Theo Rose

Written by

Theo Rose, Principal at Applied Retail Transformation
June 18, 2020

Integrated PLM and ERP Enables Fast Fashion, Seasonless Designs and Visual Line Planning

Integrated PLM and ERP Enables Fast Fashion, Seasonless Designs and Visual Line Planning

Our supply chain construct has evolved over the decades. It has been shaped by trade opportunities and technologies driving significant advancements in transaction processing and pipeline visibility. What did not change was our consideration of what a supply chain should be. We have learned valuable lessons, now it is time to put them into action.    

Even in the early part of the 21st century the SCOR model (Supply Chain Operations Reference) codified the traditional siloed view of Plan, Source, Make, Deliver. This model was developed by deconstructing tasks and activities with the focus on cost optimization within each silo. Though it was successful in establishing an exhaustive set of benchmarks it did not consider the enterprise as a whole. The model reinforced the thinking that the supply chain had to be a series of one-way chutes. This fallacy and the supporting technology of the time effectively inhibited consideration of the iterative nature of these activities and the potential for collaboration.

The digital supply chain of today must be oriented to consider the consumer as the driver of all activities and not process and cost optimization.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is where it all begins. Product design may be the heart of PLM but is it hardly the only consideration.  The design process is where designers interpret consumer cues and trends to develop what they hope will be the newest and most desirable products. This is not a one and done event.  Developing a comprehensive assortment requires consideration of a series of and interrelated activities. Every design decision is imbued with tactical issues like technical construction, material availability, manufacturing capacity, transportation, duties, and tariffs, to name a few.    

For a period of time the quest for supply chain efficiency was driven by workflow and the interface between best-of-breed solutions which sufficed to serve as the underpinning of early collaborative efforts. Quickly, data requirements became broader and data types proliferated inhibiting early attempts at collaboration within the supply chain. As competitive pressures drove the need for cycle time reductions, agile market responses and new channels, the antiquated strategy of ad-hoc interface linkages proved unwieldy and expensive.   

Collaboration is iterative by nature. Workflow tools facilitates simple linear activity whereas process automation manages multi-step, rules based, iterative processing. This accommodates complex processes needing time-sensitive points of review and approvals. The process and behaviors inherent in cutting edge programs like seasonless design, fast fashion, and visual line planning require the support of capabilities like robust process management and an integrated solution with a single data set.

The product management process demands that all the tactical issues be completed before a product can be truly considered market ready.  The artificial construct of the calendar creates a sense of urgency to sell products long before all the product details have been put to bed. This lack of completeness of data generates risk of design misfires, costs overruns, and manufacturing delays, all of which impacts timely delivery, product sell through and ultimately product margin.

It is the data flow between PLM and ERP that determines how effectively the overall supply chain operates.

The creative and iterative nature of PLM coupled with its non-transactional nature does not fit intuitively into the SCOR model. For all but a few innovative retailers PLM is relegated to be an island of its own. This bias inhibits a linkage between transactional data in ERP and what is required from PLM.  The result is the missed opportunity of including enriched, and timely consumer preference data into the design process.   

Recognizing this, many retailers have employed a simple workflow and a best of breed interfacing strategy. However, while a positive step, this is insufficient to support cutting edge retail practices like fast fashion, seasonless design and visual line planning. Information hungry practices require the visibility, understanding and control supported by a truly integrated solution that offers a single version of the truth across the extended enterprise.

Theo Rose

Written by

Theo Rose, Principal at Applied Retail Transformation

Fashion supply chain and apparel erp trends report