Welcome to the first "10 questions with..." our new series of interviews with leading figures in the PLM world. First up is Andrew Dalziel, marketing director for Lawson's Fashion solutions. Having provided Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions to the apparel sector for many years, it was Lawson's acquisition of Freeborders in March 2008 that catapulted them onto the PLM scene. In this interview just-style asks about the specific advantages of implementing PLM, why Lawson's PLM solution is different and what the future holds.


PLM Hub Q1: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) remains a much-talked about strategic advantage. What do you see as the key benefits for the apparel industry - both in the short- and long-term?

Andrew: Many experts suggest total time-to-market in the apparel industry needs to be cut by 50 percent or more over the next 2-5 years. Much of this reduction will need to come from product development and PLM software can be a key component in achieving this goal.

Some of the short-term benefits of PLM include:

  1. Everyone working on the same up-to-date data;
  2. Better data accuracy helps to improve quality and prevent rework;
  3. Improved communication reduces confusion and errors;
  4. Faster overall workflow shortens time-to-market;
  5. Better flow of information through multiple levels improves agility;
  6. Better reuse of designs and colorways increases efficiency;
  7. Electronically consolidated intellectual property reduces the risk of its loss when people leave the company, and makes it easier to find than when it is held on separate computers;
  8. Better responsiveness to consumer demands;
  9. Improved visibility and control of the supply chain; and
  10. Reduced product development spending and increased margins.


PLM Hub Q2: How can PLM improve an organisation's competitive advantage?

Andrew: The aim of PLM software is to provide easy access to technical specifications and product data management along with online access to electronic storyboarding, designing tools, design libraries, material libraries, costing, sourcing and tracking. Putting everything online increases collaboration within the supply chain while reducing miscommunication, sampling iterations, and critical-path bottlenecks. As a result, PLM enables faster time-to-market, better cost structures, and improved quality.

PLM software can help companies work more collaboratively with both their internal and external global supply chain partners.  It helps companies and their partners to work as a team through the process of converting designs into the precise specifications needed to produce them efficiently. Designs and specifications can then be clearly communicated to textile or apparel manufacturers and or customers. This helps speed up the process, improves data accuracy and increases efficiency.


PLM Hub Q3: How can PLM help unify product development teams to deliver trend-right, high quality products to market on time?

Andrew: I think there are a number of key factors here. First, by spending up to 50 percent less time recording the details of each new range through the use of PLM, allows companies more time to focus on being creative. Secondly, by improving collaboration between internal and external supply chain partners, PLM reduces lead-times and time-to-market. This not only helps those that want to move towards the concept of Fast Fashion, but enables all companies to become more agile and responsive to changing trends. For example, you can quickly introduce new styles or change existing designs by, for example, adding a new color. Third, improved communication reduces confusion and errors, leading to better data accuracy which helps to improve quality and prevent rework.


PLM Hub Q4: How can PLM support a company's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy?

Andrew: PLM can help a company's Corporate Social Responsibility through recording and tracking the fabrics and trims used in garments, the suppliers they are sourced from, lab dip approvals and raw material testing. This helps with both compliance and decision-making on the use of components when developing new products.


PLM Hub Q5: What are the stand-out features and benefits of your PLM system compared with others on the market?

Andrew: The Lawson Fashion PLM solution was designed specifically for the needs of fashion companies by people with industry experience. Our solution is highly configurable, which means it is quick to deploy, shortening the time-to-benefit. 

Lawson Fashion PLM is broad in scope and deep in industry-specific functionality. It includes a Storyboard module and a Fabric & Trim module. Storyboard enables global collaboration on the development of concepts, themes and collections usually through what could be described as an electronic white board. Merchandising and development managers can share one sketch or many with customers and suppliers. This can support the selection of colors, fabrics, textures and styles with the meta data being stored in the database for future use during product development. This type of collaboration at an early stage can increases the number of on-trend products that sell at full price.

The Fabric & Trim module is in addition to the Product Manager module, which is for garment development. Many PLM systems are not developed to handle fabric and trim in a good way; they assume that you are a sourcing company and that your supplier will take care of the design and development of all necessary fabrics and trims. The module handles design and development information for fabrics and trims with comprehensive raw material supply chain collaboration including material costing and central tracking of sampling and lab dip approvals and raw material testing. Treating fabric and trim as a separate entity offers opportunities to use the same fabric or trim across different styles, lines or divisions. By leveraging aggregated usage, the purchasing agent can negotiate lower prices, resulting in lower product costs.


PLM Hub Q6: How compatible is your PLM system with others in the marketplace?

