorks software back in before-web days. Nevertheless, this community demonstrated very high engagement level and shared lot of their work online in for the last 10+ years.

I guess “one million dollar question” is how to create a successful online engineering community. One of the myths of engineering world is that engineers are representing very anti-social group of people. The CreativeEngineer blog – A Few Common Myths About Engineers is actually bringing some opposite facts.

If you are thinking of being an engineer, you need to think of yourself as a leader, not a cubicle dwelling, anti-social, door mat. Here’s an except from Geoffrey C. Orsak, Dean of Engineering, SMU: In today’s reality, engineers are the new leadership class. Don’t believe me? Well, consider a recent survey of the S&P 500 CEOs by the global executive search firm SpencerStuart. Of these 500 key corporate leaders, nearly a quarter (23%) were educated as engineers and computer scientists.

So, is there an opportunity to create a larger community for engineers and users of CAD / PLM software? I guess the answer is yes. The shift towards online work is in a very beginning. My hunch existing engineering communities were just a beginning of future online working environment. The real community can be build around economic or social interest. In my view, the center of gravity will be moving from a specific CAD/PLM software towards companies and individuals. Internet is a new platform and community is a form to run business relationships on this platform.

What is my conclusion? Think about existing online communities: shoppers, open source software developers, education and many others. Try to make an analogy with manufacturing world. The economic and social interest is driving the most successful ones. I guess we just in the beginning of huge shift of engineering and manufacturing community towards online work. Economic interest will lead people to find new forms of business relationships and create new forms of CAD/PLM communities. Just my thoughts….

Best, Oleg


PLM Chat and Twitter Product Checklist

September 4, 2014

plm-group-chat

Collaboration is critical functions in PLM applications. To unlock the potential of social collaboration for engineers is a dream of PLM vendors for the last few years. At the time people may see Social PLM DOA, I don’t see the opportunity to improve communication and collaboration as a lost one. We certainly passed what I called Social PLM 1.0 era. In my view, absence of ultimate "single social function" made first wave of social PLM products to fail. I can see future opportunities in PLM social mobile applications and some other directions I want to discuss today.

Noise vs. signal ratio was too high for most of social collaboration products. This is true for many "uncontrolled" social communication models based on "following" people, groups or even products/project data. However, direct chatting has no problem of noise. If you can control the way you can take a communication (or discussion) to a closer list of subscribers, it will solve the problem of noise. I explored this idea last week in my post few days ago – Do we need PLM walkie-talkie?

The following WSJ.D article caught my attention yesterday – Twitter’s Product Checklist: Better Search and Group Chats? Twitter financial chief Anthony Noto exposed some ideas about Twitter’s product roadmap. I touched the importance of search in my 2 years old article about future PLM user experience. Today I want to speak more about Group Chat. In my view, this feature is very interesting. Here is a passage from the article that speaks Twitter group chat idea.

The CFO also hinted that group chats might be in the pipeline. Direct messaging, Twitter’s private chat function, has traditionally been put on the backburner. Because Twitter’s service is public in nature, the role of private messaging has always been a subject of debate within the company. Over the last year, amid the explosion of messaging apps, Twitter has given direct messaging a more prominent role. Noto suggested direct messaging might become more social.

Today, users can only send a direct message to one account at a time. But if, say, Noto tweeted about a football game and a couple of his “college buddies” replied to it, “I’m not sure I want to have (that) conversation in front of my boss and the rest of the 271 global users. I might want to take that to a private setting which you can do through direct messaging. Today you can only do that one to one as opposed to one to many. So that’s an example of innovation around sharing or expression that we can pursue over time.”

What I found very interesting is a mix between open and close communication channels. Most of products in engineering collaboration field today today can do one of them. However, to make both and to create a user-controlled switch between them can be a neat feature.

