Software solutions: PLM goes mobile

3 August 2015 | Features & Interviews | Source: Kitty So

Developers of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems for the apparel industry are continuing to offer a wider variety of mobile applications as well as improving their solutions in smaller, more detailed ways.

While apparel companies continue to focus on facilitating efficient collaboration among their internal teams throughout a product’s lifecycle, they are increasingly interested in using mobile applications to do so, says Jatin Paul, CEO of World Fashion Exchange (WFX). The global software provider, with an India-based R&D centre, has customers in 23 countries that include Forever New (Australia), Benetton India, and Kit & Ace (Canada).

Paul notes that the company is working on more mobile applications linked to the WFX Cloud PLM: "We’re going to be launching further apps through the course of this year. For instance, we’re working on one for managing your collection – like a ‘lookbook’."

WFX currently offers a ‘Quality Control’ app to help fashion businesses manage quality control at a vendor’s location – often in remote locations. The app automatically sets inspection dates in a calendar and downloads the required details such as location. The inspector can use the app, both with and without an internet connection, to take pictures, record annotations, and fill in forms. The app then saves the data and syncs with the cloud PLM when it is online, making quality control an easier and more streamlined process.

One challenge with mobile applications is creating powerful tools that are still easy for apparel companies to use. "You have to enable business functions on a small piece of screen real estate, so good design is key to making the app useful," he says. "With the kind of processing power that these tablets and iPads provide you [with] today, you can build and deliver a rich and interactive experience for users."

WFX is rolling out its apps on iOS devices, but Paul notes they will shortly also support android devices. WFX is also planning to enhance its user interface in the fourth quarter of 2015, providing customers with a more interactive and smooth user experience. Customers would also have access to improved analytics with faster, more interactive information across collection development.

Cloud improvements

Likewise, Philippe Ribera, France-based Lectra’s software marketing director, notes cloud and mobile technology offer PLM developers many opportunities to constantly improve their systems.

"One of the big moves of PLM in coming years will be the cloud. In the cloud, you are just walking mainly on the user experience and how to simplify the use of the software," he says.

Ribera adds that as people are surrounded by mobile technology that is simple to use, such as tablets and smartphones, PLM should adapt to become more mobile and be updated more frequently. "You can bring small features that have a lot of value for the user…my dream would be to upgrade nearly every week," he says.

The company currently releases updated versions of its Lectra Fashion PLM every five to six months. Lectra is also looking into developing mobile applications and is working with customers on this, he says.

Brands are also increasingly concerned about the quality and sustainability of their products, with many reopening factories in North America, France, the UK, and Italy rather than using subcontractors in Asia. Ribera notes PLM systems continue to help brands keep the product’s lifecycle visible, from the types and amount of fabrics used to complex market regulations with which they need to comply.

He adds brands are still looking for integrated PLM systems that cover as much of the product lifecycle as possible. "You [as a brand] have access to more and more types of data…I have a virtual simulation of the assembly, and by doing that I am really able to understand what is the direct costing."

Impact tracking

Meanwhile, US-based Centric Software has been developing its Centric 8 PLM system to make it easier to alter decisions and clearly track how those changes will affect other parts of the production process. For instance, Humberto Roa, Centric’s director of mobile products and innovation, notes many producers must order materials before they have decided what the final products will be.

"The challenge is, now you have certain material you plan to use, [to decide] what’s the best mix of products to use that material so you can make the most money," he says.

If a company further down the process decides to swap materials between products, the PLM allows them to go back and make that change, while tracking its impact. One feature Centric has added is a mass replace capability where users can search for materials and where they are used, such trims, and easily replace them.

The system automatically follows the cascade of changes, flagging decisions that need to be re-evaluated and automatically notifying the relevant people. Apparel companies can decide to what extent such updates would be automatic and where key people may need to be involved before a change is approved. All changes are tracked in a centralised system, ensuring everyone involved has the same information.

Roa notes apparel companies around the world are facing more pressure than before to compete for the consumer’s attention and shelf space while maintaining their price points and brand. "In the past, we were focused on simplifying decisions it took to do things like make sure all cost targets are being hit or production targets are being hit…now, we’re being asked to go back in time and change decisions quickly." Roa also adds his company is working on new mobile applications and supporting the Android operating system in addition to iOS.

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