Welcome to the second "10 questions with..." our series of interviews with leading figures in the PLM world. This time we spoke with Kathleen Mitford of PTC and asked about the specific advantages of implementing PLM, why PTC'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?

Kathleen: In today's challenging environment, many forward looking companies are implementing PLM to meet strategic company goals and emerge stronger when the recession lifts. Achieving tangible benefits from your technology investment has always been important, but with margins diminishing, making smart IT investments counts more than ever.

Immediate benefits of implementing PLM include:

Increased operational efficiency. Product development teams are now globally dispersed, extending beyond a company's employee base to include supply chain partners. PLM enables you to streamline collaboration across a global environment, ensuring that trend-right products get to market faster, without sacrificing margin or quality.

Reduced costs. Cost reductions can occur in a variety of ways, based on what processes a company leverages in PLM. Examples of cost reductions include:

  • Reduced material costs through material aggregation
  • Reduced overhead costs through leveraging lower cost resources
  • Reduced sample costs (material, colour, product) through reducing the number of sample iterations

After companies have used PLM for a season they start to see long term benefits of:

Stronger brand loyalty and increased quality. Getting to market fast to hit a market trend must be matched with product quality, so consumers remain loyal to brands. PLM has enabled companies to focus on improving the accuracy of product specs, so key quality elements, such as fit, are consistently reflected in the latest designs on the shop floor.

Reduced cycle time. Strategic PLM implementations impact all roles in the product development process. Enabling greater collaboration and visibility across these roles eliminates inefficiencies in the product development process which ultimately leads to reduced cycle time.


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

Kathleen: Today's consumer is very careful about how they spend their disposable income, thus retailers and brands must provide products that 'delight' the consumer that are high quality at an affordable price. In order to accomplish this, companies must offer innovative products that are differentiated from the competition. PLM enables this by incorporating the voice of the customer in the design process. Giving the designer early visibility to end consumer feedback before final design decisions have been made helps to ensure that the product line meets and exceeds the customer's expectations, thus impacting sales results.


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

Kathleen: The industry is under pressure to get innovative, "trend-right" products to market faster than ever without sacrificing margin and quality. Achieving these goals requires collaboration across the key roles in the enterprise and supply chain early on in the product development process. Reducing cycle time is the key to capturing trends that fuel consumer wants so retailers and brands avoid a fashion 'miss'.

To capture the latest trend, design decisions need to be made very late in the product development process, so that the most up-to-date thinking can be incorporated into the product concept. Making timely, informed decisions as late as possible in the process gives a company a higher chance of designing products that customers want to purchase. This enhances the likelihood of a higher percentage of products being sold at full price, avoiding future markdowns and mitigating excessive inventory levels.

From a single, web-based platform, PTC provides process transparency to dispersed product teams and suppliers giving companies greater visibility into the right data, which allows them to make smarter decisions faster - as late as possible in the development cycle - without impacting costs and schedules. PLM can also directly benefit sell-through and inventory management, as companies can make smarter design decisions later in the process regarding what types of products should be offered for a particular retail delivery. With PLM, companies in Retail, Footwear & Apparel, and Consumer Products can achieve the ultimate goals of Cycle Time Reduction: cutting overall man hours and eliminating wasted inventory.


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

Kathleen: The green initiative is gaining momentum mainly because global societies want to ensure a safe, healthy environment for their citizens, as well as future generations. Most retailers and brands have a business initiative in place that focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility. In today's marketplace, consumers' expectations have risen and to stay competitive you have to provide the consumer with the "green" products they have come to expect. In addition to the consumer expectations there are also internal pressures from your employees who want to work for an environmentally friendly company.

It is not only the internal employee and consumer pressures that companies are facing but retailers and brands are charged with proving compliance to government regulations about the substance make up of their product. This becomes extremely challenging to those companies who deliver products to different regions because the regulations differ by product type and country and are constantly evolving. Without technology, proving compliance can be expensive and laborious. The most commonly talked about compliance laws are REACH in the EU and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in the United States. These mandates are forcing manufacturers to now understand and control the substances used in their products.

The key components that need to be managed for going green include product lines, products, materials, packaging and the supply chain - all of which are already being successfully managed in PTC's PLM solutions. PTC's solution can manage the environmental data of materials used in products, therefore assisting with the compliance to specifications such as REACH, RoHS, CPSIA and user defined regulations. As these regulations change, automatic updates are seamlessly made in the system. PTC's dashboard views give insight of the compliance status of materials and products by checking to see if the product make up sent by the supplier passes or fails the government regulation.


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

Kathleen: PTC has been delivering PLM solutions designed specifically to meet the needs of retail, footwear & apparel and consumer products companies for almost 10 years. Based on this experience of working with world class customers, PTC has developed a flexible, easy to use enterprise PLM solution which can be implemented quickly. Our stand out features include:

  • Ease of use as the system is designed specifically for the retail, footwear & apparel and consumer products markets.
  • Breadth of functionality to support collaboration early in the product development process between merchandising, design, product development and sourcing.
  • Depth of functionality to support the unique requirements of designing apparel, footwear, accessories and consumer related products.

