COFES 2009: Putting the Social into Social Networking

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For those that don’t know, COFES, or to give its full title, the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software has been running over the last few days in a rather glorious Scottsdale. As I sit here, benefiting from the productivity that jet-lag brings first thing in the morning, I’ve had a chance to sit and reflect on why this event continues to draw such a big attendance.

Here you’ll find all the faces in technology for product development, from the well known high-level c-level executives from the major vendors like Siemens PLM, SolidWorks, Autodesk mixing with some of the new players and those looking to gain a foothold in the industry. There’s also a good representation from those companies working in the background, providing component technology that you’ve rarely heard of, but use on a daily basis.

The strange thing about the event is that while it’s centered around a series of keynotes, demonstrations, discussion briefings and round-tables, what COFES is really about is one thing. Networking.

As you sit and look at who’s talking to who, who’s nipping in and about of different briefing rooms, you get a true sense of how this industry operates, how the software products we use on a daily basis get developed – and how relationships between the various parties get established, solidify and get working. To illustrate my rather rambling point, Myself and Martyn got talking to a component technology provider over a cheeky pint yesterday afternoon (come on, we’re British, it’s sunny and there’s a bar by the pool – it’s genetic).

We asked why they came to the event and the answer, to paraphrase, was this “We come because its the only place that we can get face time with the people we need to see, that would be very hard to access by email or phone and trying to work your way through the layers of management.” Fancy that.

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Blake Courter, founder of SpaceClaim – we’ve decided to make him an honorary Brit – for reasons that shall remain undisclosed.

There’s also a marketplace aspect to the event as well, which is something that rarely gets discussed. One of the central fetaures of the event is the notion of Tech Suites. Consider this: around a pool, in a sunny resort in Arizona, you have a key number of technology providers, renting small villas, into which they invite all attendees to come and view their wares, to look at what they’re doing, to discuss their strategy and plans – with a level of openness that would be unheard of in many other technology industry sectors. While commercially these organizations are in fierce competition, at COFES this seems to be set aside and discussion is free and frank. This is inherently a good thing and something that maybe seem something of a surprise. But one of the things that I noticed over the last four years of attendence is that this is the interesting part, the thing to watch closely. Around this pool, you have those vendors that are buying and looking to establish new relationships and then there are those that are looking to sell.

Yes, to sell the company or the technology. An analogy of a table top sale springs to mind: “Here’s what we’ve got, you interested?” This year’s tech-suites are playing host to PTC, Autodesk, SpaceClaim, Siemens PLM software, VX Corporation, Share Vis, Nemetschek and Microsoft – I’ll leave you to work out on which side of the table they all sit.

All of this adds up to an interesting mix and while it never results in a huge amount of things that can or should be discussed publicly – we’d much rather talk about hard facts rather than pontificating over rumor, there is a point here.

Jim Brown talks up the Social Media revolution – best quote, from a chap from Boeing “yeah, I’m not going to be designing a plane on Facebook” – Thank god for that

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I sat in on a briefing by Jim Brown, formerly of the Aberdeen Group and now Tech Clarity. The discussion was centered on the use of Social Media and Networking technology in the professional space. While the discussion was interesting and many points raised, both ‘In Favour’ (the ability disperse and distribute information easily) and ‘Against’ (the time consuming nature of these things and often overwhleming stream of information), the thought I left that session with was this:

Today, we have an overwhelming, rapidly developing and diversifying toolset of technologies that allow us to connect, to share, to discuss and disemminate information in pretty much anyway we want. There’s things like the 140 character joy that is Twitter, instant messaging, email and more structured tools like SharePoint. then there’s the whole world of PDM and PLM – in whatever flavour you want. And while this is all certainly (to my mind anyway) a Good Thing, sometimes, it’s nice and highly effective to disconnect, put in a little bit of travel and do these things face-to-face. Right, coffee’s brewed and the newspaper has just turned up. Toodle pip for now. Al Dean. From a sunny Arizona. For once, not hungover. Out.


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