Here we have the next in the WhichPLM series of articles on end-to-end solutions and we open the floor to yet another vendor who offer both ERP and PLM systems and ask them for their assessment on how the two systems can function together.
Today, Rob Smith meets with Charles Benoualid, Vice President, R&D of Visual 2000 founded in 1998 and with headquarters in Montreal and offices in USA, Europe and China. Drawing on its deep industry experience, Visual 2000 develops comprehensive end-to-end software solutions for apparel and soft goods retailers, brands, and manufacturers, including PLM, SCM, ERP, WMS and BI solutions.
WhichPLM: With the recent downturn in global economies, are you finding that your customers [international apparel organisations] have recovered quicker than some other industries with less resilient products portfolios and what do you believe are your customer’s key business drivers now moving forward?
Charles: From a geographical perspective, Asian economies have rebounded faster than those in Europe and the Americas. From an industry viewpoint, we see apparel goods outperforming a number of other segments due to the on-going demand for fashion innovation and the relatively low cost of these goods in comparison to larger investments. Products tied directly to the housing market, such as furniture and home fashion, remain slow to recover. Regardless of these factors, the biggest winners in each segment are those companies that have seized the opportunities of the downturn to streamline processes and increase productivity. These companies are now positioned to succeed in the recovery that is now underway.
WhichPLM: As a rule of thumb, we would look to a lifecycle of around 3-5 useful years from an enterprise system (whether it be ERP, PLM, EPOS etc..), do you think we are going to see this “value window” being forcibly extended by consumers from their implementations? Do you think enterprise systems can still deliver a beneficial value over 5 years from go-live in the current market?
Charles: In our experience, the useful life of an enterprise system is much longer; typically in the 8 to 12 year range. Of course, this is more practical with systems that benefit from a continuous improvement program that includes regular updates and enhancements. When we see enterprise system changes in the short window you describe, it is most often the result of an inadequate system evaluation or price-driven investment that does not fully address the buyer’s needs.
In the end, technology investments are most often driven by business needs. The systems lifecycle will vary as business requirements fundamentally change. We saw this as the industry shifted to the global sourcing model, and again today as operational speed and flexibility have become decisive business factors. That’s why it is so important for buyers to invest in configurable technologies and avoid massive customizations. Unfortunately, some companies have discovered this after spending years customizing an ERP or PLM system only to encounter a vastly changed business environment in 2011.
WhichPLM: What regions/areas are Visual 2000 themselves forecasting or experiencing strong demand for PLM and other enterprise level IT solutions? Why do you suspect the market is buoyant here ahead of other regions?
Charles: As we noted earlier, the Asian economy is recovering faster and therefore exhibiting stronger demand for IT systems. But the demands of a changing industry are prompting many established companies in Europe and the Americas to invest in ERP, PLM, and Business Intelligence Systems. As the industry becomes even more competitive, many companies know that new technology is essential to success.
WhichPLM: …so how are you helping to deliver these customers better value from an enterprise system now against the market pre-2007?
Charles: For the past few years, Visual 2000 has worked to deliver the highest level of out-of-the-box fashion-specific capabilities in the enterprise software market. We also embraced the latest Microsoft technologies to make the operation of our systems more familiar and productive for the teams that use them every day. These and other important improvements have enabled us to significantly reduce implementation time and resource requirements for our customers. Combined, these and other factors also give our clients a significant total cost of ownership advantage over most other system options. Perhaps most importantly, we are delivering configurable and flexible systems that will continue to meet changing customer needs into the future.
WhichPLM: The media is rife with case studies of catastrophically failed ERP and PLM projects, (albeit 1st generation projects) do you think running a full end-to-end system implementation project is a better value proposition than running separate projects independent of each other?
