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Inforum 2015: The WhichPLM Report

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WhichPLM’s Founder & CEO, Mark Harrop, returned from Paris earlier this month, having been invited to cover Inforum 2015 Europe – Infor’s European customer event. Spanning two full days and straddling a number of industries, here Mark reports on his experience of Inforum, paying close attention to fashion. 

The city of Paris is now, and always will be, a global hub of art, culture, fashion and gastronomy. France’s capital is electric, and she stands tall. She seduces art lovers with the elusive Mona Lisa, entices historians and fans of the macabre with the Parisian catacombs, and lures romantics to the Eiffel Tower.

A title shared with sisters Milan, London and New York, Paris is the king (or queen) of fashion and technology innovations.

Inforum 2015 Europe allows Infor customers from all over the continent the chance to experience in-person how Infor’s applications are transforming the way people work. The two-day event, held at Le Palais des Congres, collected together thought leaders and Infor executives, industry and product experts, and customers, all sharing the latest information on solution updates, customer success stories, latest cross industry news, insights, roadmap development and future strategies.

With sponsors including Amazon Web Services, Ciber, IBM, EnterpriseDB, and SMA Solutions, and customers from all across Europe, Le Palais des Congres was a busy hive inside a busy city.

The event was packed with product launches, educational workshops, networking opportunities, and a look into Infor’s emerging innovations. And as Infor caters to a wide variety of sectors, it’s not surprising that this event was diverse. Covering industries from Aerospace to Life Sciences, Food & Beverage to Fashion, Inforum’s session accommodated everyone.

The huge conference space was broken up according into specialty, to cater to all needs and interest. ‘The Hub’, described as ‘the heart of Inforum’ provided a space for attendees to share cross-industry experiences and to learn and network together. Central to the space, The Hub offered one-to-one discussions with product experts, hands-on experience with Infor’s latest technology developments and with sponsors, as well as a place to congregate with industry peers and simply relax.

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The two-day agenda was divided amongst user groups, educational sessions, general sessions, industry sessions, product launches, and of course the keynote address.

Guest keynote speaker was Charles Leadbeater, a renowned author and strategic adviser on innovation. Leadbeater has advised global governments, corporations, and even cities. Leadbeater, dubbed “the wizard of the web” has received the David Watt Prize for journalism for, “We think: mass innovation not mass production”. This bestseller forecasts the rise of more collaborative, open forms of innovation made possible by the worldwide web.

Leadbeater’s address actually came on the morning of the second day, and discussed how organisations respond to, and make the most of, today’s upheaval, tensions, and opportunities.  He shared four stories of companies that have used new technologies that have brought disruptive innovations that have become game changing to the world, using smart strategies, tactics and tools to help improve innovation. Each of the stories helped the audience to better understand just how disruptive innovators have changed the rules of the game, looking at challenges from a completely different point of view.

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One of Leadbeater’s references was that of Manhattan natives Drew and Myra Goodman from Carmel Valley, California, who began farming a backyard plot of pesticide-free raspberries, which they sold at a roadside stand. Soon, they added lettuce to the mix and pioneered the process of supplying ready-to-eat salads in a bag. The product took off when they started selling to Costco and 20 years later, they find themselves at the top of the leafy green food empire. Their company, Earthbound Farm, processes about 30 million servings of salads a week and is the largest grower of organic produce in the United States. Earthbound Farm fruits and vegetables are found in 74 percent of the USA’s supermarkets.

Systems Trump Products

Leadbeater went on to share a story of how new systems can disrupt the world and reinvent the way we fit business processes together (“joining the dots”), creating new growth around the world. He linked his stories to information and how we change physical products based on how we use and connect information. Different models of scale, networks, platforms, Cloud and global businesses can be developed in weeks or even days! Strategy must be a continuous process in today’s world, no longer can you look at your business strategy once per year. Companies today need to be agile, flexible, and fast, and being in the middle of “change” is where innovation often comes from when competing with, and learning from, each of your competitors, he stated that this mash-up helps to drive new solutions and processes. Leadbeater used the analogy of being in a “washing machine”, constantly mixing up the process to help deliver change leading to process and product newness!