What is my conclusion? Communication and collaboration space is hot. We are overloaded with information. Search can solve the problem of getting right information from your archives. However, search cannot solve the problem of getting right real time information and optimize communication between people. Private chatting applications are booming these days. But we haven’t seen one that fits engineering domain. There is no silver bullet in collaboration domain. To find right combination of features and experience for engineers can be a tricky job. I can see it as a opportunity on the table for existing PLM vendors and startups. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


Why now is the right time to reinvent PDM?

August 15, 2014

re0invent-pdm-now

Product Data Management (PDM) isn’t a new domain. The first PDM systems were invented 20-30 years ago with a simple objective – to manage product data. The scope of PDM was heavily debated and included design, engineering BOMs, ECO and even supply chain. However, the most widely accepted role of PDM is to manage CAD files and their revisions.

For long time, PDM was recognized as somewhat you only need to consider if a size of your engineering department is large enough. Even starting price to implement PDM solution went down significantly for the last 20 years, my hunch average PDM solution starting cost for engineering organization with 10-15 people will be about $30-50K. Cost and implementation complexity made PDM business limited to larger companies and was mostly handled by resellers with special skills and knowledge. Most of them associated with a specific CAD vendor channel.

CAD vendors recognized the need and complexity of PDM. For most of vendors the answer on PDM demand was to develop (or acquire) a dedicated PDM system bundled with their CAD software. As a result of that, most of PDM players were acquired. Most of existing (remaining) PDM vendors are either focusing on a specific geographical niche or developed additional solutions usually branded with "PLM" buzzword and strategy.

My hunch is that until last year, PDM market was somewhat stalled and focusing on replacing of outdated versions of PDM software as well as support of new CAD software releases. Then something happens… For the last months, I can see an increased interested in PDM software. I noticed few focused researches and articles in the field of PDM – Expert Guide to the Next Generation of PDM; TechClarity Expert Guide for Basic CAD management and few others.

Also I want to mention few activities by vendors focusing on basic PDM functionality. It started from more traditional OOTB approach made by PTC Windchill PDM Essentials, SolidEdge SP focusing on SharePoint platform leverage and GrabCAD Workbench using "cloud platform" as a differentiation strategy.

Consilia Vector published CAMScore report for GrabCAD Workbench where CAMS stands for Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, Social. In my view, these major trends are making a renaissance in the space of PDM.

As I mentioned before, because of cost and complexity, PDM software was out of reach for many smaller companies and engineering departments. DIY (Do it yourself) PDM approach combining network file share, Excel files and FTP is a solution for probably 60-70% of market. For many years, to share files using network and USB drives was "good enough solution". But the era of file sharing changed forever with coming trend of social networks, mobile and cloud. So called YAPSA (Yet Another Photo Sharing Apps) became widely available in our everyday life. The question why PDM is so complex and why we cannot manage and access CAD data similar to what we do with photos and videos brings PDM solution back to the innovation room.

What is my conclusion? Cloud, web and social technologies in consumer space reached the level of maturity. It comes to the point where new tech and awareness of cloud and social approach are going to challenge a traditional PDM space. In addition to that, looks like an existing approach to use network drives and file sharing to manage CAD files is coming to logical end. People will be looking how to copy YAPSA approach into PDM space. So, it is time for PDM to change. 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


PLM for Small Teams – Autonomous Alignment

June 19, 2014

future-of-plm-for-sme

This week is very fruitful for PLM events. PTC Live 2014, Siemens PLM connection, GrabCAD media event. Twitter and other social networks can help you catch up with multiple events at the same time with minimum time. So, in 1-2 hours, you can get up to speed with news and updates. Chad Jackson’s and Allan Behrens’ tweets from GrabCAD media event turned my head back to small companies and customers that not using PDM/PLM systems these days.

"Per an @SiemensPLM research report, only 70% of #CAD user utilize #PDM." @hardi_meybaum @GrabCAD briefing; @hardi_Maybaum @grabcad says that 70% of cad users don’t use PDM or PLM. That’s their target market.

