As ERP and PLM integrated suites become an increasingly important tool for apparel companies looking to edge out the competition, software suppliers are also constantly adding new features and capabilities to their products as they strive to rein in the market.

Colin Marks, chief executive of UK PLM software developer DeSL, says the company is constantly updating its products to stay ahead of the curve.

"We are developing our products and releasing more functionality all the time," he says. DeSL offers PLM and ERP products that can be deployed individually or as a complete solution.

DeSL is different from traditional PLM vendors in that it can offer solutions that extend into the realms of traditional ERP business processes, Marks claims.

"It is very common for DeSL to implement a PLM project which also contains full purchase management as part of the scope," he adds. "We have developed a number of modules which, when combined, deliver a complete 'end to end solution' or they can be implemented individually."

As well as PLM and ERP solutions, DeSL also provides SRM, WMS and E-Commerce modules which form the overall Enterprise Accelerator suite. The focus has always been to deliver solutions which solve key business problems and enable global supply chain collaboration. Each of the individual modules has been developed from the ground up to include both core and key business requirements.

According to Marks, DeSL recently won contracts with companies such as GRI Retail in Hong Kong which is currently implementing DeSL's PLM and ERP solutions and Men's Warehouse in the US which is using its PLM and SRM solutions. Other big customers include Calvin Klein, VF Corporation and Lyle & Scott.

Integrated system
Miami, Florida-based New Generation Computing (NGC) also offers an array of products including its ERP-PLM integrated solution Global Enterprise Suite, but also offers independent ERP and PLM products. Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, adds NGC's PLM solution also includes supply chain management capabilities.

According to Burstein, NGC recently won two recent US customers including Jaya Apparel and Vesi.

In a statement, Vesi said it chose NGC's "Extended PLM and ERP software" as an integrated system for supply chain management. Vesi will implement the software across all of its brands "in order to provide transparency throughout the company, improve collaboration with overseas vendors, and streamline reporting and business processes," it said, adding that "flexible reporting capabilities were a key factor" in choosing NGC's products.

Other NGC clients include Armani Exchange, Footlocker, Oakley and Hugo Boss.

Explaining how it stands from the crowd, Burstein says NGC offers as many as 50 service modules in its GES (Integrated ERP-PLM) suite to meet the "exact needs of the customer," something that no other fashion vendor does.

Adds Burstein: "Other ERP companies that offer PLM cannot separate their PLM application from their ERP system. So, if the customer does not want to buy their ERP, they cannot buy their PLM as a standalone application and easily integrate it to their legacy systems.

"NGC's PLM was developed to be sold as a standalone product or as part of the GES."

Mainstay software
Computer Generated Systems (CGS) of New York also recently sold its Bluecherry mainstay software to MYX Inc, Itochu Prominent USA, Axis Denim and Mondetta Clothing, according to a spokeswoman. CGS, which has divisions in Europe and India, also recently won several new customers in Europe, particularly Germany, as it moves to expand in the old continent where it significant sales opportunities.

Paul Magel, president of CGS's application solutions group, says its Bluecherry fashion software integrates both PLM and ERP. However, because it was built from the ground up, it shares the same programming framework and database and is therefore more seamlessly integrated than rival solutions which can be built one after the other.

"You have to look under the covers and understand the history [of the industry] to truly know if they are offering and integrated solution or just a solution "that merely replicates that of other vendors," Magel points out.

Because of this native integration, "whatever we do for one application, the other gets without any added effort," Magel says. "We are adding a lot of functionality to both our PLM and ERP offerings...such as image based catalogue building, visual time and action calendars, integrated analytics, automatic style creation from design, visual work flow, forecasting and demand planning."

Expanded product catalogue
Apart from trumping their competitive advantages, one thing all software suppliers agree on is that ERP vendors will face checkmate unless they add PLM capabilities or integrated solutions to their product catalogue.

Wholesale apparel producers can still use ERP but even these companies are moving into designing their products, making PLM an essential tool.

"ERP vendors need to keep up with industry demands," says Magel. "Today, PLM is critical and very shortly multiple channel planning tools and forecasting will be a requirement as will be built-in analytics. A vendor that is not vertically focused on a specific industry or does not have the intellectual or investment capital to grow will not survive."

Adds Burstein: "If you are an ERP vendor and you don't have PLM I don't think you will be in business very long."

Consolidation on the cards
As EPR vendors scramble to add PLM tools and PLM suppliers work to do the same, observers expect some of these companies will join forces to hatch up more powerful applications.

"We do see consolidation in the industry and it has already started," Magel says, adding that rivals such as Oracle, Gerber and Lawson have been acquiring PLM products from other suppliers. "Just like [apparel] companies have to integrate systems so will vendors consolidating have to integrate offerings."

However, he says it will take time for the newly merged entities to deliver fully integrated solutions. "I believe ERP vendors will have an easier time adding PLM capabilities then going the other way around."

Burstein agrees the industry is set to consolidate and said NGC is open to making acquisitions.