How to Make People More Willing to Share Knowledge in Their PLM Environment

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In Why Some People Don’t Like PLM, Graham McCall said that some product lifecycle management (PLM) users’ reluctance to share knowledge with others is the obstacle toward higher acceptance of PLM. I thought his point made perfect sense, and my instant reaction was to ask myself: How can this problem be resolved? Ideally, a PLM system is a platform for people to work together. This means that knowledge sharing is mutually beneficial—by sharing knowledge with others, you also get hold of others’ knowledge. This sounds like an incentive for PLM users to share their knowledge, but when it comes to the real PLM environment in production, this is not always the case.

My thought stopped there for a while and then came back to me after I attended the Siemens Industry Software Analyst Conference because I felt things that I saw at the event were quite relevant to the cure I was looking for.

First of all, I think people are reluctant to share knowledge because people don’t want to give away their power (as McCall mentioned)—but also because it is difficult to share knowledge within some PLM systems.

Many of today’s knowledge workers are probably aware of the mutual benefit of knowledge sharing already. The problem is, after performing their raison d'être, and following the procedures to securely manage their work within the PLM database, designers and product developers perhaps aren’t very motivated to do extra sharing if the functionality to share knowledge is not handy enough.

In order to resolve this problem, the usability of PLM systems has to be improved so users are relieved from non-value-added chores and are able to allocate more time on knowledge-oriented work. By looking at Siemens PLM Software’s efforts (from computer-aided design [CAD] visualization, to role-based UI, and then to High Definition PLM [HD-PLM]) in boosting the usability of its PLM offering Teamcenter, I do feel that today’s PLM solutions are switching from a data holder and sophisticated “calculator” to a more friendly assistant that helps users in a smarter manner.

In specific, I liked the following functionality or features within Teamcenter:

  • Microsoft Office integration: In a previous post I mentioned that this integration allows a better user experience for content generation. This feature will facilitate the sharing process as well.

  • Sticky Notes: A tool that captures issues, actions, questions, or otherwise everything worth capturing associated with any object managed in the PLM environment.

  • SharePoint Integration: Built on Windows SharePoint Services, Teamcenter Community Collaboration provides a venue for sharing knowledge with multiple product stakeholders. This is especially meaningful for tacit knowledge generated through informal communications.

Ease-of-sharing is the first step to better manage knowledge related to a product. But it is even more important to easily extract value from what is being shared. PLM systems have done a relatively decent job on storing product data and information throughout its evolution during the past couple of decades. The next big thing is how to make these data and information more useful. Analytics and search are two promising components that will help.

Siemens PLM has been offering reporting and analytics capabilities for a while—the first availability seen in 2006—and its analytics capabilities are not limited to PLM data but to data from virtually any enterprise application. One use case I’m interested to see is the combination of analytics and community involvement in the product development environment (or so called social product development), so knowledge sharing is not only something PLM users do at will but also something that is measureable based on the frequency and quality of their contributions.

As for the search component, the PLM industry is working on it from two interesting perspectives—enterprise search, which allows users to navigate through a variety of data and information sources, and better search capabilities on CAD models. As indicated in Teamcenter’s product roadmap, visual search, as a component in its HD-PLM offering, is expected to be released in the near future. There’s no detail about Siemens PLM’s visual search, but I hope it will enhance the user experience on both enterprise search and CAD search.

In sum, besides being a change management issue as McCall pointed out, the difficulty of sharing information in the PLM environment is also a knowledge management (KM) issue. During the last ten years or so, KM has been a topic, albeit on and off, in the PLM world, but never with significant traction. Nevertheless, I see that tying KM with PLM adoption has become much more feasible than before.
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