TXT e-Solutions are no strangers to the fashion capitals of the world. The company is headquartered in Milan – where their first “Thinking Retail!” event took place – and on 29th March the rooftop Jardin d’Hiver in Paris’s Pavillon Kléber played host to the second seminar in that series.
Subtitled “an explosion of insights and best practices”, the March event focused on the ways in which integrated retail planning as part of PLM and can support the creativity and business processes that drive modern product development.
WhichPLM were invited to attend, and so it was that I found myself in the 150-strong audience, alongside representatives of some of the most exclusive names in the Italian, French, American, and British luxury fashion industries.
The event was delivered in collaboration with TXT development partners Microsoft and international management consultancy firm Kurt Salmon. Indeed, Microsoft and TXT had a booth in the covered roof garden, where a joint team demonstrated the evolution of the TXT collection and assortment planning applications, running on Windows 8 slates. This was actually my first experience with the Windows 8 consumer preview – an experience I’m sure many of the other delegates shared – and I came away as impressed as I have been elsewhere by the Metro touch interface.
Inside, the conference room of the Jardin d’Hiver is lavishly decorated, with the sharp, blue-lit presentation area looking slightly incongruous against Louis XIV-inspired chandeliers, ornate facades and marble pillars. As the unseasonably strong morning sun reverberated from the streets outside, TXT CEO Marco Guida took to the stage first, and delivered an introductory presentation that set the tone for the remainder of the event.
According to Guida, TXT is defined by three core principles: a focus on the fashion and luxury industries, a demonstrable commitment to innovation, and the desire to develop long-term partners, rather than chase a quick buck. If the company’s customer base is anything to go by, it’s on extremely solid ground when it comes to the first claim. TXT claims some 250 clients and more than 10,000 users in the retail, footwear and apparel industries. They had also secured speakers from luxury giants Louis Vuitton, New York luminaries Marc Jacobs, American legends Guess Jeans, rich portfolio managers Verywear, and Spanish mega-brand Desigual to round out the day’s agenda.
Guida went on to explain that innovation has always been a key focus for TXT, and that even in today’s difficult economic climate the company continues to ring-fence 12% of its profits for research and development. This commitment to R&D, Guida explained, goes beyond what is thought of as mainstream or “gardening” development – i.e. the typical cycle of updating software in line with functionality requests and to meet the expectation for new features. The company’s R&D is directed, this year, in four specific directions: user experience (incorporating visual assortment planning), producing specifically-designed mobile applications, moving appropriate services to the cloud, and integrating the company’s solutions with social media.
[pullquote_right]no solution should dictate to you how you ought to run your business. [/pullquote_right]Social media and “the cloud” are particular bones of contention for many people (me included), since they are often little more than marketing buzzwords used to put a sheen on very shallow, token integration. Guida is keen to dispel this impression, explaining that TXT will work closely with its customers and partners to ensure that each of these four cornerstones are deployed in ways that will directly benefit the key business processes of its growing customer base.
Guida is fervent in his belief that this continued dedication to invention is what has enabled the company to deliver the most scalable, usable and robust solution to an ever-growing customer base. He revealed that TXT saw 45 customers go live with its solutions in 2011/12, with 40% of its overall revenue originating from software, and more than 85% from international business. These are encouraging statistics, and ones that were certainly reflected in the calibre and quantity of delegates attending the event.
As CEO, Guida appears to understand that creating his desired long-term partnerships requires real consideration about what it takes to become a reliable partner – responsible for allowing the business of fashion and retail to run smoothly. Closing his introductory presentation, he explained how seriously he takes TXT’s commitment to securing its customers’ investments and dedicating its own resources to further growth and innovation. His were themes that echoed through the entire agenda: the way in which technology can enable and empower creativity, and just how far properly-implemented PLM has become a fundamental requirement of the core processes that underlie the modern retail industries.
