In the fifth in our exclusive interviews from Texprocess WhichPLM’s CEO & Founder, Mark Harrop, asks Reid Swanson, Sales Director at Centric Software GmbH, some questions.
Mark Harrop: Do you see Texprocess as a regional show, or as an international show? Feel free to reference your experience from 2013, if you were present.
Reid Swanson: I think there’s definitely a German focus – a Central European focus. There are of course international visitors, but I would say around 50% come from this country.
Two years ago, in 2013, it was a similar mix. We had Italians and other Europeans come to the show but it was still, I’d say, 50% German.
MH: A question on the German market in general: do you find that customers here see PLM as a platform and, furthermore, are investing in it?
RS: Definitely. More and more companies are recognizing the significance of PLM, not just as a possibility to enable transparency, collaboration and increase productivity, but also to become the central hub for all product related data and processes. The German market is very active right now in terms of investing in PLM. For example, in the past 18 months we have signed up 5 new customers since opening up our offices in Munich and there are a very significant number of companies planning to make a decision for PLM in the coming 12-18 months.
MH: What do you think sets Centric apart from the other vendors that prospective customers are going to be looking at on the show floor this week?
RS: I think to answer this question it is important to look at the feedback we have been getting from the market and what they perceive to be the differentiating factors between us and other PLM vendors.
First of all, companies are usually amazed at the scope we cover, the depth of functionality and the ease-of-use coming from a true Out-of-the-Box solution. The first two customers that we signed up in Central Europe had actually already been through a selection process and decided for another PLM vendor. But after spending a day with us and taking a look at our solution, they realized that from a functional, technical and a commercial perspective, Centric was the best solution available.
Secondly, we are able to deliver on the promises made during the sales stage. It is one thing to be able to have a great Pre-Sales team and make a good impression, but many PLM vendors then struggle at implementing against the initial vision sold to the customer. The customer then realizes that the system that they saw in the demos is not possible to implement without extensive customizations and associated costs and risks.
We have the most experienced and qualified services team in the industry who present our solution and then implement the vision discussed and agreed upon with the customers. For example, we implemented a full-scope PLM solution for the MUSTANG Group in 15 weeks. We then extended the solution to their Agent in Asia over a weekend, and most recently, we have rolled out our Sales and Collection Book App to their sales organisation. We are actually over-delivering on the initial vision that we sold there.
We have more than 100 customers, as diverse and demanding as Christian Louboutin, Marc Jacobs, Tally Weijl, Furla and Scotch and Soda, that are all able to support their specific processes and realize real value like MUSTANG with Centric 8. Our solution was built from the very beginning to support this industry and be 100% configurable. We are enabling and empowering our customers and they are benefitting from our incorporation of industry best practices into our core model.
And lastly, I think what differentiates us from other vendors is our focus on innovation. Our own product development of Centric 8 is much more aligned with a fashion company than with the typical software development cycle. We introduce usually about 4 product releases a year, introducing new and exciting functionalities for our customer base. No other PLM vendor comes even close to this pace. They are happy if they manage to introduce one new release in 18 months or in some cases even longer.
MH: How are global supply chain pressures affecting your solution enhancements? By this, we mean the pressure to decrease cost, and increase efficiency and collaboration.
RS: Companies are looking to leverage their PLM solutions to cover increasingly more processes throughout the organisation in order to achieve this increase in efficiency and collaboration and in the end, help to reduce costs and improve margins. A good example of this is the inclusion of Merchandise & Assortment Planning into PLM. We have recently introduced a MAP solution within Centric 8 which was developed together with PVH Europe and some other customers.
There is significant value in having this information integrated into the PLM landscape and it usually results in great gains in efficiency and collaboration when a company can replace all those Excel sheets that are usually used to manage this process.
We are allowing our customers to go beyond the traditional customized view of a business plan in PLM– it’s about being able to compare any data needed, being able to slice and dice, analyse the information in order to make the best decisions possible. Our customers can drag and drop the desired values to create views and grids on the fly and thus allow for the highest level of flexibility and creativity.
And on the other side of the development process we see a huge benefit in our Sales and Collection Management application, which replaces the traditional printed sales catalogue and allows companies to publish this data to their Sales Organisations and always have the latest information available to them. Most of our customers see an ROI on this within the first 3-6 months.
MH: We understand you have around 6 or more mobile applications. How effective are you finding these apps in the marketplace? How are customers responding to them?
RS: We actually have 10 mobile apps available today in the Apple App Store for iPhone (Material Sample, Capture It, Inspirations, Product Notes) and iPad (Collection Book, Fit Review, Switchboard, Sample Review, Factory Audit, Retail Review). The mobile applications are a real differentiator for our customers, since they are allowing their teams to be more flexible, more creative and more productive in their daily jobs.
One great advantage for our customers is the increased user-adoption of PLM through the mobile apps, especially for Design. Typically Design departments have felt burdened by IT systems, afraid of being reduced to data-entry specialists at the cost of their creativity. But when they begin to see that they can leverage their iPhone and support their existing processes and actually see their workload being reduced, they quickly become fans of the PLM initiative.
MH: Do you have any plans for future enhancements or additional mobile apps? If this is public information, can we ask what processes these apps will support?
RS: We will be bringing out another five apps in the next 12 months. The apps are:
- Allocation Board
- Field Test
- Material Review
- Product Brief
These apps will be supporting the following processes:
- Remote product quality testing and inspections (AQL),
- Consumer product feedback,
- Partner collaboration on products and materials,
- ‘What if-ing’ new product concepts.
There are some more exciting innovations that we have on the roadmap, but we are keeping them for a later point to release to the market.
MH: We have seen that the show this year is placing some emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility; there are at least two events exploring sustainability. How does your solution support CSR?
RS: Many of our modules such as our Quality module and Material Management module enable companies to test how well their products comply with the different emerging compliance and social responsibility standards/initiatives. We also have a specific solution targeted at tracking Factory compliance through our Factory Audit iPad Application. We are also currently working with a number of companies to expand this coverage for all relevant processes in this area.
MH: In terms of new enhancements, what do you see as emerging process developments to your software solution in the next twelve months?
RS: Centric will continue to be the leader in innovation as we have proven in the past. We have already mentioned the extension of our suite of mobile applications, which were the first for the industry, and we will continue to be at the forefront of innovation in this field. We are also expanding the mobile apps to support devices in addition to Apple products.
An important area that we will see exciting advancements are in the area of usability, with more Drag & Drop functionality built into the user experience and improving our integration and functionality with the Adobe Suite that goes beyond what the market has seen until now.
MH: Finally, at Texprocess we see a broad range of systems (2D, 3D, CAM, PLM etc.) that fall under the umbrella of ‘Core PLM & Extended PLM’; do you have plans in place to embrace and integrate other systems into your solution platform? Or, do you already partner with other solutions?
RS: We have already mentioned the integration with the Adobe Creative Suite and we also have a partnership with Visual Retailing (MockShop) for Virtual Merchandising.
Centric 8 has a standard integration framework which allows us to easily integrate with any periphery solutions that might be of importance to our customers. We are seeing an increased interest in 3D and as this market matures, we will continue to make sure that any integration scenarios that bring value to our customers will be supported from our side.
*This series of interviews will conclude next week.