First published in The PLM Report 2022, this instalment in our series of exclusive interviews celebrates the central role that product lifecycle management (PLM) has played in fashion’s post-pandemic recovery, and the various ways that PLM is laying the foundations for the future of technology ecosystem for fashion.

How do you define PLM, and how has that definition changed as the fashion industry has evolved?

We consider PLM the nerve centre of a fashion company throughout the entire process of product design. Before products are purchased, the PLM solution collects all relevant information in order to orchestrate collaboration between internal and external stakeholders and to monitor progress, identify issues and compare targets with actual values.

Originally, PLM was simply a place in which to store, in a flexible way, heterogeneous information around products. Often referred to as the “tech-pack,” PLM was the ideal destination for sketches, CAD information and technical remarks used to define product details for suppliers. But now, the increased variety of users and variables requires greater collaboration between the design team, the merchandising team, the QA team. More recently, incorporating the CSR and sustainability teams has further extended the required scope of the system. Modern PLM solutions must be able to improve the quantity of information and the ability to connect numerous people with rich data and timely updates. Including suppliers as an extension of the company required a technological change and the evolution of security to account for their presence within the network.

PLM is one of the key foundational technologies that can and will help to overcome the problems during and post-pandemic. Can you shed some light on how you see PLM supporting your 75+ customers during these challenging times?

PLM is the home of information for new products and collections. The technology improves collaboration across the extended product development lifecycle, making it possible to exchange information and communicate in a structured and digital way that provided critical support during pandemic-related lockdowns.

Working with PLM, all those involved in product development were able to contribute independently from their workplaces. Combined with advanced image rendering and multimedia content management, the technology was able to eliminate the need for on-premise meetings.

Even as lockdowns have eased and more people are able to travel, new and disruptive events continue to put pressure on supply chains and development lifecycles around the globe. These new challenges require the ability to identify alternatives and to extend the supply chain network in a more resilient manner. Once again, PLM can include this network information among the data required for product development. When an issue is identified, PLM data can be leveraged to identify and evaluate all possible alternatives to overcome the growing uncertainty.

Aptos has previously spoken about the time lost for designers when having to switch from one disconnected point solution (2D, 3D, CAD etc.) to another, in situations without a bi-directional integration between PLM and design software. Can you explain how extensive the integrations are between Aptos PLM and other solutions (Trend services, Adobe CS, Design CAD, Colour Management, CAM etc.)?

The world of design has recently seen some revolutionary advances in technology (3D being one of the most recent and exciting) that dramatically extend the capabilities inherent in original CAD systems. As a result, new actors became leaders in this vertical solution space alongside the existing traditional vendors.

Aptos PLM consolidates all the data from every actor in the new product lifecycle. The new vendors are completely open to native integration, and this makes it possible to build add-ins for a truly seamless work experience. A designer that creates a new sketch in Adobe Illustrator shouldn’t have to separately access PLM to share the result of their work. Instead, Aptos PLM is accessible inside Adobe to automatically connect the sketch to the library. All authorized PLM users will immediately see the images and the colours generated by the designer and will be able to use them where necessary. The original Adobe file will be stored in PLM and is accessible by users that have the appropriate permissions.

All the information pertaining to the raw materials can be extended with all the parameters required to be used in the modern 3D CAD. The result of a 3D modelling can be published in PLM to have a “virtual prototype” on which to perform the first fitting. Technical information like notes and Bill of Material can be shared among the CAD and the PLM.

Between Aptos and the previously acquired TXT business, you have spent almost 30 years in retail planning, product design and software development. This expertise has been channelled into a modern technology platform for Retail. Are all of your solutions (planning, product development, design, sourcing) fully integrated into your main platform? And are they able to share data between areas like financial planning, assortment planning, design & development and, ultimately, sourcing?

The processes that our clients and the fashion market adopt to support the business are continuously changing and improving to follow innovation. The introduction of fast fashion, globalization and the pandemic are just a few examples of milestones that drive change and require businesses to react and adapt quickly.