Andrew: Lawson Fashion PLM is a true web-based solution so a company's external supply chain partners (customers and suppliers) can access the system to collaborate on the design and development of new styles and fabrics.

The Lawson Fashion PLM system can be bought as a standalone suite and interfaced to a company's existing ERP system, e.g. SAP or BPCS. Lawson has its own Lawson M3 Enterprise Resource Planning solution with industry-specific functionality for apparel, footwear, home textiles and fashion accessories companies. Lawson has published a Statement of Direction that it intends to deliver a standard interface between its Lawson M3 solution and Lawson Fashion PLM. 

PLM and ERP complement each other. PLM is all about the pursuit of product innovation and product planning. ERP is all about supply chain operations and the related business transactions. PLM goes from idea to production; ERP goes from production to order fulfilment. PLM manages the development process through all its iterations, and ERP monitors sales, mass production and distribution operations.


PLM Hub Q7: What are the basic rules for a PLM project in the apparel industry compared to others?

Andrew: First you need to select a software vendor with built in apparel industry specific functionality. During the selection stage, you have hopefully evaluated whether you can configure the standard software or you need to develop modifications. Whenever you start coding modifications it is likely that you will add cost, extend the implementation project time and make future upgrading more difficult and costly. Lawson Fashion PLM is configurable and comes with preconfigured forms which can typically reduce the implementation time by 20-30%, speeding up the time to benefit.

Second, you need consultants or a partner that really understands the apparel industry processes as the implementation may involve significant change management. In the apparel and textiles industry, the concept designer is usually right-brain dominant and the technical designer is usually left-brain dominant. Concept designers have a talent for sketching an idea that makes a desirable impression on both the senses and the emotions. Technical designers figure out how to take that concept and turn it into specifications for a physical garment at a brand-appropriate cost point, on a schedule. Therefore, at the end of the day a significant number of people (both right brain and left brain dominant) internally in the organization and its supply chain are going to have to accept, learn and use the PLM system. Therefore the user interface and ease of learning the system is going to be a critical success factor.


PLM Hub Q8: What would you say to companies who are thinking about deferring a PLM investment because of the current economic crisis?

Andrew: In this climate, it seems counterintuitive to think of investing in technology. Yet history has shown that the smart investor buys when the market is down. Profits in the textiles industry exploded in the early 1990s, during a recession, largely due to the increased efficiencies that textile manufacturers realized from capital investment in machinery. One such example that comes to mind is Liz Claiborne, who broke the mould for fashion designers and seized leadership in the retail arena by diversifying and investing while others were worrying about the recession.

A slowdown is actually a good time to invest in technology-driven process improvements if you want to get ahead when the market picks up. Well-chosen process improvements can quickly make a difference in bottom line performance, both in the short-term and as your business starts to grow again.


PLM Hub Q9: What are the best PLM practices learned from the apparel segment?

Andrew: During the design and development process for textiles and apparel it is critical to collaborate and share digital information. It is a complex process that involves internal and external resources working with both historical and new data. The data volumes are high and you need to make the right decisions and quickly.

In the past, telex, facsimile and e-mail with spreadsheets were the medium for these messages. All these predecessors to PLM came with drawbacks that resulted in redundant data entry, poor visibility, and incomplete or inefficient communication internally and externally. Thus, adding time, cost and increasing the risk of errors.

It was widely recognized that a database was required to store product development data and so product data management (PDM) systems were born. Standalone PDM systems do fulfil the need for a central repository for style information and change management, but still lack integrated vendor collaboration. Users still have to share and retrieve information from e-mail and manually re-key vendor-owned intelligence into their PDM system that they receive via email.

PLM addresses the broader product lifecycle management requirements and include some or all of the following: storyboarding, line planning, design tools, material development, product data management, vendor management, sourcing and workflow tools. PLM provides a central database and supports a collaborative design and development environment to which all relevant internal and external partners have access.


PLM Hub Q10: And finally, where next for PLM?

Andrew: Connecting the product information in a PLM system to the business information in a company's ERP system maximizes the benefits of both. This creates what Lawson calls "holistic PLM" - the integration of concept and execution, of analytics and demand information, of creativity and process, through production and delivery to the retail channel and end consumer.

It is therefore likely that more ERP vendors will acquire and interface to best-of-breed PLM solutions. Other ERP vendors may choose to develop their own solution; however, the knowledge needed to develop rich PLM functionality is very different to that for ERP.


Our sincere thanks to Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions. If you'd like to know more about Lawson's PLM applications please view their entry in the PLM vendor directory.