BY CHRIS JONES | SEPTEMBER 14, 2023 | 9 MINUTE READ
The fashion industry is evolving rapidly, with fast fashion, sustainable materials, and shifting consumer demands influencing the market landscape. In this dynamic environment, an integrated Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution can be the backbone that supports streamlined operations, from ideation to product retirement. For fashion businesses, PLM tools offer an integrated approach to planning, design, sourcing, development, production, and distribution, ensuring smooth processes and timely deliveries.
So, how do you select the best Fashion PLM solution tailored to your business needs and goals? Let's delve into a checklist of the essentials.
1. Assess Your Business Needs
Before you can choose a PLM tool, evaluate what the business needs. If you can’t define both your current situation and your vision for the future, you’ll find it challenging to evaluate what you need, and you won’t be able to measure success.
Best practice process: Remember that technology supports your operations and should provide functions to enable those processes to be as effective and productive as possible. Define your vision for your ‘best practice’ end-to-end streamlined process and prioritise the sub-processes. Give the highest priority to the ‘back-bone’ processes and processes that will generate the most significant benefit. Further, by prioritising all your processes, you will develop your initial roadmap for evolving your PLM solution. Don’t worry about perfection in your medium- and long-term priorities – you will learn much about your processes and new technology during the initial implementation. That new knowledge will be used to reprioritise for the second phase, and so on. Understanding what you need to achieve your immediate business requirements and vision for the future is vital to selecting the correct technology.
Size of your business: Solutions range from those catering to startups to global enterprise-level systems. A solution designed to support small businesses will not support enterprise requirements. Align with your 5-year strategic plan for business growth.
Geographical spread: Do you have international operations that require multi-language and multi-currency support?
Specialisations: Does your business focus on niche markets, like sustainable fashion or high-performance athletic wear, or does your company manage a broad range of categories, including non-RFA types? Would fashion-specific PLM or general PLM with fashion capabilities best cover your product requirements?
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2. Prioritise Key Features
Fashion PLM is a single element of the connected solutions that enable a digital value chain and the holistic data that provides the visibility and traceability required to boost the performance of the business. Of this one element in a digital value chain, Fashion PLM contains many features and functions that support many processes. If you don’t prioritise what your business strategy requires, you’ll be faced with an overwhelming volume of generic information. You must prioritise what you need to enable practical evaluation of potential solutions.
Features that support your prioritised processes: Based on your business needs, prioritise features that your PLM solution must have in the short term and those that it doesn’t need to have until the medium or long term. This will help the PLM vendors to focus on what you need initially and, for future requirements, what aligns with their roadmaps. This will give you a clearer view of how each vendor can support your business needs for a successful initial implementation and, in the future, as you evolve your PLM solution. Submit a 400-line list of every function possible with little detail and no clear priorities, and you’ll receive a proposal listing every function with little information on the depth of those functions. This will make assessing the software and making the correct decision for your business strategy much harder. Providing prioritised processes and a shorter list of required functions to support use cases will enable the vendor to build a better model of how they can support your priority processes. You can assess the current application's fit and the initial implementation's potential success more efficiently. The medium and long-term priorities can still be demonstrated or discussed within a roadmap. Still, for evolving your PLM solution, it’s more important to assess the vendor and how they will perform as a partner for continued future success.
Collaboration tools: Real-time communication, data sharing, collaborative planning, design development, and sourcing tools are essential to improving efficiency. These are the platform ‘basics’, which may be more challenging to enhance, so ensure they are fully functional and intuitive to users.
Integration capabilities: Ensure the PLM solution can integrate with the transactional systems, such as ERP, and the many non-transactional systems across the supply chain to enable connected data that ensures visibility and transparency across all your supply chain partners in a digital value chain. This can be via ‘out of the box’ integrations or APIs that can be configured, but it’s essential to understand whether integrations are manageable by the business in a phased manner over an extended timeline. After poor user adoption, integration issues are the most significant cause of delays, increased costs, and failed projects, so be aware! You can read more on integration within the fashion supply chain in The Fashion PLM Report 2023.
Scalability: The solution should be able to grow with your business, accommodating more users and products over time. How easy is it to scale from your current business size to your 5-year growth plan?
Analytics and reporting: The solution must enable you to track KPIs in real time, predict trends, and make data-driven decisions. Does the solution have embedded analytics, and how do they stack up to the off-the-shelf analytics solutions? If the PLM solution only provides reporting capability, how easy is it to create and amend reports, and what is the vendor’s solution to connecting a recognised analytics tool? Note that it’s essential to consider that ease of comprehensive integration is vital to create a digital value chain with high-quality ‘near real time’ data that provides a holistic view of your plans, products, and supply chain status.
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3. Usability and Training
Fashion PLM solutions can be complex, and changes may be applied regularly to a cloud solution. The user interface must be intuitive, minimising the learning curve for your team. The provision of an online Learning Management Solution by the vendor to enable flexible, remote, and tracked learning for your team is a big plus, as is the ability to add tailored learning for your unique process and configuration.
Flexible and tracked training: Opt for solutions that offer flexible, self-service training, webinars, and onboarding support that flexes with your team's day-to-day business demands but also summarise every member's progress and capability to ensure no one is left behind.
