With the recent launch of Centric Cloud – a new solution designed specifically for small businesses – Centric rounds off their guest series of blogs, focused on small businesses, here with a third instalment. This blog focuses on ‘the cloud’ in particular – a term used frequently throughout our industry, but with varying definitions.
In the second instalment of this series, we discussed how small businesses are using scalable, subscription-based product lifecycle management (PLM) to overcome operational and technological challenges. With traditional barriers to adoption like upfront cost and scale now being overcome through ingenuity and innovation, small brands can stand on an even footing in the competition with other emerging names – and even multinational giants.
While we already know that this new generation of PLM is improving time to market, profitability and agility for smaller organisations, there is also a shift in the underlying technology that is transforming the way these companies work with PLM and other technologies.
Ahead in the clouds
It’s easy to be confused by the cloud. The field has been left wide open for companies to stretch and borrow the word for a litany of different purposes. The simplest definition rings true: the cloud is storage and computing power owned and operated by somebody else, trading encrypted packets over a data connection with the device – mobile or desktop – that you are working on.
Whether you are conversant or not with the technologies that make this new paradigm possible, most small business owners are very familiar with the end results. Cloud computing is already weaved into the tapestry of our personal lives – with Spotify, Netflix, iTunes and other streaming media services being the most likely examples. Most of us already use something that is cloud-based – sometimes without even realising it.
The cloud is commonly used to create convenience, promote variety and spread cost in ways that aren’t possible with traditional methods. The Spotify library is host to 30 million songs; Netflix keeps tens of thousands of movies and TV shows in its rotation. For most users, amassing a collection of BluRays or CDs on the same scale would be impractical and prohibitively expensive – and that’s without factoring in the cost of physical storage and an infrastructure capable of cataloguing and making use of all that media.
Cloud is by no means limited to consumer applications. Accounting software, productivity suites, file transfer and storage, payment processing and even Adobe’s Creative Suite have had some or all of their functionality lifted to the cloud – and all are now sold on an affordable subscription basis, rather than with a big upfront price tag.
The same is now true of PLM for fashion. No longer does the software that small organisations need require them to invest in racks of on-site servers or be saddled with the ongoing expense of staff solely responsible for installation, administration and maintenance. Instead, essential tools like merchandise planning, supplier management, materials management, quality control and the full spectrum of design and development functionality are available on-demand. And coupling this instant accessibility with mobility unlocks even greater potential.
As we have seen throughout this series, the value of PLM – streamlined product development, actionable intelligence and better margins – stems from having all essential product data in one place, accessible to everybody. No longer tied to a desk or a physical location, people now work from anywhere, anytime. It’s here that the cloud, paired with the right mobile apps, goes beyond just powering a like-for-like replacement of a traditional way of working and allows organisations to become more agile and work differently.
With implementation times reduced from months to weeks, getting started with cloud-based PLM is straightforward – but where each small business’ users take it from there is entirely unique.
For the designer with a new set of challenges each season, working differently means being able to add to a library of inspiration images and maintain access to the back-catalogue of previous products and components – whether she’s sketching at home, snapping street style a continent away, or checking out a competitor’s latest collection. The cloud and mobility allow her to take her work on the road, calling down the information she needs, whenever and wherever she needs it – preserving that creative flow.
For the small business owner, juggling responsibilities like quality, marketing, deliveries and retail performance, working differently requires oversight and insight into an all-encompassing range of data. Residing on the cloud, the information he or she needs is accessible anywhere and always live, providing a base of up-to-the-minute, actionable information to facilitate decision making in entirely new ways. Imagine having access to product margin info, planning versus actual performance, delivery schedules and more from anywhere, any time.
For the fit team and the factory auditor on the ground in Asia or elsewhere, working differently means working with a greater focus, using dedicated mobile applications to capture information typically stored outside of PLM and inputting new information in real-time. Fit session feedback can be captured live with an iPad; factory audit information captured uploaded from the factory floor.
Whether it’s dedicated mobile applications for fitting, sampling or quality assurance, or simply a new way to send inspiration from Paris to New York at the tap of a touchscreen, the best of PLM is now just a browser window away, accessible to fashion businesses of all shapes and sizes.
And for the small business user, accustomed to the limited intelligence available from disconnected tools, or used to collecting inspiration in a literal scrapbook, to be deciphered and manually entered back at the office, cloud-based PLM represents not just a new way of acquiring technology, but the keys to a revolution in the way they work.