[quote]Both Thompson and Kientz left the stage to raucous applause.[/quote]
Next, Guida handed over to Paula Paravecchio, EMEA Director of the Distribution and Service Industry for Microsoft. During lunch, Paravecchio joined the team at the Microsoft booth to discuss the Redmond giant’s work within the retail industry, but at the podium she spoke about innovation and Microsoft’s enduring, four-year partnership with TXT. After a short video demonstration of various Microsoft solutions – augmented reality and Kinect for fashion; synergistic applications for Surface and Windows Phone – that had been shot at January’s NRF show, she went on to explain what she saw as the cornerstones of the companies’ partnership.
Paravecchio explained that TXT are early adopters of Microsoft’s latest technology, and that she sees several parallels between the two companies: a focus on the fashion and retail industries, a commitment to security (both in technical terms and in securing their customers’ investments), and a desire to further integration between the traditionally-separate systems that enable modern product development. For Paravecchio, in order for any retail organisation to be successful, it must adhere to three key principles: be personal, be seamless, and differentiate itself from its competitors. This is a philosophy to which Microsoft itself subscribes, and one that is informing its own growing retail presence (with Microsoft stores now open in select global locations, and a “retail experience centre” taking pride of place at the company’s Redmond HQ).
Overall, Paravecchio articulated well the need for retailers (and, I would argue, brands and manufacturers) to leverage the latest technology in order to remain competitive in what is fast becoming a difficult, and increasingly digital marketplace.
Paravecchio was followed by TXT’s Simone Pozzi, VP of Global Sales and Marketing. Pozzi’s presentation was entitled “Taking Integrated Retail Planning to the Next Level” and focused on how integrated planning solutions – like TXT’s own – can deliver significant benefits for companies operating multiple retail channels and departments. The company has more than two decades’ worth of planning experience, he explained, and its partnership with Microsoft has created a solution that is both familiar for users of Office, and flexible enough to meet the needs of virtually any organisation.
[pullquote_left]TXT’s technology is the backbone of the creative process at an imposing number of the world’s highest-profile fashion and luxury retailers[/pullquote_left]Pozzi walked the audience through an example of a hypothetical multi-channel retail organisation making the journey from planning in Excel (a fairly typical scenario, even today) to truly integrated retail planning. He outlined the primary benefit as being the ability to make better informed, more reliable decisions based on having the right information at the right time, the ability to collaborate worldwide, and the opportunity to build better, more structured processes. According to Pozzi, these benefits lead, in turn, to: increased sales, better product margins (achieved by reducing costs and markdowns, and eliminating the obsolete stock that is a characteristic symptom of poor planning) and a reduction in a wide range of indirect costs.
Pozzi firmly believes that, by making the transition from ad-hoc, undocumented processes to a clearly defined, robust software support system, retailers of virtually any stripe can achieve significant savings both in monetary and process efficiency terms. He acknowledges, though, that there are challenges to making such a transition, and he went on to list what he sees as the typical challenges, and what strategies, in his experience, have allowed companies to surmount them.
The list of challenges was typical fare: a lack of vision into the planning process, the absence of master data, the various barriers to user adoption, and the difficulties inherent in managing such a transition. Similarly, his list of enablers was smart and general enough to apply to virtually any enterprise-level change: top-down management drive and support is vital, as is the establishment of a dedicated team charged solely with managing the retail planning implementation; last, he cited the importance of thoroughly understanding the processes and the individuals that allow your business to function, before embarking on any such transition.
Pozzi’s presentation was followed by a series of three presentations from TXT customers in the luxury and retail markets.
Franck Le Moal, CIO of Louis Vuitton Malletier (part of the LVMH luxury group), spoke in depth about the company’s operations, and the challenges that led it to work closely with TXT to meet the needs of its vast supply chain.
Second, Manel Jimenez, Supply Chain Director of Barcelona-based Desigual, charted the company’s expansion and its long-term partnership with TXT. His short presentation segued into a specifically-produced video explaining how the company approaches one of the key recurring themes of the event: how the right balance of technology and creativity has allowed Desigual to grow from a small, single-nation brand, to the multinational powerhouse it has become.
The final morning session was delivered by Michael Relich, EVP and Group CIO of Guess. Relich explained how the company had made the transition from whole to retail, how its three core brands (Guess, Guess by Marciano and G by Guess) came into being, and how planning, to him, is the single most important of all the enterprise systems underpinning them.
