Apparel, Retail and Consumer Goods: PLM Selection Considerations


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PLM vendors for the Apparel, Retail and Consumer Goods market segments can be classified based on their origin.  The selection of the right PLM vendor for your company, in part, may depend on matching your company’s culture with the vendor’s background. The PLM vendors’ backgrounds fall into 4 categories.

1. Engineered Products

Several of the larger PLM vendors have their roots in highly engineered products. They started in aviation, electronics and manufacturing industries. Their legacy applications were typically UNIX-based and provided integration with CAD/CAM systems. Several can be traced back to a common Windchill development environment. These systems were typically focused on configuration control and tracking. (The QA approval for a particular lot of rivets must be linked to the exact part they were used on and the particular aircraft where the part is installed.) Originally the products had long lifecycles but as these vendors moved to electronics, lifecycles became shorter. Dealing with shorter lifecycles positioned these vendors to move into our target market. The arrival of browser-based graphical user interfaces and the technology move from UNIX to PC workstations (Windows and Macintosh) set the entry into the Apparel, Retail and Consumer Goods markets.

2. Extension of a CAD System

Another set of vendors entered the market via pattern making systems. These companies had pattern systems in place at apparel customers and creating an application to generate “tech packs” was a logical extension to the pattern systems. The early versions of these products were PDM systems rather than PLM, but again the technology changes allowed these vendors to move from PDM to PLM as they moved to browser-based systems. These applications tend to be focused on fit, sampling, BOM and costing functionality, as these functions were core to their PDM roots.

3. ERP add on

A third group of vendors were supplying ERP and/or sourcing applications to the Apparel, Retail and Consumer Goods market. As they modernized the systems’ databases and also implemented browser- based interfaces, it was a logical step to increase their user base by implementing PDM/PLM functionality. As you might expect, these systems tend to focus less on design and more on merchandising, logistics and delivery of the products.

4. Started in the Apparel / Retail / Consumer Goods space

The last group of vendors started as Apparel, Retail and Consumer Goods PLM systems; the majority were started by those who worked for, or with, other PLM systems. They saw missing functionality or new technology not yet embraced by the other vendors. They had the advantage of starting from scratch but also the disadvantage of having to build an entire application along with an infrastructure for their support and sales staff.  These vendors’ applications are usually based on a development environment  (i.e. Microsoft Dynamics), a particular database technology or a “cloud-based” implementation. Since they started from scratch implementing the latest technology is easier than a vendor with legacy code to support.

Considerations

While the origin of a vendor is not the critical factor in a PLM system selection, it can be useful to help determine if the vendor is a fit for your organization. If you have highly engineered products (outdoor apparel or lingerie for example) then a vendor from an engineering tilt may be an advantage. If you have a large diverse user base, an established vendor with an extensive support infrastructure may jump to the front of the line. If your IT department consists “early adopters” then a start-up may be the best fit.

One PLM for all

The philosophy or approach of your company is another consideration in the PLM vendor selection. Some companies want each department to have the best in class tools for their function. This approach means integrating multiple departmental applications into a single “PLM” system.

Other companies will pick the PLM system with the best “overall” capabilities, even at the expense of a particular department using a less than fully functional application. This is indicative of the company’s organizational structure: top-down or bottom-up; whether individual department heads get to make decisions or whether these decisions are dictated from corporate (usually IT).Modular

If your organization is a bottom-up business (departmental decision-makers) then vendors whose applications are modular may get the advantage. Modular systems allow for more flexibility in integrating additional tools with the PLM system.  It may go as far as buying components from multiple PLM vendors to create a mixed breed PLM system.

Established

Top-down organizations tend to like to work with fewer vendors. They are likely to pick a PLM system from an existing vendor – their ERP vendor or their pattern system vendor for instance. They will use “adequate” tools in some areas in order to get support from a single vendor.

Business Processes

Your organization’s acceptance of process change is another consideration when selecting a PLM vendor. If your business processes are defined and in place then your PLM system will need to mirror your processes. If one of the reasons to implement PLM is to define new business processes (or re-define existing ones), then your new business processes can mirror the PLM system. In either case the ability of the PLM system to support modifications is key. Some PLM systems are “hard-coded” and require custom programming to alter how they are implemented. Other systems are “configurable” allowing administrators to setup or change how data is represented in the system. Of these configurable systems, there are two approaches. In one, administrator dialogs are used by the system to present configuration options. In the second, XML control files are used to modify how the system works. In the latter case it often becomes more like customization programming than “configuration”.

OOTB

If your organization is set in its ways, finding a vendor who can configure their PLM system to your processes will be beneficial. If your organization is flexible and willing to change, finding a vendor with an OOTB (Out of the Box) version of its PLM system will make the implementation go much faster.

