First published in The PLM Report 2022, this instalment in our series of exclusive interviews explores a range of topics linked to PLM, from supply chain agility, to 3D, and the Metaverse.

How would you define PLM? And how has that definition evolved as the industry has evolved?

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is the strategic process of managing a product’s lifecycle from ideation, development, sales and even through to end of life. PLM software streamlines processes from end-to-end, which enables collaboration, innovation, strategic decision- making and reduces time to market.

Centric PLM™ helps companies introduce more products to the market with faster, better, easier and greener results, while producing better margins and reducing risk. The PLM landscape has changed drastically over the past 10 years and is now considered a mature and safe investment with measurable benefits. A modern PLM should be inclusive of ALL company sizes: small, medium, large, extra-large and all segments of fashion and consumer goods – Fashion, Sporting goods, Furniture, Home, Retail, Private Label, Cosmetics, Beauty, Food & Beverage, etc. as well as all players – brands, retailers, manufacturers.

Today, many companies are still not equipped with modern PLM that covers the entire process and are now realizing that they still manage their planning, product development and sourcing with a myriad of spreadsheets, outdated systems, old generation of PDM/PLM or manual and sequential processes. While onboarding new clients, we often discover that their existing processes and environments are very fragmented and not integrated, making them slow, rigid and at risk.

As companies are pushed by their customers to introduce more products, with more colors, more styles, more variations and at a higher frequency, the number of SKUs to develop per year is increasing dramatically. Spreadsheets and manual processes can’t support this level of growth and in turn, restricts the ability of these companies to scale fast enough to meet demand.

In addition to these complexities, companies face extreme pressure to lower costs, improve efficiencies, reduce environmental waste and maintain supply chain transparency.

Finally, the residual impact of COVID-19, including inflation and supply chain shortages are only adding to the growing list of instabilities obliging companies to invest in PLM and conduct the change quickly if they want to survive.

At Centric, we are replacing this chaos with the best-in- class Cloud PLM platform, single version of the truth enabling internal and external teams to collaborate effectively. We provide turnkey solutions to execute day-to- day operations and help companies make the best decisions possible to successfully face these complexities, instabilities and operational challenges.

We’ve been tracking the PLM market for many years. And it’s no secret that Centric has shown exponential growth over the last few years. Do you think that the market has entered a new phase of acceptance? Have we entered into an understanding that, essentially, everybody needs PLM now?

I agree that everybody needs PLM now. It’s becoming a must-have. Companies know that there’s a proven return on investment when they invest in Centric. We recently announced our 600th customer, a significant increase from the 500 clients we had in September. It’s an avalanche! And I think the reason why companies are massively selecting Centric Software is our very high customer satisfaction rate.

COVID-19 has only further reinforced this. Companies are under increasing pressure, they are closing stores, facing supply chain disruptions, shutting down factories and combatting increasing costs for transportation and raw materials. Their teams can’t travel anymore, many confined to working from home, the demand and supply is volatile. So, they need a system to improve collaboration and efficiency quickly but also to provide agility, resilience and speed immediately. These companies don’t have time to try a new PLM that’s not completely ready with promises for the future where nobody knows if/when it will work. They need security for their IT foundation, meaning PLM/ERP master data, and security in PLM today is Centric. Centric has a 100% go live rate and 97% satisfaction rate. It’s proven, it’s easy to use, and it’s easy to implement.

COVID has of course accelerated the need for that kind of supply chain transparency in relation to sustainability and agility, as well as things like digital product creation. These are all much more in demand than they might have been before. How do you see PLM contributing to something like supply chain agility?

It’s pretty interesting because our customers have taken advantage of Centric during this pandemic. Inside our Centric PLM we have an incredible sourcing module where users can simulate costing scenarios and very quickly evaluate multiple suppliers and options for their supply chain. In the past, customers worked with several preferred suppliers that experienced little to no change in their daily operations. Fast-forward to today, they are closing stores here, opening others there, getting caught in the middle of a war in Europe, seeing factories close in China over COVID-related concerns and so on. As such, we’re seeing companies forced to quickly evaluate more suppliers and prepare for future geographical or strategic change as well as for sustainability and ethical requirements. And so, they need a tool and new processes to support this. It can be very intense and tedious to evaluate and onboard new suppliers and their multiple factories, evaluate and iterate with each of them around thousands of prototypes for each new collection multiple times a year. If you have high number of SKUs to develop or require changing your sourcing strategy quickly and adapting your supply chain, you need an agile system and fast processes in place to be able to do it right without compromising on risk.

Sustainability brought its own deep requirements for traceability and transparency throughout the product development and sourcing processes. In Centric PLM you can monitor your carbon score which can sometimes become as important as monitoring margins!

In the large sustainability topic, PLM has its role to play because PLM owns 90% of the authority of the product information early in the process. This is where you select fabric, material, trims, vendors, factories, etc. If you really want to make the right decision about your new products while being sustainable, you need to know the carbon score or green score of your choices before it goes to your ERP and manufacturing/SCM system.

Centric PLM facilitates the implementation of new sustainability processes. It’s easy to see why companies don’t want to take a risk by implementing a PLM that’s not proven; they have so many initiatives to drive like sustainability, and there’s no time to waste on implementing the wrong PLM when there are more pressing matters to attend to.

Centric offers a special sustainability PLM program for its customers based on five pillars: carbon footprint, waste packaging management, supply chain certification, circular economy and social responsibility. Furthermore, Centric PLM is integrated with the Higg Index, TrusTrace, GreenScore and many other services that provide calculations and compliance information. We are a pioneer in this domain; the message from our Group CEO, Bernard Charlès, is that we are putting sustainability as our number one major initiative – bringing science, art, innovation and human intelligence, at the service of our customers for a better, greener world.

PLM is obviously one of the only systems out there that can give you that kind of visibility across the supply chain, and, show you how to reduce waste. Could you share with our readers some information on your planning module and how it’s integrated into the PLM solution? In terms of financial planning, assortment planning, and development planning. And why is it so important to link planning with PLM?

With the boom of eCommerce due to COVID-19, we’ve seen that companies have had to completely redesign the way they were forecasting and planning their collections because they can’t rely on the last two years’ worth of data. With stores closing due to the pandemic, re-opening during recovery, and supply chain challenges that have followed in the wake of these troubling times, companies are facing major issues with inventories and markdown. There is a huge need to better predict what to buy and align the plan with actuals. This where it is super interesting to have planning, assortment planning and replenishment integrated into the PLM.

There is also a need to accelerate and run planning & PLM processes in parallel instead of sequentially. There is a desire to plan, design, develop, source and sell faster, and perhaps skip some of the steps to respond faster to the demand. If you combine planning, 3D prototyping and selling quickly – i.e. on your website, Shopify or Amazon – you can very quickly test the concept, test the demand, connect with your customers and then develop in parallel. Those are the needs of the world we live in today not just for fashion but for all types of consumer goods.

There’s a huge appetite to link the planning process into PLM. This has driven our decision to offer integration at multiple levels; we’re building integration to exchange placeholder and product information; as well as to exchange sales and targets for each collection. We facilitate visual planning so that the images contribute to making the right decision. We are regenerating the entire process from design and sourcing to planning and buying. It’s a huge opportunity for customers for additional value creation and competitive differentiation.

Today, Centric is combining the best-of-breed PLM with Centric Planning to achieve these goals.

Let’s talk about 3D – the adoption of which has been famously slow for Fashion, but is now well established. Where do you see 3D working with PLM? And how does PLM support 3D and vice versa? What do you see with the use of 3D across your global install base?

