By Arkadius Schier and Timo Erler | Fraunhofer IML – One approach of the vision behind Social Networked Industry is to use social networks as organisational platforms for humans and technology. If communication between humans and machines is going to work through such networks, it is important to have a common understanding of information.

In today’s society networking is a significant factor. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Xing connect people with each other. But in companies networking is also taking on an increasingly important role: social networks enable the employees to share knowledge efficiently. One example from the field of communication is the Social Intranet that offers employees a real working platform as a further development of the classic intranet. As a result, a social network serves principally as an information distribution centre. The participants share information – for example, about their current tasks.

Humans and technology require a common understanding of shared information.

Which challenges need to be mastered if a social network is to be realised as an organisational platform for communication between humans and technology? It is possible for humans to put information (for example in a text) in a semantic context. For machines and IT systems it is however necessary to attach these metadata to the actual message. Here is an example: on a delivery note the supplier can identify a postal address as he recognises the pattern name/company, street and town. A machine however requires additional information to recognise an address as such and to process it accordingly. This demonstrates that a common understanding of the shared information is a necessary condition.

Social networks require an information model

Information including the metadata is generally recorded in an information model. This is implemented in the social network and used there. But the information can gradually change. So, a collaborative approach is necessary for the steady continuation of the information model. This must be documented and discussed on the basis of IT solutions such as in a Wiki. The collective documentation can then support the common understanding, and the further development of the information model can benefit from the result of these discussions.

Another important step is to link machines, smart devices and IT systems up to the social network:

  • The social network is designed for humans and offers them a profile enabling them to set up a virtual entity. In the same way, machines also have to be connected to the network by means of a virtual entity. In the profile of a machine, for example, the current status of a task or the people responsible for that can be indicated. On the basis of profiles, it is possible for humans and machines to interact both physically and virtually and communicate with each other.
  • Smart devices help people with their tasks and prepare information individually for that person. People can register in a network via smart devices – on a tablet or data glasses – and receive the required information. A virtual entity for smart devices is not mandatory.
  • In addition to the machines and smart devices, IT systems also have to be connected. The social network serves as an information distribution centre and can therefore be embedded in an existing IT landscape. IT systems can act as supporters for people and as virtual entities in the social network.

If we want to include technology in this way, we must develop interfaces between the social network and machines, IT systems and smart devices. These facilitate the exchange of information between the network participants and must therefore be based on the information model. On the basis of the information model, information is selected according to what each technical participant requires and distributes. In the interfaces it is regulated as to which information is shared and received. Another challenge is to distribute information – in the right format, with the right participants.

August 2017

About the authors

Dipl.-Inform. (FH) Arkadius Schier, scientific employee at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, is head of the project Innovationlab Hybrid Services in Logistics. Timo Erler, scientific employee at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML, is in charge of the »Social Networks« field at the Innovationlab.