For the past two years I have heard many technology vendors touting the benefits of social tools. No one can miss the astounding uptake of such solutions as FacebookTwitter, PinterestLinkedin and others. There have been many articles onthe value that social tools can bring to your business. However, the uptake of social tools within Engineering organizations in the guise of social PLM has been very low; possibly non-existent.

Why is this the case? Is there no value in Engineering for social tools, or is it just hard to exploit these tools in the product development environment? There is clearly a need for more social collaboration during product design, so it would stand to reason that these social tools would have some value. As I have introduced many engineers to Social PLM in my PLM Certificate Education classes, I have often wondered about the lack of enthusiasm for these kinds of tools.

I think there are three main reasons for this lack of excitement for the potential value of Social PLM:

1) Age – Most of the people in my classes are not young. No offense, but most of you are pretty old, uh, I mean experienced. Very few are linked up with the tools teenagers user every day. Many of these experienced engineers look at Facebook and Twitter as huge time wasters with no real value. Some of my students are just now learning to text…what? Come on!

2) Email dependence – I am old enough to remember when some people called email a fad. Now we have become dependent on 100s of emails invading our in-box each day. When you tell most Engineers that there is something that might one day replace email, it’s like telling them you are taking away their favorite slide rule (I remember those too); the push-back is predictable.

3) Separate software applications – All of the Social PLM tools I have seen are delivered as separate software applications that must be learned. An Engineer is not going to leave the CAD/CAM/PDM/email environment to learn and use another application, unless required.

So, what is the answer? In my opinion, until we have social tools embedded into the native PDM applications that Engineers are using today to do their work, social PLM uptake will be slow. Look at some of what is available today: SocialLink from PTC3DSWYM from DassaultTeamcenter Community from SiemensPLM, and a host of point solutions: YammerJiveVuuch, etc… Many of these social solutions are based on MS Sharepoint, and they bring the inherent limitations of that tool. All of these software solutions also require the engineer to learn some type of new tool. I just don’t see that happening very quickly.

I hope to see social features moved from standalone software solutions into the PDM environment, where they are easy to use, and readily available. Then, I think you will see Engineers and others start to use them, and they will begin to see the value of social PLM tools for product design.

What do you think?