In the fourth of our exclusive vendor interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, our Editor talks with Susan Olivier of Dassault Systemes about three-dimensional working, and adding value to the core PLM experience.
Ben Hanson: With NRF being a retail show, I’ve asked a number of vendors where they see their position in regards to the direct retail experience, if you like. Dassault Systemes’ is an interesting position, though, because some of what you’re demonstrating here is directly relevant to the consumer.
Susan Olivier (Vice President of Consumer Goods & Retail): I would say that where Dassault Systemes is playing in the retail space is changing considerably and yes it is an interesting position to be in! Fashion brands and retailers have spent the past few years investing considerable amounts of their IT budget into “backoffice” technology like ERP but also of course like PLM. And today they are asking themselves the question how all this technology and data can help improve my in store consumer experience as well as help my store managers sell more. Dassault Systemes has been a leading PLM player in the fashion industry for almost 10 years, and today our customers are asking us what we can offer beyond PLM that’s going to meet the needs of either branded products that are moving into retail, or retail private brand development and positioning. The other half of my business has been on the hard goods side, where they come from an authoring tool background.
Now, people are meeting in the middle and saying “whether I’m a brand or a retailer, I need to understand and meet the needs of my consumers”. That’s something we’re seeing move very, very quickly on the fashion side of the business, and that’s encapsulated in an industry solution that we’re calling My Store. That allows you to take images (either photographs or good Adobe illustrations) of products, process those into a 3D model, and use that to do 3D visual merchandising of your assortment in the store.
Retailers are very visual, and they’re trying to figure out how to entice consumers to come into their stores. A lot of that is about look and feel, and that’s why we’re demonstrating that product here at NRF. You can show PLM and it will relate to people who have brands, but 3D merchandising relates to all of us, so that’s why we chose to show it.
BH: PLM (and other enterprise solutions) share a common currency in the form of product data, and it seems as though today vendors are figuring out how to leverage that core product data and use it in ways that actually add value to the core PLM experience.
SO: Absolutely, and that’s very much where we’re going. We know that the world doesn’t revolve around us, so in this respect we’ve stayed PLM neutral. In fact our first customer, who went live in a matter of months after launch, found that they actually wanted to do visual merchandising first – ahead of PLM. They have a place to store their product descriptions and product files, so we merge those and render that 3D design from them.
So as long as you have product information somewhere, not necessarily PLM, we can help you make better use of your digital assets and information. Those assets may only be JPEGs, but it’s still a significant step up from printing those images out and sticking them on a wall, to using them directly within a tool designed for the purpose.
BH: I can see how that would be an attractive entry point for a company – giving them the opportunity to use product information in a new way, and to potentially do customer-driven and performance-driven merchandise planning in a new way.
SO: What we’re really trying to do is say that you can work with products from last year re-coloured or you can work with your Adobe images, and share them with your store managers. But you could also share it with your focus groups: maybe your best loyalty groups now have an entirely new way of communicating to you how they feel about your products and what they would buy from your collection.
There’s a virtual shopping basket feature that allows you to select products, so customers can actually shop your collection before you even commit it to production. I think that’s a real benefit, because the flow used to be that designers would come up with a line, develop it, and so on, and then the customers would buy it. Today, customers are asking retailers to understand them better and at a deeper level. And I think it’s persuasive from that point of view to be able to invite them to participate in that process.
BH: That’s tied quite closely with something else I’ve heard a lot of over the past few days, and that’s the idea that retailers aren’t necessarily doing something new – they’re trying to return to the days of the local shopkeeper, who had an intimate understanding of what their consumers needed. The only difference is that they require intelligence and software to do that, which is why NRF appears to be far less of a hardware show these days.
SO: Absolutely. I think the hardware itself is important, in that it can make it easier for consumers to complete their transactions and perhaps provide you with other information. But it’s that information that matters. I think retailers today have access to a lot of information that they haven’t quite figured out what to do with, and that comes from a combination of points of sale and loyalty programmes.
We also have other solutions that allow retailers to combine internal structural data with that sort of external social analysis and ask themselves crucial questions about what their customer is or isn’t buying, or what they’re saying about one retailer’s store experience versus their competitor’s.
That kind of insight is what allows retailers to refine their experience in order to be a better merchant – to be a better old-time shopkeeper who understands the consumer, not because he or she is speaking directly to them, but because the consumer is speaking loudly in new and different ways that they can capture better through technology.
