The retailers I meet in my line of work are (it won’t surprise you to hear) working hard to meet expectations on multiple fronts. They’re under pressure to be more responsive to customers, more socially conscious and environmentally responsible, and more profitable in the face of increasing competition. And in responding to these fundamental pressures, they face a diversity of operational challenges.
Are you stuck in the ’90s?
Often, I find that one of the biggest impediments to success is that core product lifecycle management (PLM) processes are stuck in the ‘90s (or the early noughties, at best).
Design and product development, for example, are still heavily dependent on time-consuming physical processes. And among retailers that are using PLM software, too many are reliant on stand-alone PLM systems that aren’t designed to streamline handoffs, communication or collaboration between the key stakeholders in the end-to-end merchandise lifecycle.
So how do you propel PLM into the mid-21st century? What should you be thinking about and looking for to make your PLM processes more responsive to the pressures you face? Here are four characteristics or capabilities you should expect from a PLM solution today, if you want it to meet both your current and future needs.
- The power of the end-to-end solution
Every time information has to be manually copied from one system to another, it’s a recipe for slowing things down, not to mention introducing errors. So if your objective is to take time out of your design, development and sourcing processes, you want a PLM system that talks directly to the systems used by your merchandisers, planners, suppliers and everybody else involved in planning, producing and delivering your products.
This gives you a choice when investing in PLM:
- Invest in a niche system — then invest in implementing and managing its integrations with other systems.
- Or invest in a PLM system that is part of an end-to-end retail solution — a single platform that does the integration work for you.
If, like me, you think the second option makes much more sense, look for a provider that shows real understanding of retail.
For example, can the vendor give your designers the right visibility on merchandise plans (business and strategic targets) from the earliest stages of development? Can they help you streamline your collaboration with suppliers? Can they give you the control you need to manage manufacturing- and sourcing-specific CSR issues? Will you get calendar and workflow management capabilities that span the whole organization?
- Let’s get digital — and augmented
Design and product development are probably the least digitally enabled PLM functions in most of the retail businesses I talk to, despite common use of Adobe or similar software. From mood boards to samples, reliance on paper-based and physical processes is still high — and simply too time consuming for today’s business realities. This is an area ripe for conversion to sophisticated graphics technologies (both 2D and 3D) and associated workflow management software.
Look for a solution that puts the user experience front and center. You want simplicity for the user but also sophisticated functionality, especially because the most powerful digital visualization tools, such as augmented reality, have the greatest potential to work well for everybody in the design and development process. During the sampling and prototyping phase, for example, the use of augmented reality can allow everyone involved in the process to visualize the style in 3D, add design notes, and share comments and amendments until agreement is reached. Benefits are in terms of a more streamlined and sustainable process, as no fabrics or manufacturing resources are engaged until the final style is confirmed for production.
- How much is quality worth to you?
For retailers that take quality seriously, one of the most important drivers for an end-to-end solution is that it enables feedback loops between quality assurance and the supply chain.
Quality tests need to be shared with individual suppliers for action as needed and to contribute to suppliers’ scoring profiles, so that performance is monitored over time.
In addition, QA managers need a solution that lets them break every product into its components and subcomponents, so they can specify quality at the appropriate level of granularity. At Aptos we have luxury-brand clients that want to specify quality at the level of seams and buttons, and even the thread used. Your requirements may not be quite as granular today, but having the capability to go this deep means you can evolve your approach to quality without any limitations in the future.
- Are you serious about corporate and social responsibility management?
Attention on the environment has never been higher, and with the youth of the world committed to the green cause, it’s reasonable to assume that expectations about environmental protection and sustainability will only increase. The fashion sector, of course, has taken note.
RELATED BLOG: Sustainable Fashion? Why PLM is Worth Watching
If your supplier certifications are buried somewhere in piles of paper, or even if you hold them as unstructured digital documents, it makes them very hard to manage. The same goes for every supplier and product attribute that feeds into the growing list of CSR factors you’re expected to control and report on.
Make sure that your PLM software doesn’t require much customization to capture all your CSR requirements as searchable, structured data, and that it automates compliance tracking and management as much as possible.
You should look for a system that lets you publish and make available to your suppliers your codes of conduct, including policies governing environmental protection, human rights and working conditions — as well as related audit calendars. The system should allow you to communicate your auditing results and corrective actions as needed to uncompliant partners, together with dates for rectification.
Getting started: Concept to customer
The most important strategic consideration of the four I’ve introduced is definitely the first. Retailers that want to get to market faster — and have greater control over quality, costs and CSR as they do so — need to properly embed PLM within the whole process of getting products from concept to the customer.
If you would like to share your thoughts on PLM trends — and the importance of integrating PLM in the end-to-end merchandise lifecycle — I encourage you to reach out to me on LinkedIn.