Tools to help choose an apparel PLM vendor

4 August 2016 | Features & Interviews | Source: Lee Adendorff

Product lifecycle management (PLM) has become so entrenched in modern manufacturing that it has spawned its own academic discipline and a massive body of research.

Just about every PLM vendor produces a white paper on the reasoning behind their product and – looking beyond the marketing speak and acronym-rich text – some common themes in selecting a PLM vendor are evident.

The first is the importance of a PLM strategy, or the necessity to look through the technology to define what it actually delivers to the business. Like all good plans, this may change over time, and flexibility is key. 

'Viewpoints on innovation', an online publication from consultant Kalypso, is a forum exploring PLM and innovation in manufacturing. Various posts by PLM experts provide useful suggestions and points for reflection, such as a two- part series on the 'Art and Science' of selecting the right PLM for your organisation. This includes the development of a PLM roadmap as a critical document for making that choice.

Another common issue in PLM literature is interoperability. Until quite recently, 'enterprise resource planning' (ERP) and PLM were considered separate and distinct systems, but the most recent versions of just about all PLM suites offer full integration with ERP functionalities as well as with mobile apps and devices.

Kim Fleming, the Sydney, Australia-based business development manager for iSyncSolutions, says that interoperability was the single most important factor for many of her clients. "They are connecting to a range of mobile apps and even retail platforms like [Canada's] Shopify or eBay. You need an open door in your PLM to these other products," she says.

Meanwhile, US-based Infor analysts noted in their 2014 white paper: "To be fully effective, a PLM platform for fashion should also offer rich integration with other solutions that drive the business, most importantly the manufacturing ERP system. When all the designs, details, and decisions get finalised in the PLM system, they need to flow seamlessly into the manufacturing process, which should in turn keep PLM users aware of any unexpected manufacturing issues that might arise."

This has fed what software engineers commonly call a 'single version of the truth' throughout the supply chain, a phrase now also commonly found in PLM marketing material. 

PLM is an important investment for any enterprise, and return on investment over time is fundamental. A final common thread in the selection of a PLM system is that it has longevity in the foreseeable future. This could include robust cloud access and mobile applications; the ability to integrate with retail systems and social media as well as with the 'internet of things' (IoT) and the flexibility to cater for 'smart factories' with high degrees of automation. Integration with 'customer relationship management' (CRM) systems, particularly as feed-in data to predictive analytics, is also a consideration.

Resources

There are many web-based resources available, apart from just-style.com's PLM buyer's guide, that review and compare individual products:

  • G2 Crowd is just one of several online forums that are a source of valuable information based on impartial user feedback. Its winter 2016 report contains grid evaluations of nine PLM solutions, among them apparel market leaders PTC Windchill and Dassault Systèmes's Enovia.
  • As well, market research reports by companies like the International Data Corporation (IDC) can also provide insight, albeit at a price. Its latest 2016 Worldwide Retail Brand Product Innovation and PLM 2016 Vendor Assessment compares market leaders New Generation Computing (NGC), Dassault Systèmes, Lectra, CBX Software, SAP, Bamboo Rose Inc, PTC Inc, DeSL (Discover e-Solutions), Gerber Technology, Centric Software, Computer Generated Solutions Inc (CGS) and TXT e-solutions.
  • US-based Aras, a developer of open source PLM primarily for engineering manufacture, has produced one of the most concise and easy-to-understand guides to PLM implementation. It includes a comprehensive glossary and explanation of fundamental concepts as well as planning guides and links to (paid) planning templates for the fashion industry.
  • US-based Gerber Technology has also produced an excellent implementation guide that provides a series of useful tips on planning a PLM project. Establishing measurable outcomes is one of these, for example reducing a product introduction time by 25% or KPIs (key performance indicators) that can be monitored and audited over time to ensure return on investment is on track.
  • In addition, researchers at the US-based Aberdeen Group have produced a series of insights into change management, one of the central components of ongoing PLM success, as well as on managing Big Data with PLM.

Click on the following links to read related articles:

Utilising PLM to fuel growth and fulfil demand

How to determine if PLM is right for your company

Timelines to plan for a successful PLM project