System Integrations

The last consideration I want to put on the table for discussion involves system and data integration. In every PLM implementation I have been involved with system and data integration was a requirement at some level. PLM vendors have taken two approaches; one, provide an open database model allowing for easy data access for integration; two, provide a proprietary database that requires the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to access your PLM data.  Open database solutions tend to fit better with companies who have internal IT resources to perform their integration. The use of APIs tends to require the PLM vendor (or an approved contractor) to perform the integration.  Both methods can be successful; again. it depends on the resources and priorities of your organization.

I hope this article highlights the important considerations in selecting a PLM vendor/system that is not on your typical RFQ system functionality checklists.

Adobe Releases CC2015; Why are you still using CS6?

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On June 30, 2015 Adobe released Creative Cloud 2015; Creative Cloud is now over two years old but I find many companies hanging on to CS6. My question is, why? Here is what should be considered.Misconception: Some think that Adobe Creative Cloud applications are “cloud-based”; that they run on a remote server. This is not the case; the applications are still downloaded to your workstation and installed just like they were from a CD or DVD. The applications run on your computer.

Licensing: What has changed is the licensing and payment strategy. Adobe now uses a subscription-based model for licensing; you “rent” the application by the month (with a discount for paying for a year at a time). Applications available individually or “bundled” so you don’t necessarily have to subscribe to the entire suite. Previously you purchased a license for the application and if you included support, you could get free updates to fix bugs. This model also included bundling of the application or purchasing individual applications. Under the purchased license strategy you were required to buy upgrades for each major release; typically at least every two years. In my opinion, over a period of several years the costs to use the software is close to the same. The advantage to the consumer is Adobe’s Creative Cloud now includes many useful features that were not available under the old licensing model.

Budgets: When Creative Cloud was initially released, I heard several arguments regarding “double dipping” – “we have already paid for CS6, why should we begin paying a monthly subscription too?” This may have had some validity during the first rollout as Adobe didn’t provide any “credit” for existing licenses (like they do for an upgrade). Now that we are on the third release of CC, you have gotten your money’s worth from your CS6 purchase. The other argument regarded “capital” vs. “expense” budgets; purchases are regarded as capital expenditure and subscriptions come out of the expense budget. I have found that using the subscription model, many companies can actually save money. One example is the use of contractors during peak times; the contractors can be assigned a license on a monthly basis rather than consuming a purchased license.

Software updates: Initially IT departments had a major valid concern regarding updates on the applications. Creative Cloud initially allowed each user to decide how and when to apply application updates. This could lead to support issues when users are on different versions of the applications. Adobe released Creative Cloud for Teams (targeted for up to 150 users) and Creative Cloud for Enterprise (over 150 users) that allows an administrator to control the installation and update processes. It also allows for easy transfer of licenses among users. With Team and Enterprise version, IT actually has more options and control than under the CS6 versions.

Integration support: Another concern is the support for integrations between the Adobe applications and other business systems and processes. From experience, I am aware of the burden Adobe has placed on integration providers. Prior to Creative Cloud Adobe released major releases on a pre-defined basis (yearly or longer) with only minor updates in between. Now the release cycle has accelerated and major features can be added at almost any time. This presents a challenge to vendors who provide integration products and services. The vendor must constantly monitor the pre-release programs so they can prepare for the updates. Even with participation in the pre-release, testing must be completed on the final Adobe release prior to providing updates to the integration. With CC2015, the final release was provided with the public announcement, requiring a delay of integration support. If your vendor is not keeping up, alternative integration strategies may be required.

Advantages of upgrading to CC:Besides the technical issues involved with continued use of CS6 (incompatible file formats and lack of hardware/OS support), there are significant productivity advantages of implementing Creative Cloud.

  • File storage options

While your files can be stored in Adobe’s Creative Cloud storage, you can still save your files in your current storage locations. You can take advantage of cloud storage when it makes sense while still keeping your important IP files in your secure servers.

  • Shared assets

You can create libraries of assets that you can share with others. Share with colleagues or vendors depending on the asset. Logos, colors, fabric swatches, construction details and almost any reusable asset can be organized into libraries.

  • Mobility and multiple devices

Use your libraries and cloud storage to make your files and assets available at work, home and while traveling. You can sync your settings so your workspaces are identical whether at home, work or mobile.

  • Access to additional applications

Since you can access application “by the month”, you can occasionally use additional applications as the need rises. In the Creative Suite you purchased a set bundle of applications; Creative Cloud has more “bundled” sets of applications as well as individual applications available.

  • Licensing flexibility

With Team and Enterprise editions, you can re-assign licenses among users as required. You can add licenses for just a single month or pay for them for a year and move them among departments and divisions as their workload varies with their season. Freelancers and contractors can easily be accommodated without buying a copy of the application, just rent it.

If you are still using CS6, you owe it to yourself and your organization to explore Adobe’s Creative Cloud 2015.

