In their first exclusive piece for WhichPLM, Acnovate discusses the need for today’s retailers and brands to utilise enterprise PLM in conjunction with other data sources, to gain their competitive edge. Acnovate is a technology services provider with a focus on PLM, catering to Footwear & Apparel, Consumer Products, Medical, Manufacturing, Engineering, Communications and Media.
Retail and Fashion brands today are under relentless pressure to deliver innovative products to the marketplace faster, whilst improving quality – and doing it all at lesser costs – to expand their global footprint and reach newer markets. They are being pushed hard every quarter to do more, with less. Couple this with the changes in the current business environment (Omni channel commerce, demanding customers, Fast Fashion and new competitors with disruptive business models), and organizations are looking at ways to reduce time to market and increase revenue and profitability. In such a competitive environment, visibility into product development processes, global sourcing for a quickly expanding marketplace, real time information sharing and improved collaboration between teams involved in product design, development and manufacturing, as well as timely analysis of the data from these sources, will ensure this competitiveness.
In a typical Apparel company there are anywhere from 4-6 seasons and product releases. Zara changed this typical model, having a release every 4-6 weeks, which has been revolutionary in the industry. Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla in the retail industry, has set its eyes on the fashion industry and is challenging industry leader, Zara. In its recently awarded patent for On Demand Apparel Manufacturing, Amazon promises to have a new release of a product from concept, to design, to availability, to customer in 4-6 days – something unheard of in our industry.
It hopes to achieve this milestone by integrating a multitude of new technologies such as 3D Virtual Sampling, Digital Printing, AI, Machine Learning, IoT, a lean supply chain for raw material, virtual dressing rooms and artificially intelligent e-commerce websites to ensure items in shopping carts turn into final sales and a highly efficient last mile delivery. All of this is supported by efficient analytics model to support the new digital paradigm.
To quote author Tom Davenport in Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, “It’s virtually impossible to differentiate yourself from competitors based on products alone. Your rivals sell offerings similar to yours. And thanks to cheap offshore labor, you’re hard-pressed to beat overseas competitors on product cost. How to pull ahead of the pack? Become an analytics competitor: Use sophisticated data-collection technology and analysis to wring every last drop of value from all your business processes.”
For the fashion industry one of the most important sources of data to gain the competitive edge is the analysis of the Enterprise PLM data in conjunction with the other data sources of MRP, ERP, SCM, CRM, WMS, OMS, Demand Planning, Sales Planning etc.
With all of these intermixed technologies and more than one system doing the same thing, standardizing and harmonizing data and business processes across the board is a big undertaking. Not to mention the volume of actionable data created in an organization every day.
A PLM system focuses on the product, acts as a single source of the truth, improves team collaboration and realizes the goals of efficiently reducing time to market. Having a PLM system for various product development processes such as Season Line Planning, Sourcing, Costing, Technical Design and Development, and Vendor Collaboration helps organizations benefit from the industries best practices. It also acts as a central repository for product data and processes. Analysis of this data can help get a product development overview, monitor seasonal milestones, vendor performance, track exceptions, measure and optimize resource utilization, reduce sampling time, identify problems in the system in a timely manner and take corrective action.
However, the biggest challenge for efficient analysis has been to get timely access to the data. A quick understanding of the current process of access to PLM data will help us realize that the PLM systems have not caught up with the changing business processes.
Access to PLM data and analysis as we know it today
Although PLM systems host a lot of product development data, end users have limitations to access this data in the format they need it in. Very often, the PLM system has limitations on how data is presented to the users for analysis and decision making.
Most PLM systems have the capability to generate reports and analyze data. But their utility is limited as every organization needs information in specific formats and organizations have to customize their PLM system to extend its reporting and analytics capabilities.
The most common process followed to access a set of PLM data for analysis by the business user is to raise a ticket with the IT team, who in turn need to write a custom code to query the database to extract the data. This data is then typically captured in Microsoft Excel and a business analyst sets out to analyze the data per the business needs to make any decision. The dependency on the IT team is high even for a simple change request to a report where another column needs to be added. This process of retrieving data from a PLM system is often long drawn, time consuming and elaborate.
