In the second of our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, talks with Chris Jones of TXT about the integration of a myriad different systems, which combine to offer their end-to-end solution; a technical partnership with Microsoft; and a commitment to sustainability.
Kilara Le: What are you noticing about NRF this year that is different from previous years? How is TXT differentiating itself?
Chris Jones (pictured top right): The most important, and unique solution to the TXT vision is our Merchandise Lifecycle Management solution. TXT is the only vendor able to provide a continuous solution including Collection Lifecycle Management (PLM), Merchandise & Financial Planning, Assortment Planning, Forecasting, Allocation & Replenishment, and Supply Chain Collaboration. We believe this is a key enabler for serving a market with ever-greater focus on rapid reaction to customer needs and market trends.
This has definitely had more prominence at NRF this year, with a number of organizations wishing to discuss this aspect specifically.
IoT devices have also had greater visibility at NRF 2016. This seems generally well received, but there is general debate as to whether data from IoT technology was better utilized within Planning and execution systems, rather than PLM development systems.
There also seems to be a fewer number of PLM vendors at NRF this year.
KL: We are also hearing a lot about the IoT at this show. So, what is your take on it as it relates to your service offering?
CJ: A number of our customers have been using barcodes generated by TXTPLM and integrated mobile barcode scanners for some time … before they might have been included within the IoT universe!
The philosophy of our products and common data mart is the integration of the most appropriate user interface, data or device for the task at hand. This is no different for IoT devices.
We make it as easy as possible to integrate with other systems/data/devices, via an open data model, an application to manage the common data model and a logic layer, and the use of standard Microsoft tools for integration and reporting services. Obviously, once integrated with the common data model, this data is available to all implemented TXT products, and integrated 3rd party applications, within the end-to-end retail solution.
We have already integrated with many different systems and devices, and due to the scope of an end-to-end solution, we have integrated with up to 10 different systems for a single comprehensive business solution.
As mentioned earlier, there was general debate as to whether data from IoT technology was better utilized within planning and execution systems, rather than PLM development systems. As Assortment Planning is considered the “cockpit” of the retail business, where trends, plans, execution, results and analysis come together, we would suggest this is where the value of IoT data would be maximized.
KL: Cloud is another hot topic, though not really new. Can you tell me about your specific cloud offerings?
CJ: TXT is one of 50 globally managed partners of Microsoft. This is a technical partnership, where our developers and product managers spend time with the Microsoft product teams in Redmond, WA, to include features to benefit TXT products and customers.
This partnership ensures that not only do Microsoft products include critical functions for TXT customer solutions, but also that TXT solutions utilize the latest Microsoft infrastructure and tools.
Therefore, all TXT products, not just TXTPLM, can be implemented as on-premise, IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service – Cloud), or SaaS (Software as a Service) without using any other “connection solutions”, such as Citrix, as they are true Web applications.
We already provide a Cloud solution, which is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The Cloud solution can be implemented with either a Public, or Private Cloud (using a VPN connection, and allowing single sign on, via active directory). Alternatively, Express Route partners may be used. Therefore, the TXT products are available as a highly flexible and robust Cloud solution.
We are launching a PLM SaaS (subscription based) offer shortly. Again, based on our technical partnership with Microsoft, the offer utilizes Microsoft Azure infrastructure, as does our Cloud (IaaS) offering.
The option of leveraging the Microsoft data center network provides worldwide infrastructure extension capabilities, which is very important for our global customers. Our system is compliant with all major security best practice, which is of course, essential for our customers. The offer is also based on the TXT AgileFit model which provides fast implementation, utilizing best practice, and is ready to use, in addition to being easily configurable. The functions and processes in AgileFit are already proven in on-premise and Cloud implementations. In addition, we’ve seen fast adoption by users due to the use of familiar user interfaces.
KL: Can you speak about how TXT differentiates itself with regards to distributing information in real-time from the source PLM platform?
CJ: As mentioned earlier, the philosophy of the TXT end-to-end solution is the combination of the most relevant UI/data/system/device for the task at hand. All these user interfaces must access the same data in a common data model, to ensure real-time transparent and efficient collaboration across all end-to-end processes.
An example of this is in-memory technology. TXT are already heavily invested, and continuously investing in in-memory technology. This is another example of the benefits of our Microsoft partnership. This technology allows real-time integration between PLM and planning, particularly Assortment Management, granting a continuous flow of information at the center of the Merchandising Lifecycle Management process.
Our relationship with First Insight and the ability to connect with other data and systems allows us to include information from in store, consumer groups, trends such as lifestyle data, or social media, all combined to power assortment management. Assortment Management is at the center of the retail business process, where all key business information, such as trends, budgets, merchandise requirements, plans, markets, delivery, sales, testing, consumer forums, and social trending are analyzed, and revised offers created and executed.
In the case of a truly integrated end-to-end solution, the Assortment Management user interface would provide the status of all elements of the retail process, such as; all available manufacturing sources per product per market; costs per source per volume; product development or production status; the real-time status of shipments; and what’s in DCs, or close to DCs, at any given moment. This is all in the context of multiple assortments, across multiple markets and channels all working to create the perfect offer at the right time to please the customer.
We believe that this is a key feature in the era where fast reaction to customer inputs is becoming a key competitive value.
The in-memory technology allows the performance of complex computations in very short time, supporting planning and assortment management processes on the basis of the real-time product data.
In conjunction with the in-memory technology, TXT have developed a common configuration tool to define data model, business rules and data logic for all TXT products. This tool follows our development strategy of using HTML5 to create device independent applications designed to be used on desktop, tablet, phablet and smartphone.
As soon as a data field, business rule or data logic is defined within the TXT data mart for a specific user interface, it is then available to be accessed by any other application / user interface connected to the TXT data mart. Obviously, the in-memory technology means this data is processed and available very rapidly to all user interfaces.
