It may sound like tautology, but planning really does work better when well planned. Indeed, planning to implement a planning tool is no small feat, and introducing a product lifecycle management PLM solution to an apparel business has a lifecycle all of its own.

Implementation timelines can take anywhere from several weeks to several months and even longer, depending on the scale of the business, the software chosen and the integration necessary with existing information technology (IT) systems and business processes.

Fast React Systems' managing director Andrew Brown says he estimates a timescale of around three to four months for a smaller, standard implementation (including confirmation of solution, system configuration and training), to much longer for a larger business. 

"For very large businesses, it is likely that implementation would be in stages, by department, by category or by customer team, depending where in the supply chain the solution sits," he says.

Infor's Robert McKee says that when his company decided to rebuild its Infor Fashion PLM system from the ground up two years ago, a major focus was on ease of use and user experience.

"Our feeling was that if the PLM system is intuitive and easy to use – then the time to adoption will plummet. As the training time reduces the implementation, time is cut drastically – and people become more productive faster – giving them more time for real innovation. We also embedded things like critical path management," he says.

McKee says that while, theoretically, basic software could be implemented in 30 days, "most organisations don't have surplus capacity in their concept and technical design departments to focus on the implementation of a new software solution. We typically see project lead times of 2.5 to seven months, depending on size and scope."

Pre-configured packages

Pre-configured software packages can also cut down implementation time, offering an economical alternative to fully customised solutions. Infor's solution offers 70% pre-configured core processes for example, with an 'implementation accelerator' function designed specifically for mid-sized businesses.

"Access to the internal process owners is always critical – and access to best practice luminaries can always be helpful. We have found that with our new user experience, most of our projects find full user adoption within the first six to 12 weeks," says McKee.

Similarly, PTC offers a basic four-month implementation for its pre-configured PLM solution for apparel businesses that incorporates predesigned infrastructure architecture, data models, workflows and calendars, design card creation, bill of materials and scenario-based costing.

US-based PLM solution Centric 8 – an 'out-of-the-box' solution based on eight modules that can be individually configured – was in 2014 selected by French lingerie brand Undiz, part of the Etam Groupe, to cope with its rapidly expanding business. Implementation of the system took just six months, guided by the expertise of Centric consultants.

"PLM adoption requires business change and as such, it needs a well-managed process. Most vendors are working hard to standardise the offering and achieve tighter implementation timelines. This is important in order to make PLM accessible to a wider range of customers, including smaller vendors," agrees Brown.

Staged implementation

Staged implementation for larger companies is a solution recommended by several vendors, as the experience of one department can provide valuable insights for a rollout throughout the organisation.

US-based Fruit of the Loom, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, implemented Gerber Technology's YuniquePLM solution in 2012, and the investment has paid off. A significant amount of data was migrated from Fruit of the Loom's legacy systems in stages, including all 'point of measure' libraries and many raw material libraries, while style information was validated manually before it was added to the new system, according to company documentation. Gerber, however, customised the PLM to accommodate the company's unique colour and material request process.

Management of these large and complex data sets – both present and future – must also be built into a PLM roadmap that includes a consideration of in-house expertise. Recruitment of competent PLM managers can be a challenge, as is training to keep up with the industry's needs.

There are best practice examples, however. The UK's University of Huddersfield recently installed PTC's FlexPLM to help train its fashion and textile buying management students, while New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology is delivering courses in the newest systems and latest technologies, according to McKee.

He adds: "PLM demands and capabilities are moving at a phenomenal rate – and educational systems will struggle to keep pace. As the students are learning from and about newer, better tech, their demands on all elements of fashion technology will grow and push boundaries and limits.

"As we move forward, more of PLM will become mobile. Apps will take over from desk-based systems and we'll find the immediate capture of concepts and inspiration will become the norm. It's all coming quickly and will evolve onward from there just as quickly."

"Like every other element of fashion, there is no time to sit and wait or think that you know enough to remain competitive in this industry," he notes.

Click on the following links to read related articles:

Utilising PLM to fuel growth and fulfil demand

How to determine if PLM is right for your company

Tools to help choose an apparel PLM vendor