In the seventh of our exclusive vendor interviews from this year’s NRF show in New York City, our Editor talks with Marco Guida, CEO of TXT, about the 2014 show, mobile applications, and the global PLM market.
Ben Hanson: TXT have been exhibiting at NRF for several concurrent years now. How have you found this year’s show to be?
Marco Guida: Well organised, high-level and truly a “global” event: a “must have” for software vendors focusing on the Retail Industry. Despite naturally having a majority of visitors from North America, NRF seems to attract an increasingly large numbers of visitors from Europe as well, and this year this has been quite noticeable.
BH: Do you feel that what you’re seeing here is representative of trade shows in general?
MG: Not really, especially if compared to trade shows in Europe. At NRF, we meet each year potential customers that come with very clear ideas and specific objectives, not just attending to generically “look around”. We manage to have pre-scheduled meetings with key decision-makers and senior managers. They come to NRF to meet software vendors and they look at NRF as a milestone in their on-going decision-making processes. This approach is very effective and makes it really worth the investment to be at NRF. This is rather unusual in trade shows in Europe, and generally not encouraged by their organisers. NRF is, for a software vendor, a genuine “pipeline building” event, while European trade shows tend to be more “marketing” orientated.
BH: For a company like TXT Maple Lake, who are showing a fairly broad planning / PLM platform and several mobile applications, do you think that somewhere like NRF is necessarily the best place to be demonstrating your solutions?
MG: It is certainly not the only place, but for the above reasons, and considering our sharp industry focus on Fashion, Luxury & Specialty Retailers, it certainly is a must in our Marketing and Lead Generation efforts.
BH: In terms of your core products, I’m sure our readers will be keen to know what you’re demonstrating here at the show. I had a demonstration of improvements to the full suite of planning this morning (tied closely to PLM) but is there anything in particular you want to emphasise?
MG: Our value proposition emphasises the concept of End-to-End Integrated Planning: “end-to-end”, that is from Product to Stores, from PLM to Planning to Supplier Management; “integrated”, that is across business processes, product categories, markets, retail channels (physical & online), time horizons, from strategic to operational. What you have seen is a definite step forward in in what can be considered “state of the art” in integrating Product Development (PLM) and “pure” Planning. Moreover, at NRF, we have announced 2 new major releases of both TXTPlanning and TXTPLM, that follow a 2013 which was rich in new product launches: TXT on Cloud, that enables users to deploy the full range of our solutions on the Cloud, as well as the TXTMobile Platform. TXTMobile enables a range of brand new functionality that leverage on Mobile technology and provides a number of new mobile-based modules, among which “StyleClipboard”, “CollectionBooks”, “SellingSessions”, “BuyingSessions”, supporting not only core PLM, but extending to key strategic retail processes .
Too often “mobile” has been leveraged by software vendors mainly as a gadget to “display” data and pictures, in the best cases as mere “reporting” and data visualisation tools. Our focus and commitment is to offer “value adding” functionalities that place mobile technology and mobile devices “inside” the core of Product Development and Planning processes, enabling new ways to perform critical tasks “on the move”. At NRF, we have been demo’ing some of them, such as the capability to edit collection books while on the go and maintain full control over collection development anytime, anywhere; or the ability to collect orders, access and modify collection data while new collections are actually being presented, directly from the buying conference. We also showcased how planners can analyse and edit their assortments, simply through their mobile devices by touching and sliding the product visuals. Visual Planning, it’s another area where we have invested strongly in the past years.
BH: It’s important to note that you have mobile applications for both Windows 8 mobile devices and iOS devices now – each offering different functionality. Can you tell me how these came about and who they’re intended for?
MG: Our strategy is to provide 360 degree support to business mobility. Obviously this means extending the frontiers of innovations to new non-traditional processes, but also to support mobility across different devices and leveraging each of them to best meet the requirements set by different usage contexts and different groups of users.
BH: And how have the past twelve months been for TXT, generally speaking? It’s now more than a year since the Maple Lake acquisition, right?
MG: 2013 has been another successful and profitable year for TXT, with 2-digit growth, 20 new Tier-1 and Upper Tier-2 Retailers across Planning and PLM, a number of major news initiatives with existing clients, now more than 300, and with more than 50 “Go-lives” of major projects, almost 1 each week! The Maple Lake acquisition was completed in September 2012. We started immediately operating as “one company” and “one team”, and the integrated business is delivering upon promises, with 5 brand-new customers in North America in 2013. In the past year, we made significant progress towards our strategic goal to upscale from a European leadership in Planning and PLM to a truly Global leadership: we managed to significantly improve our visibility, our brand and our pipelines in North America, setting a good ground for 2014.
BH: What do you see as the most promising markets for your products at this moment in time?
MG: While Europe remains a key and core market for us, North America seems to be overall healthier and more dynamic. In 2014, our focus will be to further consolidate our leadership in Europe and to accelerate the penetration in North America, where we aim to achieve higher 2-digit growth rates. Our strategic focus will consistently remain Tier-1 and Upper-Tier-2 Fashion, Luxury & Specialty Retailers and on our “End-to-end Integrated Retail Planning” value proposition that, as explained above, encompasses “From Product to Stores”, i.e. from PLM to “pure” Planning.
BH: And where do you feel as though PLM fits into the retail landscape? Obviously there’s merit in advertising PLM to retailers, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many vendors at this year’s show. But given the shape that retail is taking today – unified channels, seamless experiences – how do you think PLM fits into that picture?
