Product Lifecycle Management systems (PLM) have reached a tipping point in fashion enterprises.
While the traditional usage for fashion PLM has been to simplify design and streamline the manufacturing and production processes, a new level of PLM usage is driving the software as central to forecasting and also as an information hub that links planning to supply chain and brings social engagement in the form of a flexible non-hierarchical communication structure.
This step change matters because as fashion PLM moves from support for other functions to the platform that hosts other functions, the companies that fully utilise an effective PLM system will find that the way they develop products will change. PLM as a maturing technology is likely to flatten the authority curve in an organisation because it’s equally available to, and exploitable by, anybody working in the fashion industry.
Product development is the life blood of fashion
Product development is the life blood of fashion and any organisational system that supports change is likely to generate benefit for the organisation using that system. The value of fashion PLM is that it is a change-based system while the spreadsheet approach to product development is inimical to rapid change because spreadsheets were an accounting function. Audit and accounting disciplines require the ability to mark a specific moment in time – as a result, spreadsheets were designed to be static yet they are being used by fashion houses to monitor productive flow – a misapplication that often leads to frustration.
Fashion enterprises are beset by twin track problems – those of failure and those of success.
The failure scale includes not managing production and delivery which can lead to unanticipated costs. Chargebacks can be a death blow to a fashion business and they are generally caused by poor quality or late delivered product. When fashion PLM eliminates the spreadsheet it reduces, or even eliminates, the risk of error proliferation in different versions of a design.
The problems of success are equally risky – as a business takes off, it can become more and more a firefighting organisation, putting out the fires of demand and struggling to stay on top of its brand message. This can lead to a lack of focus. Fashion PLM allows forecasting scope and brings time and space for a brand to plan by learning from success and building upon it.
Any fashion business will tend to veer between these two extremes until it develops enough maturity to be a stable entity. Given that fashion PLM has evolved at least as rapidly as the average fashion enterprise – and more rapidly than comparable product management systems – it will have incorporated the risk reduction structures that allow fashion businesses to avoid common failures whilst capitalising on successes.