Continuing our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, talks with Visual 2000 International’s CEO, Charles Benoualid, on their solution offering, and what makes Visual unique.
Kilara Le: The show this year is teeming with people; what do you think is different about NRF in 2016? And how, based on what you are seeing at the show, does this align with your solution offering?
Charles Benoualid: NRF this year is again stocked full of imaginative, novel solutions for the world of retail. Some NRF exhibitors specialize in niche applications, and others offer broader platforms. What Visual 2000 provides is a unique combination of configurable, end-to-end omni-channel solutions, including one of the world’s leading PLM solutions for retail, footwear and apparel.
KL: We’ve been speaking to a lot of vendors about the world of the Internet of Things – what’s Visual 2000’s take on the IoT as it relates to your solution stack and your view of what the future could potentially hold?
CB: Visual 2000 has recently celebrated its 18th birthday. Over the last 18 years the technical environment and the application landscape has evolved significantly. The introduction of the IoT increases the opportunity to sense, monitor and respond in real time, it provides opportunities beyond the well-established scope of RFID in supply-chain tracking, transparency and inventory visibility of a single product or the order.
For example, our real time monitoring and analytics for the shop floor already provide production performance metrics to gain transparency and increase productivity, and the IoT introduces another level of detail to these processes. This will facilitate additional, insightful analytics and further enhanced visibility to better support management decision-making.
We are already embedding QR codes in tags for tasks such as sample tracking and we have plans to RFID-enable these in the future. This would help with input and tracking of samples in a brand or agent’s office as well as at the factory. Add mobile access to this and there are some interesting opportunities ahead.
We will continue to understand and educate ourselves on the way in which the retail, footwear and the apparel industry will respond to the IoT and more importantly, precisely what its impact will be, and where its value lies for retailers, brands, manufacturers, agents and consumers. It’s much more than just an acronym to the team at Visual 2000 and our goal is to deliver real value in terms of the benefits that will be derived from connecting things.
KL: Cloud seems to be more widely accepted these days – can you share with us some information on your specific cloud offerings?
CB: Visual 2000 has offered hosted solutions for several years. The increasing interest in Cloud based solutions seeks to extend this subscription model to exploit the growing variety of Cloud platforms available. Visual 2000 is continuing to expand the hosted and Cloud based options available for deployment of our solutions such as PLM.
One of the interesting things we’ve developed surrounding Cloud is a hybrid system for image management. As file sizes continue to increase, especially with 3D files and models, designers can upload and download large images to the system but they are kept local. We create a representative JPEG for fast viewing in the system and the larger image stays on the LAN for faster access of the native design file. For now, we’ve kept the image servers on-site to allow faster access to designers but are also looking at distribution of them and how that plays with Cloud access. Of course, the original files can still be downloaded and our safety features – such as check out and check in of Adobe Illustrator files to avoid multiple people editing a file at the same time – are in place.
KL: In terms of real-time, can you elaborate on your company’s differentiation with regards to real-time efficient and transparent collaboration across the supply chain?
CB: Visual 2000 is unique in offering license-free access to all users across the supply chain; this enables greater collaboration throughout the extended-supply-chain as your partners don’t have to worry about purchasing or maintaining a license that will expire as is the case with most other systems. All internal and external users gain real-time access to the PLM database in order to interact and collaborate based upon the latest information. This helps avoid errors caused by synchronization problems and helps to enable effective decision-making.
One thing we continue to explore is this idea of NUNO, which stands for ‘no user needed to operate,’ and automation. Part of this is smart data flow between systems, and eliminating some of the potential for mistakes by streamlining some of the data input. In the future, machines will learn to predict the outcome of repetitive tasks in the form of artificial intelligence that will be used to support user tasks and management decision making.
KL: What is your approach to using mobile devices with your software? Are you working on anything new in this arena?
CB: Visual 2000 has a device agnostic approach to mobile solutions; this avoids any restriction to Android or iOS when it comes to mobile devices. As a result, our users are able to build online collection books, check product availability to sell on a smart phone, streamline order entry on a tablet, complete quality assurance audits and authorize management approvals on the go (to name just a few of our mobile processes).
Our PLM solution can be configured to deliver mobile experiences for a wide range of roles, but is not restricted to a set of specific predefined applications. For years we have enabled capabilities to capture images on a device and automatically upload them to the central PLM database, or reading a QR code to call up product details on a smartphone.
We are currently working on sample evaluations for mobile out of the box and our short-term goal is to be 100% mobile. For us its a process based on balancing user needs and wants with what is essential or works best for a mobile interface.
KL: Now, you are somewhat different in that you have an end-to-end solution whereas traditionally PLM has been focused on planning, design, product development and procurement. Can you tell us what you’re doing surrounding the buzz we are hearing about reinventing the retail consumer experience?
CB: Visual 2000 provides a broad suite solution to a range of end-to-end business processes on a highly configurable common platform. Our tight integration with e-commerce engines enables us to drive consumer web interaction based upon one central database of information including data and graphics,. This omni-channel solution leverages information and images from within PLM. We have been exploiting assets such as images from within PLM for marketing purposes for many years.
We are one of the only PLM vendors in the RFA industry to offer DAM (Digital Asset Management) as part of our PLM solution, that supports a wide variety of image types, based on the specific channel that will use a particular image type and resolution.
Added to our DAM, we also offer a BI (Business Intelligence) solution as standard within PLM; with BI users can look at the analytics and the POS feeds from EDI and loop this back in for product designers and developers to ensure that they stay on trend with the ever-changing demands. We are looking at the capabilities of some of the new SQL modules to enable us to do this faster and more accurately.
KL: How are you incorporating the interest from the industry for using 3D files with your software offerings? Do you see this need increasing in the future?
CB: Visual 2000 has supported the use of 3D visualization within the PLM solution for a long while and we partner with several of the leading 3D vendors. Our Digital Asset Management solution can be used to manage and control 3D print files, along with a wide variety of other formats. We continue to investigate areas where further adoptions of a broad range of 3D technologies can help to deliver additional business benefits to our customers.
KL: And finally, is there anything else you’ve been working on that you haven’t already mentioned that our readers might be interested to learn?
CB: Visual 2000 maintains its aggressive roadmap for product development alongside continued work on the re-design of our platforms. One example is building upon our market leading integrated business intelligence capabilities with a whole new user experience.
Combining this with our end-to-end solution and partnerships will provide a more powerful and insightful system to truly manage the design and development process from concept to final consumer and back. We’ve had a number of mergers and acquisitions over the years and we are always looking at how we can add value for our customers.
Visual 2000 offers complexity but we also provide clients with the opportunity to start-up quickly and build up to the level that is comfortable for them. They can go live in as little as 60 days from the time they see a demo. We continue to support them as their needs shift and they grow their businesses.
The last instalment in this series will be published later this week.