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Either side of this address were: user groups which gave insights specific to the products used by that group; educational sessions in the form of deep dives, roadmaps, and customer stories; general sessions presenting the latest innovations from the executive Infor team; product launches showcasing the next applications to come from Infor, and what they will mean to various industries, and customers.

Aware of the breadth of sectors utilizing Infor technology, sessions were specialised, and customers were able to plan their day(s) according to their interests. As WhichPLM’s main focus has always been, and always will be, on the RFA (Retail, Footwear, Apparel) sector my time was of course spent focused on Infor Fashion PLM and elements of Infor’s M3 Fashion ERP solution.

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Fashion Strategy Director for Infor, Bob McKee, outlined some of the challenges a modern fashion retailer and brand faces today, and how Infor’s PLM helps to overcome these. “The fashion industry is one that needs to adapt quickly to fluctuations in pricing, consumer demand, and regulations, and these could be different in every region in which an organization operates,” McKee stated. Infor delivers tools to better connect across different departments and locations. Infor’s applications specialized for fashion provide the functionality needed to better meet changing customer needs, more accurately manage value chain logistics and ultimately do daily tasks more efficiently.

Infor Fashion gives users the tools they need to steer their businesses, shorten time to consumer, avoid markdowns and improve profit margins. Inforum hosted three PLM-specific sessions, one on 3rd November and two on 4th. The first was held by Maarten Hagen, Business Consultant for Infor. Hagen has 10 years’ experience with Infor, and works closely with businesses in the food and beverage, chemical, and personal care industries.

Hagen’s session was entitled, ‘Discover the secret to beating your competition: Develop and launch products more quickly and cost-effectively’ and was primarily targeting manufacturers. Hagen made a case for how Infor Optiva PLM – a product lifecycle management solution – can help these manufacturers develop products quickly and using the best formula, whilst complying with regulatory requirements. It was interesting to compare Optiva PLM with Infor Fashion PLM – two key differences are formulization and regulatory compliance; when it comes to food safety regulatory compliance is critical and therefore further advanced than we see in fashion PLM solutions and certainly a process that can be leveraged with configuration/customization by the fashion team. These days more and more fashion brands are expanding beyond traditional clothing into fragrances, accessories, electronics and more. It makes a great deal of sense for companies like Infor to share and leverage best-practice process methodologies taken from different industry sectors, which can compliment each other and help to overcome many of the challenges that expanding fashion brands are facing.

Hook & Loop

Another interesting and welcomed take away from this session was that all of the Infor solutions are operating on a new modern UI/UX (User Interface & User Experience), which has been designed and developed by the creative development group at Infor. Part creative lab, Hook & Loop is an energetic think tank where creative curiosity becomes business reality.  Based at the new Infor headquarters in the swanky Chelsea district of New York, or as they like to call it ‘Silicon Alley’, Hook & Loop strives to tie the company’s solutions together in a fresh and exciting way through creative imagination and development direction.

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Hook & Loop is redefining the software development process by bringing user needs (based on research) in at the beginning, before engineering starts. This way, developers aren’t relied on to define look and feel. Hook & Loop team members will become invested, integrated members of the product teams, and further the understanding that Infor has of the technology and system architecture, so that they can more effectively and efficiently redefine the user experience.

The mission of user-centered design is to create an experience oriented around user needs. To identify those needs and goals outside of the context of existing software, Infor conducts on-site visits, observing users in their “natural environment”; they also conducts interviews to investigate the needs of the users.

The key difference is that the creative UI/UX teams are guiding and orchestrating the development team in terms of the PLM UI/UX requirements – something that really shows when you see the solution in action. To scale improved UX across a portfolio of 200+ projects, Infor invests a lot of resources in Soho XI, which is evolving to be more than simply a style guide. They give development teams information and behaviour patterns that organize content, and streamline processes, ultimately helping these teams make better design decisions when it comes to redoing their UI.

Comparing Industries

The second session I was keen to attend, ‘5 ways to accelerate product realization’, took place early on the second day and presented exactly what you’d expect from the title. Johan Schumacher shared his idea on how to drive faster product innovation, respond to changing markets more efficiently, and reduce overall costs. Schumacher is a Senior Business Consultant at Infor, with 15 years’ experience working with both PLM and ERP.

