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NRF 2016 Interviews: Centric

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In the fourth of our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, talks with Humberto Roa, VP of Innovation & Mobility at Centric, about their offering, including various new applications like the Field Test app, Product Notebook, and the Fitting Review app. 

Kilara Le: In terms of what is new from Centric, tell me about the field-testing app that you debuted at the Outdoor Retailer show recently.

Humberto Roa: We are seeing a trend in that companies want people involved in the PLM process, who would not necessarily use PLM.  For example, professional athletes or sponsored riders who are out trying out new equipment or even company employees who borrow equipment, like a pair of ski’s or shoes and then need to give feedback about product performance.  Not only is it difficult to track who has what and what they thought of the product, samples can be very expensive (4 to 5 times FOB cost) so getting them back and making the most of them is important.

With our new field-testing app we’re doing a number of things. First we are keeping track of the samples to be tested – where they go, who has what, who wears what, and how they are used – kind of like checking a book out of a library. Once a sample has been ‘checked out’, not only can it be tracked, but also the people using and testing it can submit a field or wear test report.

Which is the second piece of the app. You can create a form or survey with questions about things such as temperature, distance traveled as well as ones about durability and comfort.  Questions can even be product specific.

The third piece is allowing this information to get back into PLM using an external site. Even if the PLM system is hosted internally, we have an external access point with a secure connection to link info back.  We are using a mobile app that also works when it’s offline, so a product tester could take photos, capture notes, videos or even respond to a survey and the information will simply be submitted once back online.

Using analytics, feedback can be analyzed and aggregated to look for trends and compare and contrast with other tests and even product sales. The idea is that our Field Test app is a solution that works better with Centric PLM to complete the feedback loop; so it can be leveraged by product development teams to make improvements and drive product sales. But strictly speaking you can gain a great deal from it without PLM at all. We’ll have a lot more to share on this soon.

KL: And now a question on the show this year – what do you think is different about NRF in 2016? Both in general, and in terms of your solution offering.

HR: We think that mobile is at a tipping point. We started our mobile development in 2011 and we have 12 apps available in the app store. We think that this year mobile is really being promoted across the show and people are really looking for out of the box solutions.  Nobody wants to be chained to their desk, so we are breaking up the apps into 3 main columns: one user/one device, multiple users/one device, and multiple devices/multiple users.

For example, we have an app called Product Notebook and if you are a merchandiser and you see some inspirational or competitive products that you want to capture, you can pull up the app, take some photos and add in some notes and even with certain fields that could be pulled into PLM. This can then be used in planning or connected to your products to show competing products and their features.

The Fitting Review app is another example and we are really excited about this! We have been working hard with our customers to get this right and co-developing it with Fast Retailing; it is awesome and fast.  The idea is that during a fitting you don’t just have one person as the ‘scribe’ and five others dictating changes. We want to reform that so that everyone has their own device and they are interconnected using gaming connections. So if one person takes a photo on their phone and it pops up on everyone’s device to share in real time. The same thing happens with notes. The leader of the session can then triage and route the info and actions that need to be taken. So everyone in the room is able to contribute and see what is going on, like a chat meeting with structured data. When finished, the coordinator can create a nicely formatted report that can be emailed and assign tasks. In the next fitting, the previous comments and corrections are easy to find and reference. So it’s a pretty useful way to take advantage of mobility.

KL: Another buzz topic we’re hearing is of course the ‘Internet of Things’. What’s your take on IoT as it relates to your solution offering?

HR: We see IoT really benefitting people who are doing testing, such as embedding devices into their products. Such as a camera or device to capture the outdoor temperature or riding speed on a bike helmet. As we’ve been working on the field-testing app with some of our pilot customers, the items keep coming back and we’ve been looking at what other equipment we could use such as GPS, thermometers as part of the offering or using the imbedded capabilities in smartphones to record into the app’s data as well.

There are other applications. For example, if you are on-site at a factory you can as part of the review completion, you can record the GPS location, which can be used as proof of the visit.  Brands spend so much money on samples and testing and very often don’t get much feedback that’s valuable about the actual user experience.

KL: And another trend we’re seeing is the increased marketing of cloud PLM solutions. Can you share with us some information on your specific cloud offering(s)?

HR: We have made a huge technology investment in enterprise solutions that are initially designed to be really robust and scalable for on premise deployment. In the past year, we have been breaking out all of the individual parts of it and making it cloud friendly. Then as of September, we began offering Centric Cloud PLM, geared toward smaller companies. It leverages a lot of the strengths of our enterprise PLM, Centric 8.

What is really cool about Centric as a company is that when we are confronted with a problem, we turn it into a software problem and not a services problem. So throughout the years, when a customer such as PVH comes to us with a merchandising problem, instead of doing a one-off solution for them, we look at it and strategically, plan it into the roadmap and build it. The investment we make is in our solution so that with each release, all customers get that new capability. The same software is deployed at, for example, at Build-a-Bear and Under Armour and Balenciaga.  Everyone has the same business objects that are ready to go out of the box. Configurations are done using essentially ‘switches’ and ‘knobs’ within the software. So our handling of process and timing of processes is very flexible, it’s just a matter of flipping a ‘switch’. We realized that all we have to do is make our underlying services cloud friendly and this is a really nice application for companies who want to get up and running with PLM and who don’t want to spend a lot on services.