Also key to remember, is that all applications, whether a TXT application or 3rd party integrated application, access the TXT data mart via Web Services connections, which maintains the true Web capabilities of the end-to-end solution.
KL: Can you expand on mobility within your offering?
CJ: As mentioned, our development strategy is the use of HTML5 to create device independent applications designed for desktop, tablet, phablet or smartphone. This strategy avoids high maintenance workloads required to maintain iOS/Android specific app updates, testing, and deployment due to the continuous updates to mobile operating systems.
Our latest iteration of TXTMobile builds on this technology, and our experience of mobile data access for general product data & image updates, fitting, lap dips, etc. We have added use cases for Sales and Store Teams to browse collections, fixtures and display for store, and other channel information, and also other use cases as prioritized by our customers.
Our customers have prioritized Sales and Stores Team use cases due to the mobility of the Sales and Store staff, and usable devices within the environment; these are tablets, phablets and smartphones.
We expect that, once our customers have realized benefits for Sales and Stores Team, their focus will turn to extension of Factory use cases, for similar reasons. As 40% of TXTPLM users are supplier users, then we expect this to provide a large benefit to our customers’ end-to-end solutions, via improved supplier collaboration.
However, one of the most beneficial elements of mobile access is by Merchandisers and Planners. The use of mobile devices to access detailed product data on the move, or even at the desk, whilst simultaneously working on large merchandising plans has proved to be a high value tool for the users. Demonstration of this capability has been very well received here at NRF.
KL: Most of our readers are familiar with the core functionalities of PLM but how is TXT extending PLM into new process adoption and the retail customer experience?
CJ: TXT have extended PLM as a solution for “Collection Lifecycle Management”; this is just one of the tools within a successful end-to-end Merchandise Lifecycle Management solution. We name the extended PLM solution as “Collection Lifecycle Management”, as we are managing multiple specifications sourced from multiple factories for a single style across multiple assortments serving multiple markets and channels; therefore, the solution is managing more than just the products, it is managing the shape of multiple collections. This is borne out by our philosophy of a common data mart, accessed by all the user interfaces within Planning, PLM and Supply Chain collaboration modules. This also applies to our 3rd party applications, data and systems via the open database and common Microsoft tools.
Already, our planning solutions are integrated with enhanced data feeds to better analyze, plan and execute multiple assortments within many markets and channels. This information could be sales data, store data, customer data, social data, prospect and lifestyle tagged data. Products need to be quickly created based on the very latest information and available in real-time for the multiple assortments across multiple markets.
Marketing tests have long been a feature of forecasting and assortment planning, but our partnership with First Insight and their predictive analytics, enables our customers to quickly and more easily test elements of assortments before executing the full assortments for each market. Feedback from these analytics can provide latest consumer group comparisons on price, style and more. The retailer brand story can be enhanced with quantitative values.
Many of our customers’ strategies require fast reaction to ‘in-season’ consumer trends. Logistically, this means delivering a new/modified product to market between 2-6 weeks after identifying the consumer trend. The only way this is feasible is if the retailer has access to all of the relative information in real-time, i.e. what is planned, what is the open to buy, what is in transport and how can I modify the transport in terms of timescale, cost or destination? These are examples of how our supply chain management tools with inclusion of a community of logistics partners, combined with our PLM and planning solutions, can really add value. There are approximately 2,500 suppliers using the supply chain collaboration cloud solution, including integration with a large number of logistics companies.
Equally, we understand the benefits of 3D, in terms of rapid design, effective selection, efficient development, and in-store simulations. A number of our customers already utilize project level integration to CAD and CAM systems. One of the simple platform improvements we have applied is the capability to view common 3D files from within TXTPLM, and we continue to investigate how we could improve the end-to-end solution in this area.
KL: Speaking of 3D, last year we saw a significant increase in interest on its adoption. Aside from the 3D viewer, is there anything else you are doing to incorporate the different facets of 3D?
CJ: As mentioned, a number of customers utilize integrations with 2D & 3D CAD / CAM solutions at delivery level. The TXTPLM platform already supports visualization and classification of common 3D images, and we continue to investigate improvements in this area.
With our open data mart model and common integration tools we ensure that we can continue to create delivery level integrations for our customers, with whichever 3rd party solutions or data they require.
KL: Finally, what else is TXT working on that our readers should know about?
CJ: Echoing my earlier words, the TXT Vision has resulted in our unique Merchandise Lifecycle Management solution. We believe this is a key enabler for retailers to create effective end-to-end retail solutions that deliver the bottom line improvements. It is no coincidence that this is one of the key trends at NRF 2016.
Over the years, our solution has grown with our customers, as they phase in all the elements of the end-to-end Merchandise Lifecycle Management solution. However, larger companies are now beginning to investigate this form of solution from a single vendor.
In addition to that, we implemented Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) last year. This is focused on the management of non-compliance and global initiatives to satisfy the increasingly important aspects of CSR. An important element of this is the sharing of current supplier status at all critical decision points in the end-to-end process. Our focus on tracking non-compliance with event management alerts has been well received.
Also, I’d like to mention sustainability both within development such as detailed sustainability scoring and managing sustainability throughout development, as well as within planning; this enables the retailer to understanding the approximate sustainability of a collection before you’ve spent any time or money on design and development, as this is a very powerful tool for the successful delivery of a sustainable and cost effective collection.
As WhichPLM knows, we are investigating how to include Sustainability capability in our end-to-end solution, both in planning and PLM.
This is increasingly important, given the recent situation in China. If sustainability becomes regulated by China and therefore, potentially more widely globally, then this will become critical to include within planning processes, to provide earliest indications, and not solely during the development process.
Check back soon for more interviews in this series.