just-style management briefing: Speed becomes key in tougher PLM game

5 July 2011 | Features & Interviews | Source: Ivan Castano Freeman

As product lifecycle management (PLM) software becomes a greater necessity to inject organisational efficiency in today's highly competitive global fashion market, PLM vendors are rushing to provide customers with the fastest and most efficient systems possible.

Speed is of the essence. As many fashion companies move into fast-fashion and switch sourcing to cheaper manufacturing posts, a quick and reliable system to seamlessly manage design, sourcing and delivery processes can put a company at the lead of its industry, let alone save it millions in sourcing and inventory losses.

"From our perspective, the single most important thing that fashion companies look for today in PLM is speed to benefit. In other words, they want to streamline business processes, gain visibility, enhance global collaboration, and achieve the full promise of PLM in the shortest time possible," says Charles Benoualid, vice president of research and development at Canadian PLM vendor Visual 2000.

Benoualid says Visual 2000 serves this need by providing "out-of-the-box, fashion-ready solutions" that can be implemented faster, more economically, and with greater success than other PLM options.

Visual 2000 serves hundreds of apparel and fashion companies, Benoualid says, from the largest retailers to the smallest manufacturers, and in recent years has expanded across North America, Asia, and Europe.

Business Value Assessment
But speed is irrelevant without a well-functioning and agile PLM application. Since PLM began to take off in the fashion industry three to four years ago, many have complained about long implementation delays that have frustrated personnel, making it hard for software vendors to sell the product.

The vendors have sharpened up, however. One of them is Dassault Systemes, which has come up with a strategy called Business Value Assessment or BVA.

BVA is a methodology and analysis toolset that quantifies what individuals and teams do currently (how much time is spent, how many specs per associate, costs of materials etc), and then aligns where the business wants to achieve with the PLM.

It also quantifies the potential time and cost savings from those changes. BVA also identifies a logical sequence for applying those changes to maximise ROI and minimise the change impact on the associates doing the work.

According to Susan Olivier, who manages Dassault's retail PLM solutions, the company offers an 80% 'out-of-the box solution' based on industry 'best practices'. The other 20% of the solution involves configuration services tailored to a companies´ unique business processes and integration requirements.

Benoualid boasts Visual 2000 is one of the "fastest-growing" PLM suppliers in the fashion market, thanks to its focus on the fashion market and the "best-available mix of usability and out-of'-the-box capabilities for these companies."

This specialty in fashion PLM has allowed the company to "successfully meet client needs across a significant and diverse client base," something that multi-industry vendors cannot do so easily, observers say.

Targeting SMEs for growth
Benoualid claims Visual 2000's ability to scale its systems and costs to address the needs of small and mid-size fashion retailers, which he says account for the majority of future business, has also propelled sales. He adds other vendors also fail to provide a broader range of PLM capabilities, offering them just as an add-on to an existing ERP or SCM system implementation.

According to Benoualid, small fashion retailers have become frustrated with the lack of fashion-industry expertise of the generic PLM vendors, which can only offer limited services because of lack of in-depth market knowledge.

In addition to PLM, Visual 2000 also offers fully-integrated ERP, supply chain management, warehouse management and business intelligence to give buyers complete supply chain visibility.

It also makes its PLM interface available on mobile devices including tablet computers, enabling it to provide a more engaging and interactive experience with up to 50% faster response times when compared to other systems.

Simon Poulton of Lectra agrees that speed of delivery has become the most appreciated tool by fashion PLM customers. He also believes Lectra´s fashion-industry specialty also gives it an edge over generic competitors.

"Lectra has nearly 20 years of development of products for graphical and textile design from U4ia to the latest suite of Kaledo design tools. It has nearly 40 years of development of tools for pattern-making and fabric optimisation for maximum cost savings. These are now integrated into the PLM process."

Lectra also uses a BVA process similar to Dassault. "It's a process you have to follow when implementing an enterprise solution with such far reaching and broad applications," Poulton says.

"It is on this foundation that a successful project and good implementation is built. Any vendor has to do something like it. The key lies in how well it is done."