Here we have the last in the WhichPLM series of articles on end-to-end solutions and we ask Colin Marks, CEO of DeSL for his assessment on how ERP and PLM systems can function together. Discover e-Solutions Limited (DeSL) was founded in 2002 with headquarters in Cardiff, Wales and is the only Gold Certified Microsoft Partner delivering web based software solutions to the Fashion & Consumer Goods sectors. The solutions available include PLM, ERP, CRM, SRM 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?
Colin: In the last year we have encountered a marked increase in demand for our products, not only PLM but extending into ERP and multi-channel commerce. As we focus solely on the fashion sector this may be a good indication that apparel companies seem to be recovering. We have seen strong growth especially in the Retail sector in UK, USA, China and Turkey. There seems to me more focus now on product management, cost control and reaching deep into the supply chain to better control vendors and procurement. We also suspect that many companies are implementing new solutions now so that they are better prepared when economies start firm growth.
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?
Colin: The 5 year rule you refer to depends solely on the software vendor. If a vendor is constantly developing their products in line with market, customer and sector requirements then there is no reason why this cannot be extended much further. We have found that some of our competitors who have a legacy infrastructure are much disadvantaged when compared to DeSL’s latest Microsoft.Net Technology. We are a relatively new company, having started software development only since 2002, so we don’t have any legacy code or architectural constraints to hold back our development. Our pure Internet technology enables us to focus on required function and take advantage of new technological developments.
WhichPLM: What regions/areas are DeSL 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?
Colin: We’re experiencing strongest demand from UK, USA, China, Hong Kong and Turkey. There are a number of different factors influencing this such as recovery from the recent global downturn, companies realising that their current systems just won’t enable them to take charge of their supply chain and others changing their focus and business models.
WhichPLM: …so how are you helping to deliver these customers better value from an enterprise system now against the market pre-2007?
Colin: DeSL has a complete ‘end to end’ solution for the fashion sector developed entirely using the Microsoft.Net Framework. Our strategy has always been to create ‘best of breed’ solutions for ‘key process areas’ such as PLM, SRM, CRM & WMS etc. and then enable these to be deployed individually or collectively. This gives our customers the opportunity to either focus on a key business problem, such as product development or to cross business processes and for example deploy product development and purchasing projects. This way our customers benefit from being able to focus on their key problem areas and resolve these first. We can also provide our software on a SaaS (software as a service) basis to remove the systems management overhead and reduce initial costs. Our strategy is to constantly improve the available function in each of our solutions as well as technological advances such as the deployment of iPad applications.
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?
Colin: Value is derived from solving key business problems and improving business processes, so sometimes a full end to end implementation project is required in order to achieve the best return on investment. Other times, running separate projects can be advantageous but it would obviously be essential that overlapping processes are managed. We have an example of a recent customer in Hong Kong currently implementing ERP and PLM projects in parallel, with different project teams, but the implementation plan clearly manages the cross over processes.
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?
Colin: Before any contract is signed we make our customers fully aware of their requirements and resource needs to ensure a successful project. A full risk analysis is performed and the results form part of the overall project plan. We then phase the implementation accordingly.
WhichPLM: …but surely not every consumer has the correctly aligned company strategy and board leadership to implement such widely encompassing changes?
Colin: Change management is the most difficult part of any software implementation and the driving force for this change must come from Board level. A key member of the project is the customer’s Project Sponsor and their role is to represent the project at executive level to ensure process and/or people changes can be implemented. Again, all risks and key personnel are identified in the planning process.
WhichPLM: So what specific benefits can a consumer expect from integrating DeSL PLM and ERP end-to-end ahead of the competitors in this space?
Colin: Our key strategy is to enable our customers to implement our solutions in a controlled manner at a speed and scope which suits their business and minimises risk. As our ‘end to end’ solution basically consists of a series of ‘best of breed’ software solutions, we can structure the implementation around their key requirements and available resources. This way we can have a series of ‘quick wins’ leading up to the full ERP implementation, instead of waiting until the end of a lengthy project as is very common with traditional ERP solution providers.
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?
Colin: We consider that our PLM and ERP solutions are the best on the market today. However, if a customer has an existing solution which they wish to retain then we can readily integrate to that. Our software has been designed from the outset with a Service Orientated Architecture which means that integration using XML Web Services is a standard DeSL deliverable.
WhichPLM: …but do you not think it’s risky for a consumer to be fully dependent on one supplier? Doesn’t familiarity breed contempt after all?
Colin: Not at all risky. We are constantly developing our software and provide, as standard, free of charge new releases to our customers. We constantly listen to our customers and study our market sector in order to determine how we can improve our solutions.
WhichPLM: At the technical level, is the end-to-end DeSL 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?
Colin: Technically we have one complete system, which consists of key business processes which can be deployed individually or collectively and integrated to existing legacy systems if necessary. Speed of implementation, flexibility and scope management plus the desire to deliver ‘best of breed’ solutions were the key design decision metrics.
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?
Colin: This decision would be based on the business goals and objectives defined by the customer – we don’t say you have to do ‘x’ followed by ‘y’ then ‘z’. DeSL is a business solutions company using software as a tool to deliver value to its customers. Obviously there are certain processes which need to be implemented in a specific sequence, others which can be done in parallel.
Read Rob Smith’s articles on this subject matter: