Faster to market and right first time – product life-cycle management is bringing enduring benefits to businesses of all size and shape
managing director, Karer Consulting (UK)
What do you see as the biggest benefits that PLM can help businesses to achieve?
We see it as one of the three main processes within a company, being the focus of the product information. We see it working alongside the other major processes of supply chain management and customer relationship management. With its focus on products, PLM can help to deliver products faster to the market, to get them right first time, and to ensure they comply with regulations. A lot of products these days require full traceability, so that last point is increasingly important.
What is the best way to implement PLM within a company?
Our view is that there is often with PLM projects too much emphasis on designing functionalities and not enough on understanding the processes that already exist within the business, and integrating and improving them using the PLM tools. The key is to understand the products and services that are at the heart of the company and the people and business processes at work.
How does that approach differ from the way that PLM has been tackled in some companies in the past?
At Karer Consulting we believe that all companies are different and there is never likely to be a “one size fits all” PLM system. Our job as consultants is to understand our clients’ business processes and to use the elements of PLM to enhance the business as a whole, throughout the entire lifecycle of the products. Making business processes fit the PLM system is wrong; we should use the PLM system to improve and augment the processes. Our first question to our customers always is: “What is it that you want to achieve?”
PLM had a fairly chequered history in its early years. Is PLM now here to stay?
I believe very firmly that it is, but I think you have to regard PLM as a series of processes that surround the product, its creation, its deployment and through its entire life-cycle. In the past, maybe it was too centred on the design and development side. Now we can see the benefits are much wider. And I can see it will spread to new sectors, such as consumer goods and even financial services. They have products: PLM can work for them too.
managing director, Which PLM
What are the benefits that investment in PLM can bring to companies you deal with?
We specialise in the fashion and apparel industries and the key benefit is a reduction in the time it takes to bring products or services to market while maintaining the right level of quality. If you look at business systems such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), you’re often shaving off just a few seconds in generating a bill or other paperwork. With PLM, you’re potentially saving hours, days or even weeks. And when you extend that across the whole international supply chain, you begin to see compounded benefits accumulating over time, and then it becomes a really huge advantage. Are businesses in fashion and apparel well
informed about PLM?
It varies, which is why our consulting arm, PDP Limited, was established – to help companies get the best return on their investment. That impartial service involves not only finding systems, but implementing them, and it’s something we have done for some of the biggest names in our industry. There are some 45 to 50 vendors offering systems that can be used by our industry today. Larger enterprises may be well-informed about the potential benefits of PLM because solutions have historically been marketed to that demographic. Now we are beginning to see more solutions pitched at the SME sector alongside a reduction in their total cost of ownership. More affordable out-of-the-box solutions can generate substantial return on investment for those smaller businesses.
Your company offers a PLM benchmarking service. How does that work?
We’ve been in this business for more than 20 years, and we saw a gulf between the promise of PLM and consumers’ understanding of the true capabilities of the various fashion-specific solutions. It works both ways, though; some of the larger PLM vendors don’t necessarily know a lot about processes unique to the apparel industry, and retail and fashion-focused suppliers aren’t always up to speed on how big PLM firms worked. So we built a bespoke software “comparison engine” and put it on our industry news and tools site, to enable companies in the industry to cut through the marketing bluster and compare what was actually on offer in terms they can understand.
Where will benchmarking now lead to?
We’ve developed a full benchmarking service and so far 13 PLM suppliers have participated demonstrating real faith in their solutions. We share the high-level results of those benchmarks, enabling prospective customers to get real, in-depth knowledge based on independently verified and objective facts. We’ve also conducted an in-depth customer survey, and recently we have begun providing executive recruitment services for both PLM suppliers and retail and fashion businesses. Our newest ventures are in PLM certification and training, and in providing core reference data on the web.
director and partner, Minerva Group
What are the business drivers that encourage companies to adopt PLM?
The top ones are the time pressures to get new products to market without adding a lot of extra resources, and the life- time of products actually is constantly being reduced. But more widely in the developed economies we have lost a lot of the production and that means we have to be more innovative all round. We have to be world class in innovation. And that is a driver too.
So does that mean that PLM is essentially a design and development tool for innovation?
No, in fact I believe there has been too much focus among the PLM vendors on research and development. Of course it is important, but you also need to bring in colleagues from procurement, you need to know about environmental regulations and many other things. What PLM should be about is bringing products to market faster and how we collaborate with all the people involved internally as well as externally, not just the blue sky thinkers and not just the mechanical design people.
How well served has the PLM market been by the current systems developed by the major PLM vendors?
There are several issues here. One is that smaller companies still have the same challenges as bigger ones; they also have complex products and they have pressures to get them to market quickly. But the PLM systems from the big vendors have a cost structure geared to the big companies and that’s a problem. And there are lots of different modules, and you find the bit you want isn’t in the package you bought, so that’s more cost. Then there are problems in the culture and understanding. A lot of these systems originated in engineering, built up from original computer-aided design packages. Procurement people and marketing don’t think the same way.
At Minerva you have been pioneering a different business model for PLM. What is different about it?
We were working with the major PLM vendors and we saw smaller as well as larger companies were having a difficult time. We could see that the PLM business was driven by very narrow competition and that prices weren’t really coming down. And then we discovered this PLM software called Aras. It is open source and what that means is that it is free to download: fully functioning, based on modern technology but free. It’s really starting to rock the boat now.