In the first of our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, talks with Eric Symon, VP/GM Global Retail Business Unit at PTC, about the Internet of Things, cloud PLM solutions, and new process adoption around the retail consumer.
Kilara Le: So Eric, what are your thoughts on NRF so far this year versus previous years? What are people interested in and talking about?
Eric Symon (pictured top right): Since I wasn’t with PTC at this time last year, I can’t comment based on previous years. In terms of NRF, the continued focus on, and expansion of, omni-channel retailing continues to be a major theme. We’ve had incredible and sustained traffic in the booth and lots of interest in PLM generally, but also interest in the connected store we are showing. We’ve made a number of acquisitions in the IoT space in the last couple of years, including ThingWorx, a leading IoT connectivity platform, and another key acquisition called Coldlight, which is machine learning and predictive analytics. Those two things, combined with an example loyalty customer mobile app and some other things we’ve done with First Insight, are some of the things we are showing here in our connected store. The interest level in IoT in retail has grown over the past 2 years and it’ll be interesting to see how retailers will use IoT technologies to impact their top and bottom lines. One example that we see gaining traction is the area of connecting consumer feedback into the Product Lifecycle Management domain.
Quach Hai is our Senior Director of Solution Management and our resident expert in the booth on these and can show us more later.
Basically, we have an antenna from View Technologies and RFID tagged garments which allows us to track items through the store. This information, combined with beacons – which is one way consumers can be tracked as they move through the store – can be used to run analytics and gain insight into consumer behavior. Through our partnership with First Insight we can also send targeted offers based on personas that have been created via our (demo) loyalty app. There’s been a lot of interest in both of those things at the conference. The impact that these trends are having on PTC Retail is profound. We’re seeing customers looking to enable, and at the same time simplify, the growing complexity that omni-channel retailing imparts on their product design and development processes. The pressure to bring the right products to market at a faster pace, at the right cost, and bringing them to market in the right channel(s) for the right consumers, is greater now than ever before. Also, I saw a statistic that some 72% of retailers have active initiatives to explore the various ways that IoT can be leveraged in retail.
We’re setting the roadmap for our solution offerings to stay at the forefront of these trends. We already provide the capabilities to model, and simplify from a process standpoint, the most complex PLM environments in Retail, Apparel, Footwear and Luxury, which bodes well for supporting these more complex, omni-channel retail environments. Today, FlexPLM uniquely provides multi-category and multi-channel support to enable one version of the truth across retailers that deliver a mixed category portfolio.
We’re also continuing to invest in our core solution to further streamline retail product development processes wherever possible in order to make them more efficient and intuitive. Focusing on enabling innovation and inspiration-driven design for our customers is central to our charter.
We also continue to expand the breadth of our capability footprint both organically, as well as through partnerships with companies like First Insight, which provides customers with that link to consumer feedback during assortment planning and product design. On the IoT front, we’re making our FlexPLM solution both smart and connected, by embedding PTC ThingWorx, which is the most complete IoT platform on the market, into the solution. This will enable countless new ways of working in a connected, digital world.
Folks, who have been here in the past, have said that this is the busiest couple of days they have ever seen at NRF, and we are talking with people from all over the U.S., and quite a number from Europe and Asia. It’s definitely worldwide attendance that we are seeing.
KL: Tell me more about what PTC is doing surrounding IoT and how the company is thinking about it as part of the big picture.
ES: IoT is really an integral part of our solution offering going forward. PTC is a recognized leader in the IoT space, with the latest evidence of this happening last week at the CES show in Las Vegas, where we received the IoT Innovation Vendor of the Year award from Compass Intelligence. One of the telling quotes offered by Compass was that “PTC has emerged as an IoT powerhouse…”
From thought leadership to significant investments in technology and partnerships, PTC is focused on empowering our customers with tools and solutions that capitalize on the Internet of Things, and bridging the digital and physical worlds to fundamentally transform the way the products are created and brought to market.
For the Retail market specifically, our market-leading FlexPLM solution is that core from which we’re building. With NextGen PLM, starting with Version 11 (which is coming in the Spring of this year) we are making PLM smart and connected by utilizing PTC’s ThingWorx platform, which is the leading IoT platform on the market. This smart, connected PLM enables new digital ways of working. It enables customers to connect to their consumer and vendor bases. With that connectivity that IoT enables, retailers and brand owners can gain insights and turn that into value by improving the decision making that occurs in PLM.
We’re focusing on three key areas — Connected Products, Connected Stores, and Connected Supply Chain.
With Connected Stores, we can leverage ThingWorx to connect to various systems and data that support retail operations. This enables retailers to provide a better consumer buying experience and understand consumer behaviour better – such as which purchases influence other purchases. One example of an innovative way of improving the consumer experience using IoT and ThingWorx is our partnership with First Insight to deliver persona-driven, targeted offers as consumers navigate a store. We have also partnered with View Technologies to deliver RFID-enabled tracking of people and products. By drawing in location information into ThingWorx and then leveraging our ThingWorx Machine Learning tools, we can provide retailers and brand owners with insightful consumer analytics, in a visual way.
