In many PLM communities, you see discussions and statements, that there will be a significant impact on the way we perform product lifecycle management using social media capabilities. In this post I will give my thoughts without going in-depth into certain products. At the bottom of this post you will find some links to posts which contributed to my opinion (the usual suspects).
Let’s first establish a baseline, why we want Product Lifecycle Management. In a general PLM is a vision, to bring products to the market faster, with better quality, being innovative and more customer focused.
This vision can be implemented by best practices, like a standardized global staged New Product Introduction process, an enterprise wide Engineering Change Process, integration between different disciplines to work globally on a single repository for product definition and many more depending on your industry..
Two words pop up here: a single repository for product definition and global. This is where the technology comes in. Due to an improved world-wide (internet / WAN) connectivity, the capabilities are there to communicate efficient around a single repository for product definition and reliable, around the globe . The world became a global workplace and we are all connected. The improved connectivity enables PLM vendors (and others) to promote the “single version of the truth” concept.
Single Version of the truth
The idea behind it is that, if you store everything in a single database, you will always find the right information. This idea was developed at the time the world was not yet global and people were thinking more local.
Some of the major ERP vendors also push for this concept. If you store all your data in their single platform, you are sure there is no redundancy of data, so you are always confident about the content is the message. This concept is often embraced by IT-departments, as the message having one single platform or one single system for all enterprise data sound like efficient. (I call it Swiss Knife thinking – it does everything – but would you use it for professional work ?)
As long as we are talking about explicit data and local activities, this concept seems to prove itself. However, a lot of informal activities exist around the product development process, and these activities are not managed.
In 2009, I participated in a COE Automotive panel, where one of the attendees in the audience stood up accused the PLM vendors of making their life so complex. He said:
“If we have an issue on the shop floor with production, we just gather the right people and solve the issue – no need to fill in screens of data that PLM or ERP systems require. And if there was a customer with a problem, we send a service engineer and the problem is fixed”
Of course if his company was a global company, it would be impossible to gather all around the shop floor, or to visit the customer site and solve it in a reasonable time.
To avoid missing information, PLM and ERP systems try to collect as much as possible information in their systems, to have the best possible single version of the truth. Through immersive integrations and clever business logic, the user has to enter the minimum of information only once. However for the user still too much and way to complex they complain (and still not enough information is captured).
My conclusion so far: Single version of the truth is a concept to collect a majority of product related data, however missing all the informal communication, which is exchanged during talking (and later emailing and modern means of communication).
Extending the single version of the truth
The single version of the truth is an important implementation concept for PLM and it requires already a major challenge for companies. Imagine all information that you produce will be stored in such a manner that everyone authorized can see it and it is stored in such a manner that someone else also can understand the information (and not only you) . This is such an important change process often overlooked by IT-driven PLM implementations.
PLM Vendors focus on the tools to provide a platform to capture and share product data all around the product lifecycle. Not easy either as development is often based on generic functionality not optimized for a certain user role.
To understand the context of the shared data, you would like to hear or rewind the discussions people had at that time – as from these discussion a lot of implicit information can be retrieved. But no one wants to enter implicit information in a PLM system.
And then going global
Continuing with product development towards a global operation and addressing the communication around the product development is the next logic step. As it is much more difficult to communicate directly with everyone around the world, it is obvious that here social media come in the picture.
Initial people were using email to exchange ideas with other people around the world. This created new problems – sometimes huge attachments of unmanaged data, sometimes important information in mail boxes of only a few people, relevant for many. Email is against the concept of a single version of the truth as people were creating there own non-pubic archives of product discussions. Before the WEB 2.0 revolution, PLM vendors provided email integrations or embedded email functionality in their PLM system. Still there a millions of email databases (Lotus Notes / Exchange) with product data, development data and more not visible for many.
The 2.0 change
A trend we see in social media is that your ‘old’ email system becomes more a notification system, that you got a direct message through one of your social platforms (RSS feeds, LinkedIn, Facebook, Blog, etc). Of course, if you are connected to all these platforms on-line all the time, you do not need a notification system anymore and you are connected to whom you want and when you want – a little bit back to the old days. If you enter a social environment, you are a participant of the communication going on – you can look around or participate.
The benefit from social collaboration is that is does not push you into a structure of managed data. And it provides you with on-line communication with everyone who is in your selected community. The downside with the known social media is that it is not clear and secure, what happens with this information shared in social platforms. Will it be sold to special interest groups ? Can you find it through a search engine ?
For product related social collaboration, we need obviously more secure communities to collaborate. And as for this collaboration you do not know who is in your trusted company network, it is clear that cloud based solutions come in as a logical technical infrastructure. Of course these communities must be as easy accessible as popular social media and well integrated in the user’s environment.
Global single version of the truth ?
Combining the single version of the truth concept and the loose communication and content of social media brings us to the challenge of current PLM consultants, vendors and implementers. All the information collected in current social platforms is hard to find or interpret. If you use the embedded search functions in these communities, they are not designed for clever searches – you need to know the context? And then the question pops up if it is all information that existed ? You do not know as you do not see the full picture.
An old-fashioned managing all this data in our PLM system won’t work either. The capturing and classification and linking of data would be too much overhead for the reluctant user. We do not want to manage and justify each action that we do. (although this were knowledge management concepts in the 90’s)
And this is where extended search comes in for PLM. The extended search is the glue between the single version of the truth and all the unmanaged data around the product in communities. Integrating this in a single environment is the challenge for PLM vendors (and less important for ERP vendors).
Why mainly for PLM vendors ? The main reason is that in product development a lot of iterations, knowledge building, searching and capturing of date takes place. The more you know and understand, the better you are capable to make adequate decisions, understanding the right context during your development process. And for that you need the formal and informal information, global available across disciplines, companies and countries.
I see two major requirements for these extended search capabilities.
- First of all the search engine should understand your context and skip irrelevant discussions and posts from your social media. I have seen how this could be done. In 2007, Yedda, an Israeli startup bought by AOL, came with an intelligent question and answer engine. The concept behind the engine was that it mapped the context of the question to your profile, to the community you belonged and compared it to other profiles of people in the community. The more you asked and the more your answered the clearer your context became. In additions your answers were rewarded by others, and the more thumbs up you got, the more value you provided to the community – saving your boss to do appraisals.
- Search engines should provide you with a facetted search to drill down on the search results. As you do not know exactly what you are looking for, some keywords should do and then as a next step based on your context and the search context you should be able to drill down to the information you are looking for. This information should now give you a better understanding of the context of your product – if it is versioned ? if it is the latest ? Leave this to PLM.
Classic PLM (single version of the truth) and social media capabilities (easy collaboration in communities) combined with an extended search engine are the mandatory capabilities for a modern global PLM implementation where both formal and informal data are managed in the context of a product
Links for reference: