During the National Retail Federation Conference and Expo this January our Editor, Ben Hanson, was able to meet with several vendors of core and E-PLM. In this, the first interview from the show, Ben speaks to Gary M. Barraco, Director of Product Marketing for E-PLM supplier ecVision about PLM’s place in retail, his thoughts on the last year, and the company’s plans for the next twelve months.
Ben – How was the 2011 calendar year for ecVision? Did you undertake any particularly significant software revisions or updates? Did you sign any noteworthy clients in the last twelve months, or notice any trends emerge in the industry at large that you feel were unique to the last year?
Gary – 2011 was the first year that we started our entire growth plan, based on our new cloud solution. So, over the past twelve months we have been moving away from selling an installation and a hosted solution. Dedicating ourselves solely to selling ecVision Suite as a cloud-based supply chain collaboration platform was our goal for 2011 – and we began that last year, right here at the NRF show.
A year later I can tell you that we’ve had great traction and attracted a lot of new customers.
Ben – You mentioned previously that some of your existing customers – those working from a hosted solution – are excited about moving to the cloud-based solution?
Gary – Yes. In fact one of our clients, New Balance, spoke at a session today about the rewards and benefits of collaboration from that viewpoint. We’re integrating to multiple technology solutions that are already in place so they can easily continue to expand and diversify their supply chain base leveraging this more collaborative platform. That’s what we’re providing, and customers are seeing a significant reduction in time spent as a consequence: in some cases from three weeks to three days on the same amount of purchase orders being issued.
Time savings like that are important to retailers in a year where there are a great deal of fluctuations going on in the economy and sales.
Ben – With NRF being a retail-focused show (with point of sale, customer engagement and merchandise planning being so prominent on the show floor), what do you consider to be PLM’s part in retail? I appreciate that with the way the ecVision Suite is structured, you cover more than just PLM, so do you feel as though that is the more logical approach in today’s retail market, or does standalone PLM still have a role to play?
Gary – We consider our functionality to be addition features of the robust collaborative platform that we offer. What’s more important to us is the collaboration. Whether you own our PLM or someone else’s PLM – I don’t want to say that that’s not important to us, because it is, but it’s irrelevant to getting the job done. So, if they already have an existing PLM solution (and most retailers do), we’re not asking them to abandon their current PDM or PLM solution, but we are asking them to let us work with them to bring all that data together and use our platform to provide supplier-side collaboration and visibility. These are the kinds of changes in strategies that retailers need to make in order to remain competitive.
Now, as a PDM provider we’d like to say that we have the best PDM solution on the market, but we know we don’t. And that’s ok. We’re willing to accept that, and we’re going to continue to build our existing solution up – make it stronger, because we have customers who use it. Our strength, though, is in our sourcing and production capabilities. Our entire tracking solution, we think, is deeper than that offered by other PLM solutions. So there are functional features of our solution that are important to a wide range of companies.
Ben – Do ecVision have any major software revisions, events or announcements lined up for the coming year? I know you have the “ecVision 101” concept as a touchstone for your plans in 2012.
Gary – It’s really expansion into the supplier base that will characterise our 2012 strategy. With our supplier portal and document and content management portal retailers and brands can take hold of supplier management. These are important elements for communicating between a brand, a retailer and a supplier – things that didn’t exist before. We’re going to enhance these alongside a lot of product changes, and we’re rolling out new versions every sixty days. There’s a lot coming, and we’re able to do that because we’re on the cloud. The fact that we’re seeing our existing customers stay with us, and grow – the likes of Coach, Abercrombie & Fitch and Phillips van Heusen, all long term engagements that we’ve had – the fact that they’re looking for more from us suggests that we’re delivering a product that adds value.
Ben – And the modular approach you’re taking, I assume, makes those enhancements easier.
Gary – Absolutely.
Ben – You also mentioned to me earlier that you’d recruited the services of a user interface designer; was that prompted by customer feedback?
Gary – I think that over the years we’ve realised that we needed to be more intuitive, going beyond just look and feel. When you’re working in the fashion industry everybody is conscious of look, and they want something that looks great. You and I know that, typically, enterprise applications are not pretty applications. So, the challenge for us was to employ a user interface designer who understood how to make the suite not only more visually appealing, but more intuitive. A common question from end users is “where do I find this?”, because in the course of their day-to-day operations they want to go in and they want to find my tasks. They want those tasks right up front and to immediately know what they need to do first. With ecVision this is all role-based and management by exception, so those users are only seeing what needs their attention. The role-based views can also be tailored down to different departments and category levels within a brand, so they can say “what report does this design team need to see?”, for example. The suite is totally configurable at the brand level.
Ben – And in terms of functionality, what are the most prominent fixtures on ecVision’s roadmap for the coming year?
Gary – Functionality-wise there are a lot of enhancements that we want to bring in. Looking at the supplier portal alone, diversification of supplier bases is important to many retailers. A lot of them are currently looking to switch countries because of risk issues, currency fluctuations – specifically in China – and we often hear that it’s incredibly costly and time consuming for retailers to go out and look for new suppliers, then to bring them properly on board with a solution, so they’re compliant with regulations. We have a supplier management programme that facilitates that, along with supplier community service portals for both suppliers and retailers, and our document portal, where we’re looking to add in live video training, recorded video, instant messaging, connections to WebEx or GoToMeeting – all to facilitate the process of bringing suppliers on board. That’s a big direction we’re going in.
Ben Hanson is the Editor of WhichPLM