[quote]As CEO, Guida appears to understand that creating his desired long-term partnerships requires real consideration about what it takes to become a reliable partner – responsible for allowing the business of fashion and retail to run smoothly.[/quote]
Following an extended lunch (in which I was able to speak to representatives of some of the world’s best-known luxury brands and retailers), the Chairman of TXT, Alvise Braga Illa, took to the stage to deliver an impassioned and impromptu introduction to the afternoon’s presentations. Mr. Braga Illa is an exceptionally engaging speaker: clear, clever and compelling. He began his brief presentation by explaining his belief that retail is a stable industry, and the lifeblood of the US and worldwide economies. He believes that the best retailers have responded well to the global recession, and he credits technology with helping to stabilise them through that difficult period. He also emphasised the importance of maintaining open communication with TXT’s customers and long-term partners in the retail industry to ensure that this flourishing in the face of change is something that will be able to continue well into the future.
It is obvious that Mr. Braga Illa is passionate beyond any doubt about the direction his company is taking – confirming Marco Guida’s earlier strategy of continued investment in innovation. From his touching rapport with his team, it is clear, too, that he is indebted to the people who will make that innovation possible. His was an inspiring way to introduce the sessions that followed.
The first full presentation of the afternoon was delivered by Lynn Evison, a partner at Kurt Salmon. Evison’s presentation bore the descriptive title “How to drive a successful retail planning process when changing systems means changing processes and mindsets”, and included a good amount of advice applicable to both retail planning and other, broader enterprise-level changes and systems implementations.
Kurt Salmon, as well as being one of TXT’s sponsors for the Thinking Retail events, is one of the world’s leading management consultancies, and has worked with some internationally-renowned names on systems implementation and change management projects of all shapes and sizes. So it was that Evison and spoke from a position of experience when she explained that many implementations fail. Indeed, she pegged the cost of failed implementations at more than €142 billion in 2004.
[quote]TXT e-Solutions are no strangers to the fashion capitals of the world.[/quote]
The reasons for those failures are manifold, but Evison outlined some of the most common ones. Most obviously, the system in question may simply not work as advertised; the required enterprise-wide culture change may not take place; new processes and ways of working may not embed properly, and key users may gravitate back to using their previous systems. She went on to explain that those failures can be avoided by conducting a thorough analysis of all business processes; each must be viable in the long-term, agile, embedded in all of the appropriate areas, and most vitally, suitable to meet the unique needs of a particular business.
Evison also touched upon a long-standing principle of ours here at WhichPLM – namely that no solution should dictate to you how you ought to run your business. She went on to explain that retail is, at its heart, quite simple, and it is the retailers themselves who tend to complicate matters unnecessarily. It is this tendency that leads many retailers to assume that the processes offered by their new solution are inherently better, when they may in fact be more convoluted or less efficient. I agree wholeheartedly with Evison’s assertion that there is no perfect time to begin an enterprise-level implementation, but that performing a full business and process analysis provides the best possible advantage when the time does come. She also wisely emphasised the importance of assigning a dedicated time to any such implementation, ensuring that a single unit is responsible for “owning and driving” the change that will come with it.
Finally, Evison gave an interesting overview of her tried-and-tested methods for mitigating the impact of change. She cited training as absolutely critical – taking in everything from explaining to core personnel why the change is taking place, prioritising the implementation against other projects, right through to implementing an internal communications strategy that will actively involve all members of the business in the ongoing process. In closing, Evison stressed her own mantra for change management: keep it communicated, and keep it simple.
[pullquote_right]Retail is, at its heart, quite simple, and it is the retailers themselves who tend to complicate matters unnecessarily.[/pullquote_right]The next of the afternoon’s presentations was given by Elle Thompson (VP PLM and Special Projects) and Jean-Michel Kientz (VP IT), both from legendary New York design house Marc Jacobs. With Kientz approaching matters from a business perspective, and Thompson offering a more personal insight into her own PLM journey with the company, the pair delivered an enthralling presentation that touched on every stage of change management. While Kientz focused on the business impact of enterprise-level change and provided some fascinating insight into the way things are run at Marc Jacobs, Thompson drew on her own personal experience of managing a PLM project within one of the world’s leading luxury brands. Beyond this, too, Thompson went on to speak about what she called the “next frontier” of enterprise solutions. She specifically mentioned image management, costing, tracking and integration to ERP, but from speaking to Thompson after her presentation, it’s clear that she firmly believes in “joining the dots” over the coming two years, and ensuring that Marc Jacobs is able to derive the maximum possible benefit from investments in both core and E-PLM.
