Social Product Development

Friday, June 24, 2011

Al Dean does Vegas (and PlanetPTC Live): Windchill SocialLink

So let’s see. If you do everything I tell you to do (of course you do) – you should, like me, be recovering from last week’s PlanetPTC Live event in Las Vegas. Well, I mean, hopefully you’ve made it back from Vegas – if you haven’t, you really know how to do it up, in which case I should probably be listening to you instead.

Someone who did make it to the event in Vegas this year, and who is certainly someone worth listening to, is Al Dean, co-founder and editor of DEVELOP3D. We’ve given Al a few days to let the jet lag and…um…excitement…wear off – then pestered him with a virtual interview about his thoughts on the event.

Erin: Al, you’ve posted your own recap of the event on the Develop3D blog – which I’ve excerpted here: “This year’s user conference was [the best conference] …I’ve [ever] attended.” I mean, I’ve edited a little bit for clarity, but I’m pretty sure I’ve captured the tone and meaning correctly. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Al: Or words to that fact. Though I'm the Editor around here punk.

Erin: That’s Ms. Punk, if you don’t mind. You cover your thoughts on the Creo release in your own blog, so I won’t belabor that here. But you’ve also mentioned that you had a chance to check out a little bit of Windchill SocialLink, PTC’s SharePoint-based solution supporting Social Product Development. The world wants to know, what did you think?

Al: I'd not seen it before so I was keen to get a look live rather than squinting at a Webex, you know? While there's a trend towards building "social tools" into professional tools, a lot of that is focusing outside of the existing corporate systems stack, there's relatively few doing it within existing systems - like SharePoint. That's what caught my attention. If the sub system or platform is already in place, then the chances are the tools will gain more traction and actually get used.

Erin: Building on that, how important is a tie-in to the actual CAD or PLM/PDM system, from the engineer’s perspective? I mean, certainly companies out there are using standalone social platforms like Yammer or even the social computing functionality of SharePoint on its own to collaborate broadly – we can assume that some of that collaboration relates to product development and design activities. Is that next level down, direct integration with the product development tools, a need to have, or a nice to have?

Al: Yup. That's one of the key things that many are missing. If a social platform is going to take off in a professional environment, it needs to fit into those existing systems where possible rather than standalone. They're usually pre-certified for corporate use. They can reach outside the design and engineering department - piggybacking on corporate rules - you know, security, project access and such. Integrating them into both the authoring tools and management systems makes a lot of sense. If a designer or engineer can share some details (even if it's just an automated screenshot) or share a link to a managed asset, then you're reducing the hassle and again, people will use it, can contribute thoughts based on something solid. The tools in Creo look like a good start and it's better than most have got to so far, even at this embryonic stage.

Erin: It certainly seems like most vendors in the space are trying, or at least talking, social. Do you think social in concert with engineering is more of a fad, an interesting but not core piece of feature/functionality? Or is it the inevitable future of CAD (insert dramatic music here), given the expectations of engineers coming into the workforce now, and their comfort level with consumer-oriented social tools? And you don’t have to say the latter just because that’s what I want you to say. Really.

Al: There's a shift coming. Not about technology, collaboration or social platforms but communication. Just that. The next generation has dramatically different expectations in terms of how they communicate with both their peers and seniors. It's nothing to do engineering or design but all across the board. The next generation of professionals will look to these tools if they're effective and can be used without interrupting their workflow.

Watch a bunch of kids with Blackberries (which is increasingly common in the UK as they're cheap). They'll maintain a physical conversation while communicating digitally with those not geographically present. That's not going to roll backwards and it's going to push forward. I'd be surprised if we could have this chat in three years time without sounding like doddery old geezers sitting on a park bench.

So if employers want to get the most out of their employees then they're going to need to provide an environment that supports this shift. Otherwise they'll be missing a trick and not getting the best out of the digital kids. The other thing is that they'll also dump an ineffective tool and work around it. That combination is going to provide a challenge for software vendors. They're going to have to step up their game in terms of ease of use and workflow integration - otherwise adoption will stall and stall hard and fast.

Erin: I love it. And I think you’ve just committed to another interview, in three years time, on a park bench somewhere. We’ll see who’s a doddery old geezer then. Deal?

Al: Sounds like a pact with the devil but I'm game.

Erin: So to wrap things up, tell us something juicy – how does Al Dean do Vegas? Any highlights from last week?

Al: Vegas and I have a long history. I've broken my ankle there and barely maintained my sanity. Best places to hang are off the strip. I don't gamble and I'm not a big fan of a lot of noise. Favourite spot is the Double Down Saloon. Grab a bunch of people you know, hells, some you don't. Change ten bucks for quarters, play pool and feed a rather spectacular jukebox. A good place to let your hair down. Or in my case, not so much.

Erin: Sanity is over-rated. And the Double Down Saloon is under-rated. Thanks for taking me there. *cough* Twice. And thanks again for taking the time to chat with me – I promise I’ll destroy those incriminating photos as soon as this is published. Looking forward to seeing you at the event next year, or somewhere in between.

You can read Al’s ongoing and always insightful take on product lifecycle technology on his website, If you’re really nice to him, he might even send you a glossy copy of the magazine.

If you weren’t among the lucky bunch now trying to either forget or remember what happened in Vegas, you can join the PlanetPTC Live group in the PlanetPTC Community to learn more about what you missed:

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