Product Lifecycle Management Links Design, Development and Commercial Elements in the Fashion Value Chain
On February 19, 2014 Infor announced the availability of its new Infor Fashion Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution. Built from scratch, it is designed specifically for manufacturers of apparel, footwear, accessories, luxury goods, and textile companies. Although the product itself is brand new, Infor leverages decades of experience in the fashion industry, designing a product that can be sold and run as a stand-alone solution, or as part of a suite that also includes enterprise resource planning (ERP), product configuration and supply chain execution (SCE).
This latest addition to its vast product portfolio is further indication of Infor’s willingness to invest significantly in sectors it has selected as target markets. This is not Infor’s first or only PLM solution. In fact it already had not one, but two different PLM products designed specifically for the fashion industry. Both existing products had been acquired: Runtime by Infor and Freeborders by Lawson, which was later acquired by Infor.
Remodel or New Construction?
It may have been cheaper and faster to get from point A to point B starting with either of these two existing PLM products, but with such an approach, would point B really have been where Infor wanted to go? Infor decided instead to relieve itself of any constraints of prior functionality or technology and design and build from a blank sheet of paper what it viewed as its ideal solution. And of course that view of an ideal solution is heavily influenced by its prior experience with Fashion and with PLM.
In deciding between starting from scratch and modifying an existing product, a lot can be learned from the construction industry. There is a reason why those televised “extreme” home makeovers start with demolition. A remodel is constrained by the existing footprint, foundation and infrastructure. Brand new construction can take advantage of the experience and creativity of the designer, as well as all the latest innovative technology.
The same is true for Infor product development. One of the hallmarks of next generation enterprise software is the ability to bring a new user experience to the game. By changing the way people engage with the software, you draw people to the applications instead of encouraging them to work around them. And that is exactly what older solutions did – encouraged work-arounds. They were based on a hierarchical series of menus that required some knowledge of how the solution and the underlying data were constructed. That would be like requiring a homeowner to have some rudimentary knowledge of the electrical wiring in order to use the appliances.
This level of knowledge requirement was a direct result of software engineers designing the user interface. For them navigation and system operation was intuitive. But it might not have reflected how people really worked. This is why software developers don’t design the user experiences of new Infor products.
Enter Hook & Loop
Instead Infor has its internal design agency, Hook & Loop design the new user experience. These are creative types that don’t presume to understand the underlying business process going into the game. Instead they go ask the people who will be using the solution how they work, or want to work. This of course works much better when designing new software than when remodeling existing solutions with pre-defined processes.
Of course in this case a picture will speak much louder than words. Those interested should actively seek a demonstration and insist on seeing different layouts of the same data and perhaps even ask to watch the configuration process. This is not your father’s PLM.
New ways of collaborating are also delivered more effortlessly through the use of new advanced technology. Can these types of technology innovations be brought to existing products not natively built on newer platforms? Maybe. But it certainly isn’t as easy as when they are built in. While this is an important consideration in designing any application, it is particularly so in PLM for the Fashion industry.
Empowering Creative, Technical and Commercial Teams
Managing the lifecycle of a product is a team sport. But all too often teams forget this and think about PLM primarily as the vehicle by which new products are launched, throwing a design over the wall to be produced. When PLM is used to manage the lifecycle of a hard good, whether it is for industrial or consumer use, typically it is a group of engineers that are first engaged. These engineering types are at least tech-savvy and perhaps even drawn to enterprise applications. Not so much when the product in question is more of a soft good like apparel, footwear or accessories. These are not designed by technologists but rather by fashonistas. So the experience of using a PLM solution better involve drawings and pretty pictures, with the technical stuff buried deep under the covers.
This also makes managing anything after the initial design that much more of a challenge. Of course they want their designs to be commercially successful but they leave the merchandizing of the product to others. And they are even less interested in the development –the nuts and bolts of steps in between where materials are sourced and product is produced. It is the classic left brain versus right brain or “logical” versus “creative” discourse. Whether you believe in this general classification or not, there are differences in the roles different types of people play in life and in business.
Whether they realize it or not, in managing the lifecycle of a fashion product, all have a common goal: Shorten the time to market and increase the likelihood of consumer acceptance. And businesses are more successful in achieving this when all constituents in the process work cooperatively and collaboratively together. What it comes down to is better communication and technology can either facilitate or inhibit that communication.
And Infor Fashion PLM provides a platform of communication that can be easily tailored to appeal to either side of the brain that happens to function best.
“Best of Breed” or Integrated Suite?
This level of communication and collaboration is not only required of the people involved, but also can be facilitated (or inhibited) by the integration of different enterprise applications, in particular PLM with ERP and SCE. Early on in the development process Infor must have considered different alternatives: to build Infor Fashion PLM right into one of its ERP solutions or to build it as a stand-alone solution. Infor actually chose the latter and will use Infor ION technology to connect to ERP.
In doing so, a larger potential market can benefit from this solution, but is that what the market wants? Infor is giving customers the option and best of both worlds thanks to XML and Infor ION technology. Over the past three decades ERP companies have expanded their solution footprints, partly as a growth strategy but also because the vast majority of companies using ERP prefer a single integrated suite from a single vendor. Preliminary results from our 2014 Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study confirms this but also finds most will be cautious before sacrificing functional requirements for ease of integration or a single vendor (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Preference is high for an integrated suite
Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study
As implied earlier, the requirements for PLM in the Fashion industry differ substantially from companies using PLM to manage the lifecycle of hard industrial or consumer goods. While the new Infor Fashion PLM solution will not be the only one its kind, it will be the newest, at least for the time being. And it will be able to boast the latest and greatest in technology in terms of .net, user experience, speed and related innovation.
However, it will also need to be integrated to at least two of Infor’s ERP solutions, the two best suited for the Fashion industry. These are Infor M3 (acquired from Lawson) and Infor System21, acquired from JDA. Each has made a name for itself in Fashion and accumulated a loyal installed base.
The development platform and the Infor ION purpose-built middleware also make it relatively easy to integrate with other non-Infor ERP solutions, but these are not likely to be available “out of the box” and therefore will either be less tightly integrated, or require additional effort and cost.
Infor has definitely chosen the path less traveled in delivering a brand new, built from scratch PLM solution for the Fashion industry. Leveraging its expertise in this industry gained through both acquisition as well as experience, it should hit the market with a level of maturity unusual for a new product. Combining this experience with a state of the art development platform and advanced Infor ION technology, it may very well leapfrog its competition with a powerful solution that will empower organizations with “all the tools to convert creative concepts to commercial products more rapidly and accurately.”