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 the second interview from the show, Ben speaks to Donny Askin (President of Software Solutions), Bill Brewster (Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing) and Peter Bambridge (Director of Software Solutions for Northern Europe) of Gerber Technology about PLM’s place in retail, their thoughts on the last year, and the company’s plans for the next twelve months.
Ben – How was the 2011 calendar year for Gerber Technology? Did you undertake any particularly significant software revisions or updates? Did you sign any noteworthy clients in the last twelve months? Did you notice any trends emerge in the industry at large that you feel were unique to the last year?
Donny – It’s been a big growth year – a lot of new customers. We’ve expanded our staff and made some changes in management, me being one of them, after I joined on November 1st. Obviously Gerber’s parent company has also undergone a lot of transformation to be become a privately held company, coming off the New York Stock Exchange – now private equity backed. And half the company was sold off right after the transaction, which has actually allowed Gerber Technology to become a lot more focused on our core competencies and verticals.
Bill – I think from a sales perspective we’ve really grown quite a bit in Europe this year: Scandinavia, France and Italy, with a number of new clients. We’ve also issued two very significant product releases in 2011, both adding a lot of functionality and a lot of depth to the PLM product that we had. WebPDM was a very deep product – not as broad as YuniquePLM – but a very deep product in the product development and specification area. And now that things like multi-dimensional bill of materials have also been added to the YuniquePLM platform, this not only allows our PDM customers to take a serious look at converting over (and we’ve seen a tremendous amount of interest and excitement from our current customer base to make that transition) but it also expands our opportunities in areas like Europe where manufacturing is still an important part of the value chain that our customers are using to bring products to market. In the US things are more retail-focused. We still have manufacturing here, but when you look at Italy and France, even if they’re not manufacturing they’re still very focused on the quality of the product that is manufactured for them and as a consequence they require a bit more from a PLM solution – and at Gerber we have all that.
Donny – Yes, and to that end, with the latest version, we’ve more tightly coupled our CAD product. Interestingly enough, if you look at PLM across other verticals – non-apparel and non-sewn products – CAD and PLM are typically very tightly coupled, but for whatever reason that has not always been the case in this space. This has already become a very positive factor in us closing business.
Bill – From a value proposition standpoint in particular it really allows our users to reduce the number of steps, reduce redundancy, reduce the quantity of data entry and reduce errors in data entry. This has always been in place in other industries, but here there really are very few PLM providers that can deliver it.
Donny – We also had a very successful user conference this year – Ideation, in Florida – where we previewed a lot of new products: our PLM360 product, for example, allows users to capture views from all sides of a product and mark it up, in order to reduce the need for physical sampling.
Bill – This is very tightly integrated with our PLM solution, too, and also has an iPhone app that allows you to do the visualisation right from the camera on your iPhone.
Donny – Also there was a period where we were very focused on customer engagements, whereas now the focus has come back to strategic positioning of our products. So, that has impact on our product development and the innovations that originate there. We’ve actually taken a portion of our development team and told them that they are strictly focused on innovation – we don’t want them supporting the traditional core product – so they’re working on things that will unfold in the next nine, twelve or eighteen months, that we think will actually change the conversation out there. The fact that we’re committing the resources is, I think, actually the salient story, whether or not we actually deliver that innovation… stay tuned.
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? Do you feel as though the focus at shows like this is placed too heavily on in-store solutions, while PLM and other enterprise systems are marginalised, or does PLM still have a role to play?
Donny – Absolutely, PLM has a role to play. What I think happened was that there was a perception that PLM was only for the big guys, and that perception has changed, I think, over the last several years. At every step of the process now, no matter what size of business you have, there’s at least a perception that there’s a need for PLM. Whether there’s an affordability or even product offerings that are tailored to those segments of the market, in some cases that still needs maturing, but we’re seeing a very high degree of receptivity. People understand PLM, they know what it is, in many cases if they aren’t automated today they’re doing things in Excel. So, demand is not our challenge right now, it’s really managing growth.
Ben – Finally, do Gerber Technology have any major software revisions, events or announcements lined up for the coming year?
Donny – Nothing that we’re ready to talk about just yet. We have just delivered YuniquePLM version 4.1, which went deeper as opposed to wider, with a whole new feature set. I hate to pre-announce until it’s real, and we still have a ways to go.
Peter – Coming back to your question about the relevance of PLM; we’re starting to see a growing number of companies working with us. One example is Torex, since merchandise planning is often the driver of styles that are then to be planned within PLM, so in a lot of ways it’s about expanding the footprint of PLM.
Donny – That’s an excellent point. We don’t have a huge ecosystem, so I think this is a great opportunity for us. We see expanding that ecosystem, as WhichPLM talks about with expanded PLM, as an opportunity for us. I have some real-world examples already, but that is a real focus for us going forward.
Ben – That’s the one thing to bear in mind. As long as PLM has a strong core, its relevance and the number of solutions that integrate with it is only going to increase.
Donny – The interesting thing that I was thinking, when we talk about defining what PLM is, is that by nature it’s a misnomer. Talk to ten different people and you will get ten different answers. PLM should stretch across everything from concept to domestic warehousing. But, PLM only gets as far as order by everybody’s general definition, so gaining acceptance of truly expanded PLM as a definition will be an interesting project.
Ben Hanson is the Editor of WhichPLM