The Value of Social Computing in Product Development

Contributed by Guest Blogger, Paul Manikas.

The use of Social Computing in the consumer space continues to show explosive growth. Facebook has now exceeded 700 million users. 110 million Tweets are sent per day on Twitter. There are 200 million views per day of YouTube via mobile. We are seeing a similar growth pattern emerge in business as organizations integrate social computing into the enterprise. Dell, one of the leaders in leveraging social media “is weaving social media into the fabric of the company,” according to Adam Brown, Dell’s Executive Director of Social Media (read Dell’s story here).

Companies who have deployed social computing are seeing measureable benefits from deeper customer relationships, improved operational effectiveness and higher employee satisfaction. A recent study by McKinsey called “The Rise of the Networked Enterprise: Web 2.0 Finds Its Payday” looked at the impact of Web 2.0 technologies on how organizations collaborate internally and externally. They found that fully networked enterprises are more likely to be market leaders or to be gaining market share and have higher operating margins than companies who use Web 2.0 in more limited ways. The survey results showed that of organizations deploying Web 2 . 0:

  • 77% are seeing faster access to knowledge
  • 60% are reducing communication costs
  • 52% are seeing faster access to internal experts
  • 41% are seeing increased employee satisfaction

Social computing is succeeding in business because it serves two critical needs. First, it meets human needs - to be heard, recognized, rewarded, connected, and part of a community. Second, it addresses business needs – to get more done with less, become more agile, and create break-through innovations. By using social computing to create networks across customers, partners, suppliers and employees, you build new ties and facilitate collaboration which boosts efficiency, working relationships, and overall performance. Social computing is becoming a mainstream movement because it makes business processes work better while satisfying basic human needs.

The value of social computing in Product Development (i.e., Social Product Development) is considerable as you gain benefits along the full product life cycle. At the front end, social computing enables open innovation by bringing together the wisdom of the crowd to collect and vet ideas for new products. During the product design, develop and launch phases, social computing enables project team members to come together to share ideas and work on problems. It uncovers knowledge and expertise that is buried in an organization. Social computing helps product developers to find experts, and it records ad-hoc communications for future discovery. After a product is released, social computing enables companies to listen to customers and respond to questions/complaints in real-time. Dell is redirecting this customer feedback across the company so everyone hears what is being said.

Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) recently released Windchill SocialLink, a social computing solution targeted for product development. SocialLink enables product developers to locate experts across the organization, facilitate and document ad-hoc collaboration, provide real-time project status updates, and self-organize into communities of practice to share ideas and tackle challenging problems. SocialLink is embedded in PTC’s Windchill applications making it part of their engineering workflows. To learn more visit

Social Product Development provides a new form of collaboration and a new way of working. Consider an engineer who is designing a new part and runs into a problem. Instead of trying to figure it out on his own, he uses SocialLink to pose a question to one of his communities. He launches a collaborative workspace and describes the problem while displaying a 3D image of the part. By working together in this virtual space with fellow engineers across the world, he quickly gets an answer (and reduces his stress). When you consider the number of times that this happens over the course of a project, the additive benefits of making decisions in minutes instead of hours or days is huge in terms of time to market.

The growth of social computing in business will continue to accelerate as fewer executives look at social collaboration as a distraction and instead recognize it as a competitive weapon. To ensure a successful deployment start by tackling a fairly specific problem that engages users. In the case of Social Product Development, these problems can range from being able to find experts more quickly to coming up with new ideas for products to reducing the number of design iterations. When you consider the competitive advantages that can be gained along with the opportunity to boost employee morale, it’s time to move beyond questioning the value of Social Product Development and to start receiving the value.