Both Thompson and Kientz left the stage to raucous applause.
The penultimate session of the day was delivered by Florent Davain, CIO of multi-brand group Verywear. Davain’s was an involved presentation, looking in great depth at the specific implementation and migration scenarios that had taken place in each of the company’s four retail chains.
Following a short coffee break, Giorgio Loiodice (Corporate Presales Director) and Amandine Roy (Senior Presales Consultant) of TXT delivered a two-stage presentation examining best practices within integrated planning and PLM. By their own admissions, Loiodice and Roy approach things rather differently. Loiodice is a consummate professional, focused on delivering a thorough demonstration of the company’s solutions through figures and architecture; Roy is interested more in how those technological foundations can support the other core component of the retail, footwear and apparel industries: creativity. Theirs is a pairing that works well.
Loiodice began the presentation by explaining how the TXT Perform planning platform was built from the ground up, using Microsoft’s robust and flexible stack. He emphasis its full integration to Excel (where the majority of his demonstration takes place), explaining the company’s belief that the spreadsheet tool is powerful, flexible and familiar enough to be the ideal solution for most needs. He goes on to demonstrate TXT’s intuitive, Sharepoint-based PLM solution, citing its support for multi-dimensional, attributes-based modelling, robust workflow and flexible hierarchies.
Loiodice’s demonstration takes in store planning, KPI management, user-based roles, and merchandise and line planning. It is in line planning that TXT appears to see the most obvious interface point with PLM, as the latter takes the framework established in the planning stages and begins to flesh it out. It was Roy who then picked up the demonstration, explaining how image-based research, mobile storyboard capture and trend spotting, and collection development round out the functionality of the TXT suite. Loiodice returned to the stage to demonstrate how the data created at this stage is used for the purposes of sourcing and assortment planning, completing a full product lifecycle within the TXT ecosystem.
As the event drew to a close and delegates began filing their way out into the Paris streets, I had the opportunity to discuss with Patrizia Calvia of TXT the way that the company is choosing to approach the concept of extended PLM (E-PLM). During Loiodice and Roy’s demonstration, the interface point between planning and PLM appeared so seamless and obvious that I couldn’t help but wonder why this separate approach was taken during this and the day’s other presentations. As it transpires, the company does believe in embracing E-PLM, and it does so under the banner of “merchandise-led PLM” – integrating the aforementioned planning data into design and innovation. As the company’s CEO, Chairman and a host of other employees mentioned, TXT’s technology is the backbone of the creative process at an imposing number of the world’s highest-profile fashion and luxury retailers. This fact only supports the assertion that technology as a whole supports creativity, and Calvia explained that a specific emphasis was placed on planning and collection development during the day’s presentations, because these are typically implemented at different speeds by different organisations, in line with their unique requirements and business challenges. That said, Calvia was keen to point out that the underlying strategy has always been to connect the two areas seamlessly, and that this is a cornerstone of TXT’s end-to-end approach to PLM.
[quote]The company does believe in embracing E-PLM, and it does so under the banner of “merchandise-led PLM”.[/quote]
This brief conversation lent some additional context to what had already been an exceptionally well-attended and fascinating event – particular for its insight into the scope of some of today’s highest-profile PLM implementations, and their typical starting points. The TXT team had crammed a great deal of content into a rather short space of time (with the morning session being particularly dense), but the richness of the presentations and sparkling delegates list both go to show just how much of a draw PLM has become for even the world’s most seemingly-traditional luxury firms.
I’m sure I speak for the entire WhichPLM team when I say that I am looking forward to future Thinking Retail events immensely – particularly if they are able to attract a similar calibre of speakers and delegates.