Our suite is continuously advancing in technology, functionality, and process vision to anticipate the next needs. Integration between modules is also evolving so that,  for example, an improvement in Assortment Planning will be captured in PLM as well. Merchandise and Financial Planning, Assortment Planning, Product Lifecycle Planning, Allocation Forecasting and Replenishment are connected by both functionality and data and this integration can be tuned based on the specific business context.

We defined a standard set of User Experience best practices that will ensure a seamless experience for every user, regardless of module. We are also enhancing the platform architecture to support what we call Reusable Business Assets. Each Reusable Business Asset (RBA) will focus on a specific set of processes and will be reusable in all of the modules of our suite. Completely accessible via APIs, these modules will be the centrepieces for complete Merchandise Lifecycle Management (MLM). Support for all business processes, including PLM processes, will be delivered via a combination of RBAs. When completed, we will no longer speak about “modules” but only processes and the integration will be simply a natural component of our architecture.

You offer a unique combination of PLM and Assortment Planning, to drive wholesale orders that flow seamlessly from product design to purchase order. Linked to our previous question, how extensive is your planning and PLM integration? Is it possible to support assignment planning, materials planning, and sourcing planning?

The integration of PLM and Assortment Planning is not a simple transfer of information and ownership. There are many touchpoints and the interactions between the various end users are very frequent and mission critical. The assortment strategy defines the targets for the collection to be sure, but it but also defines the guidelines for designers on PLM and it serves as an indirect input for raw material selection.

Colour palette and material palette are created in PLM and shared with AP as a guideline for the merchandiser during the definition of the merchandising plan. Carryover items are defined in AP based on historical performance figures and then published to PLM to inform the buyers of the products that should be reordered and checked.

New products (or variations of existing products) are defined in PLM and shared with AP to build the collection with all the items. The wedge is executed on AP along with target volumes that will be used in PLM for the RFQ.

Raw material requirements per unit are evaluated in PLM and target volumes from AP are used to calculate the total need. Evaluation of the material requirements curve over time is calculated in PLM based on the date of  the first allocation of the products, the lead time of material manufacturing and the logistics lead time associated with the various suppliers.

The monitoring of this complex scenario is not part of one single module but is managed by the “control tower:” the MLM dashboard that summarizes the entire collection lifecycle status.  As per the previous question on the evolution of our suite – these activities will be seen as a continuous business process and we’ll talk less about PLM and AP as modules – but as a collection or assortment creation process.

It’s encouraging to see that Aptos has integrated Higg Index standards (from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition) into its PLM solution. Can we ask you to share with our readers how this will enable your PLM customers to deliver impact measurements for their designs?

The Global Value project selected the Higg index as the most suitable tool to measure the impact on sustainable development. The index associates a synthetic evaluation of environmental impact to materials and products. The very complex supply chain in fashion, structured in multiple nested levels of subcontractors, can generate enormous difficulties for our clients when they need to provide transparency. The Higg Index provides the opportunity to ask for a material certification and use those values with a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment.

This is very important in a moment in which the law is starting to identify specific requirements for the sustainability area.

How do you see PLM supporting fashion’s wider recovery and its ongoing digital transformation over the next 2-3 years?

We do not see the era of disruption ending in the next 2-3 years. Therefore Aptos, as a software vendor, will be called to continue to enhance and extend our software to adapt to market changes. For our customers, adopting software as a service will help transform PLM into a more integrated part of a larger ecosystem of services.

The ability to strengthen the network of partners will be part of this process to ensure commitment to the same targets. Transparency for the supply chain will be a requirement for sustainability certification, and the ability to identify alternatives in case of unavailability from the preferred partner will become a standard rule in order to be competitive.

After the shock of the pandemic, digitalization has been greatly enhanced and now we see our customers wanting to more rapidly adopt modern technologies. PLM will continue to evolve to maintain its role as the collector of these technologies and information in order to support business requirement changes and to help retailers to adapt to them.