Released in the definitive instalment in fashion’s longest-running dedicated PLM Report, this executive interview is one of a nine-part series that sees The Interline quiz executives from major companies on the evolution of product lifecycle management, and ask their opinions on what the future holds for what has long been sold as the core of the fashion technology ecosystem, and the heart of design, development, and supply chain processes.

For more on product lifecycle management in fashion, download the full PLM Report 2023 completely free of charge and ungated.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Centric PLM® has matured into a digital hub to strategically manage and execute how a product comes into existence and is sold to the end consumer, from ideation to end-of-life.
  2. PLM can help brands, retailers, and manufacturers ensure they are compliant with today’s regulations and future-proofed against upcoming legislation and increasing consumer demand for sustainability.
  3. Reducing overproduction comes down to better planning, what-iffing to avoid over-development, and better products and product portfolio management.
  4. A modern PLM will continue to enlarge its scope to provide a broad foundation for fashion’s digital transformation, stretching into other functional areas of the business, such as those who are traditionally non-PLM users.
The places software begins and ends are constantly changing as market demands shift, new innovations emerge, and fresh capabilities and integrations are added. Can you tell us what PLM means to Centric Software, and how you believe that definition has evolved over the last few years?

From our experience with brands, retailers and manufacturers in 47 countries covering all facets of AFA and retail as well as cosmetics, personal care, perfume, home and other FMCG products, PLM has matured into a digital hub to strategically manage and execute how a product comes into existence and is sold to the end consumer, from ideation to end-of-life.

PLM brings many teams together to collaborate, innovate and make strategic decisions, ultimately streamlining end-to-end processes and reducing costs and time to market. PLM can and should connect to multiple business systems (such as ERP, PIM, e-commerce, planning, pricing, 3D and more) to pull in information that forms a single source of truth.

Centric PLM® continues to innovate with market needs:

  • Sustainability programs
  • Digital Product Creation (DPC) using 3D viewing capabilities and design platform integrations
  • Product Portfolio Management to optimize SKU/Product rationalization
  • Packaging and proofing
  • Product presentations
  • Formulated product management, which also enables retail, footwear and apparel brands to expand their product categories and manage their entire breadth of product development and/or licensing.

We have also expanded our PLM platform to include Centric PlanningTM, Centric PricingTM and Centric Visual BoardsTM, empowering users with greater MFP, range planning, visual assortment, pricing and collaborative what- iffing and decision-making abilities. All Centric solutions work with other enterprise software including other PLM and planning systems.

Image provided by centric software.
The pressure on fashion brands, retailers and manufacturers is mounting as governments are introducing new laws and tightening regulations to reduce fashion’s environmental footprint. How can each of those different organisations use PLM to help ensure they’re not just compliant with today’s regulations, but also futureproofed against upcoming legislation and increasing consumer demand for sustainability?

PLM is the natural home for the information needed for both legal and company policy compliance. Why?

  1. PLM is where products are born. Modern PLM solutions can connect to other systems where other product information may be generated.
  2. Compliance requires special reporting/ documentation/traceability, which can also be accomplished within PLM.

Centric PLM stores data on product components, along with supplier details for both contractors and sub-contractors. It can also collect data from other systems to create cradle-to-cradle documentation on recycled components, recyclability and circularity building the foundation for regulatory and sustainability compliance.

Reporting and documentation around these topics are critical and your PLM should be able to report as needed. PLM helps brands, retailers and manufacturers consolidate data in a centralized location, identify gaps and address integrity issues to prepare them for what the future holds.

One of fashion’s biggest challenges – overproduction – is having a pronounced impact on both sustainability and profitability. How can brands rethink the way they bring product to market, to shift the emphasis from more product to better- calibrated product – without sacrificing their margin?

Overproduction has to be tackled at the root—with the best possible Merchandise Financial Plan (MFP) and the best possible assortment plans and then the best possible product—in line with what consumers want.

Brands need to focus on creating fine-tuned, targeted assortments to maximize sales and reduce unsold goods, but need reliable data & market insights to do so. Without proper context, seemingly high-performing products in sales data roll-ups can lead to inflated forecasts and overproduction, leaving retailers with piles of inventory and heavy discounting eating away at margins.

It’s important to understand exactly what your customers want, and where, why and when they want it. How long will they want that product? Will it sell year on year? Is it a short-lived fad or an evergreen seller?

Brands shouldn’t rely on manual analysis to stay competitive—they need robust, intelligent tools to deliver those granular insights and make decisions. Reducing overproduction comes down to:

  • Better planning. Centric Planning uses AI-driven planning and demand forecasting to improve sell-through, maximize profitability and optimize the omnichannel experience.
  • Better what-iffing to avoid over-development. This is why we developed Visual Boards, a unique and innovative way of bringing together information and presenting it visually so teams can collaboratively run through what-if scenarios against financial targets.
  • Better products and product portfolio management. Essentially, make what the market wants. Our customers who use Centric Pricing can competitively benchmark prices and see emerging trends that guide more successful product selections. These need to happen in parallel not sequentially, to save time, to be closer to the consumer and more in tune with the market.
With the speed of digital transformation increasing, and more departments and job roles than ever adopting technology platforms for their own needs, do you believe we run the risk of a new age of siloed solutions?

No, on the contrary. People are more educated than ever and are specifically looking for systems that will connect with one another. Emerging digitally native brands definitely want PLM to connect to their ERP, e-comm and/or PIM systems and more.

It is true that some companies struggle with system integrations, but this is mainly because they have older, closed systems, systems requiring custom code and/or parts of their process with no system, such as relying on spreadsheets. This tends to be a problem for companies where there can be different systems dating from different points in time, with different owners. Lacking a better way to do things, some significant parts of the process have always been offline, such as developing product assortments using physical boards and printed line plans.

Image provided by centric software.

We have a whole solution born out of this need—Centric Visual Boards. Visual Boards pull live information from different systems and represent it in a drag-and-drop visual format that enables teams to collaboratively build assortments, create product concepts, build digital catalogs and source more efficiently.

Unpredictability and economic uncertainty are still key forces in 2023, and businesses are facing both changes in consumer spending and unexpected shifts in the supply chain. How can PLM help brands find stability?

Brands and retailers can absolutely future-proof their businesses by having all modern, agile systems so teams can plan, decide and execute quickly and efficiently. You need to understand your own process and business first and foremost. Without a PLM in place or without high user adoption, it is extremely difficult to do.

PLM provides that actionable, real-time data foundation to make informed and fast decisions against market disruptions as opposed to second-guessing decisions based on incomplete or out-of-date data.

Another important step in dealing with unpredictability is to also understand the market as accurately as possible. Demand sensing, trend analysis and competitive benchmarking using tools such as Centric Pricing enable brands and retailers to get a firm handle on what is happening in the market and spot emerging trends, whether positive or negative.

How do you see PLM’s role in the fashion technology ecosystem evolving in the near future? How can it best support fashion’s ongoing digital transformation?

A modern PLM will continue to enlarge its scope to provide a broad foundation for fashion’s digital transformation, stretching into other functional areas of the business (such as those who are traditionally non-PLM users). At Centric Software, we see companies of all sizes and all user profiles adopting PLM. That said, there are still many very large companies who are adopting PLM for the first time, or changing out an older, legacy solution for one that is configurable, connectable and with an inviting user experience. The lines between traditional solutions are blurring and users want information pushed to them, regardless of where the master data is generated. This includes ERP of course but also planning and pricing and more.

Sustainability is a serious topic with many companies looking to improve in this area. PLM’s unique ability to provide visibility, monitoring and documentation throughout the supply chain empowers sustainability initiatives. PLM is going to be crucial to keep up with government regulations. Managing sustainability data in clunky manual systems is just too difficult, and could jeopardise your business.

Hand in hand with sustainability is 3D, which has been around for a long time but is now being adopted more and more. Digital product creation is the new frontier of 3D design, and PLM should sit at the center of digital product development, just as it does with physical product development.

As Gen Z arrives on the job market, they won’t want to work on antiquated systems. They expect modern tech f rom their favorite brands where they have always dreamed of working. As far as attracting potential employees, employee retention and building a knowledge base, PLM is an asset for sure