With Connected Supply Chain, we’ll enable enhanced, real-time supply chain collaboration and visibility, which could enable streamlined sample management and tracking processes, for example. We are seeing a lot of interest from our customers in the area of improved vendor/materials management and connectivity, and we are directing resources in this area as well.
The beauty of the smart, connected platform we’ll be providing is that retailers and brand owners can also create their own apps to drive additional innovation.
KL: We are seeing a trend in increased marketing of Cloud PLM solutions, are you noticing the same thing?
ES: We have offered our market-leading FlexPLM solution on the cloud for the past couple of years, and are running some of the largest, most complex PLM implementations in the world on our solution in the cloud. Given PTC’s scale, we are able to provide the most highly-scalable, secure, and reliable cloud environment in the market, which has proven to be a competitive differentiator for us. We’re also definitely seeing an up-tick in new customers wanting to run in the cloud. It enables these customers to get started quickly and scale up over time, and frees their valuable IT resources to focus on other mission-critical activities.
KL: WhichPLM expects mature PLM solutions to deliver in real-time from the source PLM platform. Can you share any information on how PTC differentiates itself or any new updates that relate to real-time and efficient collaboration across your supply chain?
ES: Real-time information access, distribution, and collaboration have been capabilities in our retail solutions since day 1. FlexPLM provides a single source of truth for product development & sourcing data so all users across the entire value chain can access that data at any time. Furthermore, we have capabilities to distribute critical information, such as product specs, to a customer’s supply chain in real-time. Our architecture allows customers to install replication servers anywhere in the world and many of our customers leverage this technology to get data closer to their suppliers.
However, solving real-time data access and distribution is only part of the challenge. A great PLM system also needs to support real-time collaboration. For example, developers and suppliers should be able to understand exactly what tasks are being performed, by whom and when, in order to ensure efficient product delivery. FlexPLM supports this through its automated business process workflow engine. Customers can configure via a drag-and-drop interface workflow templates that get executed in real time. Users get immediately notification of when tasks need their attention, when others’ tasks are completed, and when data is updated.
All of these capabilities are also wrapped inside of PTC’s robust, scalable, and secure platform. While these technical details are often overlooked by functional users, real-time collaboration and data access in today’s environment of global connectivity, is key in ensuring functional and data quality and integrity.
KL: Mobile device access is another area we are hearing a lot of discussion around, what is PTC doing around mobility?
ES: Mobile access is critical to PTC’s Role-Based Apps (RBA) strategy. A Role-Based App, in general, is a collection of features that support frequently performed tasks for the given roles that it (the app) targets. As such, certain tasks are performed while users are on-the-go. PTC’s mobile strategy addresses is based on this idea; RBA’s that enable tasks that are performed on-the-go will have not only “desktop” versions but also mobile versions.
We are always looking at connectivity and streamlining business processes in a number of different ways. With Version 11 and Thingworx, we are also embedding web services and there is a big interest in that. One trend that we notice is people looking at sharing information with suppliers or manufacturers once they get their processes set in core FlexPLM.
KL: We’ve talked a bit about the connected store and traditionally PLM has been focused on more of the front-end planning to procurement. Can you talk about what you are doing in terms of new process adoption around the retail consumer?
ES: Our strategy is focused on helping customers unlock value from the entire value chain. As such, there’s a wealth of opportunity in drawing in “complimentary processes” (such as retail operations analysis) to support better decision-making in PLM. For example, focusing on retail operations and the consumer insights that can come from that can help category managers plan more resonant product assortments. There are many other examples as well (such as developing better consumer personas and mapping that information to products in PLM to drive increased sales) where complimentary processes can yield high value.
We look at this as a logical extension of PLM, with the enormous amounts of product data held in it, with the ThingWorx platform, we can make that available for all kinds of uses in store. We are looking at the best ways to provide feedback into the PLM process and the designers and merchandisers is a unique capability of ours and we are excited about it. That said, there is still a lot of interest in core PLM and a lot of different levels of maturity in it.
KL: 3D is another area where we are seeing growth and increased interest from a number of different sectors, can you share some of the things you are doing in the 3D space?
ES: PTC’s legacy is deeply rooted in 3D design. We were the first solution ever to provide 3D parametric modeling functionality, and our product suite of design apps – which all fall under the Creo product family – currently support parametric and direct-based modeling. Creo can be used for consumer goods, accessories, and footwear design. For apparel and softlines development, we have a partnership with Optitex. We will jointly provide an integration allowing designers to leverage Optitex’s PDS system to retrieve critical information from FlexPLM (such as materials, colors, prints & patterns), leverage that information in 3D designs, and enable designers to check that data into FlexPLM natively from Optitex’s application.
KL: Is there anything else you’ve been working on, that we haven’t talked about that you think our readers would be interested to hear about?
ES: While there are a number of other exciting areas that we’ve been working on, a number of which are based upon acquisitions made by PTC over the past year or so, we’re not ready just yet to discuss these publicly. We’ll definitely have some additional announcements as the year goes on that we’re sure our customers will be very excited about.
Check back soon for more interviews in this series.