When worlds connect: IBM sees potential for IM, virtual role playing in PLM processes

Web 2.0 technologies like instant messaging (IM) have radically changed the way many people interact with friends and family. Just ask the average teenager how many IMs or text messages they send and receive a month versus phone calls. Now there is a movement within manufacturing to determine whether IM and other Web 2.
By Jim Fulcher, contributing editor(Jfulcher@comcast.net) February 1, 2008

Web 2.0 technologies like instant messaging (IM) have radically changed the way many people interact with friends and family. Just ask the average teenager how many IMs or text messages they send and receive a month versus phone calls.

Now there is a movement within manufacturing to determine whether IM and other Web 2.0 technologies can improve product life-cycle management (PLM) processes. “Manufacturers are looking for ways to make it even easier for employees, partners, and others to collaborate,” says Vijay Srinivasan, chief standards and solutions officer for PLM at IBM . “A growing number of companies, including IBM, are evaluating IM as a sort of real-time, high-frequency email.”

The appeal is that via IM, engineers in different locations and time zones can ask each other questions about the latest standards, and where relevant documents are located. Other engineers reply by sending a URL for those documents or standards.

“The main benefit is quicker time to problem resolution,” Srinivasan says. “It’s about eliminating turnaround time, because, first of all, IMs are sent and received faster than email, and, second, people generally respond almost instantly to IMs while email may sit for hours.”

IBM also is evaluating the potential of an Internet-based social phenomenon known as Second Life. This virtual world enables users—called “residents”—to interact. Residents explore, meet others, participate in activities, and trade items and services.

“We see potential for Second Life, and are using and evaluating it for virtual meetings,” Srinivasan says. “It gives a different flavor to meeting people and attending meetings. It virtually eliminates travel yet promotes collaboration.”

Says Jeff Hojlo, a PLM analyst with Boston-based AMR Research , “I don’t see much appeal for IM, and right now, there isn’t a lot of interest in Second Life—but it does offer potential as a means for cross-functional global teams to collaborate.”