SharePoint Brings Out a Social Side to PLM

DN Staff

April 27, 2011

4 Min Read
SharePoint Brings Out a Social Side to PLM

There's no doubt that the general public is gaga over publicsocial networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.Many are moving beyond the debate over whether these platforms have utility forbusiness and are showing real use cases with quantifiable benefits.

Yet rather than push such social networking sites onto theirengineering audience by integrating them with their core platforms, companieslike Siemens PLM Softwareand others are talking up how to apply social networking concepts to existingdesign tools to foster new ways of collaboration intended to streamline theproduct development process.

In the latest example, Siemens PLM Software announced thatTeamcenter now supports the latest Microsoft SharePoint 2010 release to deliveran array of social networking functionality to the PLM platform. Specifically, TeamcenterCommunity and Teamcenter 8.0, built on top of SharePoint 2010, delivercapabilities as wikis, blogs, directory capabilities and other collaborativefunctions to enhance different aspects of the design process. Suchcapabilities, for example, can help dispersed design teams orchestrateengineering change orders more efficiently by delivering all the necessaryinformation-from task lists to 3-D CAD models-to a single shared workspaceaccessible by all team members with functionality like instant messaging andvideo chats available to facilitate the process. "There's lots of informationin a change package in Teamcenter, but sometimes it's not enough for someone tobe comfortable to sign off on a change," notes John Gearty, a technicalconsultant for Siemens PLM Software. "With this, you're not holding up theprocess."

By exploiting new capabilities in the SharePoint 2010release, Teamcenter Community can provide additional social product developmentfunctionality. There is now an ability to sort people based on social distance,meaning how they are connected in a collaborative networks, along with new waysfor searching through expert directories to seek out colleagues by skills or byprojects. There are also additional features for co-authoring content withpeers, useful for things like design reviews, and tagging capabilities muchlike what's offered in mainstream social network platforms.

"We are talking about the use of social networking conceptsto enhance product development-we are not suggesting that anyone rely onFacebook or Twitter to design the next-generation smart phone or corporatejet," notes Bill Boswell, senior director, Teamcenter Marketing, at Siemens PLMSoftware.

This kind of approach makes sense given that many engineers and manufacturershave security concerns related to sharing critical product-related intellectualproperty (IP) out on an open network. AninformalDesign News survey conducted earlier this year showed that most respondentswere cautious about using sites like Twitter or Facebook in their day-to-dayengineering and product development roles.

Nevertheless, Boswell is confident that social networkingconcepts can enhance the product development process in a number of ways. Hereare a couple of scenarios he suggests:

  • Dynamic digital gathering spaces that mimic thereal-world conversations that have traditionally happened in hallways or breakrooms. Given that product team members are scattered across the globe, virtualcollaborative spaces dedicated to various product development initiatives canenable team members to find everything related to a project in one place, fromshared documents to contact information and project timelines. The addition ofsocial networking concepts like profiles, wikis, blogs, status updates andonline meetings merely enhance the virtual world of collaboration and makethings happen quicker.

  • Shared applications or multi-user work. Thisenables true application sharing where two or more users can simultaneouslyaccess the same application or document-or CAD model-on their computers similarto how people in different locations can play multi-user games over theInternet. This type of social collaboration lends itself to virtual designreviews, where shared visualization software, for example, would allow CADmodels regardless of format to be displayed on-screen as a virtual assembly forviewing, exploding or annotating as team members sit in a teleconference.

Aerospace giant NorthropGrumman is a Siemens PLM Software customer availing itself of many of thesesocial network concepts available with Teamcenter 8.0 and SharePoint 2010. Thecompany has rolled the capabilities to multiple internal sites as well as to partnersand customers, allowing them to share product-related information and materialsin a more effective manner, according to James Ayers, CAD/CAM leader andcommunity collaboration SIG leader. "We were fearful about adoption, gettingusers to use the tool, but what we should have feared was [mass] adoption fromthe viral wave of people requesting to get on the tool," he says. Movingforward, Northrop Grumman plans to extend the social capabilities of Teamcenterwith instant messaging and presence management capabilities, among otherfunctions.

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