*Disclosure: I am not an Adobe employee or representative and these comments are not endorsed by Adobe. E-Spec, where I am President and founder, is an Adobe Silver Solution Partner. 

Automate Your Publications with InDesign


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InDesign can produce a variety of publications from line sheets, sales lists, and collection reports to catalogs, look books and even labels and tech packs.Many of these documents share the same images; by using InDesign and linking the images, the user can maintain a single copy of the image. This drastically reduces the overhead of having to edit multiple documents every time a change is made to an image.

Illustrator as a Tech Pack Generator

As recently as last week I was shown a complicated tech pack that was created in Illustrator. It reminded me how people tend to use the tools that they are most comfortable and familiar with. Prior to the advent of PDM/PLM systems, Illustrator was a tool of choice for tech packs. Designers used Illustrator to create tech packs because that was the tool they had installed on their computer. It worked better than the other options available to them – Word or Excel – but Illustrator was not intended to produce this type of document. Illustrator is an authoring tool for images and graphic designs and was not meant to handle the pagination and layout issues addressed by tools like InDesign. InDesign is a publishing/layout tool, suited for creation of a variety of documents and reports.

When Adobe released CS3, many of our customers purchased the Suite for the first time; instead of buying Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat individually, Adobe sold the full suite for cheaper than the three individual applications. For most, this was the first time they’d dipped their toes into the InDesign pool. And as it turns out InDesign has a steep learning curve so, naturally, many ignored it completely despite the fact they owned it. InDesign would have been a better choice for the tech pack.

Adobe Logo Image

Rather than forcing Illustrator to manage the abundance of text and image required in a tech pack, an InDesign template could have place holder text boxes along with associated image containers. This template can force uniformity among the tech packs and make printing much easier. The user can populate the placeholders with objects from the shared library (requiring few edits for this particular style) and publish the tech pack.

Link Images & Data in InDesign

When images  that are created in Illustrator or Photoshop are placed into InDesign, they can be “linked” – meaning when the image is edited, the changes will appear in InDesign. The user can also launch Illustrator or Photoshop by simply right-clicking and selecting “edit original”. Once they save their changes, InDesign will also have the current image. This allows the user to use their authoring tools to create and maintain their images and use InDesign to create and maintain their layouts and publications.

edit original

In addition to linking images, InDesign can also link data. There are several methods (and commercially available tools) to link data from databases and even files to your InDesign documents. This can reduce data entry and typos as well as keeping the data accurate and up to date. There are even  tools that will link InDesign directly to your PLM systems. This provides users with self generated reports from the PLM system with little or no programming required.

Best Practices: Templates, Shared Libraries & PDFs

InDesign templates can be used to enforce business standards; ensuring each user’s documents comply with a standard “look and feel” and layout. InDesign documents created from the templates can act as place holders allowing the user to start the publication while the images are still being created in their authoring tools. Text boxes can hold places for data that has yet to be defined. This allows the publication process to run parallel with the creation process, shortening the time it takes to generate all of your documentation.

With InDesign Creative Cloud (CC), users can share libraries of images and assets that can be used across the company’s publications. Common images like logos and other branding can be standardized. Multiple users can access and work on the same publications as well as the images and content.

InDesign files can create PDFs for easy distribution. InDesign is also part of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) so your output can go directly to your website, tablet, phone or almost any other device.

Closing Remarks

If you are one of the many who have InDesign available to them but have not mastered its use, you should take the time to learn how InDesign can change your publishing processes. There are a multitude of resources on adobe.com as well as several other sites: tutorials, sample templates, ‘how to’ guides, etc. It does require some effort but it will be worth your time to produce professional publications efficiently.

InDesign is probably the most underutilized application of the Creative Suite or Creative Cloud applications. It has the power to change how you design, collaborate, communicate and implement your business processes. When combined with content creation tools (Illustrator, Photoshop, Word, Excel, etc.) InDesign becomes the hub for your published information. Include a content or digital asset management system to keep track of all the individual assets and the final InDesign output and you have a complete enterprise publishing system.

By using InDesign and linking the images, the overhead of having to edit multiple documents can be drastically reduced.

*Background vector designed by Freepik

Want to improve your webPDM experience?

If you are still running webPDM, you might need a health check.
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Are you experiencing:
  • “run-time” errors ?
  • browser timeouts?
  • print servers which must be restarted daily?
  • slower running speeds?
Some of the causes of your inadequate user experience may be caused by:
  • Hierarchy changes
  • files and images that begin to clutter your system
  • database records that were deleted –causing “orphaned” images and files
  • inactive users and user groups
  • un-purged log files
  • extra hardware that was never added even though additional users were
In a recent Health Check, we found over 27,000 orphaned images!
With our webPDM Health Check, you can extend and improve performance of your existing webPDM.increasing performance and decreasing run-time errors and system restarts.
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