Following the announcement that Spanish mega-retailer El Corte Ingles has adopted its My Collection For Fashion platform, Dassault Systèmes spoke to WhichPLM about the 3D to PLM workflow, as well as broader trends in technology adoption within fashion.
WhichPLM: In the interests of clarity, can you tell me what individual products My Collection For Fashion comprises, and why they’re packaged together?
Susan Olivier (VP Consumer Goods & Retail): My Collection for Fashion is an industry solution experience – and we focus on those words because the collection includes business solutions (not just technology products per se) specifically tailored for the needs of the fashion industry.
Like the retailers and brands that adopt our platform, our focus with fashion-oriented solutions is to improve the experience for the end consumer, by making the definition, development and delivery of that experience more fulfilling.
That same standard of experience is something we try to provide to a retailer or brand’s internal users, too, through collaboration and innovation. One of the driving forces behind My Collection For Fashion was the recognition that nothing happens in silos any more – design teams work with merchandising teams who in turn work with local sourcing offices, all seamlessly, regardless of where in the world they are.
There are very few retailers remaining in the world that develop their own private collections in a vacuum. These kinds of disconnected teams are constantly adapting to incoming information and evolving their collections collaboratively.
To enable this way of working, My Collection For Fashion includes PLM, 3D, sourcing and also a consumer insights tool powered by EXALEAD and NETVIBES.
WhichPLM: And which of these aspects was the most compelling for El Corte Ingles?
Susan Olivier: El Corte Ingles are really looking at getting a global product development and innovation platform in place. Their major driver right now is to grow and deepen their private brand offering in apparel, footwear and accessories, so PLM was fundamental to achieving their immediate aims.
Across their portfolio, El Corte Ingles are operating around thirty different brands. Managing a unique value proposition, a unique message, and the actual product development activities of each of those is not small task.
With the resurgence of the Spanish economy – Spain being where El Corte Ingles is headquartered – have come shifts in the market, and El Corte Ingles turned to PLM to make sure they had the foundations upon which to build products for an even broader audience.
WhichPLM: Is the El Corte Ingles project limited to fashion products at this stage?
Susan Olivier: So far, we’ve focused on apparel, footwear and accessories. But, like other multi-category retailers, El Corte Ingles were interested in Dassault Systèmes’ ability to handle multiple product and business categories in a single instance.
WhichPLM: With Dassault Systèmes and El Corte Ingles each maintaining strong European operations and identities, I wanted to ask you for a little more insight into how you see PLM and 3D tools being adopted in Europe and further afield.
Susan Olivier: I’d like to preface this answer by saying that, despite a strong grounding in Paris, Dassault Systèmes is a truly global company, but one that takes great pains to try and understand the needs of each region it caters to.
The major difference between PLM adoption, global, is the pace at which different regions are developing. In the USA, there exists a base of very early adopters of PLM – businesses that are now thinking about what they need, technologically speaking, for the next generation. One of the biggest components of this search for the future, in our experience, has been a strong interest in 3D, using it to conduct virtual prototyping, to shorten market cycles, and to support e-commerce strategies with rendered product images.
In Europe, the appetite for 3D is still there, but it’s centred instead around how brands and retailers can use what we call the “digital referential” [a reasonable fidelity, 3D prototype created early in the product lifecycle] to better articulate a product’s story and connect with consumers through a unity of imagery and information.
A decade ago, PLM (or perhaps PDM in those days) was all about the data, and users were happy to find they had a low-resolution thumbnail to accompany that information. Today, fashion businesses are moving much more towards a model-driven approach, rather than a purely data-driven one. And in our experience, that model being three-dimensional offers the best representation of a product’s identity.
Across Asia, we still have a very strong manufacturing base – companies who are concerned with how they can better use information to inform their production, and satisfy their own customer base, which is the brands and the retailers in both foreign and domestic markets.
So it’s important for us as a company to look at those three regions, and to understand how they’re looking to use the same capabilities from different angles.
One major point of commonality across regions, though, is our customers’ desire to learn about fashion and retail-specific best practices; they look to learn from our experience in order to help them move more quickly.
WhichPLM: That transition you mentioned from a data-driven to a model-driven approach – where do you think it originated? Is it being driven by retailers and brands working differently, or is it more a case of technology finally catching up to the ways those businesses have always wanted to work?
Susan Olivier: I think it’s the first of those, definitely.
In the past, the people within an organisation responsible for, say, e-commerce worked quite separately from designers or merchants. And if we look back far enough, you’ll remember that often the online product mix was entirely different from what was available in-store.
That only changed gradually, driven by consumers’ expectations for easier shopping, consistency, and easier returns. And today, the best retailers are using their online storefronts as an extension of their product range – offering more colours, or a greater size range.
Alongside this, these businesses are also finding that they can test marketing strategies and product approaches online. It’s here that the model-drive mindset comes into play. These businesses are focused on how quickly they can get an image out there in front of their consumers, to glean feedback. And there are companies today who are following that process using digital models; their names are private for now, but I can tell you they exist.
WhichPLM: We’ve previously called it “re-use, don’t recreate”, and you’ve referred to it as a “digital referential”, but both of us are talking about the use of 3D tools to create high fidelity models at an early stage to then be deployed later in the product lifecycle. Do you consider that to be one of the major uses of 3D within the apparel industry?
Susan Olivier: I think we’re seeing businesses approach 3D from two different directions. In the case of some of our 3D customers, the initial drive might have been how quickly they could replace in-state photography samples. But these same brands also used 3D simultaneously to let their designers play with a greater array of options up front by maintaining a digital library.
Sales, consumer insight gathering, and marketing are definitely prominent use cases for 3D because the reliance of physical samples is reduced. But equally, designers today are bringing a more open mindset, testing the adaptability of 3D to the ways that they want to work – opening up new creative opportunities at the stage where photorealism isn’t necessarily the concern.
WhichPLM: Where does PLM sit, in your opinion, in those 3D workflows?
Susan Olivier: We’ve talked about the “digital referential” a lot, but it’s important to remember that the 3D model is only part of that. PLM, for me, is the other component: it isn’t possible to refer to a model without it being available, associated with a product or style, to all the right people within an organisation.
From that perspective, PLM is the backbone behind it all. Whether they’re working in 2D or 3D, retailers and brands still need that single version of the truth – the difference being that today that truth is increasingly being represented through a model or an image rather than through lengthy description.
The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words absolutely holds true, and the time and cost savings that shift delivers can be significant.
It’s important to remember, though, that new technologies do not automatically enforce new behaviours. If your organisation has a 100:1 design ratio [of products designed versus those that make it to store shelves] before 3D, adopting a 3D solution won’t change that fact. The technology itself needs to be accompanied by effective change management, since speed to market is driven more by the items designers place in the pipeline than it is solely how quickly these potentially redundant designs can be turned around.
However a customer chooses to approach it, 3D is a learning curve like any other change – and it’s here that industry experience and best practice knowledge come to count for a lot.
WhichPLM: You’ve mentioned speed to market a few times, and indeed the official press release for the El Corte Ingles partnership talks about the same. Is this still a major catalyst for PLM adoption in your eyes?
Susan Olivier: I think every retailer or brand eventually reaches a tipping point where they realise they cannot move any faster by continuing to do things the way they have before – something that frequently also means by continuing to use the same tools.
Frequently, in these cases, you’ll see re-entry, redundancy, version conflicts, poorly executed sampling, difficult production, risk of errors – all of the common challenges that have prompted businesses to seek out PLM for years. The thread running through all of these in uncertainty, and businesses in this situation will find themselves padding their calendars and padding their costs because they often simply don’t know where along the cycle a given product truly is.
So yes, speed to market is still a major factor in PLM adoption, and establishing a single version of the truth remains one of the potent ways to achieve it.
What’s most important for today’s market, though, is that businesses who have already gone through this transformation and started working differently are looking to translate that willingness to change to other areas – whether it’s using PLM data to populate ERP as part of a master data project, or using intelligence gleaned from consolidated data to drive product creation and innovation.
I know WhichPLM talks about digital transformation being more than just picking some tools, and I agree with that. It’s about adopting a digital-first mentality, and looking at how significantly things can change by just thinking differently.
WhichPLM: On the topic at hand, what do you feel attracted El Corte Ingles to Dassault Systèmes, and what would you say you have to offer a similar retailer?
Susan Olivier: I think there are three things about our business that appealed the most strongly in this instance.
It’s easy to forget that people do business with people – and this doesn’t stop being the case with large-scale PLM projects like this one. And I know first-hand that the Consumer Goods & Retail operation within Dassault Systèmes is a dedicated, focused and passionate team who are invested in helping our customers to take the full PLM journey.
Secondly, I think El Corte Ingles shared our vision. To revisit what we talked about earlier, more than perhaps anywhere else in the world, European retailers and brands are interested in seeing your long-term vision, because they’re seeking partners for the long term.
So good synergies existed between our teams and theirs at the project level and the executive level. We also had good alignment on our visions for the future. And finally, after conducting a very deep evaluation over a long period of time, the project team within El Corte Ingles simply liked what our solution could do.
As you know, business relationships are terrific, but the PLM solution absolutely has to work for the end users – these people have to be satisfied that the features and benefits we’re offering will enable them to actually get the job done. So that was another major factor in the decision, I think, and I’d like to commend El Corte Ingles for having the courage to undertake the right level of due diligence.
I also want to credit their team for embarking on such a long-term digital transformation – one that we are very excited to partner with them on.