Social Technology for Product Development- Ready for Business?

Tech4PD: Episode 3

Social computing and technologies are becoming more popular and are having a greater impact in personal life. But how are these social technologies changing business and will the impact be as profound? Watch this episode of Tech4PD to hear Jim Brown and Chad Jacksons’ viewpoints and listen as they debate whether or not social computing is ready and viable for business.

Video Transcript

Chad: Hello and welcome to Tech4PD, the web show on technology for product development. I'm Chad Jackson, one of your hosts.

Jim: All right. And I'm Jim Brown, one of your other hosts for today. Today, we're going to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart. We're going to talk about the use of social computing and social technologies for product development. I think it's important to understand what blogs and wikis and all of the new ways to communicate via the Internet, how they're changing business, particularly product development.

Chad: First off, we want to set the stage. So provide some context for the conversation. Next, Jim and I are going to debate it, essentially if social is really ready for product development and then after that we're going to have our crystal ball session, which is where we look into the future of social in the industry, and then finally we're going to show you the consequence, the loser, of the last episode.

Jim: This time around what we've decided to do is that whoever gets the fewer votes, the loser if you'd like to call Chad that, will be getting a Tech4PD tattoo. Now it's only a temporary tattoo, but we think it's going to be pretty big and maybe placed in an unusual location, we haven't quite figured that one out yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

Chad: I can't get that image out of my head.

Jim: Let's do that.

Chad: All right. So let's go ahead and get started. Why exactly are we talking about social technologies and product development? Well, if you look at the impact that social media has had on our personal lives, it's been pretty dramatic.

Jim: And I think the impact on our business lives is going to be relatively significant as well and social technologies, you know, it may not be. On Facebook it may be a picture of Aunt Tilda's new dress. This could be a picture of a prototype or a new product idea instead of an update of going to the mall with a friend we're talking about a status issue about mechanical assembly. So, I think that natural way of communicating is really going to transform nicely over to business and make a big difference.

Chad: Well, it certainly has translated to a lot of new solutions out there that include social technologies in them. So you look at some examples like PTC Social Link, you have Autodesk PLM 360 that has some social capabilities in that. You have Siemens PLM, AWS, as well as Dassault Systemes's 3D Swim product.

Jim: Yeah, and smaller vendors as well. I mean, you've seen a lot of startups and a lot of people doing some interesting things in this area, Nuage, obviously great example there, Vuuch, you could probably even include Kenesto in there, Team Platform, OneDesk, I mean, there's a whole slew of people doing this. So our debate today is about social computing. Is it ready and is it viable for business? Chad, why don't you start?

Chad: Yeah, sure. So I read a blog post by Tammy Erickson over at the Harvard Business Review not too long ago on this exact topic, and she talked about the difficulty in applying social technologies to collaboration environments as opposed to formalized environments, because it's really hard to manage the technology change. The collaboration is more ad hoc. It kind of happens organically. So I’m of the opinion that social technologies really can't be applied successfully to collaboration environments on a broad scale. I think they're far more successful if you apply them to formalized efforts.

Jim: Right. So this is an interesting debate because I see it entirely the opposite way. I think that there's great use of social computing in formal environments and working through new business processes and people that know me, I'm big about process change and process improvement. In this particular case, I think that ad hoc collaboration is actually the first place and the easiest place to go ahead and start using social computing and using this more natural way of interacting.

Chad: Yeah. Well, here's the big issue that I see, is that if you compare a change to collaboration and the technology used for collaboration, it's so different from, say, process change. With process change, you have it as-is in a 2v state and you can manage the movement from one to the other. That really doesn't exist in collaboration today. So, for example, if you look at product ideation, if you look at engineering knowledge management, those are initiatives that are formalizing, right, so I think it can be successfully used there, but in kind of ad hoc engineering design collaboration, I just don't see it.

Jim: Yeah. So, I think there are ways to reengineer and re-architect business models. There are all kinds of great new processes you can put in place, and I think those are further out. I think there are farther reaching types of approaches. The thing is people are doing this today. People are collaborating today, whether they're using a formal PLM system. A lot of times they're not, they're bypassing their formal systems and they're using... It's been FTP or using information via email. And now they're starting to explore a lot of the things that are out there that aren't made to share sensitive data. They're sharing information on things on a Dropbox or shared folders on the web and information is out there and it’s unsecure, but that's just happening, and it’s because it’s such a natural way to share information I think it’s inevitable. So the ad hoc is the easy place to start where you don't have to redefine all of your business processes.

Chad: Yeah. Well, luckily this is not the matrix, where it is inevitable. You get to choose who's right. All right. Well, now let's shift gears and talk about what's going to happen next in the industry. Jim, why don't you give us your opinion?

Jim: I will. Obviously, we call this section the crystal ball. Neither Chad nor I have a crystal ball. I'd kind of like one if anybody's got a line on a good one. But we do have the benefit of doing quite a bit of research in this area. So, I think this is inevitable. I think you're going to see the same level of enterprise systems adopting social technologies. It's going to be in all of them. It's going to be the same as business processes were 10 or 15 years ago, work flow started to come into enterprise systems. I think it’s going to be at the same level of prevalence. I just think it’s PLM and other solutions. It's just a more natural way to work together.

Chad: OK. Well, actually I agree, but I think the functionality, the capabilities, will be there in the systems that we're talking about, whether it's part of PLM or standalone. I just don't think that, especially for collaboration, things that are kind of in an ad hoc definition, I don't think that people are going to use it. It's going to be like, in most PLM systems today, if you look at a part or a document or a CAD file, you can have a discussion about them today. Who's using it? No one. It's very, very infrequently.

Jim: And who's using Facebook? Everyone. So, not everyone. But it’s just such a different way and such a better way to communicate and share information. I think it’s just inevitable it’s going to happen. Clearly, there's a tremendous amount of learning to go on. The industry is going to figure out what are the best ways to collaborate. What are the best ways to share knowledge? Are there new business models that really do pan out around social discovery and open invasion and those types of things? We're going to learn a lot, but I think things will never be the same and they will be in very broad use.

Chad: Interesting.

Jim: So I guess you agree with that?

Chad: Not quite. So now's the time actually, when we transition to talk about, and actually show you what the loser from the last episode had to do as a consequence. So, let's take a look. That's right, folks. This time around, I didn't get as many votes. I didn't lose. I just didn't get the most votes. So, this last Friday I went to the PLM Innovation conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where not only did I have to attend dressed like this, I also had to present. I feel like I need to explain this. Next question: Who am I? The red shirt guy that always dies in the first five minutes of the episode. That's me! So that's it. Until next time, live long and… curse you, Jim Brown.

Jim: So thank you for tuning into this episode, we'd especially like to thank our sponsors, PTC and Autodesk, for making this edition of Tech4PD possible.

Chad: Yeah. Also, thank you for tuning in today. We hope it's been valuable. See you next time.