Charles: While companies and vendors may sometimes take on more than they can deliver, failed implementations are not typically the result of taking an end-to-end implementation approach. More often, the failure can be traced to the state of readiness and resource availability with both the vendor and the buyer. Other important considerations include inadequate system selection, poor implementation methodology, lack of attention to end-user acceptance, and other such issues. It should also be noted that choosing an end-to-end technology strategy does not require implementation of all aspects of the solution at the same time. Each company has unique business needs and capacity to implement. Spending time to assess these and other factors is an important part of defining an implementation strategy.
WhichPLM: Do most consumers have the available capacity (both financially and at a resources level) to run dual projects? Do you think consumers are fully aware as to what their own capabilities are for running enterprise level projects?
Charles: It is clear that resources and bandwidth varies from company to company. Responsible vendors will advise customers when they encounter unrealistic implementation plans and milestone requirements. That’s just part of establishing a partnership between buyers and sellers.
WhichPLM: …but surely not every consumer has the correctly aligned company strategy and board leadership to implement such widely encompassing changes?
Charles: Surely not, but it is seldom a requirement to do everything at once. We often advise a phased approach to implementation using a modular software solution.
WhichPLM: So what specific benefits can a consumer expect from integrating Visual 2000 PLM and ERP end-to-end ahead of the competitors in this space?
Charles: During the recession, many companies experienced first-hand the limitations of legacy, single-purpose, and loosely connected software systems. During time of tremendous strain, the resulting functional gaps, lack of full process visibility, and problems associated with third-party integration become quite obvious and painful. This reality has substantially strengthened the business case and recognition of the benefits of a fully-integrated business solution. Many companies are now rethinking their technology strategies because they can no longer effectively compete without the speed, visibility, efficiency, and cost savings provided by an end-to-end solution. Unlike any other combination of systems, an integrated enterprise solution provides companies with the accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date information needed to make more-timely and better-informed business decisions. This is critical to success in today’s ultra-competitive industry.
WhichPLM: …would it not be better for a consumer to look at the market and say “what’s the best ERP for my size, what’s the best PLM, what’s the best EPOS (or any other system segment) Etc…?” and plumb them together? Surely the database or data warehouse behind the scenes is equally accessible for all?
Charles: One of the biggest challenges in this strategy is the “plumbing”. To start, some systems simply do not make all the required data accessible. Moreover, shuffling information around doesn’t really give you the visibility you need to manage the entire lifecycle process. To succeed, companies need more than data, they need end-to-end process management and understandable business intelligence. Often, even the best third-party integration projects fail to accurately or fully connect data the way they were intended. They require regular attention and intervention. Too often, the result is functional gaps, process gaps, and unreliable information.
WhichPLM: …but do you not think it’s risky for a consumer to be fully dependent on one supplier? Doesn’t familiarity breed contempt after all?
Charles: Not at all. In fact, when a strong partnership is established the benefits far outweigh the alternatives. We meet many people that tell us about the many challenges they face in trying to get support on issues where multiple vendors are involved. Reliance on multiple vendors can add risk for companies as they depend on technology to manage their operations.
WhichPLM: At the technical level, is the end-to-end Visual 2000 system: one complete single system; separate systems seamlessly integrated or modular systems operating on a common platform? What influenced the design decision for this over the over options?
Charles: We offer a variety of modules that are designed from the ground-up to seamlessly integrate with each other. This is true with our ERP, PLM, and other key software modules. As we work to continuously improve on our systems, we also ensure the seamless integration of all the components of our product offer. When used together, these modules act as a single system.
WhichPLM: Finally (and perhaps crucially), if you had a very immature client who had neither PLM nor ERP, and only had the resources to run one system project, which would you advise to start with and why?
Charles: Each company has unique challenges and needs that will drive such a decision. Only after working with a company to understand the dynamics of the situation can we provide such advice. Unlike PLM, some ERP capabilities are already in use in most cases. ERP Replacement depends on how well business needs are being met. Generally, companies are looking to solve real and immediate business problems. This typically drives the decision of which technology is most needed.
Read Rob Smith's articles on this subject matter: