PLM is an ever-shifting acronym. Coming as it does in so many different guises – core software, end to end suites and expanded solutions – it can prove difficult to keep a handle on the notion of “product lifecycle management” as it stretches to take in everything from trend collection to garment disposal, via socio-environmental compliance and multidisciplinary collaboration.
One certainty in all of this, though, is the fact that as PLM has expanded to reflect the true scope of modern, globalised product development, the number of end users working with it (either directly or indirectly) has increased dramatically.
In today’s world integration between systems has become an absolute priority for most enterprise customers, and data (where proper preparation and implementation procedures are undertaken) is steadily being refined, unified and shared between PLM, ERP, CAD, CAM and out along the entire extended supply chain. As that web of interoperability and seamless collaboration is drawn outwards, the number of people who influence product development has grown – and they all do so from within PLM.
In a very real sense, a PLM solution (properly chosen) empowers its end users… in more ways than one. Designers and garment technicians can collaborate more effectively than ever before, and executives can glean valuable oversight of their products from sketches to how they will look on a hanger in a flagship store – this is the traditionally recognised power of PLM. But what is often overlooked is the way that PLM allows a greater range of end users not just to play their part in product development, but to influence its future.
As I explained in last year’s Customer Survey (which is now available to download free of charge and is suggested reading for any business developing an investment case or weighing up the benefits of adopting PLM), the power of the end user is absolute where PLM is concerned. Yes, how soon a PLM solution will deliver a return on investment and how the budget for its implementation will be structured are discussions for the boardroom, but the solution itself will live or die in the hands of the people who use it, or don’t, season in and season out.
From the feedback gleaned during that Survey and in my routine correspondence with vendors and customers alike, I have learned that the most successful implementations have been those where the eventual end users (or a representative of each key internal team) is consulted prior to, during, and after the shortlisting, selection and implementation process. From broad criteria like the choice between Oracle and SQL, right down to the specifics of how data from Adobe Illustrator (or your design program of choice) will feed PLM, the eventual end users have the hands-on experience to, and should, help any management team to determine how a PLM solution will fit their organisation – not the other way around.
It is telling that most implementation projects also see the appointment of a “PLM champion” who is nominated to evangelise the chosen solution to the people he or she works with every day. It is absolutely vital that the champion believes in PLM, has been instrumental in its selection, and that those individuals who will work with PLM five days a week are comfortable in its use and satisfied with its capabilities.
If not, that return on investment may never appear. Such is the power of the end user, and vendors and management teams ignore it at their peril.
Whatever your role in the extended product lifecycle, do not underestimate your power to help shape this industry. Take the opportunities that are presented to you – join a CAB, fill in a survey, answer questionnaires issued by your vendor and, where appropriate, present your feedback to the internal steering committees that are, right now, deciding how the future of the apparel industry will look.
Here at WhichPLM, we want to help make this possible.
Ever since we founded the magazine in 2008, our mission has remained consistent: to provide an unbiased home on the internet (and now in print once a year) for companies either looking to find out more about PLM prior to shortlisting and selection, or to get the most out of their existing software investments.
Some of the biggest and most exclusive names in fashion and footwear the world over have visited our pages. The calibre of retailers and brands reading our articles, scrutinising our supplier listings and using our tools occasionally takes my breath away.
I don’t point this out in order to brag, but to give the end users and vendors reading this article an idea of just how far words can reach. I consider it to be central to our mission to provide as many avenues as possible for both parties to put their opinions forward.
Representatives of the largest (and the most niche) PLM vendors have blogged and been interviewed on a diverse range of topics, and I have personally sat down with Managing Directors, Chief Information Officers and Global Marketing Managers to ensure that their presence in the market is accurately reflected in our pages.
Our 2011 Customer Survey is designed to present the same opportunity for end users. Prior to last year (when we contacted some 500 end users directly), the real users of PLM had the aforementioned power to nurture or stop PLM implementations in their tracks, but no way of communicating their valuable feedback and experience to those who could benefit from it.
This year I have democratised the entire process even further: if you use PLM in any capacity, the Customer Survey portal is now open to you. In exchange for fifteen minutes of your time, I want to give you the opportunity to make your voice heard to those prestigious retailers, brands, vendors, manufacturers, consultancies and supply chain partners.
I hope that PLM has opened product development up to you, but I want to take things a step further – to open your experience up to the people who are in charge of our industry’s future. The results of the survey will be published (anonymously) in the WhichPLM Annual Review 2011, which will be distributed free of charge to the most influential people on every side of the vendor / customer divide.
By lending us your time and taking part in the WhichPLM Customer Survey 2011, at a pace to suit you, we can do justice to the true enabling power of PLM.
The power to help others. The power to make yourself heard.
Ben Hanson is the Editor of WhichPLM.