PTC's expertise and value in the retail, footwear, apparel, and consumer products industries is proven with companies such as JCPenney, Reebok, Liz Claiborne, USG, and Converse, all of whom have realised sustained value including significant improvements in cycle time, margin, quality, and operational efficiency.


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

Kathleen: PTC's PLM solution has the ability to integrate with other PLM systems but we find that most of our customers retire the legacy systems they have in place due to the depth of functionality available in FlexPLM. If a company decided to maintain a legacy PLM system, the systems can be integrated.

PTC has extensive experience of achieving robust, scalable integrations to share data between PLM and other systems such as Merchandise Planning and ERP.


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

Kathleen: At PTC, our worldwide experience over the course of numerous implementations at companies of all sizes highlights the need for a flexible, process-based approach when embarking on selection of a PLM provider and implementing the system.

While implementation approaches may vary, all successful initiatives focus on the right combination of people, process, and technology. Every company considering PLM should first create a business case which will become the foundation and roadmap for the project, and the basis for all decisions, from selecting the right partner to developing detailed implementation plans. Look for a partner that not only has the right technology to meet your needs but also has the experience necessary to meet your business goals and can help manage the inevitable changes that PLM will make in your organisation and throughout the supply chain.

Based on your company's strategic objectives and initiatives, PTC Global Services experts will recommend which processes should be enabled with your implementation, based on successful, rapid deployments with other leading retailers and brands. Marrying this implementation to your company objectives ensures that not only is the deployment completed quickly, but also smartly - to deliver exceptional value to your organisation.


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

Kathleen: Fortunately, economic downturns do not last forever. Retailers and brands realise they need to set themselves up for when the economy picks up, so they are focusing on their core business processes, organisational set-up and enabling technology to ensure they can generate tangible bottom line benefits now which will continue to bear fruit in the future.

Top retail and brand executives appreciate that, even in the current sink-or-swim environment, they need to support key strategic business initiatives by deploying Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) as a key component to achieving and sustaining competitive advantage. Even in a tough climate, PLM remains a steadfast IT investment priority for many industries, including apparel, footwear and consumer products. PLM is focused on increasing operational efficiency, reducing overall costs, enhancing brand loyalty, and increasing product quality which are all the more important in a downturn economy.


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

Kathleen: By working with our customers we have mapped out a process approach for high value implementations which involve both the executive management team but also the program management team working in a cohesive manner.

For an implementation to succeed, a company needs to begin with a clear and measurable definition of success by looking to their strategic business goals. Process should be the first thing focused on and creating a roadmap for the deployment of the solution should closely follow. In order to handle the change management that occurs with implementation, a clear value proposition should be communicated to the user community along with a prescriptive methodology of how the technology should be used. An internal structure is key for efficient decision-making which consists of a cross-functional team. 

PTC's customer, JCPenney, had a successful implementation by looking to certain questions when analysing the adoption of PLM and the overall impact PLM would have on their internal business. By mapping out a process and approaching these questions head-on, they were well prepared as an organisation to handle the change management that occurs during implementation.


PLM Hub Q10: Where next for PLM?

Kathleen: At PTC, our existing customers are stressing the need to incorporate the voice of the customer into the design process through PLM. This involves tapping the pulse of social networking to collect consumer feedback and incorporating it into product concepts before final design decisions are made.

By gaining better insight into consumer wants and needs before final design decisions are made, retailers and brands have a golden opportunity to ensure their design direction is on target. Retailers have recognised that the balance of buying power has shifted to the consumer, so gathering feedback early in the design process is more critical than ever for retailers and brands looking to optimise margins and reduce design time.

Retailers are gathering consumer information in a variety of ways;

  • focus groups, Beta programs
  • 'previews'
  • social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, etc
  • analysing past sales
  • product reviews
  • returns and sell-through rates.

This information can be cumbersome to handle manually, so retailers are looking to PLM to manage this information digitally in a concise, user-friendly manner through the concept development, merchandise planning and creative design processes.

In addition, retailers are looking to increase profitability and enhance customer loyalty by increasing the amount of floor space dedicated to private label or private banded products. While private label is a widely deployed practice in apparel, it has recently gained traction across a wide breadth of product types from apparel, to tools, to furniture, and appliances.

With the transition to private label brings its own challenges, such as:

  • building brand loyalty in a name brand driven society
  • producing private label products that complement and not compete with branded products; and
  • supporting multiple development processes that have not historically been part of a retailer's protocol

How can PLM help with these challenges? Whether a retailer's private label brand is designed in house or sourced, PLM enables retailers to coordinate the complex processes of planning, selecting, sourcing, and quality assurance of diverse product categories. PLM ultimately reduces cycle time and gives the retailer insight into the previous seasons wins and misses, enabling the designer to design trend-right products.


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