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Fashion PLM: No longer just for big business

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At the close of September, Centric Software – a well-known provider of PLM solutions for the RFA marketplace – announced the launch of Centric Cloud, a new solution designed specifically for small businesses. In this, the first in a short series of blogs, Centric discusses the topic of PLM for smaller businesses in some more detail.  

FASHION’S FOUNDATION

The world’s biggest names in fashion, retail and luxury owe the success of their brands to product lifecycle management (PLM).  Adapting principles and practices proven in other industries for decades, fashion-specific PLM solutions have emerged as one of the most viable, vital investments a brand, retailer or manufacturer can make in themselves. Why?  Because PLM allows them to create their best possible products in the most efficient way.

Product design and development have also evolved and become more complex in that time; a modern PLM platform now encompasses everything from product design and development through to supplier management, quality assurance, collection planning, compliance, and even marketing and merchandising.  Supported by technological innovations and integrations, PLM has also become the de facto backbone for big businesses looking to consolidate their I.T. infrastructures, coupling advantages like reduced cycle times and sampling costs with often-dramatic reductions in data errors, data duplication, and the unnecessary cost of maintaining out-of-date, disconnected systems.

In short, PLM can reduce costs, mitigate (or eliminate) technological bottlenecks, and optimise product development to improve time to market, quality, and creativity.  The best modern PLM solutions are built by fashion experts, designed to solve the most pressing challenges facing the fashion business, and include an emphasis on connectivity and collaboration, to allow for a more natural workflow.

The benefits were compelling enough to convince early adopters even when high costs, extensive (and expensive) customisation, and lengthy implementations were considered the norm.  Today, most of those complex barriers to entry have been removed, but nevertheless a number of factors have, until recently, kept the transformative power of PLM out of the reach of smaller businesses.

OUT OF REACH?

In addition to up-front license and maintenance costs, larger businesses implement PLM with the help of multi-year project teams, and require an army of in-house I.T. resources and training experts, and racks of humming, maintenance-hungry servers to support their new solutions. For small businesses in particular – where products and processes are time-starved – individual capacity and the hassle factor are both of the essence. Many small businesses can afford neither the financial nor the time investment required for a large-scale, on-site PLM project.

In a small business, people often wear multiple hats: overseeing sourcing, IT, product quality, costing and some administration are all responsibilities that might fall under the umbrella of a Chief Operating Officer who has limited, if any, support staff.  A single designer, too, may need to generate volumes of new styles, drive material innovations, transform emerging trends into commercially viable products, contribute to marketing or more – all solo, and all in the span of a single day. Or in order to create a new product type, a single sourcing manager might have to juggle a diverse base of supply chain partners, keeping them up to date even though technical specifications might be changing with each passing hour.

To stay current in a competitive market, small businesses face an uphill struggle at both the individual and organisational levels.  Their challenge is to beat competitors (including larger businesses) on products, and keep pace with escalating consumer demand through better processes – all with the same limited pool of resources, and all while holding true to their brand and securing the loyalty of their target audience.

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE RIGHT JOB

So with the nagging sense that proven technologies like PLM were outside their purview or the reach of their purse strings, it’s little wonder that small businesses turned to off-the-shelf tools instead.

It isn’t uncommon to see a boutique brand or even a mid-sized retailer managing its collections in Excel, communicating with suppliers via email and arranging workflow triggers in an online calendar originally designed to allow an office manager to keep track of meeting room availability.

But while Excel is certainly robust and adaptable, it and other open-ended tools are by definition unsuited to many of the unique aspects of the fashion business.  With the wrong, cross-industry tools in place, a business can soon expect to have to re-enter data, see errors emerge, and manually handle every point of integration.  And what initially seemed like a temporary solution will become an enduring thorn in the business’s side.

Large and small businesses have this in common – both, at times, adopt processes and technologies to meet an immediate need and then sustain them out of necessity, only to find their best efforts lagging behind best practices when market demands inevitably increase. This approach, though, is especially risky for smaller companies when we consider how rapidly the tiny e-commerce outfit of today can become the retail giant of tomorrow.  It pays to create clean, structured processes as early as possible – something that’s only truly possible in an environment tailored for fashion.

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PLM FOR SMALL BUSINESS

Galvanised by technological tools that they will be familiar with from their personal lives, like mobile applications, intuitive interfaces, and the cloud, small fashion and apparel companies now stand to benefit from innovations in technology and implementation that originated at the top end of the market. The barriers to adoption that have long stood between them and their larger competitors are now crumbling.

The next instalment in this series will look in more detail at how PLM can assist small businesses in creating faster, more agile product development processes, improving costs, and increasing their ability to respond to change.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.