BH: Obviously you’re demonstrating My Store, but I wanted to ask what else has been on the agenda for Dassault Systèmes this year in terms of core products.
SO: I think that what we’re seeing is a convergence of interest between retailers and brands asking themselves “what can I do with a PLM solution?” and “what can I do with the rest of my content or the rest of my available data?”.
So myself and my team – charged with developing industry specific solutions – we’re looking within the Dassault portfolio and at some of our new acquisitions, and we’re really trying to get to the root of the digital lifecycle that retailers go through.
From that point of view, I think we’ve addressed the ideation through decision to purchase phase, and now we’re trying to better inform the front end through customer and loyalty data. We’re trying to use visual representation to refine the collection planning in a way that, to me, is the best way to do it. Then on the back-end we’re also looking to see how the retailer and brand can take that information through to my sales and marketing – through e-commerce or business to business.
[quote]Today, customers are asking retailers to understand them better and at a deeper level. [/quote]
That leads us to the announcement about our acquisition of Real Time Technologies. Because while you might start with a very rough sketch, you will ultimately end up with a better representation of the garment either through a better sketch or through a photograph, and Real Time Technologies do a great job of applying photorealistic rendering and iterations on top of new products.
One of the examples on their websites is Coach, and if you take a look at some of the examples on their website, you’ll see how fantastic it is to be able to apply surface textures and colours and finishes to virtual items in a way that looks just like the real thing.
The obvious application there is to present multiple colours without having to create samples for each. But again, if you think about how retailers and brands can leverage product information to connect what they can visualise to how they can now get customer feedback earlier in the process, it becomes a deeper and more profitable dialogue with consumers.
And it needn’t end there. It could easily create a better internal dialogue between the designer and the product development team. It gives them the opportunity to iterate through their ideas in an entirely different way.
Now I don’t think designers are going to suddenly become scientists and want to operate 3D design tools from scratch. But if we provide them templates and body shapes that they can then play with, they can begin to use technology in a way that works for them.
BH: One major thing we find with PLM systems in particular is that today there are a host of different job roles and people that have to be brought into the system. And in the same way that you don’t expect designers to suddenly want to become technologists, we see that providing a curated view of only the pertinent parts of the whole is one of the best ways to bring people into a collaborative production environment.
SO: Definitely. I think one of the things that PLM does very well – as does ERP – is to say “what’s my lowest point of entry data?” and then build layers of information upon that, enriching the process as it goes. That’s very unlike the human model of working, where addition creates separate versions. The way that those systems create maximum value is by delivering a single version of the truth by that process of enrichment.
BH: What do you see as Dassault Systèmes’ priorities over the coming year, either in terms of core products or new initiatives?
SO: The number one thing for me remains the fact that Dassault Systèmes needs to become better known in this industry. That’s the focus of a lot of our marketing and communication efforts, and will continue to be over the next year.
The world’s top apparel companies use our technology and we have thousands of users around the world, yet we are the industry best kept secret!
BH: And in terms of the core ENOVIA PLM solution?
SO: Our R2014X version is going to be absolutely stunning. Every so often you’ll have a series of incremental changes, but then you’ll have a dramatic step change – this for us is a huge change, incorporating a number of significant enhancements. Our Adobe integration, for example, is absolutely gorgeous: we’ve gone from providing basic functionality to allowing designers to remain in Illustrator for as much of their role as possible. We’ve also added sourcing and capacity planning and we’ve really simplified the bill of materials. We have added new functionalities and concepts like adding a product family or product placeholders and brought a lot of improvements in the user interface as our focus is always on making it easier for our users to do their daily jobs.
BH: Away from Dassault Systèmes’ own initiatives, what do you see as the biggest emerging trends in the wider market?
SO: I think retailers are trying to figure out what to do with the wealth of information they now have at their fingertips. And for me, coming from a retail background, it’s about how you create the “virtual circle” and use your information to re-inform your process.
Because there’s very little value in your marketing team alone being smart when it comes to customer relationship management, and your designers not having access to that information in order to make product that’s more relevant to your customers.
In my experience I’ve seen retailers who I’ve favoured over the years lose sight of who their customer is. You don’t necessarily want to grow old with your customer, but neither do you always want to chase the 18-24 year old market either. I think that being better informed and using that virtual circle will allow you to keep the best of who you are as a brand and also pick your spot.