In the sixth of our exclusive vendor interviews from this year’s NRF show in New York City, our Editor talks with Paul Magel, President of Application Solutions at CGS about acquisitions and the omni-channel experience.
Ben Hanson: CGS has a fairly large presence at this year’s NRF expo, so I wanted to ask you how the show has been for you so far?
Paul Magel: Attendance seems to have been up even compared to last year. A lot of our existing customers are visiting us, and we are getting significant traction with other visitors as well.
Ben Hanson: With this being a retail show, I’m curious to learn from vendors what, in their experience, visitors are looking for when they take the expo floor. Is it predominantly direct retail solutions, or are they just as interested in the product development side of things?
Paul Magel: From the retail and store operations side, we’ve had a lot of interest around our Microsoft® Dynamics® for Retail practice, which includes technology, systems integration, and other CGS services. Vertical retailers are also coming by to discuss our BlueCherry® Omni-channel Merchandise Planning, PLM, Supply Chain and Warehouse Management solutions. So there’s a good balance there.
Overall, many retailers here are turning to us to leverage our systems integration and industry expertise to deliver a better omni-channel consumer experience.
Ben Hanson: We’re covering the keynotes as a team this year, so I haven’t attended as many as I’d like, but the emphasis in the ones I have seen has been firmly on omnichannel retailing. Or what’s probably more accurately just called modern retail. How far do you think that’s possible to deliver without a unified, end-to-end infrastructure?
Paul Magel: While we have been delivering end-to-end solutions on the supply side of retail for many years, the fact is that there is not yet a true end-to-end solution that addresses all the challenges and complexities of today’s retail environment. That is a big part of our decision to partner with Microsoft as they are committed to supporting retail and store operations on a single platform. This partnership gives us the ability to add value through our own applications development capabilities as well as our systems integration expertise.
Ben Hanson: Product is vital, definitely, but when you’re talking about all-encompassing solutions and integrations, support becomes just as important. Customers need to know who they turn to when they encounter a problem with their solutions.
Paul Magel: Agreed. We believe that is one of the key reasons retailers are looking for partners that bring both industry and technology expertise to the table. We are accustomed to managing systems integrations because we have done integration projects with many of the PLM, planning, warehouse and other system providers in the market.
While the need to deliver a consistent, transparent customer experience across multiple channels has been around for a while, the technology requirements for omni-channel success are growing at a rapid pace. This certainly increases the retailers need for technology partners that can also help them leverage industry best practices along with the systems integration.
Ben Hanson: I’ve made a point of talking to each of the vendors about what they see their role in the retail experience being. NRF is primarily a retail show, after all, and a lot of what CGS offers isn’t explicitly tied to the direct consumer experience.
Paul Magel: If I was talking to you 10 years ago, I might be in agreement. But we have evolved and adapted to meet a broader range of customer demands. To help retailers manage the customer experience, for example, we integrate our own and other applications on the Microsoft Dynamics Retail platform to give them a state-of-the-industry solution. Depending on the client needs, this may also include things like our BlueCherry PLM and Merchandise Planning tools on one end and CGS Mobile POS solutions in the store.
The extension into retail does not mean that we are looking at being everything to everyone. We remain focused on the fashion and softlines markets where we have the expertise needed to bring value to clients. Our understanding of the complexities and nuances of style, color, size and other industry-specific needs makes us relevant in apparel, footwear, accessories, leather goods, sporting goods and other consumer goods.
Ben Hanson: Is there anything else you’ve been working on that our readers might want to know about?
Paul Magel: Our acquisition of the Threadvine™ mobile wholesale solution is one example. This was a case where, rather than developing a new application from scratch, we decided to integrate an existing best-of-breed solution into our BlueCherry Suite. In addition, we integrated BlueCherry PLM and Adobe® Illustrator® with the development of an Adobe plug-in so that designers can create almost an entire tech pack right in the design tool.
Ben Hanson: Mobility appears to have been a big focus for a lot of vendors this year.
Paul Magel: Yes, it’s a hot topic for both retail and wholesale. We have developed mobile apps for a growing range of product development, quality assurance, factory compliance, and warehouse applications in our BlueCherry Suite.
Ben Hanson: So you’re really making applications that serve a particular need, rather than just shoe-horning PLM functionality onto mobile devices?
Paul Magel: Yes, we are continuing to expand on the mobility front. Our soon to be announced Quality Audit Management module runs on any device to enable customers to collect photographs and measurements on an iPad® or Android™ device.
Ben Hanson: Speaking of broader functionality, CGS has Leadtec® as well.
Paul Magel: Leadtec has been the shop floor control solution of choice for apparel and softgoods for over 30 years. We are also happy to see some apparel and softgoods manufacturing coming back to the Americas. Implementing Leadtec is probably the best way for contractors and manufacturers to improve their overall responsiveness and competitiveness.
Even if brands are not going back into the manufacturing business themselves, many are certainly taking a more hands on approach to manufacturing. BlueCherry has the in-depth MRP tools these companies need to plan, schedule and optimize their materials and contract manufacturing operations.
Ben Hanson: That shift in the traditional perception of retailers, brands and manufacturers is something we’re hearing a lot of. Besides that, what else do you see as trends for the coming year?
Paul Magel: On the design and development side, we continue to see PLM growing strong as it extends into the mid- and small market. These companies are also working to gain greater visibility and control over global sourcing and complex supply chains. Compliance with growing government regulations as well as customer requirements continues to be a big issue where technology plays an important role.
Ben Hanson: That’s another prime example of something that’s very difficult or impossible to do without technology. Claiming true supply chain transparency and compliance is something you just can’t do in Excel®.
Paul Magel: Keeping track of the components, manufacturers, labor rates, shipments and the many other aspects of bringing products to market at the pace of fashion has become virtually impossible without technology. In a similar way, collaboration is essential throughout the concept-to-consumer product lifecycle. That is another big reason so many companies are moving up to fully integrated solutions.
Ben Hanson: That dovetails neatly with something else we’ve touched on here, which is applications and solutions that make a single consolidated and accurate set of information available for use by multiple people and across platforms and channels. By creating applications designed around specific use cases, you’re increasing the opportunities for people to actually leverage intelligence.
Paul Magel: Whereas the problem was once capturing the data, the issue today is transforming all that data into a form that helps companies quickly analyze the business, take corrective actions, and visualize new business opportunities. We are working to leverage our industry expertise to take these capabilities to a whole new level from design through customer engagement.