Collaborative Technology Solutions are Critical to Retail Fashion Growth and Success
By Nancy Finnegan, BlueCherry PLM, CGS, Inc.
Picture this…Social media is showing a spike in ruffles. You have just put in an order for dresses. Imagine if you could immediately alert your designer to pull up the dress, add a ruffle and send the revised design to your supplier all before they wake up in the morning – AND…get notified they received it including any price adjustments. You approve and are on track with a hot pick! That is the power of PLM done right.
In today’s world, teams work in different time zones, different currencies, different languages and have their own roles and responsibilities. There’s the line sheet to review for next season’s line, and there can be anywhere from 2 to 20+ people that need to be involved in the process. There are also various sales channels, some that are direct to consumer and others that are providing products to big box stores. Every sales channel needs to know what sizes are available and where the images are for the new denim collection are so that they can provide accurate information on inventory. All of this is happening at a rapid rate and to top it off fashion trends are being driven by social media influencers which can change product details at a frenzied pace.
Today’s retail fashion industry demands that teams be able to react quickly to trends across all the multiple channels and brands they are managing. The daily workload is far more complex than ever imagined, and for every communication, new questions and data requirements are needed. There are fabric changes, quality issues, questions and comments that are just a necessary part of bringing a design through the production process.
Today’s technology finally supports product lifecycle management (PLM) and can provide retailers vast amounts of fast-changing information and seize on opportunities for growing sales. Another benefit is to be able to understand why products are being returned and make changes that can greatly improve a retailers’ bottom line.
What Is PLM?
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the process and technology of taking products through the entire process from the initial range and assortment planning through to production. With a solid PLM process and strategy in place, fashion retailers and their supply chain partners can quickly share and update critical product information to keep the process moving correctly. This gives them greater transparency into business activities and eases communication of key information.
It is worth looking at all of the key details in the PLM process. PLM applies to the entire product lifecycle, from concept to consumer and fashion retailers can use PLM to simplify, organize, classify and control literally millions or billions of pieces of data across multiple stakeholders. Here are the details of just how many parts of the process there are and how PLM unifies them:
- Planning – including financial, range and assortment plans
- Design – including digital asset management, line lists, fit/grading and color palettes
- Development – including sample tracking, construction, lab dips, costing, sourcing, licensing management and calendar management
- Materials Management – including raw materials library/management, purchase orders, lab dips, color management, sample tracking, inventory management, material requirement, sustainability and bills of materials
- Sourcing – including vendor management, vendor KPI’s, style management, purchase orders, UPC generation, SKU assignments, in-transit status and receiving
- Production – including production tracking, quality control, compliance and final approvals
PLM clearly plays an all-encompassing role in the development process, but today there also must be focus on key technology aspects which contribute to the success of the business. At the core of it, is configurable screens for the user community. We talk about teams collaborating but the reality is that each person needs to easily be able to access and input their key data points in the easiest way possible. We all know that data entry is tedious and a “one size fits all” screen approach just cannot work. A streamlined vendor portal must be deployed in order to gain adoption externally to the retailers’ organization. And as we all have come to expect with modern technology configurable dashboards are a must.
PLM Solutions and key integration points
A solid place to start is with an integrated product lifecycle management solution with fashion-specific data fields that can be easily configured to suit the business process. When PLM is the system of record for product information, all data collected during design, development and sourcing can flow seamlessly into ERP, B2C and B2B systems when and where it’s needed. This allows for product data to be managed throughout the omnichannel lifecycle without a lot of redundant data entry, scanning or emails between colleagues and suppliers searching for information. Data remains consistent and centralized. It is also important to think about key integrations with designer tools such as Adobe Illustrator.
Use Cases and The Big Payoff
The fashion industry is littered with stories about poor adoption of technology. Even once a retailer goes live with a new system, the usage of manual spreadsheets can continue for weeks, months and sometimes indefinitely. But with a new generation of PLM in the market, it is important that retailers make another attempt at implementing this mission critical system. Spring of 2020 has brought with it one of the most severe health crisis and business interruptions that we could have ever imagined. So, typical metrics of saving 8 hours here and 4 hours there seem trite as we struggle to save businesses and jobs. However, if there is ever a time for pulling together it is now and there is no doubt that collaboration on a global scale will continue far into the future.