Antisocial Enterprise II: The Wrath of the Engineer

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895The so-called social enterprise is a Hollywood train wreck.  It’s a horrible tragedy, but we can’t just can’t look away – I mean, just look at all those shiny promises smoldering in the rubble.  JJ Abrams would be proud.  As we gather by the fire, maybe roast a couple of marshmallows, interesting discussions are emerging as we try to rationalize the horror.  The forensics no doubt will reveal some rather unsettling realities – and Scooby-Doo style- the culprits may not be who you think they are.  At the center of the wreckage, we have social enterprise within the context of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).  After all, PLM seems a logical place for the social enterprise to take hold, considering PLM already aims to manage product data and process across enterprise silos.

Yet, as I detailed previously in Antisocial Enterprise, the ephemeral nature of social is not the solution.  These are not the droids you’re looking for.   In a recent article on PLM on My Brain, author Jim McKinney nevertheless tries to make sense of the PLM social madness.  One of his theories lays blame squarely on generational strife:

“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!”

I actually know quite a few card carrying members of the engineering old school, who have recurring vivid dreams about the Internet crashing, and  secretly wish we could revert to a time free of staring at electrons on screens… because then we could get back to doing some real work.  But being an engineer is all about embracing technology – and the old school will embrace technology with the same enthusiasm of their younger counterparts, provided the technology is relevant to them.  It’s not about some retro-fantasy that we should all be on Ceti Alpha V digging holes and holding wild animals in headlocks (well except for my friend Bill).

Case in point, the fact is three quarters of all connected users are using social networks, and the adoption rate for older users has closely mirrored that of the younger generation with a phase delay of merely a year or two.  So the problem is not generational.  The problem is the relevancy of social.

Social for social.  Relevant.  Social for work or for engineering?  IrrelevantResistance is futile.  Social has infinite possibilities.  You are finite.  Zathras is finite.  This… is wrong tool.

Delving a little closer to the truth, Jim highlights that recent attempts at social PLM have largely been delivered by tools disconnected from tools engineers are actually using.  For example, many of the social PLM frameworks are founded on everyone’s favorite disappointment, Microsoft Sharepoint.  Jim goes on to reason that perhaps the social promise might demonstrate improved effectiveness with greater integration.

A highly integrated social enterprise is really not about people, but the work.  In fact, it’s about improving the way we work.  It’s collaboration.  It’s decisions.  A recent article in from Wired states it perfectly:

“It seems crazy that 99% of companies lack a single place to track all of this, a definitive source of “truth” about everything they’re working on. Crazier still given that $304 billion will be spent on enterprise software this year, much of it — like enterprise social networks — purporting to solve these problems. The problem with many of these approaches is that they’re just ports of earlier technologies designed for connecting people, not for coordinating work.”

Let’s see… Hrm, this sounds so familiar… we need some kind of system to connect all work artifacts across silos so people can collaborate, work as a unit and make better decisions.  Man, there was something, that promised to do that…  Definitive source of truth – yeah I remember!  It’s just on the tip of my tongue.  Now what was it?  Started with a P, I think… P–PD–no… P-PLM!  Wait, what?

Oh, crap. 

This is about as epic as a fail can be.  The failure of social PLM and the social enterprise is actually the failure of PLM.  To understand recursion you must understand recursion.  We don’t need social jack in the enterprise.  We just need to fix what was promised to begin with!  With regard to the social failure Oleg Shilovitsky opines:

“However, here is the deal. The more I think about social, the more I’m convinced PLM vendors and startups in “social PLM” domain took a wrong approach by trying to convince that “social collaboration” will provide a silver bullet to improve communication between people. In my view, it is totally wrong. People are locked in silos and not interested to get out of their silos.”

And that’s the core of why we are where we are.  PLM as a vision is designed to de-silo the enterprise.  Yet PLM has often remained trapped in engineering as I detailed in The Price of a Thousand Functionalities.  Layering social connectivity for people on a heavily siloed tool about work, not surprisingly, ends up in failure.  The saga continues…