There are a number of steps fashion industry executives can take to expedite design and development, stay at the forefront in an increasingly competitive landscape – and ultimately get a good night's sleep. Andrew Dalziel, senior director, Industry Strategy, Infor, explains.

Many a fashion executive is kept awake at night wrestling with the challenge of how to improve the product design and development process to shorten the time from concept to consumer and ensure a higher ratio of designs make it through to become a retail success.

Of course, standardisation of processes has an impact, and many fashion companies have already deployed PLM (product lifecycle management) systems and gained benefits from standardisation. However, the competitive advantage from utilising PLM for process standardisation diminishes as industry adoption of PLM broadens and a company's current technology landscape ages.

Making a step-change in product development

Let's explore three of the big challenges and opportunities for improving the fashion design and development process:

#1: Many fashion companies still have significant product design and development silos – whether that is the performing of similar type activities in isolation within different divisions, sites or brands, or simply a lack of collaboration between different roles that result in process variation, inefficiency and errors. According to the report 'PLM for Apparel 2018: 3D Adds New Strategic Dimension to Achieving Supply Chain Speed,' one of the top factors influencing PLM strategies for the next three years is the "need to increase the centralisation of product design and development activities across brands, geographies, etc." What if you could centralise activities and collaborate more easily both internally between merchandising, creative design, product design and sourcing as well as with your vendors in a seamless manner?

As consumers, we have embraced the digital revolution. Yet most companies have not harnessed the power of the latest technologies in the workplace

#2: There is no debate that fashion is one of the most innovative industries in terms of trailblazing new collections and styles whether on the catwalks of New York, Paris and Milan or wearable technology on the sports field with, for example, sports shirts that feed biometric data to a computer or your own mobile phone for analysis. Yet fashion companies are often slow to deploy new technology to support and automate and differentiate their business processes. For their business software applications, part of this lies at the door of the software firms who often had long cycles between new releases, and there is also the associated pain of planning and budgeting for a major upgrade. Not to mention the need to redirect valuable working capital from collections and omnichannel towards upgrades, then squeeze 'go lives' between new collection launches. What if you could take advantage of new innovations much faster and without the need for major upgrades?

#3: Almost every fashion company has growth ambitions and everyone knows of fresh young brands that have undergone a supersonic growth trajectory. Whether your company is a young brand undergoing organic growth or a large established brand that is acquiring other brands to maintain growth or anywhere between these, your business is constantly evolving and getting the most out of existing and new talent is critical. What if you had a scalable, modern and flexible system for product development and a standard, repeatable solution that can be rolled out rapidly as needed to underpin and support your business growth strategy?

Applying the latest digital technologies to fashion product development

The pace of technology innovation is dizzying. We all have a stock of outdated devices, servers and other equipment both in our homes and our offices. The digital revolution is something that has crept up on us as consumers, and we have embraced the change. For example, listening to music streaming from Spotify, controlling lights and music inside our homes via our phones, and saving photos into the security of the cloud where we know we don't have to worry about a backup. Yet most companies have not harnessed the power of the latest technologies in the workplace.

Cloud is the underlying technology that can address many of the tough challenges for fashion executives and opens the door for greater digitalisation. There are various flavours of cloud from the simple hosting of your legacy systems in the cloud to true cloud native, single version software delivered as a subscription service. While the former may allow you to outsource the responsibility for keeping your system running, it's the latter that can really deliver transformation and game changing opportunities.

A true cloud native, multi-tenant PLM solution offers:

  • A secure infrastructure and low total cost of ownership.
  • A resilient environment to minimise the risk of any unplanned downtime affecting the productivity of your product development team.
  • Security at an affordable cost to reduce your risk of IP theft in today's world of cyber-attacks.
  • The ability to work anywhere, any time, on any device, for example, PC, Mac, tablet, iPad or smartphone, as long as you have an internet connection.
  • However, perhaps some of the biggest benefits for a fashion company come from a cloud native, multi-tenant, Fashion PLM solution's ability to address the challenges discussed earlier.

Centralisation through seamless collaboration

Cloud transforms IT from being a necessary cost of doing business to a value driver and allows your IT team to keep up with the speed of change in the business, even during rapid growth

The concept of PLM implies everyone is using the same data repository. However, on premise and hybrid installs often end up with different server instances, as well as local client software installs that lend themselves to each location or team evolving their own processes and activities over time. With a true cloud solution, everyone is accessing the same solution, leveraging the same up-to-date data and using the same homepage layouts, task-driven approach and common processes.

In addition, leading cloud PLM solutions have impressive collaboration capabilities that enable much easier sharing of information with colleagues and partners wherever they are in the world, as well as the embedding of information from other systems within the UI (user interface) for better decision making.

Vendors often access PLM on a UI that leverages different technology. However, with a cloud solution they should be able to access the PLM solution using the same core web UI technology as the internal users with, of course, relevant rights and security. With easy access for vendors and assuming the solution includes rich product and supplier compliance capabilities, you have powerful technology to help implement effective, faster processes, and to protect your brand through improving compliance.

Faster adoption of new innovations without major upgrades

An initial PLM deployment normally goes well, but then things often stagnate over time. As user needs evolve, it becomes difficult to update the solution and adopt new technology and functional capabilities without a major upgrade project. With a cloud native fashion PLM solution that offers single version software, you receive new capabilities on a frequent basis and you can access these whenever you want.

For example, if some key new functionality for working with 2D turntable or 3D images becomes available, then you can take advantage of this as soon as you are ready with no need for a major upgrade. Simply try the functionality out and add it to your process if you are happy with it. This means you can stay at the leading edge and always be capitalising on the latest innovations for business improvement. Technology becomes a value driver for your business versus a cost of doing business.

Scalability, flexibility and rapid roll-out

A multi-tenant, cloud native PLM solution offers a level of scalability that would be very difficult to achieve on-premise and can support growth from a small fashion brand to a large multi-brand fashion enterprise, with the required computer processing power at each stage available on demand. Perhaps of even greater benefit is the flexibility and speed at which you can roll out as the business grows with a standardised, repeatable, and well documented cloud native solution. Let's assume you open a new design office or acquire a company in a different country: you don't need to worry about additional hardware, local configuration and support resources, etc. All your users need is an internet connection and a browser. Your new users can get up-and-running in a very short space of time with a modern, consumer grade and intuitive UI where they access their role-based homepage and get fed information on their priority tasks.

Final thoughts…

Cloud transforms IT from being a necessary cost of doing business to a value driver and allows your IT team to keep up with the speed of change in the business, even during rapid growth of brands. More of your internal resources can be applied to shortening time to market, achieving a higher percentage of successful styles, and other key business drivers.

Cloud native, multi-tenant PLM as a subscription service is something fashion executives may want to give some thought to, as it could help them sleep better at night. Why? because it can deliver significant business value, and provide the foundation for further digitalisation, innovation, and growth.