WhichPLM’s Editor, Lydia Hanson, discusses the recent release of ‘Facebook at Work’ and whether it could be used to support PLM collaboration. This exclusive article is intended to spark discussions as opposed to answer questions.
Facebook, arguably the most relevant social media platform for the younger generation, recently (January 14) released the ‘Facebook at Work’ app. Primarily used for personal interaction amongst friends and only rarely colleagues, Facebook, has launched this new app in an effort to further occupy the ‘business’ arena.
Little over a decade ago Zuckerberg launched a networking service that has since spread like wildfire; the name Facebook is, today, as recognizable as Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, and whilst I wouldn’t necessarily lump these brands together, you have to wonder about the future of the ‘Facebook at Work’ app if it’s parent’s success is anything to go by.
The app intends to increase communication in the workplace, and even act as a substitute for emailing. Whilst it’s doubtful the success of any platform could actually replace good old-fashioned email altogether, the app does have some obvious benefits.
Those employees for whom Facebook is currently a dirty word and a restricted site, may be able to echo a communal ‘hurrah’ if this launch prompts a lift of the URL ban at work. But aside from the ability to spy on an old friend’s recent activities, employees (and companies) could utilise this app rather effectively from a business perspective.
We all know that PLM has a bounty of benefits – why else would we work in this industry? We believe in the product. Companies who have implemented a PLM system will usually have reduced the time spent to bring a product to market, and the costs associated with that product, as well as improved efficiency, visibility and communication. The list of benefits goes on, but let’s pause at communication for now.
Communication is paramount to the success of any enterprise, regardless of whether they work in our sector or not. How can a business run smoothly, effectively, if it’s employees work as individuals? And, in an industry where the entire supply chain is so crucial, it’s difficult to rely on email to keep everyone updated. Of course, PLM acts as a superb vehicle for communication between a company’s departments, offices, and partners. A supplier, for example, can have direct access to any product updates via PLM without having to scroll through hundreds of emails.
In the same way, Facebook’s new app promotes this kind of real-time collaboration within a company. It’s a tool designed specifically for communication between co-workers. The design team, the marketing department, and senior executives can all share the same space, keeping each other in the loop on important issues. With direct messaging (a feature taken from the classic Facebook platform), co-workers from specific departments can keep up to date with each other – for example, one designer could share an illustration with his/her entire team quickly and efficiently, opening up the floor for comments, changes and approvals. And even without direct messaging, the ability to tag would ensure that anyone paramount in a particular discussion or decision is notified. Beyond this the designer may introduce his/her supply-chain partners into the creative design process much earlier in the lifecycle. Now, if we extend the train of thought throughout the entire development lifecycle we could potentially interact with many different supply-chain partners at each stage of the process gathering and sharing developments along the way.
There is potential, commercially speaking, for a company to extend the reach of collaboration without a great deal of cost – apart from some basic training and, let’s face it, most people are familiar with the ins and outs of Facebook!
Another potential is to involve your customers by gathering their thoughts and opinions on new collections, wearer trials, and specialist consumer group feedback.
I’m certainly not saying that Facebook could take away key functionality of PLM but, working together, perhaps the two solutions could bring further advances to the way that the supply-chain collaborates with one another?
But, will employees use the service for ‘work’ and collaboration purposes? Or simply to arrange drinks at closing time? Facebook explains that an individual’s personal and work accounts can be linked, sharing just one username and password, meaning the temptation to login and keep up to date with personal affairs, may outweigh the intention to login and keep a colleague up to date on product changes.
Whether ‘Facebook at Work’ has anything to hold over popular business platform, LinkedIn, only time will tell. But LinkedIn does remain a platform for business-to-business (or professional-to-professional) communication, and not for internal collaboration so, although both sites are social in name, Facebook at Work has much more of an internal agenda.
Should a company be concerned with regards to security risk? There is always the risk that individuals may share more than is allowed with partners not in the supply-chain, which begs the question: what methods of security are available and will the application be secure?
Whilst Facebook does ensure that all communication within the ‘Facebook at Work’ app is secure and visible only to other members within a company’s network, it is still a social media tool, and it would be wise for those who are thinking of signing up to read the small print. After all, regular Facebook users may not know they are granting Facebook a “non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP Licence).” And a very quick read of the ‘Facebook at Work’ License Agreement tells us, “All content, information, materials, computer code, and software that is part of the Services is the property of Facebook or third parties.”
It will be interesting to see how this new app plays out for businesses willing to sign up. At this early stage we don’t know enough to make an accurate summary, but ‘Facebook at Work’ should certainly be up for further investigation.