This series of posts will cover new product releases, changes in product strategy and acquisitions by engineering software providers affect engineering stakeholders. New posts in this series will be published based on software provider activities. This post takes a close look at the capabilities provided by Vuuch.

History, Dates and Events: Vuuch (company site) is software company in Concord, MA that provides a social computing solution for product development. It was started by Chris Williams who led the CADDs business at PTC, was the CEO at Seemage (which was acquired by Dassault Systèmes) and acted as the GM for the 3DVIA products at Dassault Systèmes.

Capabilities Provided by Vuuch: While there are many different types of collaboration, the software provided by Vuuch is focused on enabling text and visual correspondence between two or more stakeholders in product development. It’s not an entirely new concept, but the way that Vuuch enables this correspondence is unique as it uses digital deliverables as the context. To initially understand how this solution works, it’s easiest to walk through a representative scenario.

  • Stakeholders invite colleagues to correspond on a digital deliverable. With a digital deliverable such as a spreadsheet or a CAD model open, a stakeholder can invite one or more colleagues via email to a correspondence session.
  • The digital deliverable context is provided to the colleague. The colleague receives information through a Vuuch panel or email. They see not only the note from the initial stakeholder but also the digital deliverable as the context for the correspondence.
  • The stakeholder and the colleague correspond on the digital deliverable. Both participants reply with text responses back and forth in the context of the digital deliverable. More people can be added as necessary.

In essence, the correspondence works much like any instant messenger session as if it were embedded in a software application. But there’s one really big difference. These correspondence sessions are only in the context of the digital deliverable. So, you only see the correspondence about a CAD model when you have that digital deliverable open. Likewise for a spreadsheet.

How’s it work? The following are some key infrastructure elements that enable the interaction.

  • Centralized Correspondence Tracked and Enabled by a Server: When the stakeholder first invites the colleague to correspond, the Vuuch panel communicates with a server in the cloud. It essentially creates something akin to a Facebook profile page for that digital deliverable. Going forward, any correspondence between the stakeholder, colleague and anyone else about that digital deliverable is logged against that page.
  • Correspondence through Vuuch Panel Plugins in Software Applications: An advantage to this infrastructure is that the ability to correspond is embedded in the software applications that they use every day. This is true for CAD applications as well as other document and spreadsheet applications. The panel essentially is a view to the server, so anyone can see updates to the correspondence as it happens.
  • Correspondence through Web Browsers: Access to view or participate in the correspondence isn’t just limited to software applications. Anyone can login to the server to see as well as contribute to any of the sessions they have started or have been invited to participate in.

One last note, Vuuch is a Software as a Service (SaaS, wikipedia entry) solution. So there really isn’t anything to install per se other than the software application plugins.

Analysis and Commentary: Overall, the objective behind Vuuch is the same as it has been for any other collaboration solution provided in the last ten years. If you resolve issues faster, then you can go through more iterations resulting in a better product or you can reach design release faster (or maybe just on time) to keep pace in the schedule. That being said, this solution goes about it in a markedly different way. Here’s what’s advantageous and concerning from my perspective.

  • This solution is pragmatic and practical. The thing I like most about this solution is that it is simple. This solution could be deployed in very little time. There’s no extensive configuration. There’s no requirement to create groups or users. All someone needs to start a correspondence session is an email address and off they go. Kudos to Chris and the team for keeping things simple.
  • Centralized correspondence is a significant improvement over email. Despite availability of PLM collaboration capabilities, social media sites and instant messenger, I’ve found that email is the medium used most frequently for this sort of correspondence in product development today. I’ll get into the pitfalls of email for product development correspondence in a future post, but suffice it to say that emails can be forgotten, deleted or lost in your inbox. Use of a centralized server to manage the correspondence means it’s kept as a traceable trail that can be accessed by wider audiences at a later date.
  • Disconnected from the product and process record. The only negative I see with this solution is that in it’s OOTB deployment, it is disconnected from the product and process record. The digital deliverables, which act as the context for correspondence, are managed in a PDM or PLM system within some manufacturers. While the correspondence can be exported to a pdf file and checked in beside the digital deliverable, the trail of correspondence would naturally fit alongside the version and iteration history of those digital deliverables within those systems in a more exposed manner. I could see great value to have both in the same central location. Additionally, this ability to correspond about events in processes like design release, ECO approvals or checks in the stage-gate process would be valuable. In those situations, the context is usually the event in the process, not a digital deliverable. API functions are available for integrations to be build, but integrations are not provided OOTB.

Summary and Conclusions: Vuuch is a software startup that provides a social computing solution for product development. From within familiar software applications, stakeholders can invite colleagues and correspond about a digital deliverable. The infrastructure of the solution is composed of a server and several software application plugins. The solution is pragmatic and offers several advantages over email as a current medium for this type of correspondence. However, it could greatly add value by more closely integrating with software systems that manage the product and process record for product development.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.