Product lifecycle management is becoming a vital part of the fashion business, but putting it in place may not be easy
Having a product lifecycle management (PLM) system is no longer viewed as a nice extra – fashion companies are starting to see it as a necessary tool to navigate an increasingly competitive and complex landscape.
PLM systems provide a unified way to manage a product’s creation, from conception through to design and manufacture. Everyone involved – both retailer and manufacturer – has a central source for product specifications, costs, timelines and so on.
The annual Drapers’ PLM roundtable, held in association with software specialist Lectra in London on 21 June, focused on how to get implementation right as more businesses march ahead with the introduction of PLM software.
Representatives from retailers, brands, suppliers and academia gathered at The Covent Garden Hotel to share their views on how to make introducing a new PLM system as seamless as possible. Around the table, all agreed that introducing PLM had become a bigger investment priority for fashion companies (box, right).
“The fashion business is getting more competitive and companies have to go even faster to keep up with increased customer demands. It’s more difficult to manage the complexity of it all – you need to do it in a more intelligent way,” said Lectra sales manager for northern Europe Dennis Van Haute.
Laurie Stewart, buying and global sourcing lead at Shop Direct, which is in the process of introducing a new PLM system, said its decision to invest was driven by fast-changing customer demands: “If you think about the pace of change with the consumer, you have to reflect that internally. There’s no option to stand still.”
Pentland Brands lead analyst Matthew Parsons, who helped introduced PLM into its business, said digital-savvy workers have helped drive its adoption: “Digital natives are now entering the workforce. They ask: ‘Why are we using email and Excel? Why can’t I use an app?’”
Those who had introduced PLM systems warned not to underestimate the scale of the task.
Parsons said Pentland failed to understand the level of cultural change that would be required when adopting its PLM system: “We needed to transform the way we do business as a result of PLM.”
Getting your business ready for change should start before the software is implemented, and buy-in across the organisation is critical.
You need to make sure it’s not seen as a negative thing. People need the business benefits explained
Helen Hindley, London College of Fashion
Lectra sales director for the UK Richard Jessup said not selling the PLM project internally to all stakeholders is a common mistake: “People who are affected often don’t understand that they have an important part to play in the integration and success of a new system, or how it will help them personally to be more efficient. Buy-in is needed from all parts of the business. If you don’t have it, the success of the PLM project could be at risk.”
Helen Hindley, lecturer at the London College of Fashion, said workers can be reluctant to embrace new software: “They worry it highlights that you haven’t done what you’re supposed to. You need to make sure it’s not seen as a negative thing. People need the business benefits explained.”
Shop Direct has a dedicated, full-time team to manage PLM integration. It includes representatives from IT and business units, which Stewart said ensures the retailer is “joined up from the start”.
There are also project sponsors from every role within Shop Direct’s product team, who Stewart said act as “ambassadors”.
On top of this, Evelthon Vassiliou, chief executive of supplier Alison Hayes, believes it is important to have a “high-level champion” of a PLM project – preferably the chief executive.
Getting support from within the company is just half of the battle – it is crucial that your supply base is also on board. Cycling sportswear brand Rapha has had a PLM system in place for four years, but its success was hindered by a lack of integration with its supply base. Rapha found that some suppliers were reluctant to use it.
Rapha technical manager Irene Dmyterko said it has taken the four years since the system was introduced to get one of its suppliers to use it: “They flatly refused. They needed that email trail. We were left with systems that don’t talk to the suppliers. It leads to a disjointed way of working.”
However, she insists that PLM makes life easier for suppliers: “Once they used it, they realised it was better for them.”
Vassiliou said some retailers are not keen to integrate their systems with those of their wider supply chain, which he puts down to a lack of trust: “We have to hire people just to do data entry on our clients’ systems, which are all different and don’t allow us to integrate easily. It won’t allow our system to talk to theirs, even if we volunteer to pay for implementation of the solution.”
Vassiliou urges retailers and brands to involve suppliers as much as possible when adopting PLM systems: “Allow us to integrate through our software. It’s about taking a broader view on whether you trust the people who supply you enough to consider them part of your system.”
Shop Direct views suppliers as a “partner and stakeholder” in its PLM project, said Stewart: “Before we get started we’re talking to suppliers and what it will mean to them. It’s about taking them on the journey.”
Van Haute said some of Lectra’s customers have brought suppliers into the PLM project. Companies are working in a collaboration with their suppliers. Some even co-invest in their suppliers’ organisation, providing new tools or paying for training and services to increase the level of engagement.
We need to make it work – together
Dennis Van Haute, Lectra
When it comes to implementation, working closely with your software provider to determine the steps in the process was recommended.
Van Haute said retailers can benefit from Lectra’s experience, as Lectra knows what is needed in terms of timing and resources. However, he said support is needed from clients to get the project right: “You can’t just expect the tool or your [PLM] supplier to make it successful. We need to make it work – together.”
Parsons said businesses need to be prepared to lose valuable staff members during the implementation process. Retailers also need to think beyond the go-live date. Problems may arise at any point, and tweaks to processes and practices may be needed to get the most from PLM.
Stewart said Shop Direct does not think of the adoption of PLM as a project that will have a clear start and end date: “It’s a programme that will evolve into an ongoing team.”
Vassiliou agreed and said organisations need to speak to the workers using the system regularly to ensure PLM is working for them: “When you talk to people, you learn so much. PLM is not a one-off exercise – it needs to be revisited constantly if it is to become part of the business’s culture.”
Changing business culture is not easy, but through proper planning and working collaboratively with employees, software providers and clothing suppliers, a seamless transition is possible that will allow businesses to reap the rewards of PLM.
- Catriona Doyle Product development manager, Rapha
- Irene Dmyterko Technical manager, Rapha
- Mark Hambly Lecturer, London College of Fashion
- Helen Hindley Lecturer, London College of Fashion
- Laura Morroll Managing consultant, LCP Consulting
- Matthew Parsons Lead analyst, Pentland Brands
- Laurie Stewart Buying and global sourcing lead, Shop Direct
- Evelthon Vassiliou Chief executive, Alison Hayes
- Elizabeth Brandwood Marketing manager, fashion, Lectra
- Richard Jessup Sales director, UK, Lectra
- Dennis Van Haute Sales manager, northern Europe, Lectra
- James Knowles Head of commercial projects, Drapers
- PLM: rising up the retail agenda. Click here to read the FREE Drapers/Lectra report.