December 21, 2009
Engineering With Social Media
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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IFS North America is releasing the results of a study that shows that manufacturers want to see more integration between social networking tools and their enterprise resources planning (ERP) systems – and more social network-like, enterprise 2.0 functionality.

The study, conducted for IFS by a third-party research organization, found that while 40 percent of survey respondents said that ERP and social networking integration was extremely or very important, the vast majority indicated that they wanted their ERP system to help them perform functions typically associated with social networks and other Web-based collaboration tools. A full 62 percent of respondents said they wanted their ERP system to “capture and record the knowledge of senior experienced engineers and professionals so that it becomes part of your corporate knowledge base.” Among manufacturers with more than $1 billion in revenue, 72 percent said they wanted this

“Enterprise 2.0 and social media tools are designed to draw information out of people, to get them to talk,” IFS North America Chief Technical Officer Rick Veague said. “This will become more of a business critical issue as the current generation of senior manufacturing operations and maintenance professionals prepare for retirement, only to be replaced by a smaller, less experienced but more technologically sophisticated generation. Wikis, threaded discussion boards and other features of social media will become common fixtures in enterprise software—including IFS Applications.”

According to IFS AB Chief Technology Officer Dan Matthews, IFS is taking seriously the challenges presented by the aging and shrinking workforce, and is introducing functionality to address these needs. IFS has already evolved IFS Applications in this direction with its new usability-enhanced interface, IFS Enterprise Explorer, which includes embedded search tools and innovative knowledge capture devices including “sticky notes,” which allow users to informally add and edit comments to any record.

“We have been told that IFS is fairly unique in that we operate a Web 2.0 community for our users,” Matthews said. “We are planning to integrate this community directly with the applications so that our customers can access the wisdom of users outside of their organization as they learn the finer points and more advanced features of IFS Applications. We are also working to structure our embedded help information not as static documentation, but in the format of wikis, so that our customers can document their business processes and indeed, capture the knowledge of senior people in a format that has lasting enterprise value.”

The study was based on a survey of more than 260 manufacturing software decision makers. An in-depth report of the findings will be available from IFS North America later this month.

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

We thought we’d close out the year with a topic that seems to have about as many opinions as possibilities – social media (also known in some circles as social networking) in the MCAD world.

Things in this fast-evolving social media sphere are constantly changing, as are the technologies for authoring and publishing. Just as the telephone and fax machine superseded postal mail, computers and email superseded the fax, and today social media are superseding everything previous, and can be delivered from and to cell phones.

While some are obnoxious based on their sometimes insipid, self-serving content, most of my favorite social media feeds come from customers and users. While some are obviously biased, just as many are brutally frank about the trials, travails, and warts present in the software applications and hardware they are struggling with. On the other hand, though, people love transparent biases .Social media “spam” is as pervasive as it is for email, but is easier to deal with by just turning off a Twitterer or “unfriending” a Facebooker.

With the continuing trend of collaboration for design and engineering, social media is a natural fit and enabler. However, I have to admit, it’s probably gainer wider acceptance among younger engineers (below 40?). With all of the NDAs and non-compete agreements I’ve had to sign in my lives as a design engineer and technical writer, this openness is sometimes a bit unnerving, although I’m getting more comfortable with it all the time.

Even though blogs have been around for several years, adoption in the technical/engineering community was relatively slow going at first. Twitter, really a micro-blogger, seemed to have even a slower rate of early adoption in engineering. That’s all changing, though.

On another level, consider vendor-as-publisher, a trend that’s picking up steam. All of the major MCAD vendors are attempting to understand and leverage social media. In fact, a few of the vendors have managers and directors of social media efforts, groups, and departments. Twitter and Facebook (one vendor’s spokesperson repeatedly, mistakenly, and annoyingly referred to it as “Spacebook,” and this person is highly regarded in the industry) are becoming the norm with just about all software and hardware vendors.

I like some of the vendor outlets for the forums, message boards, and discussion groups that they provide. Also, I like the ability to ask a technical question and usually get it answered promptly and correctly by a fellow user or users. I’ve experienced that social media provide a more open and interactive platform for online user communities where you can participate as a known entity or anonymously – both of which can be handy at certain times.

I like to keep my social networking on a professional level (LinkedIn, Plaxo, and a bit of Twitter) – I’m really not into the personal level and making it part of my “digital lifestyle.” I spend too much time in front of the computer as it is with writing, photography, and design projects to let it further intrude in my life. To be honest, I perform probably 90%+ of my professional social media interaction with my cell phone. It’s there when I want it and not when I don’t. Social media has really expanded my horizons in terms of contacts and knowledge sources. It has also changed the type and level of relationships I have with other people, evn though
I haven’t and may never meet them face to face.

A final word of caution: Although more specific to your particular interests, social media should be regarded exactly the same as information found elsewhere through other online sources. In other words, just because it’s on the Web doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. That’s OK, though, because most engineers are skeptical by nature anyway.

How successful social media will be in the engineering community has yet to be determined; it really depends on how much the engineering community puts into it. It is, however, definitely making an impact and introducing a new way of communicating thoughts and ideas. I think social media is changing and improving the way we do things in product development, engineering, and business as we move into a new year.

2010 MCADCafe Monthly Topics

Below are the MCAD-related topics we are planning on covering in 2010. It will be a very interesting year. If there is a particular MCAD-related topic you would like to see covered, contact us and we’ll give it consideration. We want to provide what you want.

January – Cloud Computing with MCAD Applications

February – CAE Trends – analysis/simulation – FEA, CFD

               Show Coverage – SolidWorks World 2010

March – Product Data Management (PDM) for SMBs

April – Robotics

Show Coverage – FIRST Robotics Competiton (Nationwide)

May – Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing

Show Coverage – SME RP/RM/RE

June – Parametric Mathematical Modeling

Show Coverage – PTC Pro/USER

July – Open Source CAD/CAM/CAE Software

Show Coverage – Open Source

                Show Coverage – SIGGRAPH

August – Industrial Design – practice and trends

Show Coverage – IDSA International Conference

September – CAM Trends

Show Coverage – IMTS

Show Coverage – Midwest Design and Mfg.

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You can find the full MCADCafe event calendar here.

To read more news, click here.

-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

Review Article
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