We anticipate in the future a 50/50 split between customers who are highly security conscious and stay on enterprise and those who want the convenience of cloud.

KL: WhichPLM expect mature PLM solutions to distribute information in real-time from the source PLM platform. Can you share any recent updates and elaborate on your differentiation as it relates to real-time transparent and efficient collaboration across your supply chain?

HR: One of our strategies for mobility revolves around developing a kind of  “bridge application” for people who normally don’t have access directly to the PLM system. It is creating a natural funnel for this real-time data.

An example – there is a company that is about to do field testing for some very specialized boots that will be field tested for four months by people who will be out of contact and in remote areas. While in the past, the data from this wouldn’t be available until just before production, now the data is available as the testing occurs. In the past, once they got the field test feedback, they’d do what was easy in terms of adjusting the product and wait until the next season to fix the rest. Now they can get daily, or weekly check-ins about the product in use early enough to where they actually have the time to adjust the pattern or construction and fix it before production.

Our data is real-time written coming back in, but we can add some gates in there, for example with our costing areas and our quotes when you don’t necessarily want information coming from a supplier to be applied in real time, to a BOM for example. This is really popular with customers and we have it throughout Centric PLM.

KL: You’ve mentioned mobility – using PLM on the move, via mobile devices, is another means of modern efficient communication. Can you tell us a bit more about what you, as a company, are doing around mobility?

HR: We are making huge investments in mobility. As I mentioned, we currently have twelve apps but in the future maybe we have a family of a hundred or more apps.  People really like this idea because some PLM users are core, but most users are what I call satellite users, like someone who is responsible for vendor quotes or compliance and they want to just open the app up and do their work and they are done.  One high-end brand we work with was really excited about this because they saw it as a way to trick their users into using PLM.

When I look for mobile app ideas, I look for whoever is carrying the biggest stacks of paper around an office.  When I see this I think, there has to be a better way in this day and age. One comment we heard recently is that companies want more app based options because they are really concerned about hiring millennials and whether they will actually work on a desktop and log into a system.

Mobile access is also changing the scope of PLM and capturing people who otherwise refuse to use PLM or don’t want to get a license because they would use so little of the system or its too complicated. It’s great to have the system with you on a mobile device as well, so if you are meeting with a material supplier you can take out your phone then and there and snap a photo of the material and add it to the library under the supplier and it’s in the PLM system.

Thinking about this type of thing has been really transformational for us as a company. Its forced us to re-look at each of these use cases and pull out anything that doesn’t add immediate value. So instead of a big screen of every possible option, now its one screen and two buttons with essential information. Training has also been simplified, because apps must be intuitive and feel like anything else you do. You’ve just answered a post on Facebook and now you are switching to PLM to do an update on a material or a quote. It shouldn’t feel like anything that’s crazy different.  Mobile access is really changing the model of how PLM is sold and consumed.

KL: Traditionally PLM has been focused on planning, design, product development and procurement. Can you tell us what you’re doing in terms of new process adoption around the retail consumer experience?

HR: We have a tool that internally we call “the slicer” because it literally allows you to slice and dice data across the PLM platform and see it in different ways. Our customers love it. We use it for merchandising, sourcing, costing quotes and even color and size trends in the PLM system. It lets you aggregate as well, so if you want to look at how your factory audits are trending from quarter to quarter or how the action plans are improving the compliance at suppliers, you can do that easily and they are fast.  We have some clients who are doing store marketing execution and using our audit capability with the slicer to see what the brand execution is and if the store staff is knowledgeable or if displays are set up correctly. They can then look at this data across their own stores or wherever their brand is distributed.

We have some customers who get really into the core PLM functions and others who take modules and really grow with them.

KL: Last year, we saw significant uptake on enterprise 3D adoption. As a solution provider, can you share with us what you’re doing to incorporate the different facets of 3D?

HR: We are actively discussing different 3D options internally and focusing these questions with our key customers to see what they what and how they plan on using it. Many of our customers are evaluating 3D but do not seem completely satisfied with the current options, especially those coming from traditional CAD companies. It seems that people are now ready to adopt but not convinced by the choices out there and no market leader, covering all of the products you mentioned, has emerged.

There is buzz in this space right now and we are convinced that disruption, likely coming from the animation companies, which are obviously driven by Hollywood and gaming, is going to happen. Perhaps in the form of a new solution or a new entrant.

We are exploring all options.

KL: And finally, is there anything else you’ve been working on (or in the pipeline) that you haven’t already mentioned that our readers might be interested to learn?

HR: We just launched an innovation lab to explore exactly these kinds of ideas. We constantly come back to the same questions; how people interact with PLM data.

One idea that we hear again and again from large organizations is that the upfront part of the process is about 20%, so about 20% is spent on design and ideation.  And then 80% of time and energy is spent on execution. More and more, companies are expressing a desire to reserve this; so to spend 80% on design and compress execution to 20%.  So they can be more reactive to the market to account for changing consumer tastes and preferences, weather patterns (like this winter), material availability, competitors, etc. and also to be more creative.

Moving more PLM decisions to the design phase so that you can make changes late in the development cycle is something we are exploring quite a bit.

Check back soon for more interviews in this series. 

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.