The advent of Covid-19 – with its resulting restrictions on travel and physical meetings – has changed the way business teams work and collaborate together, forcing almost all interaction online.
This trend has directed the spotlight onto Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), a software solution already widely adopted by companies in the fashion sector across North America and Europe, but only recently becoming a focus of businesses in Australia.
“It’s not a question of how much return on investment PLM adoption can bring – rather it is whether apparel brands can survive without a PLM solution moving forward,” explains Graham Jones, sales director ANZ at Centric Software.
PLM is best described as an end-to-end collaborative system that allows multiple people in different departments of a company – along with suppliers and external partners – to seamlessly monitor and manage product initiatives, from the initial idea and design stage all the way through to sourcing, manufacturing and ranging it.
The result is what Jones describes as “a single source of truth” for everyone in the project, bringing an end to inefficiency and waste.
“For example, at any time you know the current bill of materials for a pair of shoes. You’ll know if this version was the one that was used for the prototype, or that one was used for the one approved for the production run. So everybody knows exactly which one it is. They don’t have to dig through emails and search file servers, and so forth.”
Jones cites an example of a manufacturer being forced to destroy a shipment of product because it was made to an older specification than the current version. A PLM system would have ensured only the latest specification could be found by the manufacturer.
Effective and efficient collaboration between teams using a PLM system can lower costs by reducing waste and speeding time to market, resulting in higher profits for brands and retailers alike.
Most Australian apparel companies are currently undertaking design at home, sourcing somewhere like Hong Kong, and contracting factories in China or Vietnam, for example. Communication is likely to be across several languages with teams using email, attaching documents and trying to use spreadsheets to track changes. “It’s chaotic,” says Jones. “PLM puts all of that into one system and structures it.”
Centric Software’s flagship software suite, the Centric 8 delivers a comprehensive end-to-end solution, starting with a product idea.
“If you’re out and about and you capture pictures on a mobile phone, you can put them into a placeholder even before the product has a name. From that idea, you can add colours, features and continue to develop the idea until it eventually becomes a product,” explains Jones.
“So Centric 8 works right from an idea all the way to the end where you have an assortment of products and customers all over the world, and you need to put your catalogue online so your customers can decide what they want to order.
“Our system covers sourcing, factory auditing, wholesale buying boards, everything. Meanwhile, our competitors tend to work in niches, such as development, or sourcing – none of them have that whole end-to-end solution.”
With the global pandemic amplifying the operational shortfalls for businesses without a PLM solution, Centric is seeing fast-growing demand for its software, especially in Australia.
“While some of the larger companies might have been managing alright prior to Covid, it got a lot worse afterwards, because you couldn’t correct problems by flying overseas to a factory or to have a face-to-face meeting with your sourcing company. People suddenly had to rely on their internal systems and electronic communications, which simply aren’t up to it.”
Every brand or retailer has the same problem – just on different scales.
A Silicon Valley-based company, owned by French-headquartered Dassault Systemes, Centric Software operates in 25 locations worldwide. Its Australian business is part of the Asia Pacific division, and its local clients include Kmart, which is about to implement Centric 8 across 400 staff and 800 people working with its supplier partners, PE Nation, and Best & Less.
Many PLM systems are cloud-based by nature, however the Centric 8 flagship version is compatible with Google, AWS and Azure, and the company has its own data centre clients can opt to use, as well.
“That means that we can keep our hosting costs down and be competitive where alternative PLM systems may be locked in to a specific cloud services supplier,” says Jones.
Watch this 3-minute video in which P E Nation’s head of operations Mark Rogers explains the need for PLM and how its adoption has boosted his company’s business.