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Product lifecycle management (PLM), the series of strategies, business practices, and technology design for acquiring and maintaining product information across the entire lifecycle of the product, can provide the ability to boost development speed, enhance customer satisfaction, optimize operations, and create new revenue generation opportunities—and new social and mobile tools are helping.
Product designers and engineers managing their company’s PLM are becoming more mobile or distributed. When you couple that with an aging engineering workforce, there has become an even more critical need to capture the implicit knowledge that these team members possess and pass it on to younger generations of engineers.
In addition, the role of the IT team is expanding due to social IT networking and collaboration tools being deployed in other departments. Industry analysts report seeing an incremental rise in IT department members being asked to contribute their technical expertise and Microsoft skill sets to support the infrastructure once solely involving engineering and design teams. PLM software companies have come to understand that within the product design environment, there are many new challenges to collaborate across far-extending teams and geographies. When you add to the mix the sophistication of product development processes, it is easy to see how both managers and their teams can feel overwhelmed by the many options to address these challenges, especially in light of the importance of dealing with security and being in compliance.
In what has become a global economy in the last decade, manufacturers today have to make the most productive use of the skills and knowledge of their own people regardless of where they—as well as their business partners—reside and adopt a more collaborative approach to do so. The innovation of collaboration tools, which historically began with e-mail, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, instant messaging, LinkedIn, wikis, and other social forums, is further progressing into next generation collaboration dashboards (like Microsoft Sharepoint, Sabisu, and Internet-based communications platforms). The idea is to provide companies with real-time visibility to product data and share information across planning, design, costing, sourcing, manufacturing, and logistics.
There is no doubt that collaboration tools are quickly evolving and helping growing companies to create even better and more effective "virtual teams." The extended reach of these virtual teams have advanced as well to include internal employees and a company’s supply chain partners, such as vendors, outsourced services, distribution houses, consultants, integrators, distributors, as well as customers, private labeled partners, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This results in bringing together the right people at the right time, even when they are in different locations to deliver higher productivity, operation optimization, and often more creativity in product designs and innovation. According to ARC Advisory Group, collaboration is a key factor that is driving better business performance because it enables teams to tackle business challenges more effectively, speeding up decision-making and transforming key activities like new product development.
Social computing era
Emergence of Web 2.0 capabilities has taken center stage in positioning wider adoption of social computing, where individuals, at home or at work, can easily and simply engage with peers and colleagues. Sharing information and opinions has become easier and more collaborative than ever before. According to ARC Advisory Group, what we are witnessing is the convergence of social real-time collaboration and PLM across product development organizations in connecting the people and the products they develop to create communities that solve real problems and develop breakthrough product ideas.
There are PLM vendors on opposite ends of the spectrum with Dassault Systèmes promoting its “Social 3DExperience platform” and PTC and Autodesk with “Social PLM” to Omnify Software’s approach in providing a “Social Collaboration Portal.”
In reality, social media adoption use for product design still has a long way to go. Companies are using social media as a low-cost way to broadcast a message but not necessarily as a means of collecting customer input that can be turned into valuable information.
Josh Bernoff, senior vice president of Idea Development at Forrester Research, put it bluntly: “We're several years into the social marketing boom, but still many executives are going about social strategy backward: picking technologies like Facebook or Twitter first instead of focusing on what they want to accomplish.”
Social collaboration transforms global outsourcing
ISG, the sourcing advisory firm, reports that social media collaboration, mobility, cloud computing, and big data are the key factors that have impacted global outsourcing during 2012 and will reshape outsourcing in the long term. Companies will use collaboration tools to accelerate growth by using the skills and knowledge of suppliers, partners, and customers in an "extended enterprise." Author Patricia Seybold coined the process term for this: "outside innovation." PLM customers often will outsource functions, whether engineering, manufacturing, or logistics, to quickly gain greater scale or reduce costs.
Enterprise software deployments are complex, customized to each customer and incredibly time-consuming. Seybold continued: “The future of global outsourcing is going to have to move to more social, collaborative environments where customers, partners, and employees are able to communicate more readily amongst themselves.”
For engineering and design departments, it seems that it is the IT group that is brought in to set up ad hoc internal social networking tools and facilitate the free flow of information between teams. Once this is done, it becomes apparent that product management is impacted with engineering interfaces extended to product service and support functions. Real-time feedback on product performance improves the accuracy of demand and manufacturing planning. Workflow-based systems minimize design iterations, while enabling streamlined engineering and ensuring regulatory compliance.
