Selecting the right PLM partner isn’t easy, but it’s a choice more brands and retailers than ever before are making. Whether it’s to manage multinational growth, improve collaborative relationships between internal stakeholders and suppliers, or just become more efficient at headquarters, every sector from fast fashion to luxury has seen significant PLM uptake in the last three years.
The odds are good that, as a retailer, brand or manufacturer, you already have a PLM initiative underway, or that one will become necessary as part of your business’s long-term strategic objectives. With results proven by the world’s biggest brands and smaller businesses alike, PLM is no longer seen as something nice to have – it’s become a business necessity.
This is reflected in annual, global statistics. Sales of fashion-specific PLM have risen every year that we have analysed, and analysts’ growth predictions outpace average enterprise software rates by up to 10%. (See our Annual Reviews, and 2015’s 5th Edition Report for further details.)
It follows, then, that the people who make PLM are looking to capitalise on its popularity through marketing. But despite them all using the same acronym, the quality of solutions, services, and strategic vision on offer differs dramatically between vendors.
Making the right choice
With more than forty process areas covered by each of the leading PLM solutions – and that scope is increasing every year – making the right choice is more than just a matter of weighing up a few key features and functions. A modern PLM project will impact every area of your business, and new modules like marketing and CSR (corporate social responsibility in the form of compliance, sustainability and legislation), although they may not seem like priorities today, will become vital in the near future.
And while prospective PLM customers are becoming better-educated through services such as WhichPLM, it remains common for selection teams to lack the experience and deep domain expertise to scientifically measure everything they need to take into account before making their choice.
This isn’t to say that project teams do not understand their businesses – most of them certainly do – but rather that, until recently, there has been no single, objective tool they could use to compare and contrast not just their software, but the broader partnership potential of different vendors. Without this yardstick, customers were still, in 2015, purchasing promises of future development, or finding that essential modules they had been told were ready were either still in development, or were barebones in comparison to the best in-class the market has to offer.
In an industry characterised by extremely rapid development, where domain expertise is vital, the best vendors are those who understand fashion from the design room and the factory, all the way to the retail shop floor. But how do you, as a project team member or executive, figure out which vendors these are?
Similarly, with every stage of the product lifecycle, and every office – domestic, satellite and external supplier – likely to be impacted by a PLM implementation, the best vendors are those with expert resources in your time-zones, on the ground, ready to talk to end users and demonstrate how their day-to-day lives will change. Can you be confident that your shortlisted vendors have the right people in the right places?
And at the functional level, the supplier landscape is also likely to change before your eyes. PLM software is becoming more complex and more capable, making it difficult for anyone but the most dedicated hands-on analysts to keep pace.
Do you really know how one vendor’s approach to integrating Adobe Suite to PLM differs from another’s? Can you be confident which materials management module is best? Does your favourite vendor offer a mature CSR module? And how do you make sure the UI/UX (user interfaces and user experiences) of your shortlisted solutions measure up to the expectations of the next generation of users coming out of universities?
These criteria are as important to measure as they are difficult to get a straight answer on. A vendor may tell you, for example, their compliance features are as good as the industry average – but is the average good enough for your needs? What plans do they have in place for coming revolutions like 3D (particularly as 3D design and sampling becomes viable for different product types) and the Internet of Things?
Make no mistake, these are hard questions. They cut to the core of vendors’ fears, and will prompt you, as a prospective customer, to deeply analyse your own strategic plans for the future. But given the scale of investment (both monetary and in terms of skilled resource time) that a modern PLM project demands, the difficult questions need to be asked.
Unfortunately, though, transparency isn’t typical in this industry, and a potential customer cannot always count on getting an honest answer. This is something we have seen the negative results of first-hand, time and time again.
Compare and contrast
As the industry’s only independent body of experts, WhichPLM is accustomed to working on behalf of brands, retailers and manufacturers to ask precisely these sorts of detailed questions. But rather than restrict the resulting insight to consultancy engagements, our goal instead is to establish clear metrics for measuring PLM software solutions against other competing solutions. Methods of comparing the process maturity of one platform to another. Ways of gauging the success of one vendor’s implementation team versus another’s. A vision for assessing roadmaps against roadmaps.
This is all done with the aim of providing freely available evaluations that allow you, the customer, to get answers you can trust, and that were arrived at through scientific methods. These are the answers you will need to make an informed, future-safe choice – even in areas you might not yet have realised matter.
WhichPLM has so far published five evaluations, each free to download, and each comparing and contrasting key PLM vendors against one another, and against an independent, scientific scale that we believe accurately measures each vendor’s current attainment, as well as assessing their future development roadmap and strategic vision. Each evaluation also includes an extensive interview with a senior executive – typically the company CEO – which is a level of access few customers gain.
It’s important to understand, though, that we do not pressurise vendors to undergo this process, although we do encourage customers to pay particular attention to those that have declined. Each evaluation represents a significant investment of time on the part of the vendor, as well as full and unbridled access to their executive team and, under non-disclosure agreement, insight into their three-to-five-year business plan.
But nevertheless, four of the industry’s most forward-thinking vendors have already invited WhichPLM to undertake an evaluation and make the unedited results available to the public. This represents considerable confidence not only in their products and services, but also in WhichPLM’s strong ethics and our evaluation team’s ability to accurately assess their entire business.
Informed by decades’ worth of hands-on experience working on PLM software, and working with the brands and retailers who need it, our evaluation methods, scoring system, and principles are entirely transparent. These have been made available to every key PLM vendor over the past twelve months, and while those who have volunteered to undergo the process are to be commended, we urge prospective customers to ask those who have declined to justify their unwillingness to undergo an unbiased inspection.
Perhaps these vendors – some of whom may be on your shortlist – cannot spare two days’ time to undergo the process; or perhaps they consider openness to work against their best interests. Embarking on a modern PLM journey is a long-term partnership, and one that will affect the lives of everyone linked to your company – from the boardroom to the factory floor. As a customer, a significant part of your due diligence should be to ask those vendors who haven’t commissioned a WhichPLM evaluation to explain their decision.
To find out which of your shortlisted PLM partners have the confidence to be weighed against one another and compared to the best the market has to offer, visit our evaluation centre. If you don’t see even your first choice listed there, consider asking them why.
We are pleased to report WhichPLM is already in discussions to evaluate a further four PLM vendors in 2016.