Following on from the latest run of WhichPLM articles on end-to-end solutions, WhichPLM opens the floor to some of the vendors who offer both ERP and PLM systems for their view on how the two systems can function together.
This week, Rob Smith meets with Paul Magel, President of CGS Application Solutions Division. Founded in New York City in 1984 Computer Generated Solutions, Inc has been providing full end-to-end, technology-enabled business solutions to the apparel industry for over 25 years. Its solution portfolio includes amongst others ERP, SCM, PLM, WMS, CRM and e-commerce.
WhichPLM: With the recent downturn in global economies, are you finding that your customers have recovered quicker than some other industries with less resilient products portfolios and what do you believe are your customer’s key business drivers now moving forward?
Paul: The fashion and apparel industry took a hard hit from the economic downturn. With consumers curbing spending, retailers not only scaled back on their buying, but also changed the way they do business with their suppliers. There’s a lot more pressure today to respond quickly to opportunities and be compliant with a variety of new reporting standards. Suppliers have had to re-think their entire supply chain strategies, looking for ways to cut time and cost.
Those organizations that were able to do this have not only survived, but have come out stronger. We see this trend of business process re-engineering continuing into the foreseeable future. More companies will turn to technology to help streamline their supply chain and automate manual processes to shorten cycle times and reduce costs.
WhichPLM: As a rule of thumb, we would look to lifecycle of around 3-5 useful years from an enterprise system (whether it be ERP, PLM, EPOS etc..), do you think we are going to see this “value window” being forcibly extended by consumers from their implementations? Do you think enterprise systems can still deliver a beneficial value over 5 years from go-live in the current market?
Paul: We’re definitely seeing companies stretch their investments in enterprise systems today. This is not necessarily a new phenomenon, however. One of the things we’re most proud of is that BlueCherry has evolved organically over the years as our customer needs have changed. BlueCherry is a single-source code solution, meaning that as customers request new features, they are developed and rolled back into the base system. Customers on maintenance can take these upgrades at any time using our simple Q-Site upgrade tool. As a result, we’ve had customers on the solution as far back as a decade.
Systems today are also built to scale much more flexibly than they used to, which naturally extends their lifecycle. When CGS released BlueCherry Infinity in 2009, we made the investment in technologies that would scale to the evolving needs of our customers.
WhichPLM: What regions/areas are CGS themselves forecasting or experiencing strong demand for PLM and other enterprise level IT solutions? Why do you suspect the market is buoyant here ahead of other regions?
Paul: We’re currently seeing strong demand in Asia, India in particular, for our enterprise Shop Floor Control solution, Leadtec. There is strong growth in the apparel manufacturing industry there as many of the top brands are now outsourcing their manufacturing to India’s garment clusters. As this region continues to grow, they need to conform to technology standards already in place at the companies for whom they produce garments. They are using technology as a competitive differentiator to attract new customer to the region by integrating their shop floor control solutions with PLM systems to deliver levels of visibility and collaboration to the production process never before possible.
We’re also seeing strong growth in North America and Europe as brands look to integrate more closely with their off-shore suppliers. PLM plays a critical role in managing the flow of information throughout the entire supply chain, automating workflows and tracking the entire pre-production and production process.
The constant pressure to reduce both cost and cycle times requires companies to improve productivity from design to manufacturing and technologies like PLM and real-time shop floor control have proven effective at this task.
WhichPLM: …so how are you helping to deliver these customers better value from an enterprise system now against the market pre-2007?
Paul: One of the key things we hear consistently is that the “time to benefit” from the implementation of any enterprise solution must be reduced. Beginning with the launch of BlueCherry Infinity in 2009, CGS drastically altered the way BlueCherry was built to allow solutions like PLM, Advanced Warehouse (AWS), Business Intelligence (BI) and EDI to be purchased as stand-alone solutions rather than starting with the ERP solution and building out. This allowed customers to start reaping benefit much faster and at a lower price point. At the same time, we introduced a new Rapid Implementation methodology, where we effectively drew from our vast industry experience and designed template installations for verticals within the apparel industry. This allowed us to reduce implementations from months to weeks.
The other major topic that’s been hot recently is compliance. As retailers shift more requirements onto their trading partners, keeping up with the changes from multiple retailers has become a real challenge. Because we work with so many fashion and apparel brands, we’ve become a kind of clearing house for compliance methodologies. Last year we began offering some unique solutions like EDI outsourcing and EDI Assurance to help ensure that customers remain compliant with these evolving standards while allowing them to stay focused on their core business.
WhichPLM: The media is rife with case studies of catastrophically failed ERP and PLM projects, (albeit 1st generation projects) do you think running a full end-to-end system implementation project is a better value proposition than running separate projects independent of each other?
Paul: This really depends on the customer’s needs and their ability to absorb both simultaneously. ERP and PLM projects that fail usually do so due to a lack of planning and resource commitment. It’s important to fully understand what you expect to get out of your investment before you begin implementation. It’s also critical that you choose a partner who understands your business and can draw upon their experience to guide you through the process.
WhichPLM: Do most consumers have the available capacity (both financially and at a resources level) to run dual projects? Do you think consumers are fully aware as to what their own capabilities are for running enterprise level projects?