Simple online support: Check if the provider has high-quality online support and a dedicated support team for business-critical issues, including ease of logging and tracking requests of any priority.
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Given the diverse nature of businesses that offer fashion products, a one-size-fits-all PLM may not suffice. In this case, you must gauge if making customisation or configuration fits your strategy and whether this is something your team can support or if you’ll need additional vendor services.
Module-based systems: Some PLMs offer module-based structures, letting you pick and choose functionalities relevant to your operations.
Configuration or custom development: Is low code / no code configuration possible by your team, or do you need the vendor to make changes? Remember that no business has ever created its perfect solution at the first implementation. The business is constantly evolving, and so must your PLM solution. If your team can manage configuration changes, you can continuously improve your processes. If you need your vendor to apply custom development, then supporting all the processes in your best practice vision may be affected by budget constraints.
Custom development: Sometimes, you require a feature not included in the vendor’s roadmap. Can the vendor tweak the software to align with your unique processes? What are the commercial models for custom development: add to the roadmap, exclusive total cost, shared costs with the vendor, shared costs with other customers, etc.?
5. Vendor Reputation and Client Reviews
As mentioned, assessing the current product will provide the fit and potential success for your initial implementation. For guidance on the success of the evolution of your PLM solution in the medium and long term, you will need to assess the vendor and their potential as a partner to support your future needs and success. Therefore, always research the reputation of the PLM solution provider.
Online resources: Check online reviews, testimonials, and case studies.
Reference site visits and interviews: Ask for references or connect with current users to understand their experiences.
Customer events: Ask to attend a customer event to understand the current product discussion topics and access a broad cross-section of the customer base to gauge their relationships with the vendor.
With the above options, you’ll be exposed to customers with excellent or good outcomes, and it is unlikely that any ‘horror stories’ will be disclosed. If there have been poor customer experiences with the vendor, you’ll have to find other sources to discover them.
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6. Cost and ROI Analysis
Cost, budget, and the return on investment to support your transformation are essential factors. A thorough understanding of current processes and expected outcomes from prioritised processes and functions implemented in a phased approach is vital to balance cost with budget and ROI to support a successful business case.
Implementation and running costs: Consider the upfront costs and long-term expenses like updates, training, custom development, and maintenance.
Additional resource costs: Consider the team resource cost of the implementation. Unless you can make provision, any subject matter experts in your implementation team may also need to contribute much time to the continued smooth running of your business. You may need to hire interns for data entry to ‘fill’ your system with a minimum of reusable data. You must train a core team that must dedicate some time to administration, maintenance, and continuous improvement.
Consider hard and soft benefits: Evaluate the potential ROI by assessing how the PLM solution can streamline operations, reduce time-to-market, improve product sustainability, decrease errors, and generate revenue via new categories or markets whilst enhancing the customer experience and brand image. There will be hard benefits, with an obvious dollar benefit, and soft benefits, for example, ‘improving design quality’ or ‘improving product quality’, which are hard to quantify but will improve sales volume, increase the percentage of full-price sales, and reduce returns. State some conservative assumptions that are open to being challenged. Include savings to OpEx whilst minimising CapEx with SaaS pricing. You may be surprised by the dollar values these have the potential to generate for the bottom line. They will create a business case with broad support if presented openly and honestly.
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7. Data Security and Compliance
Fashion designs, vendor details, and pricing information are sensitive.
Ensure the PLM solution has robust security features, including encryption and regular backups.
Check if the solution complies with industry standards and regional data protection regulations.
8. Test and Demo
Most vendors will offer a demo, but what type of demo you receive depends on your contribution. Recapping elements of section 2: If you provide the standard RFP list of 400 items, a high-level request ‘for everything’, you’ll get a standard demo. If you invest in understanding your current processes, define your best practice end-to-end process, and provide prioritised processes, use cases, and functions with precise detail for your immediate requirements, the vendors will invest in building a demo to showcase what your process workflow may look like in an initial implementation, and give you ideas on how current features or roadmap items will support your longer-term vision.
Once you have a tailored demo, request a hands-on session;
Test the software with a small team, focusing functional users on daily tasks to check for intuitive ease of use.
Note any glitches, lags, or limitations that might become hurdles in the future.
Request that technical users receive training or a workshop to understand configuration and integration within the tool. Ideally, this will be low code / no code, and the technical team can complete basic tutorials and Q&A demonstrations of complex integration to understand the level of effort required to support internally.
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Selecting the right Fashion PLM solution is crucial for improving the seamless functioning of your fashion business. By thoroughly understanding your needs, assessing available features, and considering factors like usability, configurability, cost, and the capability to integrate within a digital value chain, you can invest in a PLM tool that meets and enhances your operational capabilities. Remember, it's not just about buying software but investing in your business's future growth and efficiency.
Feel free to reach out if you’d like to discuss any aspect of this checklist.
CHRIS JONES, FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, JBSO GROUP
After originally training and working as an engineer, Chris joined a fashion services and technology company 30 years ago to implement ISO9001. Since then, he has helped drive transformation projects for over a hundred fashion brands, retailers, sourcing agents, and manufacturers to optimize their processes, supported by innovative technologies and concepts, working in offices, showrooms, and factories world-wide.
Also published on Linkedin: Choosing the Fashion PLM Solution for Your Business: Essentials Checklist (LinkedIn)