MG: I feel that certain “categorisations” of processes (and, correspondingly, of software solutions) under umbrellas as “PLM”, “Planning”, “Supplier Management”, etc. will increasingly blur. We already saw that happening across the individual “Planning” sub-processes and we see our most visionary customers driving this change inside their respective organisation with a growing integration across “Product Development” and “Planning” processes. This, in turn, drives the requirement for the underpinning software to properly support such integration.
Our vision is to provide such seamless support across processes, markets, products, retail channels to customers worldwide through our integrated Planning-PLM software offering. We strive to offer not only the best Planning and the best PLM software, but also the depth of integration across them that the market is increasingly demanding. TXT is a unique player on the market in its ability to offer Fashion, Luxury and Specialty Retailers all the above. The level of interest we managed to rise around us at NRF this year proves that market is rapidly maturing and that our value proposition is a strong one.
[quote]Too often “mobile” has been leveraged by software vendors mainly as a gadget to “display” data and pictures, in the best cases as mere “reporting” and data visualisation tools.[/quote]
BH: As part of that, people talk about consumers wanting multiple ways of accessing the products and the “experience” of a single brand, but do you think the same is true of what brands and retailers are looking for from technology? Do they need the same access to a consistent experience – in your case from the initial planning stages through to product development?
MG: For a retailer to be successful, product collections need to match consumer tastes and expectations to maximise their “sellability”; retail plans (at product, channel, store, etc. levels) need to match strategic (brand related) and financial (revenues and margin) targets. All the above require the need to manage the “end-to-end” business (finance, product, brand, stores, suppliers, …) like an orchestra, where everybody has to play in tune and individual decisions are based on a complete picture and with tight collaboration of all stakeholders within the organisation. Different users involved in this end-to-end process may require different “styles” of User Interactions (creatives are certainly different from planners; more operational staff are certainly different from CxOs!) that we definitely account for in our end-to-end software solutions. Yet they all need to collaborate and communicate more closely, more timely and more effectively, based on a single and shared version of the truth to help reach their decisions. In this respect, software also provides a robust backbone of shared data and functionality that seamlessly support such new level of integration and collaboration – something we also do provide with our solutions. The market is rapidly evolving in these directions, at a pace dictated not only by technology availability, but also by organisational readiness.
BH: The most direct way of thinking about it is that if consumers, retailers, brands and manufacturers alike need to count on the same seamless experience, do you think that aspect of modern retail could be delivered without technology?
MG: I do not believe so: managing in such a coordinated and integrated way the retail business in a context of proliferation of products, channels, store formats, geographies and of growing demand from consumers of seamless shopping experience and personalised products is a task which is complex and, simply, cannot be effectively managed without the support of technology. Obviously, to achieve the above a wider population of company’s staff have to become users of technology, including, for instance, creatives, top managers, shop associates, etc. They are not necessarily “technology addicts”, but are often more used to the usability paradigms of mobile phones and tablets, than of desktop PCs. This sets challenging requirements for software vendors to deliver much more “usable” technology, adopting for business applications User Interaction paradigms derived from consumer technologies and inspired to their easy and intuitive interfaces.
This is an area where TXT has been consistently investing in the past years, delivering, for instance, “Visual Assortment” functionality that support “visual” user interfaces planning tasks, that otherwise would require users to interact with tables of numbers, products codes and alike, therefore dramatically lowering the user adoption barriers of more traditional Planning and PLM software.
BH: What specifically does TXT have planned for the coming year, in terms of your roadmap?
MG: We plan to continue investing in developing new Mobile-based modules that extend our current footprint, following the philosophy described earlier: exploiting mobile to innovate how core Retailers’ business processes are run, not just as reporting tools at the boundaries of such processes, and how PLM and Planning software’s users will interact with technology, therefore further lowering adoption barriers. We plan to continue investing in supporting Cloud-based deployment of our solutions, as a means to lower the technology and cost barriers to the deployment of software across large retailers’ organisations. We plan to keep investing in further broadening and deepening the depth of “integration” across our PLM, Planning and Supplier Management footprint. We plan to devote significant investments to exploit “in-memory” technologies, as enabling the development and deployment of more sophisticated functionalities that will fully harness the power hidden in the huge amount of data that todays’ more savvy retailers collect and store in the course of their business.
BH: Is there anything else you see, either globally or regionally, as an emerging trend for the coming year?
MG: Beyond what’s already discussed earlier, the past couple of years have seen a consistently higher growth rate of the “online” business of our clients, vs. more traditional physical retail channels, and the emergence of multi-channel business models, such as “buying on-line; delivery from/at stores”. Beyond the growing number of buzzwords around this topic (“multi-channel”, “omni-channel”, etc.), we expect this trend to further consolidate in the next few years, and drive new requirements for both Product Development and Planning processes and for the supporting software technologies. The need for deeper “integration” across the various channels modern retailers operate will gradually lead to new “best practices”. We are already providing PLM and Planning software solutions to both “pure online” and “multi-channel” retailers, and we will continue investing with customers that are piloting and deploying new business models to manage their retail channels with truly integrated approaches. In this respect, we feel we are very well positioned to ride this emerging trend, leveraging on our strategic relationships with innovative, flagship customers and on our large and diversified customer base of more than 300 large Fashion, Luxury and Specialty Retailers.