"PLM works," is the overwhelming message from what is thought to be the first industry-wide survey of retailers, brands and manufacturers around the world who use product lifecycle management tools.

"As a whole, the message is clear and strong," says Mark Harrop, CEO of WhichPLM, the online resource for apparel and retail companies seeking a PLM solution, which carried out the survey. "PLM as a whole is delivering efficiency savings, and it's getting easier to use as it becomes more configurable."

The 'PLM Customer Survey' is intended as a buyer's guide to help fashion brands and retailers select or implement the software, which is used by more and more companies to control the flow of information across the global supply chain, from design and development through sourcing and production.

By questioning 512 companies around the world its aim was to evaluate the 40-or-so suppliers who now offer PLM solutions, as well as compile an industry-wide objective analysis of customer satisfaction and emerging trends.

Harrop, who revealed the key results from the study at an industry briefing organised by Dassault Systèmes in London last week, noted that PLM is becoming a "must-have" for businesses of all sizes. Indeed, more and more solutions are catering for anything from 40 to 5,000 users.

Demand is also growing quickly, and instead of investment being hit by the current economic climate, "the market's exploding, because it's a tool to help companies get a better bottom line."

The report found that customers want to work with system developers who understand the fashion industry. They don't want to have to explain the industry to the team implementing the software, and they want to be able to talk to people who understand their problems. And they want out of the box solutions.

Also, a lot of firms have moved PLM to their suppliers - and survey respondents say they now want systems that also link to mills, to label and trim suppliers, not just factories.

What do PLM users want next?

  • Systems that are simple and easy to use with an intuitive interface;
  • Greater ability to integrate through multiple third party systems;
  • Virtual range planning (virtual stores and planograms) as well as 3D virtual sampling;
  • Deeper and more dynamic links to CAD/CAM solutions;
  • Deeper raw materials management, to encompass fabric development as well as product development;
  • Ability to track samples with Google maps;
  • Improved ability to design reports;
  • Product and material certification tools;
  • Integration and feeds into and from social media, so design teams can start to build trends coming direct from consumers and not from trend forecasters;
  • Improved critical path management and dashboards.