In the second in our series of exclusive vendor interviews from NRF 2013, our Editor talks to Gary Barraco, Director of Product Marketing, and Steven Quon, Vice President of Sales, for ecVision about the future of their platform and the direction they expect the industry to take in 2013.
Ben Hanson: We had the opportunity to conduct a similar interview at last year’s NRF event, so I wanted to ask how the intervening year has been for ecVision.
Gary Barraco: 2012 was an interesting year for us. I think the retail market was still recovering from the economic downturn of previous years. Coming out of last year’s NRF, though, we saw a banner changes – a big difference – and as you know attendance at last year’s NRF was incredible, so as a result we really were geared up and anticipating that change.
From the company side, we’ve made a lot of changes to our technology since we last spoke. We moved to what we call a best practices methodology, so where we were selling “modules” in the past, we moved into these best practices. This means that with our cloud platform we’re packaging not just functionality, but also the best practices that go with that as an out of the box offering. We’re doing that primarily in areas not only where we feel we have a competitive lead and a differentiator, but also where the market demand exists: collaborative material management, product safety and factory compliance, and mobile applications.
Steven Quon: One of the major reasons we’ve moved towards best practices is that our clients often say to us, “We don’t know what we should be doing, and we’re looking to you to give us recommendations”. So we’re finding more and more that by building the systems with different configurations, recommendations and workflows, we can really serve as more of a consultant to the client. This cuts down on implementation time, and also gives us and our clients a better sense of direction.
BH: Having seen the technology that ecVision on display, it seems as though the mobile applications Gary mentions have been created very much with specific use cases in mind. Was that a conscious strategy?
SQ: It was, but it’s not just that – it’s also a matter of culture when it comes to working with mobile devices. We see a lot of buyers working with tablets, and those devices are becoming major tools in their daily lives and the way they work. And when we look at areas like finished product inspections, mobile devices have become a way to actually simplify a process that traditionally would be done on paper, with separate photographs. With a dedicated mobile application, all of this data can be entered on-site and within a single tool and application, and then is automatically entered into the main platform to be shared across the enterprise parties as needed.
[quote][Mobile] is a more natural way of working – people are becoming so in tune with working on an iPad or other tablet in their personal lives, that it just becomes an extension of their day-to-day work[/quote]
BH: Presumably that has the knock-on effect of reducing mistakes, if inspections can be carried out then and there rather than through manual data duplication at a later stage.
SQ: Exactly. But more than that it’s a more natural way of working, as people are becoming so in tune with working on an iPad or other tablet in their personal lives, that it just becomes an extension of their day-to-day work. We see it as a natural progression of the flow of events, and everyone wants to be able to manage the different aspects of their job on one tool, because everybody wants to travel light.
GB: Historically, when we were a client server application, mobile applications simply wouldn’t have made sense. Moreover, I don’t think the hardware existed two or three years ago – or at least not to the extent that what we’re doing today would have been possible. Now that the prevalence is there, we’re selecting the functional areas that make sense and provide the mobility in these areas where it becomes a valuable tool.
Eventually we do intend to put the entire suite onto a mobile platform, but there are huge changes in configuration, layout and design that would be required. More importantly, though, would it be absolutely necessary? We’ve looked at what companies really need most in order to be mobile, and listened to our prospects and customer to get a better understanding of where they want to leverage mobile applications.
BH: Beyond mobile, which you’ve obviously devoted considerable thought to, are there any other key trends that you see as likely to define the coming year?
GB: The key trend right now is product safety and factory compliance, without a doubt. If we look at what’s happened over the course of the last year – from a factory compliance and factory audit perspective – we have all the disasters and factory fires in Bangladesh, but also the rise in regulatory programmes that govern this area. Not just in the US – also the REACH programmes in Europe, equivalents in Canada, and then state-specific regulations that are appearing in the US; everything is intensifying from the regulatory point of view, and the cost equation just doesn’t balance out for the retailer.
To try and address that, the retailer could adopt our solution, work with good testing companies, and be able to monitor and document all their testing – raw materials, factories – and just save that much money that even one single regulatory fine would eclipse it.
[quote]Having a good database of factory audits and being able to say “all my factories are compliant” only gets you so far…[/quote]
SQ: The interesting thing about product safety is that, right now, the industry is “doing” product safety and tracking that, but generally speaking it doesn’t link into the rest of the business. What we’re doing is making sure that a factory compliance issue is going to trigger and stop purchase orders from going to that factory – it’s all factored right into supplier rankings within the system. Being able to track that compliance to an exacting degree is great, but if the results of that tracking don’t have a knock-on effect to the rest of the system, then the retailer is still going to wind up in the same situation.
So the whole process of factory compliance is to bring the resulting information back into the business, and then to stop work with the offending factory until a corrective action plan has been achieved. The key is that we’re bringing the compliance issue into the business, and not just supporting the work of compliance, but having a better methodology for tracking what it means to the business, to workflow, purchasing and logistics. And the use of that information doesn’t end there: it can be used to grade the capacity of factories, and to flag up instances where the auditor suspects that a factory is sub-contracting work to another factory without divulging this to the retailer.
GB: Just having a good database of factory audits and being able to say “all my factories are compliant” only gets you so far, particularly when there’s no connection to sourcing, design and all the other cross-functional teams.
BH: As you mentioned, with ecVision being cloud based, these are the instances where being able to pull data to a range of interfaces and applications really comes into its own.
SQ: They are, but that’s possible not only because we’re cloud-based, but because of the structure of our applications. The combination of our workflow and configuration capabilities is what really gives us the ability to bring that kind of compliance information into the organisation. Even though a particular client might not be using our logistics solution, for example, we still have the ability to tie that information together – and that’s really what makes us different, I think.
BH: How are these and other trends helping to shape your roadmap for 2013?
GB: We will be focused on delivering even more best practices, but we’re also going to be working within a framework that we call “TLC +”. Now, we’ve had the ability to do this kind of thing for some time, but the additional linkages we’re able to achieve now really represent the next step. We’re connected now with inspection companies, shipping companies, logistics providers, and that’s going to shape our focus for the coming year, helping us to deliver more content to the brands we ork with.
Now, ecVision isn’t a content provider; content, for a brand, comes from all these other parties that we’re connected to, and this is where the collaborative aspect of what we do comes in. We have more than 20,000 factories that use our systems now, and these are the kinds of connections that make a difference now and will continue to do so as we move into 2013/14.