Customization often adds to maintenance and support overheads. Any change in the information needs for analysis has to go through a time-consuming change management process. And finally, if the PLM system is upgraded, these customizations have to be reworked.
Most readers would be surprised to note that the current process of access to custom data needed for analysis could take anywhere from a few hours for a simple report to few weeks for a more complex one, like a report where you wish to add product images or color swatches. Also, it consumes vital time and financial company resources. The other challenge with the standard reporting is lack of Data Visualization. In an era where the data size is huge, visual analytics makes data interpretation easy. Are the current Out of the Box (OOTB) features in the PLM systems for data visualization, data access, reporting and analytics sustainable in the new digital paradigm to get a competitive edge?
Data Visualization and Analytics of Tomorrow’s “Intelligent” PLM
In an age where individuals are used to having anytime, anywhere and on any device access to information by the touch of a button, the current systems do not support it. Business users are looking for a self-service analytics and reporting interface which gives them control over access to data when they want it and analyze it how they want by adding any enterprise data source. Using a BI system with robust data visualization and analytics capabilities has its own advantages, such as:
- Finding problems early. Gain early insights into existing issues and exceptions and take the right course of action.
- Find process bottlenecks and ways to improve efficiency.
- Get a bird’s eye view on business performance and resource utilization.
- Consolidating, aggregating and looking at the best ‘what-if’ scenarios.
In order to be competitive, organizations also need to move towards more advanced concepts of data science, such as:
- Predictive modeling.
- Decision trees.
- Forecast analysis.
- Statistical analysis.
- Optimization techniques.
For example, a PLM system could tell us the best suitable sources to be used for a given season, which raw materials would cause compliance problems, which colors are not in the current trend, how sustainable are our product development processes, how have we performed in the last season and the list goes on.
Getting the Maximum out of your Enterprise PLM Data through Reporting & Analytics
In order to fully reap the benefits of having PLM and justify its ROI, it’s important to have enhancements or systems in place to get actionable insights out of it. Without which it would just be a data dump containing all your product development related information.
Organizations are either trying to leverage their existing enterprise BI tools such as Microstrategy, Tableau, QlikView, PowerBI, and Cognos to get standard reports and dashboards by creating a central standard business warehouse hosting data from various enterprise systems, or by directly accessing PLM data or customizing their PLM systems to get these reports.
Because of the complexity of PLM’s data model and its functionalities, it becomes very challenging, time consuming and expensive to create and maintain basic PLM reports, such as:
- Cross-seasonal line and color boards, catalogs.
- Cross-seasonal line plans with images and color swatches.
- Change tracking for BOM / samples / Product/SKUs.
- Material utilization / BOM reports.
- Sample reports.
But are organizations really able to solve their unique reporting needs of PLM users by using these BI tools or customizations? Some of the challenges that are seen as the bottlenecks to realize this are as follows:
- Having multiple PLM systems and the need to standardize on a single reporting platform.
- Lack of in-house dedicated technical capacity to create required reports.
- Having cloud based PLM systems. In such a setup, you need to cross many layers to get access to this data.
- Complex SQL queries on PLM data model.
- Having the right data security and access control as present in PLM.
- Exporting data in multiple formats, including images and color swatches.
Organizations can overcome these challenges by moving towards PLM specific reporting and analytics platforms that contain pre-configured PLM reports, which allow you access to PLM data right away. ”Qiwk Reports” being one such niche product among others.
Reporting and analytics of a PLM system has its fair share of challenges but once you are able to easily lay your hands on this valuable data, it begins to open your eyes up to a realm of infinite possibilities. It helps to reshape how a company is functioning, make changes, improve and innovate and give you that edge over the competition. Investing in the right technology which would extend the utilization of your PLM systems to make informed decisions would definitely pay off.