In a part-article, part-advertorial, Prasham Kamdar, Founder & Managing Partner of Ptex Solutions, discusses what he terms ‘PLM on the Go’. Backed up by case studies, Prasham discusses the benefits of mobile apps for the entire supply chain, listing advantages for various retail or brand roles.
Today, smartphones, tablets and ‘phablets’ are all integral parts of everyday life. While an iPhone 6s Plus can cost $949 – roughly the same as a good laptop – there are good smartphones available in India and China for around $100. With a reduction in the cost of owning a smartphone, reasonable 3G and 4G data costs, and easy access to wi-fi access, we can stay connected with our friends, family and colleagues.
By design and definition, a mobile device follows a person everywhere. And it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that most people have formed an addiction to their smartphones – a statement confirmed by that sudden panic and pocket-patting when a phone is misplaced. People are incessantly on the phone. They are either updating their status on Facebook, checking their emails, reading news, tweeting, booking travel tickets, making impulsive purchases, taking ‘selfies’ etc. While the majority of these things apply to our personal lives, businesses are slowly starting to provide multiple apps to their employees which keeps them connected, allows them to share information with one another, and make decisions on the move. Smartphones are certainly a disruptive force, in either our personal or professional lives.
Smartphones can be leveraged to dramatically improve communication and expedite decision-making. Recently, I visited a large retailer, and witnessed a Vice President of Sourcing & Quality Assurance using Instant Messenger to connect with his team. The QA would use this to raise queries, send updates, send images of production samples, and receive comments and feedback from the managers. Instant Messenger can certainly help to make quick business decisions if used correctly.
However, historically, instant decisions are not maintained in any system. What if whatsapp or Skype were integrated with PLM and/or ERP systems, or there was an inbuilt instant messaging tool that could be accessed from a mobile phone? Users could hashtag a style or material so that if someone wants to dissect why a particular decision was made then he can do so. This way, unstructured communication can be captured in PLM.
Let’s use another example. Designers often spend time travelling looking for inspirations; they visit trade shows or vendors and snap pictures of products, tear sheets, ideas, materials, and trims – all from their smartphones. However, they do not have a knowledge repository to tag these and store them in a structured manager, in a common place to be used again and again (whether by themselves or their fellow designers). What if they used an app that was connected to a PLM system, allowing them to store this information within PLM to create an inspiration bank?
People can take advantage of the idle time spent travelling, stuck in traffic, or in transit at airports or train stations. They could be creating new styles, writing sample comments or reviewing collections from mobile phones.
Ptex Solutions recently implemented Infor Fashion PLM at Future Retail, one of the largest retailers in India, and developed several apps for them. Every designer and category team for Future Retail can use an app on a mobile phone to access information. The Style Creation and Line List App provides the ability to create a new style in PLM, add pictures and access the range from a mobile phone. New photos or pictures can be added to existing styles. “While people are travelling, if they like something, they can simply take a picture and a new style can be created in PLM. It is as simple as that,” said Rakesh Biyani, Joint MD, Future Retail Limited.
Future Retail currently has 160 vendors accessing PLM. Some of them are very large manufacturing companies and others are small manufacturing units. The smaller vendors are based in remote locations and a handful did not now know how to even use a computer. So, getting daily production updates was very difficult. Ptex Solutions developed a Production Tracking App that allows the vendors, big or small, to update the production status on a daily basis from a smartphone. The User Interface and User Experience is carefully designed by experts so that an app can be easily used by people that aren’t familiar with computers; they can access the styles and orders assigned to them and enter how much fabric is cut, how many garments are manufactured, packed and dispatched. This will allow the sourcing team to ensure that the production is on track and whether the goods will reach the warehouse on time. Besides, they will be able to review a vendor’s performances and analysis and objectively understand the right vendors for them.
Madura Fashion and Lifestyle – a division of Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Limited – has developed and implemented several apps. The most recent addition was the Mill Week app, allowing their design and fabric sourcing team to save three weeks’ time. Twice a year, Madura Fashion and Lifestyle host a ‘Mill week’, where they invite mills from across the world to come and display their fabric collection. Designers and the Product Development team review their fabric collection, select the fabrics they like, enter the fabrics in the PLM system and raise yardage request to the respective mills. In the past, this process took 2-3 weeks. Today, during ‘Mill week’, the designer uses the Mill Week app installed on an iPad Mini. They scan the barcode or a QR code displayed on the fabric swatch, which displays the vendor’s article number, fabric composition, count, construction, weight etc. Then, a user can take picture of the fabric. Once saved, the fabric is created in PLM and an email is sent to the designer and respective mills who have the selected fabrics.
It is only a matter of time before the enterprise world moves towards a full-fledged mobile world where almost all operations can be handled via handheld devices. One of the recent buzz words in retail was Omni-Channel Retail, where a consumer can get the same experience irrespective of the Channel that he or she chooses to use with a retailer. Apple has started getting people used to Omni Systems with the Apple Hand Off, where a person working on a document, spreadsheet or email on a Mac Book, can simply stop working and pick up their mobile device – be it iPad or iPhone – and carry on working on them. Similarly, Mobile Apps can provide Omni System in the Multi Screen world. For example, if a designer is working on a range on her machine, if she is running late for a meeting, she could stop working and simply carry on working on the same styles from a tablet or a mobile device.
Over the past two decades I have seen companies implement and PDM systems, then came CPM (Collaborative Product Management) and, since a decade, fashion companies are embracing PLM. Mobile Apps are certainly at the center of the next generation of PLM, which I refer to as, “PLM on the GO”.