Younomy: Has social product development become a business imperative for big sectors such as automotive, consumer electronics, etc? If yes, what are the reasons?
Jim Brown: The business imperative for these companies is developing and launching profitable products. Social computing is a new tool that manufacturers are using to improve their ability to innovate, design, and develop products. The big reason for companies to embrace social computing is that product development is inherently a team activity. It takes people from multiple disciplines (marketing, engineering, accounting, manufacturing, etc.) to work together. Social computing helps these internal resources work together, and also extends the ability for better communication and collaboration with others outside the organisational boundaries.
Younomy: Why not the product lifecycle management vendors offer their CAD, CAM, CAE tools as “drag & design” social product development platforms so that customers and public can contribute not only product ideas but also design prototypes, etc?
Jim Brown: There is definitely scope to open up design tools like CAD to social interaction. I think there can be bigger value if we add social computing capabilities into Product Lifecycle Management, the management layer of engineering software.
There are manufacturers who use generalized technologies for social product development, and enable the participation of society particularly in “front end of innovation” processes. But the real value, in my opinion, will come from more integrated solutions that connect the social interaction to the product information. This also opens up the opportunity to store the social interaction as new corporate knowledge and link it back to the product for future reference and reuse.
Younomy: Do you see a convergence of sorts of technology concepts such as social media-led co-creation, cloud computing and social product development of late?
Jim Brown: I think there is too much to learn to have convergence at this point. I believe it will happen, but there are lots of manufacturers (and vendors) that are innovating and coming up with new ideas. In the long term I do see convergence, and the most readily apparent part of that is social computing technology, which is already being deployed on the cloud.
Younomy: What do you think social product development mean to a product’s success in the market place? As a socially developed product incorporates the real needs and aspirations of people, can a company expect drastic reduction in product failures?
Jim Brown: The benefits can be in any part of the product life cycle and can improve a number of aspects of product development. If used in the front end of innovation to gather and prioritize product ideas, then it will help the company source better product ideas that will drive higher market share and revenue.
But social computing techniques can also be used later in the product life cycle. For example, communities can provide feedback that could help companies identify common product problems in the field. Then, a community of experts could share ideas on how to address the issue. This can improve customer satisfaction and reduce warranty costs. Then, engineers could mine the social interaction to find the more important issues and close the loop to design better products.
I see possibilities to improve the entire product life cycle through social computing. I believe most efforts will start with collaboration internally via innovation portals, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Social computing is changing the way we interact personally and will fundamentally enhance teamwork and information sharing in the business of product development.
Younomy: There is a growing number of product development communities such as Ponoto, Quirky, etc. What are your views on their future?
Jim Brown: T his is another great way that people are leveraging social computing. Most companies will stay within their business model and simply improve existing processes. For example, they may replace focus groups with community-based processes using Facebook or other applications. Others will invent (or reinvent) business models that are much more innovative . These kinds of businesses are born out of social product development and will be fascinating to watch.