Unfortunately for WhichPLM, like Hagen, Schumacher’s expertise lies with industries other than RFA. His experience is with the design and implementation of PLM systems across Europe for companies in the high tech, aerospace, automotive and industrial machinery industries.

This being said, it’s always interesting to compare other industry PLM solutions to see what you can learn. When you look at the automotive sector you can see the vast amount of electronics and gadgets that are now in cars but are creeping into the RFA sector e.g. smart clothing, accessories, healthcare apps …the list goes on. And traditional RFA PLM suppliers will need to incorporate electronics into their Technical Specifications for the future and therefore another opportunity for Infor to leverage best practice from the automotive sector.

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The third PLM-centric session was much more suited to WhichPLM’s (and our readers’) interests. Held in The Hub, Madeleine van Dijk presented ‘Speed: Infor Fashion PLM – A best-in-class solution’. Senior Product Manager for Fashion at Infor, Dijk has 19 years’ implementation experience. Dijk holds extensive knowledge on supply chain planning and execution, lean manufacturing, and implementing enterprise management systems for a wide variety of businesses and industries.

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Her session centered on the Infor Fashion PLM user experience, and the latest functionality of the system, including how it can reduce product development time, allowing customers to offer better merchandise assortments. She also discussed integrations between the various Infor systems, including Infor ION’s integration with Infor M3, and Adobe Illustrator.

Infor have recently brought to market their latest Merchandise Planning solution, supporting financial planning, Top Down, Bottom Up, Assortment Planning, and Collection & Range Planning. User’s of Infor’s Fashion PLM suite have the ability to generate style development directly from the Merchandise Planning solution and have complete visibility of the development lifecycle supported by the cross platform workflow engine, using both “push & pull” technology/notifications to advance the design & development processes.

Engineered for Speed

The Infor PLM solution has many mass design & development features that allow users to mass create, mass edit and mass update multiple styles, materials and trims all at the same time. This allows users to perform repetitive tasks much faster than the traditional sequential method.  The UI/UX includes full ‘Drag and Drop’ capabilities, allowing the user to add images, and attachments directly from their desktop into the PLM solution, and add materials and trims from the PLM libraries directly into a style file. Users can drag and drop graphical or textural elements from other styles to speed up the process of style development. This can be done from one or more styles at a time. Also supported is the ability to mass update tasks within the critical path from a simple dashboard view, rather than having to open and close each style file (e.g. mass approval, sample request, change of material or component etc.).

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Enhancements have been made to the search engine, allowing users to drag and drop new attributes/fields into their own search request, for smarter and faster filtering of the information held within the PLM solution, without the need for configuration and customizations.

Users can develop their own personalized layouts, designed for both ‘left and right brain’ thinkers. For ‘left brain thinkers’, typically sourcing and technical designers, each of the screen layouts can be made to look more like Excel, by filtering and grouping functions; and for ‘right brain thinkers’, the layout can be much more visual with the use of more images, colours and other relevant graphical information.

The use of role-based layouts can be created for quick access and ability to update information. For example, a technical designer can define a layout for updating the sample status, along with sample comments, very quickly without opening a style file.

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Infor PLM currently offers a bi-directional interface to A.I.  New styles can be created directly from Adobe Illustrator without the need to enter PLM and if the A.I. vector sketch has multiple layers then each layer can be added as an individual image in different parts of the style file (Tech-Pack). Similarly, sketches held in an existing style within PLM can be can be opened from A.I. and the images can be updated directly.

Infor PLM offers Web APIs that allow partners and users to create mobile apps. Ptex Solutions, an Infor Fashion PLM implementer, has developed several mobile apps that allow users to create new styles directly from their handheld devices, giving them the ability to add styles to a Line List or Range Plan whilst on the move.

The PLM solution comes complete with a robust API (Application Protocol Interface) engine, designed to integrate to it’s own M3 Fashion ERP solution, SAP-API, and to other leading fashion related ERP solutions via the generic API engine.

