Product development is a team sport – engineers, designers, manufacturing, QA, sales, marketing, suppliers, and many other players (including customers), play a vital role. Their unique skill sets, knowledge and experience all play a part in developing the best products.

Today, teams are rarely housed under the same roof. As reported in last year’s State of Product Development & Hardware Design survey, 72% of large companies and 39% of small to medium-sized companies employ geographically distributed teams. These companies gain a significant competitive advantage by being able to utilize local resources and supply chains, but one of their biggest challenges is communicating and collaborating across time and space.

In product development, speed and innovation are essential – it’s no coincidence that teams which are able to collaborate effectively are able to deliver world-class products to market faster than their competition. However, as many teams can attest, it’s challenging enough to find and share data internally with other departments let alone sharing data with distributed design teams, remote workers, and third parties.

Collaboration requires data and knowledge to be shared. In general, the issue of collaboration is two-fold: data storage and asynchronous communication. In layman’s terms, that’s files and email.

Desktop applications store data in files that must be shared with others via email, FTP, or other file-sharing services like Dropbox. Shared files are always copies of the original – the copy you’re working on may be out of date or may possibly be being actively modified by other team members at the same time. Keeping track of who has which version of which file and what they’re doing with it is impossible. Communication is difficult and collaboration is painful causing conflicts, errors, and rework.

Over the years, companies have had to implement rigid procedures and best practices to overcome these limitations to reduce errors and delays in the product development process as much as possible. Recent shifts in technology, most notably cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, have enabled companies to collaborate much more effectively.

Users of Cloud-Native Tools Report Easier Collaboration

To gain more insight into how the cloud fuels collaboration, independent research firm Tech-Clarity gathered and analyzed over 350 responses from companies of all sizes, industries, and geographies to identify their best practices.

The survey benchmarked product development performance, comparing each company’s ability to:

  • Develop products rapidly
  • Meet product cost targets
  • Deliver high-quality products
  • Meet project/program cost targets
  • Design innovative products

Researchers then identified the top 20% of respondents and designated them as “Top Performers.”

One striking survey result shows that, despite the challenges, manufacturers are currently expanding their inclusion of others in product development:

  • 39% of respondents report that the number of third parties involved in product development for one of their company’s average products has increased over the last five years.
  • 28% say that third-party volatility has increased, with more frequent changes to partners involved in product development.
  • Half of companies say the number of design disciplines involved in product development has increased.
  • 42% say the number of internal partners has increased.

It is therefore imperative that collaboration is made as easy as possible with less friction between development partners both internal and external. Companies using cloud tools reported significant improvements in efficiency and results.

The ease of performing product development tasks

Cloud collaboration is both synchronous and secure and, as is the case with SaaS applications, only one copy of the data exists in a centralized database. This enables teams to work on the same data at the same time and eliminate many of the rigid procedures, inefficiencies, and time-wasting activities from before. So there’s no need to wait for others to finish their work before you can start yours.

Data is only shared, never copied, so everybody on the team sees the latest version of the latest design data at all times. As changes occur or design decisions are communicated, everybody’s view of that data updates in real time.

You also maintain full control over who can access your data and what they can do with it. Any team member, either internal or external, can be removed from a project by simply revoking their access permissions.

In summary, researchers discovered that Top Performers are 37% more likely to use cloud-native, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development tools to aid collaboration. Compared to traditional file-based methods, SaaS applications clearly have the edge.

You can read Tech-Clarity’s full research report, “Accelerating Product Development with the Cloud,” here.