I viewed an interesting webinar the other day regarding Aras’s new version 11.0 which contains a new feature called Visual Collaboration. In the past, Aras was referring to this feature as Secure Social. The new functionality Visual Colab Viewerbasically allows users to create chat discussions around objects in the database. In most cases these discussions would be around file data such as CAD models and drawings, PowerPoint presentations, etc. but can be expanded to any item type of object such as BOM data, contact info, etc. Not only can users create such discussions, but for file data you can view the data in a web based viewer (which has the standard web based viewing abilities… zoom, pan, rotate, etc.) redline the data and then take snapshots of it to associates in the chat discussions. The functionality also includes:

  • Bookmarks to track what you posted
  • Ability to flag objects and track posts that interest you
  • Forums to have a general discussion around topics that do not necessary involve an object like parts and documents. Forums can be open to all users with Aras or restricted to a specified set of users. In addition, Aras data can be linked to the forum for discussionsDiscussion Forum
  • Hyperlinks to easily access related data
  • The ability to access these discussions in mobile devices; as of now there is one app to access the information from a mobile device. This app is developed for Microsoft Mobile devices though it can and most likely will be expanded to other mobile platforms such as Apple and Android.

The goal of such functionality is to increase collaboration including the visual aspects of collaboration across the enterprise in a secure and controlled fashion (a picture is worth a thousand words). Teams such as engineering, quality, operations, marketing, etc. can easily view, mark up and comment on data in the system. These comments – what we think of as collaborative thoughts – hopefully can increase suggestions, avenues for improvement and even nourish new concepts in a more effective and efficient manner.

The question that comes into play is will this functionality truly accomplish the goals described above? Will the ability to take snapshots of data with or without markups and comment on them increase productivity / reduce cost? It seems like any type of communications/collaboration should add value to a company. Is creating a discussion session/chat session around data in PLM easier than doing it over email? Calling someone over phone? Scheduling a meeting? The answer is most likely dependent on the specific scenario involved. Of course, PLM provides the ability of communicating in a secure and managed manner… allowing the necessary people to see it and add their own thoughts and suggestions. Obviously any data stored and managed in the PLM system can be accessed, searched and consumed when appropriate.

This being said, such chatting / discussing threads with multiple members may add “clutter” to the system. Do we want a PLM system to track such info? Although there are some filtering and grouping in functionality available in the Aras solution and other PLM systems, I am questioning whether open social collaboration can “spam” the discussion in some cases and side track the team from the important points. This is not an issue with the Aras solution but raises the general concerns about unnecessary meetings, lack of agenda and time wastage. These comments are equally valid for other vendors’ social solutions.

Maybe the question is: Even if the company embraces such functionality does the company culture support working in such a manner? Today we see more and more social applications being embraced from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter–the list goes on and on. Individuals are changing the way they communicate and work. More and more people text, then call or send an email. They are comfortable using social media and will view such functionality as a normal extension of their everyday use of social media. And by enabling the social aspects of collaboration productivity should increase. I feel that any PLM company worth its salt should be embracing such functionality and looking for ways to incorporate it into their systems.

I would also like lot mention that Aras is not alone in adding such functionality. Enovia V6, one of the other main PLM systems we work with, is incorporating an integrating functionality from the SWYM solution (which is one of the solutions Dassault purchased a few years ago). SWYM is a social media platform that allows discussions, forums, etc. very similar to Facebook but associate to an enterprise. These social functionalities, along with the PLM functionality which Dassault has expanded to include visualization and simulation, etc., are being combined together into the 3D Experience platform solution. Not to get side tracked here with what Dassault is doing, I just wanted to point out that other companies are incorporating the ‘social/collaborative’ functionality with each company having adding its own flavor to it.

I am excited about the areas where PLM is going. There will be some interesting times in the PLM world as companies embrace and expand on such functionality. I would be interested in getting your thoughts on such matters as well. Feel free to reach out to me on the Aras Visual Collaboration solution or any PLM collaborative/social solution.

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