PLM solutions for fashion and apparel manufacturers combined with modern 3D rendering software has transformed how the global apparel industry communicates, designs, creates prototypes and ultimately makes garments.

The popularity of this software has grown immensely since the start of the pandemic with the industry taking advantage of its end-to-end digitalised product development, communication and management. 

The benefits of digitisation include reduced lead times, transparent supply chains and cost savings, however the use of cloud-based systems and big data, also comes with the risk of data breaches, hacking and loss of data. 

Jonathan McCormack, Vision PLM Lead, at Coats Digital, speaks to Just style exclusively about why cybersecurity is so important to the fashion industry, and what to look out for. 

Why should apparel manufacturers prioritise cybersecurity for PLM solutions?

Simply put, cyber-attacks are on the rise and have been year on year, explains McCormack. “Criminals are working to ransom away your business systems and stop you in your tracks. Whilst many of the high-profile attacks are targeted, criminals are striking any organisation with an online footprint. They pay little attention to what you do, focusing only on how secure your IT solutions are and how much they can extort from you,” McCormack warns. 

He continues: “Savvier criminals will know the value in the fashion data you have access to, and data breaches can lead to civil and legal troubles for your business. The brands and partners we work with are sharing confidential data that we must protect; licenses and intellectual property that we must respect. If you are not in a position to protect that data, or those arrangements then you may find yourself dismissed as a supplier. 

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He also points out that brands expect the supply chain to be digitised for best practise manufacturing processes to take place and for data to be validated against independent frameworks like ISO-27001. 

“Not ensuring your systems are safe is a great way to ensure you will soon be left behind,” McCormack adds.   

Can PLMs help safeguard fashion data? 

“Product Lifecycle Management tools are a great place to start when digitising, and selecting the right provider is key,” says McCormack. “PLM allows any business to build a single source of truth for the fashion data hosted securely in the cloud. PLM also helps businesses adopt best operational practises and data practises. 

“It centralises fashion data, removing confidential details from email inboxes, instant messengers, and old file servers. The right PLM solutions should remove many common cybersecurity weak points from an organisation and replace them with pillars of strength. 

He explains that a good PLM will ensure only the right people and roles in an organisation can see confidential data.

However, he adds: “A great PLM will ensure that all changes to the data are fully audited and traced, it will ensure the data is stored securely following best practise, and it will be able to prove that by sharing its industry accreditations and audits.” 

McCormack points out that measures such as SOC (security operations center), ISO 27001 (an international standard on how to manage information security); and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) are frameworks that ensure businesses follow the highest standards when working with data. He says that fashion and textile businesses should look for these accreditations and challenge their PLM providers to provide them. 

Why is cybersecurity so important when using PLM solutions across multiple countries? 

“Coordinating global processes and IT is very difficult,” notes McCormack. “Ensuring disparate teams have access to the data they need at the right time will cause many IT admins weeks of endless challenges. From making spreadsheets collaborative or copying them from one side of the world to the other, much of this hugely taxing when working with on-premises servers and wide-area-networks.  

“However, modern SaaS [software as a service] PLM should be taking care of this for you as standard and should be hosted by one of the leading cloud providers with secure datacentres across the globe. Cloud content delivery networks should be in place ensuring fashion data is quick to access and change, no matter where you are in the world.” 

With the technology available to us today, McCormack comments, the industry can securely connect to PLM from anywhere, prove who they are through two-factor authentication and get on with any task they have without compromise. 

However, in the world of cybersecurity, McCormack believes, we are only as strong as our weakest link.  

“Digitising on a global scale can introduce a lot of them if done poorly,” he notes. “A trusted, proven PLM provider should be able to navigate these global challenges, and the global regulations you can fall foul to, leaving you to focus on the operational benefits of the software.” 

In 2019, industrial thread maker Coats brought together all its software solutions under a single brand, Coats Digital, to provide in-depth industry expertise combined with the practical application of the latest technology, including big data and AI, to deliver market leading software solutions for the fashion and textile industry.