Mevion Medical Systems Inc., a radiation therapy company, has a globally distributed workforce and a business solutions requirement to be available 24/7 on all company-supported platforms (PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and IOS). Making PLM software an integral part of the company’s R&D process via the cloud has enabled Mevion Medical Systems to create a more collaborative environment for innovation and made content sharing available from any device. Mevion sees its collaborative environment extending past the integration of social networking capabilities and encompassing data sharing from all devices the company uses.
All company employees use the PLM software “on a daily basis from their computers, smartphones, and tablets; both within the company network and through remote secured VPN connections,” said Edward Quinn, Mevion Medical Systems IT Manager.
Next page shows a detailed diagram and information on social networking tools
Social networking tools
ISG proposes a collaboration model that generates intellectual capital gathered from all of a company’s relevant constituents, including pertinent social networks that tap into the final customer’s insight where they air their views about products. Today there is even more sharing and shifting of power from marketers to customers where the manufacturer can’t afford to ignore customer sentiments that are presented through the conversations going on in the social media sphere.
According to ARC Advisory Group, soliciting these conversations, paying attention to the advice, and integrating them into product lifecycle management will save manufacturers several marketing dollars.
The speed of product design into a lifecycle process is hastened through the addition of social technologies and the impact they can bring. Innovation management is a critical business process that is most effective when implemented as an end-to-end continuous process driven by a culture of innovation and enabled by technology.
According to Michael Fauscette, group vice president of software business solutions at IDC, “building a collaborative enterprise is about a lot more than just some new software tools; it’s about fundamental changes to culture and behavior. There are four phases of innovation management: idea-source, develop, produce, and feedback, built on new social technologies that are integrated across a business. Such an approach will help companies compete more effectively in the rapidly changing global, hyper-connected business environment we have today.”
It’s not a revelation to see PLM slowly adopting social habits, just like some other enterprise processes and tools. Manufacturing industries and engineers have been slower in adoption than marketers and media. Managing security and compliance continues to be one of main struggles. There are real risks to using social media, ranging from damaging the brand to exposing proprietary information to inviting lawsuits. Even the most responsible employees have lapses in judgment, make mistakes, or behave emotionally.
Dealing with a confidential design comment in the office is one thing; if the comment or slip-up on providing confidential product design details is made on a work-related social media account, then it's out there, and it most likely can't be retrieved. Most industry experts agree that without putting in place a social media policy for your enterprise, you may be inviting disaster. Companies need to spell out and be up front with the goals and parameters of its social media initiative. Otherwise they are not properly mitigating risk. It is important to predetermine who is allowed to use social media on behalf of the organization and what they're allowed to share.
Bertrand Sicot, CEO of SolidWorks (part of Dassault Systemes), noted that while people still have some insecurity about data sharing in the cloud, the general belief is that more people are growing more comfortable about using it: “Regardless of the platform, our customers are always ensuring their IP is protected.” He continued, “There is a bigger concern when data residing outside their infrastructure is contemplated. We have seen a similar scenario with how unsure we were about conducting online banking just a few years back, and now people have come to embrace it. We anticipate the same will happen in our industry. People in time will become more comfortable with the security put in place to protect their designs.”
Collaborative tools change product development
Social media and collaboration tools are changing how product development was once regarded. Gone are the days of the closed-door, experts-only approach to designing and engineering products. There is a new force in town made up of social-savvy mobile employees that are Internet-enabled and always connected. PLM users have no choice but to expand, rethink implementation strategies and plans, and embrace the fundamental shifts in PLM enabling technologies and their use for collaboration.
Experts are concluding that the enterprises that seize the opportunities offered by these shifts in PLM software models enabled by social business tools—in particular, by leveraging their mobile connected workforce—will be in a better position to use new collaborative skills being brought to the workplace and consequently will have better engineered products.
- Marlee Rosen is research analyst at Rosen Associates. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,firstname.lastname@example.org.
Extra information above and below appear in this article, beyond what appears in the August 2013 Control Engineering print and digital edition.
Social business platform helps product design, manufacturing management collaboration
Omnify Software advocates conducting perception studies with customers to prioritize how its social dashboard could provide the most value. They went about identifying how users would want to communicate product lifecycle management (PLM) data with suppliers, customers, manufacturing partners, and other external resources and uncovered that customers want a web-based social platform that can allow for communicating product information in a secure environment that eliminates the need for partners to directly access their Omnify Empower system.
Omnify partnered with Sabisu, a social business platform provider that makes complex operational environments manageable. The partnership has yielded a social business portal that is promoting faster, better product design and manufacturing management collaboration. This type of social portal eliminates the use of e-mails and spreadsheets to share information with external resources and instead provides the ability for these channels to access real-time information from anywhere in the world, shorten the communication cycle, and make better decisions.
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