The PLM solution comes with a standard set of reports (Report Writer) that can be modified by the internal project teams (super users) and Tech-Pack templates, utilizing the inbuilt report-writing tool that allow customers’ IT teams to create custom reports.

Future Direction

When I quizzed Madeleine on the direction of the R&D Roadmap, she stated that Infor had produced six iterations of the PLM solution, making the point that Infor is moving quickly, with a target of three iterations per year going forward. Madeleine made the point that Infor PLM needs to keep pace with new emerging technologies, integration of cross platform solutions like ERP, API’s to extended-PLM solutions like Adobe, and similar E-PLM solutions used across the fashion industry.

I also took the opportunity to ask what plans Infor has for ‘Cloud computing’. Madeleine commented on how businesses today need to be able to respond rapidly and comprehensively to new trends and marketplace realities, and so it only makes sense that businesses are pursuing a wide range of cloud-based solutions to meet their specific needs. In addition, for many businesses, moving into the cloud and converting more solutions and processes to the cloud requires an evolving and multi-step approach that adapts to ever-changing business needs and priorities. For fashion customers the first step is to move away from silo (disconnected) environments to consolidated or virtualized environments.

Madeleine made the point that there is “no one cloud that fits all”. As some companies have learned to their great disappointment, there’s no such thing as a simple solution when it comes to cloud, regardless of how frequently and loudly some PLM Cloud providers shout.

Today, organizations have a huge range of cloud options: different deployment models (public, private, hybrid), and different service models (Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service). Infor has already started to make inroads to cloud development and will continue to take a step-by-step, module-by-module approach. As with every other type of business operation or asset, companies need and want to have a wide range of cloud-computing choices to match up with their various requirements. And Infor will be examining all the options.

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Recently, Infor announced the acquisition of GT Nexus. GT Nexus simplifies the way in which companies can manage global commerce, allowing retailers and brands to work in a transparent, efficient environment.  It is able to transact more efficiently with supply-chain partners around the world. Supply-chain visibility can give a clear view of inventory and supply chain activity, creating an agile global supply chain. When integrated to Infor’s PLM solution, trading partners will be able to access a single source of truth on where inventory is at any time, and they will be able to quickly adapt their logistics plans to current demand. According to Madeleine, this will be another key differentiator for Infor.

Customer Appreciation

As well as technology and industry-specific sessions, Inforum also held industry-specific functions – both in the afternoons and evenings. These gave attendees the opportunity to relax, enjoy and liaise with industry peers. On November 3rd I was invited to attend both a specialized lunch, and a celebratory dinner.

Lunch took place between 1pm and 2:15pm in the elegant Batignolles/ Longchamps room of the Hyatt Regency Etoile, and dinner was held at the impressive Salle Wagram.

Located near the Arc de Triomphe, Salle Wagram is a sight to see (as a mere Google search will confirm). A listed building, it has been entirely renovated to possess modern technical facilities, whilst retaining it’s beautiful historical décor. The ‘Customer Appreciation Dinner and Party’ combined elegance with excess and combined work with play.

The night allowed for networking with peers, customers, prospects and Infor team members, as well as enjoying beautiful food and drink. Infor customer, Ferrari, shared with the room the history of Scuderie Ferrari, as well as some brilliant F1 anecdotes. Enzo Ferrari is quoted as saying that the E-Type Jaguar was “the most beautiful car ever made.” And those of you that know me well, will know why I’ve referenced this!

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It certainly was an evening of ‘appreciation’ and in a world where the customer means everything, I can understand why.

The Infor RFA solution has a rich and diverse heritage, dating back to the first ever Fashion PLM solution, developed between 2000-03 by Freeborers. Over the last 12 years, the solution has improved to become broader in terms of the processes supported, and deeper in terms of depth of functionality. With Infor’s strategic vision for fashion, WhichPLM expects to see greater collaboration and integration across its diverse solution platform and to those extended digital solutions (E-PLM) that, combined, support the extended fashion supply-chain.

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The next Inforum USA will be held in New York City – the hometown of Infor’s corporate headquarters – 10th to 13th July 2016.

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.