Always an international company at heart, Centric Software has run a continent-spanning series of seminars for several years. And this summer’s intimate gatherings in the world’s fashion capitals – Milan, New York, London and Barcelona – only reinforce the impression that, whatever the territory, the fashion business knows Centric, and vice versa.
I was invited to attend (and speak at) the London event, which took place at the popular College of Fashion: a stone’s throw from Oxford Circus, and nestled in the heart of one of the UK’s highest-profile fashion and retail districts.
Titled “Mobility And Collection Development”, the seminar covered not just the transformative potential of mobile applications and access to core PLM functionality on the move, but also the role of PLM for fashion in a broader sense. And with customer testimonials from AMG and Crocs, insight into the Centric business in Europe, and a rapid-fire demonstration of the core Centric 8 PLM solution itself, these were four hours with no shortage of content.
Following an introduction by Peter Brown, Centric’s Regional Sales Director, I had the opportunity to walk the audience (comprising representatives of some of the UK’s most prestigious brands) through the history of PLM for fashion: its transformation from PDM to CPM to the form we know today; and the technological developments that galvanised its progress from pure data sharing to true international collaboration.
Revisiting the results of the 2012 WhichPLM Annual Review, my presentation also examined the future of PLM – shaped as it will be by the rapidly-changing face of the industry itself, by end user demand, ethical and environmental legislation, and by the ubiquity of information and mobile devices.
Paramount on end user wish lists last summer were mobile device integration and support for the kind of rigorous environmental and social compliance standards that are fast becoming a requirement for international working. On taking the stage again, Peter Brown reiterated Centric’s commitment to responding to demand, and explained that beyond the mobile applications we’d see later that afternoon, the company has implemented robust support for supply chain compliance and advanced planning (third on last year’s list of end user desires) as part of its overall roadmap for the development of the Centric 8 solution.
The company’s development isn’t just reactive, Peter explained, and rather than treating mobile development as an opportunity to shoe-horn unsuitable PLM functionality into tablets and mobile phones, the company instead focused on those core business activities that could be improved with access to technology on the move. At the seminar and beyond, Centric are demonstrating a number of apps designed with this philosophy in mind: a mobile collection book, a mobile capture tool, a sample review application, and a suite of tools packaged up to make the factory auditing process easier and more accurate than ever before, and to lend greater integrity to its results.
Peter also provided an overview of the environment that led to Centric’s being “first to iPad mobility”, including strong venture capital investments, continued recruitment of expert-level staff in Europe and around the world, and a desire to marry simplicity and ease of use with the lowest total cost of ownership.
These are big goals, but not unmanageable, Peter said, for a company headquartered in Silicon Valley, just streets away from some of the corporations that have shaped the futures of technology for a host of other industries.
Instrumental in setting up several of the company’s offices further afield, though, was Fabrice Canonge, Vice President of Centric’s European operations. Fabrice took to the stage to explain what he considers to be the “next generation” of PLM, and to explain how his company are leading the charge through precipitous growth and their focus on a single vertical: fashion.
Rather than limiting them, Fabrice explained, this focus instead frees Centric up to cater to the full range and diversity of the industry, with support for retail, wholesale, fast fashion, luxury, and multi-category, multi-brand businesses.
To evidence the strong customer support Centric has for its “next generation” strategy, Fabrice briefly outlined the success stories of a number of key customers: Mango, Tally Weijl, Ports 1961, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler, Silver Jeans, Longchamp, Le Coq Sportif, DSquared2, Aubade, and Christian Louboutin. This is an imposing list, and one that reflects the real reach of PLM today – from luxury to lingerie, and from denim to designer.
No less imposing a name is Crocs, whose Director of Product Operations in the USA, Matt Nakari, gave a testimonial via video-link following a short coffee break.
A lighthearted and self-effacing speaker, Matt acknowledged the love-them-or-loathe-them effect of the core Crocs products, before pointing out that the company sells more than 40 million pairs a year, making theirs an exceedingly complex business. Crocs, Matt explained, launch more than three hundred new styles every year – split over two distinct seasons – and, working with PDM alone, this complexity was extremely difficult to deliver. Re-entry and re-logging dogged the company’s product teams, and – being an extremely data driven organisation – they generated anywhere between forty and sixty complete dashboards each week… dashboards that, using PDM alone, were often more than a week old by the time they were ready for consumption.
PLM, Matt said, freed Crocs from this cycle, enabling them to quickly, simply, and seamlessly understand where every aspect of the business stands. And the selection of Centric as a vendor was driven by its robust support for that visibility at every stage of the product lifecycle, and supported further by the company’s clear roadmap for mobile device integration.
Perhaps less well-known a name (but certainly no less engaging a testimonial) is AMG Group. A multi-brand supplier of tents, sleeping bags, rucksacks and outdoor essentials to many of the UK’s biggest outdoor retailers, AMG turned to PLM to help bring their product data under control.
Talking openly about the 450,000 pieces of data his company had to manage on a regular basis, AMG’s Commercial Director, Steve Craig, explained that wrestling with 84 spreadsheets led to a host of issues, including data corruption, a lack of version control and collaboration, and what he called “multiple versions of the truth”.
Using Centric 8 – on which the company has gone live, following a short, phased implementation period of sixty days – AMG is beginning to achieve its vision of simplicity, reduced cost and, importantly, reduced employee frustration. And, Steve told the audience, Centric was chosen following a rigorous selection process on the basis of: their support for standard fashion processes; the out-of-the-box nature of their solution; the company’s passion and knowledge, and its roadmap for the future.
Vitally, Steve said, not only has employee frustration been reduced (an important metric, and not one we often measure) but confidence and optimism have been increased, since design and product teams can be certain that they are working from a single, contemporaneous and accurate source of data.
On hand to demonstrate some of the functionality of the modular Centric 8 platform was Dave Goodman, UK Technical Director. I’ve seen Dave demonstrate before, at a prior Centric Software seminar; clear, concise, competent and able to pack a great deal of insight into a short space of time, Dave’s demonstration at this was no different.
Beginning with an overview of modular PLM, picking up on points raised in my introduction, Dave walked the audience through several cornerstones of the Centric 8 platform: the mobile collection book, role-based views, seasonal calendars, the importance of edit-anywhere attributes, mobile reviewing, footwear support, and factory auditing.
Flitting back and forth between a laptop and an iPad (which played host to the collection book, review and auditing applications) Dave demonstrated just how ingrained PLM can become in modern product development, and consequently the vast range of opportunities that exist for it to refine, enhance, streamline and improve processes that we often take for granted.
Leading as it did into the end of the event, this was a reminder, if one was needed, that even after a decade of use, the PLM acronym carries a weight and a promise that leading retailers and brands in all corners of the world are finding increasingly hard to resist.
The next event in Centric’s series of summer seminars takes place on 20th June, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Find out more by visiting the company’s event page.