Certainly, 3D has been slow to ramp up. Everybody wanted to embark on their 3D journeys years ago, but in reality, only a small portion of products were designed using 3D. It’s now ramping up much faster around the world. The reality is that our customers are using multiple 3D systems and still using 2D processes; there is no one leader in the domain. There are new technologies emerging all the time so, at Centric, we have decided to stay agnostic regarding 3D and to build a platform that we call ‘Centric PLM 3D enabled’, meaning that customers can use any type of 3D tools they want, and they will be connected to Centric. When you’re in Centric you can then visualize your 3D asset, manage, manipulate, comment your 3D materials and view the life of all your product (3D and 2D) on the same platform. We’re seeing that as a journey where our customers are now accelerating – and they love the Centric 3D strategy. We have a lot of customers using CLO, Browzwear, Optitex or SOLIDWORKS – we are integrating all these 3D assets into our Centric PLM repository to manage their lifecycle.

We’re also discussing multiple initiatives with our customers to link 3D to the Metaverse. The Metaverse is a bit abstract for many people, but a lot of customers are seeing Centric as a key partner in that space. We can’t disclose too much but we are working in several initiatives linking 3D and the Metaverse. This is exciting and we can imagine seeing users interacting with their 3D assets in the Metaverse, ordering product with everything made in Centric PLM and shipped to the person. There are a lot of scenarios where companies are investigating, where they see 3D and PLM as repositories for all their assets that they may then push to the real world or to the Metaverse world.

Centric has been a pioneer in the integration between 3D and PLM. We are permanently listening to our customers’ initiatives in that domain, and we accelerate with them. Between our 600 customers, there is no consensus on which direction 3D we go, so we are staying open, and our innovation will be based on initiative.

The Metaverse is obviously a relatively new concept for the Fashion space. We’ve talked a lot about the past including COVID, and how it’s changed the way we work. But if we look to the future, how do you see PLM supporting the recovery of the industry?

It may seem surprising but there are still more than 80% of companies across the globe that have not yet implemented PLM, and if you look at where companies have actually implemented the full scope of PLM that number is probably closer to 90%. So, there are still a great deal of Excel spreadsheets, first generation inefficient PDM systems and PLM implemented with only a small portion of the tech pack, with no supplier collaboration, costing or planning.

Before you can run you have to walk. All these companies still must finalize their digital transformation in terms of planning, product development and sourcing. If they want to really achieve speed, efficiency and better collaboration with their suppliers and if they really want to go end-to-end with visibility and traceability, they need to put the right platform in place that will help in the short term, and scale with them in the longer term.

The future of PLM is bright because so many companies have not yet finalized their product development, sourcing or digital transformation. To give you an example, we’re seeing a huge boom in the SMB market, which is an area that has been ignored by vendors for years. We’re seeing a huge number of smaller companies jumping on Centric’s PLM preconfigured on the cloud and within a couple of days, start designing and developing their collections. It’s a reality that companies of all sizes will have to adopt PLM.

For medium, large and extra-large companies we’re seeing a big wave of replacements of older PLM systems – sometimes second or third PLM stories. Centric is there to provide them with the platform, the best practices and the security in terms of performance, speed and breadth of solution. We’ve seen a lot of disappointment in old systems, where companies have spent a lot of money on what’s turned out to be a low performing PLM, where they’re only using a portion of the product, but they want the full value. So, we still must equip (or re-equip) this industry.

Again, it’s so important for companies to select the right platform first, for their need: basic, advanced or super advanced. They need to start off with the right partner so they can then scale and grow together. There will be a lot of new challenges coming in the next few years and your PLM partner should be there to listen, to innovate and to help you.

For those who already have a solid foundation, we are now going to the next level of optimization, by catering to multi- category businesses with one PLM. Providing sustainable products in the right channels at the right time for example, getting high-speed performance, parallel process optimization and new ways of merchandising and developing product.

Everybody wants to get into the Metaverse, into sustainability, into AI, into supply chain agility, and it’s similar to how everyone wanted to get into 3D some years ago, but in reality, designing and working in 3D proved quite difficult to do. These new technologies are all incredibly interesting and they’re allowing companies to go faster and make better decisions, but for people to get to that next step, the foundational / master data work between PLM and ERP must be done first.

There is still a lot of work to do on ‘the basics’. So, let’s walk and then run before we sprint. But the time to start is now.