In the second in a new, exclusive series of interviews from TexProcess 2013, our Editor talks to Hartmut Walter of W+P Solutions, about the future of PLM, and the role of platforms like Microsoft Dynamics AX in creating integrated environments.
Ben Hanson: Tell me a little about W+P Solutions, since the company may be unfamiliar to some of our readers.
Hartmut Walter: I personally started out by selling ERP to the apparel industry in 1983 It was an uphill struggle, and we faced many people who claimed that creative teams – like those in the fashion industry at the time – just didn’t want to work with computers.
BH: I’m sure that still happens to some degree today…
HW: Exactly. But at the time, retailers and brands were opting for solutions from the likes of Assyst and Koppermann, since those companies originated in the CAD industry, developed small modules for PDM, and were more palatable to the prospects we were approaching. We were seen as bringing control with us, rather than enabling creativity.
Now, in the last five or six years, that equation has changed. Companies are more control and sales-led than perhaps they have been before, and so the people within those organisations who make strategic decisions tend to be from that end of the business.
So today we have a great deal of success with our Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 platform, into which we’ve totally integrated PDM/PLM. This is one of what I believe is our unique selling points; the other being our decades’ worth of brand knowledge and experience.
BH: It sounds as though you’ve gone through a lengthy process of helping companies to understand the value of technology, but do you find that today there’s still some uncertainty about what, exactly, PLM is?
HW: Definitely. People don’t know the difference between PDM and PLM, but they do know what they need; they have a requirement for planning, for example, but they don’t fully understand whether or not that’s covered within PLM. And, depending on who they ask, they may get any number of different answers.
Regardless of what PLM means to them, though, customers still want to bridge the gap between demand planning, revenue planning and collection planning. And W+P can harmonise these important processes.
BH: In that case, you obviously see PLM as a market with growth potential, but what else do you think are the trends that will shape the near-term future of our industry?
HW: I think we’ll see two things growing back: the retail market, and ERP. With verticalisation, we’ll see more companies using PLM alongside ERP and retail solutions. Obviously it will be preferable to have all of those solutions operating on a common platform – Dynamics AX, for example.
BH: At the moment you have offices in Germany. Do you plan to expand into the rest of Europe, or further afield?
HW: We are building reseller arrangements with partners in the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK. We are also working on internal projects in collaboration with another larger Microsoft partner.
BH: In terms of your core markets, are shows like TexProcess effective for you in raising awareness and meeting prospective customers?
HW: This is one of the only trade fairs we attend. We came to IMB before its closure, but today this is essentially it for us. I think it’s a very important show.
BH: So you believe that physical trade shows still have an important role to play?
HW: Yes, absolutely. Still, even today. At the 2011 TexProcess show we saw very few companies promoting ERP, for example, whereas this year we have more and much larger businesses talking about fully integrated solutions of every kind.
BH: You talk about integration a great deal, and it seems as though you’re not the only ones working on Microsoft Dynamics AX at the moment. We’re seeing several vendors who have one solution built on the platform begin to diversify and develop, say, PLM on the same stack.
HW: Yes – it’s an interesting platform. But I believe we are the only company in the AX market with customers currently using standardised PDM integration. We offer them that standardised system with a clear release schedule, rather than relying on customisations.
Importantly, have PDM, PIM (Product Information Management) and PLM all running on that same platform, so we can cover everything from product design and development to product catalogues, all in one place.