Paul: Again, it really depends on the customer regardless of the size of their company. The primary requirement is to understand that whether you implement a stand-alone ERP or PLM or as a combined project, the company will need to commit sufficient resources to the project. An integrated solution can help bring an organization together and it requires cooperation by all business functions that will ultimately be affected by the change to execute the project successfully. While most customers understand this, there are definitely those that don’t fully grasp the non-financial commitment required.
Of course, there are ways to help minimize this. The first is to work with a company that understands your industry. This can help reduce the upfront investment necessary to train the partner on your business and accelerate your project as they draw on their experience. The second is to carefully choose a solution that is tailored to your industry. No solution is going to be a perfect fit, but industry-tailored solutions will generally have 70-80% of the features you need right out of the box.
WhichPLM: …but surely not every consumer has the correctly aligned company strategy and board leadership to implement such widely encompassing changes?
Paul: That’s true. However, what we often see is customers in those situations initially approaching us just for ERP or PLM, then adding on the other pieces of functionality later on when they are ready. That’s one of the benefits of an integrated system, like BlueCherry. The entire suite is built to seamlessly exchange data across modules, so wiring new modules to existing ones is a relatively straight-forward process.
WhichPLM: So what specific benefits can a consumer expect from integrating CGS PLM and ERP end-to-end ahead of the competitors in this space?
Paul: There are several benefits to working with CGS and BlueCherry. First, CGS has been delivering technology solutions to the Fashion and Apparel industry for over 27 years. We’ve worked with hundreds of the leading apparel manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and retailers all over the world, implementing systems from the manufacturing shop floor to retail point of sale. We have a solid understanding of the entire supply chain that we bring to every new implementation.
Second, our industry-leading enterprise solution, BlueCherry, was built from the ground up to address the specific needs of the fashion and apparel market. Many of the competitors we encounter have solid ERP and PLM solutions, but they aren’t designed for the apparel industry. This means that the customer has to bear the expense to customize the software to not only meet the unique needs of their company, but also to add basic industry functionality.
Third, and maybe most important, is the customer community. A significant portion of the BlueCherry roadmap is defined by the evolving requirements of our customers and their customers. We have a very active user community and we encourage and facilitate user-to-user interaction through our customer advisory council, our annual INSIGHT customer conference, local “Link up” events and social media. Many of our customers participate in a Linked In community that is entirely operated by our user community, where they exchange ideas and discuss new feature requirements.
WhichPLM: …would it not be better for a consumer to look at the market and say “what’s the best ERP for my size, what’s the best PLM, what’s the best EPOS (or any other system segment) Etc…?” and plumb them together? Surely the database or data warehouse behind the scenes is equally accessible for all?
Paul: Again, this really depends on the needs of the customer. That said, there is a definitive benefit to having an integrated single source-code solution, like BlueCherry. Plumbing together applications from different vendors often means that companies have to engage multiple parties to implement the points of integration. This adds cost to the total project that could have been avoided. In addition, each system probably interprets data differently, leading to increased incidences of conflict, which requires more troubleshooting and QA. Finally, you’re maintaining multiple applications, each with different upgrade paths. A simple upgrade to one application may cause the connections to another application to break. The task of ensuring that your application runs consistently falls entirely on the shoulders of the customer.
With BlueCherry, all of these issues are addressed. Because the PLM and ERP solutions were built as part of one complete system, they speak the same language. Further, you deal with only one implementation team that not only has experience with the product, but also has deep apparel industry knowledge and can help you avoid landmines before they even occur. You get one throat to choke. As I mentioned, BlueCherry is a single source-code solution. All modifications are rolled back into the base and we regression test new upgrades against every customer implementation to ensure compatibility. If a customer takes an upgrade and something breaks, we’ll fix it.
WhichPLM: …but do you not think it’s risky for a consumer to be fully dependent on 1 supplier? Doesn’t familiarity breed contempt after all?
Paul: The first thing you have to look at is whether the vendor’s offerings meet all (or most) of your functional needs. Then, you have to look at the company itself. How long have they been in business? Do they have experience in your industry? Are they easy to work with? Are they financially secure?
CGS has been delivering technology solutions to the apparel industry for over 27 years. Over that time, we’ve developed a pretty deep understanding of the needs of the apparel market. It’s one of the main reasons why our customers choose BlueCherry. It’s also why so many BlueCherry customers stay with us. So, in that regard, familiarity breeds comfort.
WhichPLM: At the technical level, is the CGS end-to-end system: one complete single system; separate systems seamlessly integrated or modular systems operating on a common platform? What influenced the design decision for this over the over options?
Paul: BlueCherry is actually a comprehensive suite of solutions all integrated on a common platform. There are literally dozens of modules, including core ERP, PLM, EDI, Business Intelligence, Advanced Warehouse Management (AWS), E-Commerce and many more. Each of these solutions can be used as a stand-alone solution or as part of a fully-integrated system. The system was designed in this manner to give customers the flexibility to use the features they need today and scale to meet their future needs.
WhichPLM: Finally (and perhaps crucially), if you had a very immature client who had neither PLM nor ERP, and only had the resources to run one system project, which would you advise to start with and why?
Paul: It would depend entirely on where the customer was feeling the most pain. Again, because BlueCherry is a flexible suite of fully-integrated applications, it really doesn’t matter where you start. Our goal is always to maximize the customer’s ability to succeed, and we’ve had a good track record of offering practical advice backed by a talented staff of apparel industry experts and our industry-leading BlueCherry solution.
Read Rob Smith’s articles on this subject matter: