Connecting Experts to Get Products to Market Faster

Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink provides social computing capabilities with full connectivity to the product data in Arbortext PDMLink.

Updated 2/3/11: SocialLink is only available in the full Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill)

For many companies, the product development process now crosses organizational and national boundaries, making it more difficult than ever for team members to interact. Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink meets these challenges by combining social computing with rich product content from Arbortext PDMLink, to build powerful communities of innovators. Built upon Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink creates a place for product teams to engage within product and practice communities:

  • Create product and practice communities that capture and foster collaboration across the product development organization
  • Organize information based on product content from Arbortext PDMLink, improving relevance for community members
  • Deliver the right content to the right stakeholders in the right context

Here’s the idea:

We all know that collaboration is critical to the product development process. Products are becoming more complex, so development teams have to keep pace by bringing on more types of specialists. How can product development team members leverage the capabilities of experts from throughout the far corners of the extended enterprise to solve problems without delays?

Typically, you start by looking inside your team for the expertise needed to overcome these challenges. But in the common situation when you come up short, you’re faced with a difficult challenge.

It may be very difficult to locate an expert with precisely the credentials needed to tackle the problem at hand among the many technical people in the organization. The expert’s title or the specific project that the expert is assigned to might give little clue to whether he or she has the expertise needed to help solve the current problem. It may take a considerable amount of time for emails and phone calls to identify the right person. Even once the right expert is located, they will probably be far from the team that needs assistance, making it difficult to bring their skills to bear on the problem.

Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink addresses these issues by delivering powerful social computing tools that can improve product development team interaction throughout the product development lifecycle. SocialLink allows you to associate product data to communities and collaborative activities. Product designers and engineers can now engage one another in real time within the Arbortext PDMLink environment to ask questions, share information, solve problems and stay in touch with their colleagues.

Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink makes it much easier to locate experts throughout the organization. Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink includes Communities of Practice that can be established and organized by people with shared professional interests, such as plastics or Cloud Computing or DITA. Or, you can create communities that are linked to specific products in Arbortext PDMLink. Product developers can create profiles that provide a detailed description of their areas of expertise and experience. These skilled professionals can contribute knowledge by writing posts to their blog in the context of the product community or community of practice that technical writers can leverage when writing initial product documentation.

A product development team member trying to solve a problem can search for someone with the right expertise by searching profiles and blog posts. The team can post a question to a related practice or product community. Team members can automatically receive notifications of answers to their question, new posts that match a search query or other items of interest. Alerts can be received via the Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink activity feed, emails or toaster pop-ups in the user’s desktop environment.

Once a virtual team is assembled, real-time conferencing makes it possible to begin work immediately on solving the problem at hand. As each member of the virtual team makes comments or adds information, the response immediately appears in Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink. The association within product data dramatically improves the collaborative process. For example, a team member can link to a component when posting a question.

Imagine that one of your technical writers is developing the content for a new interface and wants to make sure that the actions they’re describing match what engineering has been implementing. The writer has never documented this kind of behavior before and would rather have someone with more experience involved to make sure the assumptions so far are correct. The project engineer that the writer would usually go to, isn’t available, so the writer posts a rendering of the proposed text on the UI Community of Practice to solicit input.

A engineer, with relevant experience, working late in Germany receives notification of the question and immediately responds and suggests a change in the text that should improve readability based on assumptions that can be expected by the highly-technical audience. The technical writer immediately messages a senior writer and an editor and asks them to join the conference to get their feedback on the readability of the proposed text change. The team members each provide comments and within a few minutes everyone agrees on a new text that resolves the technical and issue while meeting readability and usability constraints and avoiding a cost increase due to publication and translation later on.

Arbortext PDMLink (Windchill) SocialLink provides social computing capabilities such as microblogging, discussion forums and real-time activity feeds with full connectivity to the product data in Arbortext PDMLink. It enables product development team members to discover experts within the organization while providing a channel for real-time communications that solves problems faster than ever before. The result is a substantial acceleration and improvement to the product development process.

Given enough time and resources, Sharepoint can make anything happen

How does anyone figure that time + effort = zero cost?

by Liz Fraley

Recently I was preparing my talk for the Gilbane Boston conference coming up in December. I’m presenting along-side two people I respect a lot: Barry Schaeffer and Doug Gorman.

I’ve known Barry for years and years. He’s the former President of X-Systems, a company that was an Arbortext partner from before they were PTC. He’s an FA&D insider who knows this industry from one end to the other, up and down.  Doug, is the President of SimplyXML. I’ve only gotten to know personally recently, but I’ve felt his presence over the years. He was CEO of Information Mapping, a company with a long history inside the industry that everyone knew. Both of them have been helping companies take a transformative adoption to their content strategy for as long as I can remember.

Our joint presentations are centered on the topic of Content Management Solutions. So while I was doing my research for my presentation, I was reading through some of the things I’ve retained in my archives for one reason or another. I was reading an AIIM ebook about SharePoint, when something they proudly proclaimed struck me.

“There’s nothing SharePoint can’t do that time and resources can’t make happen”

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I mean really! There it was in plain black and white, the naked truth that if you throw enough money and person power into developing customized code you can get the tool to do what you need. WOW!

Now is it just me, or do you all see the same flaws I see? If I am going to invest in a tool to solve a business need, why would I want to spend countless amounts of money and resources on getting it to do what I need. I mean shouldn’t there be a solution to my needs that comes out of the box and solves the majority of my needs? Is that too much to ask for? I don’t think so. In fact there are companies that spend money and resources in developing just the tools I need. Once I have my business needs fully defined, all I need to do is analyze the tools and select the right one for me.

And yet, over and over again, I hear this refrain. “I could do it for zero cost if I use open tools.” So I’m wondering where the heck are they getting that information from? Then, a week or so ago, there was a tweet that caught my eye:

@xmluser #xml10 Don Day running through scenario for a zero cost DITA implementation (except for time & effort)

How does anyone figure that time + effort = zero cost? Where are they finding free labor? Do they have an inside track on a team of coding elves that are will to work for nothing? I mean honestly, who are they kidding? There is no such thing as free. It just doesn’t happen. Everything has a cost so buyer be aware, you get what you pay for. You may find a tool that is open, but don’t be misled thinking that it’s free or zero cost. In fact, you may end up spending tens of thousands in labor and time to get that “free “ software to do what you need it to do. And don’t forget that once you get the tools working you will need to maintain them forever. Yes, that will cost you.

Conference notes from: Content Management Strategies/DITA North America 2010

The CMS/DITA NA 2010 conference was full of lessons learned and pain, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The successful projects were those who had properly socialized the impact of the project to all parts of their organization.

by Liz Fraley

For the last decade I have made a regular habit to speak at or at least attend the CMS conference. I think I only missed one year. It gives me an interesting perspective because I can see trends over time, changes in presentation themes, popularity of topics, and the changing interests of the attendees.

For the first year, DITA seemed more of an assumption than an experimental technology. More companies are in year 3-5 of their implementation. In years past, the message has always been: Why choose DITA? What’s the value proposition? This year, the message was lessons learned. The biggest lesson learned was that you can’t treat a DITA implementation like a line item. The projects that were successful were those that had properly socialized the impact of the project to all parts of their organization.

For example, Catherine Lyman (NetApp) said she’d done a fantastic job socializing the impact and the value of their DITA implementation all the way up the chain. Her CEO really understood exactly the value behind their effort and exactly what benefits this shift was bringing to NetApp’s business.  However, she hadn’t socialized to lateral departments and every time she brought the project to a new group, she had to start from square one and begin the buy-in discussions over again. It slowed down adoption across the company and, as a result, caused a delay in the ROI she had projected. Her advice? Go to business and engineering groups early and be clear on the corporate drivers. Also, sell to the whole organization the benefits for their departments. Put customer-facing improvements first!

Successful projects place a high emphasis on collaboration and socialization. It was a story we heard over and over at the conference this year. Intel was starting over again — going back to square one — because they weren’t getting the system they needed to really serve their business goals. They hadn’t originally defined their requirements well enough to really evaluate the vendors. They focused on tools first. As a result, they have worked out a set of vendor questions to envy. They included these questions in their slides for the attendees of CMS/DITA NA 2010.

HP talked about the importance of collaboration within your team and with other groups in the enterprise because reuse is a cultural issue. You need to build trust and structure so that you can measure and track effectiveness.

Actuate said that they were also back at the drawing board. They had overused FrameMaker’s tools to the point it wouldn’t compile correctly and they’d get spurious content. They recommend moving to a robust, enterprise-level, dynamic publishing system with a DITA-aware editor built to do it from the ground up.

Rebekka Andersen, a professor from UC Davis, presented her research into why CMS adoptions fail. She followed a company from the early stages through their CMS evaluations and participated in the discussions every step of the way. In this case, the team not only decided against the vendor’s tool but also against CMS in general, but the reason why was not what anyone could have predicted. Her conclusion? The prevailing tool-focused approach to implementation. Don’t let tool define you: it should be the other way around. Her advice? Understand that technology can’t solve the problem or save the day. Your focus should not be on the tools. Tools should be <10% of project implementation; 50% of any implementation is change management and 40% is process management.

There was one presentation on using Sharepoint as a CCMS. If you just see the slides, it comes across as a success story, but the reaction of the audience (and the talk track behind the slides) made it clear that it really wasn’t. Not from any perspective except for the highly-paid consultants doing all the Sharepoint development ($$$$).

Me? I told success stories this year of companies who were 10+ years into their Arbortext/XML authoring implementations. You can find the slides and abstract here: Where Are They Now. After my presentation, Charlotte Robidoux (HP) said that she was glad someone was telling success stories. The conference was full of lessons learned and pain, and it was good to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

To put it in the words of some of the longest-running Arbortext customers that I interviewed for my presentation:

“This is all doable because we went to XML and Arbortext in 2004”

“This is ‘bottled gold’ because it gives us a HUGE advantage over our competition”

Overall, it was a great conference. The returns really are there if you frame your project as something that has enterprise-level impact (which it does).