In one of my earlier posts I wrote – Why PLM stuck to provide solution for SME? Low cost and efficiency – these are two topics on the list of PLM characteristics to be delivered to smaller companies. Easy to say, but very hard to achieve. CAD /PLM vendors are trying to get it done for the last couple of decades. I’ve been scratching my head trying to think what else can be done by PLM vendors to become more successful in SME manufacturing eco-system.

One of the trends that getting more visible these days is related to growing dominance of small organizations or groups. Large companies leaning towards small team to get more agile and efficient. Agile development methods. Two pizza box teams. Many other buzzwords…

My attention caught the following blog post – Cells, Pods, and Squads: The Future of Organizations is Small. Article speaks about what can future organization looks like. Read the article and draw your opinion. Here is my favorite passage that speaks about matrix product organization:

At Spotify, engineers and product people work within a kind of matrix organization that evolved out of a need to scale agile teams. Their basic unit or “cell” is called a “squad,” a cross-functional, self-organizing, co-located team of less than eight people that has autonomy on what to build and how. While each squad has a mission to work towards, they still have to harmonize across many levels — on product, company priorities, strategies, and other squads. The trick, Kniberg explains, is not to frame autonomy and alignment as poles on a spectrum but as dimensions. The goal is high autonomy/high alignment within this framework.

I liked the term – autonomous alignment. You may ask me how is it connected to PLM? Here is the thing… Majority of PLM systems today are designed for high level of alignment and low autonomy. PLM is focusing on how to support processes, getting people fill their role in the process. Then PLM can run the show. The combination of high autonomy and high alignment doesn’t fit existing top-down hierarchical PLM models.

What is my conclusion? Old technology, new reality. This is what happens with PLM these days. And this is what happens in many small organizations. Existing PLM experience doesn’t fit. Try to apply existing PLM products cause failure and inefficiency. New type of systems needed – flexible, agile and social. It will help people to get work done autonomously and keep the alignment on goals, data, processes, deliveries and, what is more important, company outcome. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Photo credit idonethis.com blog.


Will Yammerized Office help to shape CAD/PLM social future?

June 17, 2014

yammerized-office-356

To connect relevant pieces of information is one of the long time dreams developed by many PLM vendors. The pieces of data in design, engineering, manufacturing are intertwined. However, in many situations they are managed by different systems and/or located in different places. Communication behaviors are applied on top of these pieces of information. Lots of communication behaviors and data sharing was captured by social networks these days.

I’ve been following what Microsoft is doing with social systems earlier in early versions of SharePoint and later with Yammer acquisition. Take a look on some of my earlier write ups here – Will Microsoft Yammer Kill Social PLM… Not yet. I’ve been reading CRN article Microsoft Deepens Yammer Integration With SharePoint Online, OneDrive For Business during the past weekend. The article speaks about an interesting feature – Document Conversation. The following passage explains that:

Microsoft Tuesday unveiled a new feature called Document Conversations, which adds Yammer conversations to more than 30 different file types, including Office documents, images and videos. When a user opens a document, image or video file in their browser from SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business, a contextual Yammer conversation pops up. From there, users can talk with other colleagues to get more insight about the file…

You can get more details in the Office blog article. The following video shows a little preview how it supposed to work.

Office/Yammer document conversation feature made think again about how important to have the ability to add contextual features applied to a specific content. By doing that, you have the ability to step down on the more granular level of communication between people. In the past, I’ve seen similar features applied in CAD and 3D model viewers tools as well. Navigate to one of my previous posts – From design collaboration to CAD social tools shows similar functionality in AutoCAD 360, Dassault UC tools and Vuuch design discussion.

One of the most important element of discussion is to have the ability to apply it to a specific “context” in the document / file / 3D model. It will make collaboration more precise and efficient.

What is my conclusion? The idea to make a contextual conversation applied to a specific content is the one that will allow to user to have a better, granular way to communicate. In the past world CAD/PDM/PLM world, “file” was the most granular communication medium. It is clearly not enough these days. To apply “document level” discussion and having the ability to identify granular context is the key. 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


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