Social product development is no longer just a theory

Windchill ProductPoint incorporates Web 2.0 technologies such as instant messaging and wikis to make it easier for team members to initiate collaborative sessions.


Product lifecycle management software supplier PTC says more than 40 companies have adopted its "social product development platform."

Product model on social product development platform

The platform-called Windchill ProductPoint -uses the SharePoint collaboration engine from Microsoft to allow product development teams to share data stored in PTC applications-including its Pro/Engineer CAD package and its Windchill product data management solution.

ProductPoint also incorporates Web 2.0 technologies such as instant messaging and wikis to make it easier for team members to initiate collaborative sessions. Having these social networking features in the solution is why PTC says it promotes social product development .

The announcement that more than 40 companies have adopted the solution was made at the PTC/USER World Conference 2009, taking place this week in Orlando.

Jim Heppelmann, PTC president and COO, said Windchill ProductPoint represents an evolution in both how companies wish to go about developing products as well as in the types of solutions that PTC will provide to support product development.

Historically, Heppelmann said, PTC has served two distinct audiences:

• Users of its solutions, who primarily were interested in desktop applications like Pro/Engineer that make individual product designers more productive; and

• Corporations, which wanted enterprise-level solutions like Windchill that make product development more efficient.

Now, we're focusing on communities," he said, "and allowing them to use social computing for collective problem solving."

He then offered the example of an engineer who calls up a part to start working on it, and sees a note in the corner of the screen that the part has been locked from any changes. With Windchill ProductPoint, the engineer can instant message a colleague who has the authority to unlock the part and get the required work done without delay. The two parties can even chat about pros and cons of any changes at that time, and bring other people into the conversation.

Brian Shepherd, PTC's executive VP of product development, said the solution also accommodates creating "product spaces"-- areas similar to MySpace pages where information about product designs can be freely shared among members of a design team.

A recent survey conducted by Forrester Consulting supports PTC's contention that manufacturers like the idea of working social networking technology into product development.

The survey included 7,000 users of various product development solutions. Eighty nine percent of the respondents said they use some form of social networking technology at least once per month, and 70 percent said they use such technologies for work purposes.

Rob Grimley, a PTC executive VP, said most ProductPoint early adopters are small to medium size companies, many in Europe, that chose to pilot the application among internal design teams, though the team members often are dispersed across multiple locations.

Microsoft is the highest profile ProductPoint user, having deployed it among engineering groups that design components for its Xbox gaming system and other hardware products.

David Beardsley, surfacing and CAD group manager at Microsoft, spoke fondly of the solution via a video shown at the PTC user event.

"Because it's on SharePoint, no training was required for our users," he said. "It allows us to easily identify experts on our team and solve design problems quickly."

Other announcements from the PTC user event include:

• The launch of Pro/Engineer Wildfire 5.0. PTC says this new version of its flagship CAD application will make it easier for engineers to change designs, and also to work with data from multiple CAD systems.
• Introduction of a new solution called RequirementsLink that allows for managing product requirements inside the Windchill system; and
• The acquisition of Relex Software Corp., which gives PTC technology for helping engineers test the reliability of product designs.

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