PLM Conversations: Bill Brewster Interline Interview

Written by: Bill Brewster

Do you believe the role of technology – and especially PLM – has changed as a result of the disruption of the last two years? And how has that altered people’s expectations for enterprise solutions?

I believe the strategic priorities that have driven technology adoption in retail haven’t necessarily changed as a result of the pandemic, but they have become even more important and time sensitive as the industry has been forced to work and collaborate remotely. Every retail business was affected, but those that hadn’t already taken meaningful steps towards digitization – from initial planning to the consumer experience – were hit the hardest. The immediate effects might now have passed, but retail has seen deep and lasting change and today, more than ever, organizations are recognizing that digital transformation is a necessity.

Brand and retailers have always looked for new ways to bring the right products to market faster, and they have always wanted to see the quickest possible return on their investments in technology, but COVID has underlined just how vital those key metrics are. The cost and time barriers for getting on-trend products to market are at an all-time high, and in a market where margins and profitability are being constantly squeezed, no brand or retail business is able to make speculative investments in technology that don’t achieve their target ROI.

Speed and value have always been areas that PTC has specialized in, but in recognition of the challenging environment our customers now face, we made the conscious decision to zero in on these priorities to equip FlexPLM users with futureproof and easy to use tools that were built with rapidly changing situations in mind and designed to deliver the quickest time-to-value anywhere in retail PLM.

After two years of disruption, the evidence speaks for itself. The brand and retail businesses that partnered with PTC and implemented FlexPLM before the pandemic were equipped to overcome that unpredictability and to capitalize on new opportunities to pivot or target greater profitability. And the brands that have joined us recently have benefitted from our FlexPLM V12 solution to really hit the ground running and begin transforming their business, working at digital speed, and realizing results in record time.

I think the bar is now correctly set very high for what brand and retail businesses of all shapes and sizes expect from genuinely enterprise-class PLM, and I’m confident that PTC FlexPLM can meet and exceed those expectations.

What position do you see PTC occupying in the PLM landscape for apparel, footwear, and retail?

The right PLM solution for today’s retail environment has to offer the capabilities and features you need to accelerate your product development and go-to-market, it absolutely must have security and scalability you can depend on, and it needs to be visual and easy to use.

We have always prided ourselves on the power of FlexPLM, and our ability to scale with and support the most demanding global workflows is proven by the long-term relationships we’ve built and expanded in partnership with the most iconic brands on the planet, and their supply chain partners.

Now we’ve also redesigned the FlexPLM user experience (UX) with speed, simplicity, and personalization as our driving principles, to make sure that all the power and scalability on-tap we offer is as easy and familiar as using an eCommerce website. The FlexPLM UX has been made fully responsive for different devices, and we have forged ahead in creating the most visual, engaging PLM experience retail PLM has to offer. This distinguishes FlexPLM from traditional PLM solutions that are designed with single devices in mind, that emphasize data over visuals, and that bury the insights end-users need to make critical product decisions.

FlexPLM users now also have access to completely personalized home screens, packed with at-a-glance, actionable information and active links into their work areas, with easy integration to enterprise collaboration tools.

Overall, it’s our belief that no modern PLM customer should have to sacrifice power, scalability or security for a great user experience, or to compromise on flexibility and usability in favor of functionality. Our heritage has been built on our status as a reliable, high-performing digital transformation partner to the best-known names in retail, and now we’re adding to that reputation by offering what I think is the industry’s most adaptable, attractive user experience. And I believe that’s a unique prospect in retail PLM.

Perhaps the two technology opportunities that have been accelerated the most by the disruption of the last two years are digital product creation (DPC) and supply chain resilience and agility. How do you believe PLM contributes to those goals?

Our philosophy is that powerful, visual, easy-to-use PLM should be an enabler and an engine for best-in-class solutions that support key industry objectives – whether that’s achieved through open APIs or by providing new ways to consolidate and centralize information inside FlexPLM, unlocking new possibilities in design, development, and production.

That mindset has driven us to forge new technology partnerships and to push forward the potential for both DPC and supply chain transformation through integration and through the addition of new PLM capabilities.

For example, we pioneered best-in-class, native integrations between FlexPLM and the leading 3D design and simulation solutions, and over the course of COVID we invested heavily in empowering FlexPLM customers to scale their 3D and DPC workflows enterprise-wide. As well as improving efficiency and unlocking additional creativity for designers who work in 3D, we see PLM as an essential component to unlocking the full value of those 3D assets – something that the digitization of design, development, production, and consumer engagement demands. That’s why FlexPLM now incorporates native 3D collaboration, visualization and markup capabilities – all embedded directly into the PLM interface and streamlined through smart compression – giving a wider range of users than ever before a way to communicate with and make decisions based on high-quality digital assets.

As the last two years have demonstrated, the fashion and retail supply chain is fragile, and brand and retail organizations are looking for ways to improve the agility, connectivity and efficiency of their supply chains. This is also occurring at the same time as an unprecedented push towards genuine transparency and sustainability that’s being driven by consumers, investors and regulators, making true visibility and direct engagement with suppliers essential.

For brand and retail businesses, that visibility is difficult to achieve without systematized collaboration and communication with value chain partners. Working with email and spreadsheets, as a lot of brands that have either no PLM or a legacy solution that’s inaccessible to their suppliers do, leads to risk going unnoticed until it’s too late, and undermines the brand’s ability to make smart sourcing and costing decisions.

Our goal has always been to extend PLM into the supplier base, and the ease with which FlexPLM can be deployed, used, and maintained in manufacturing has led to PTC having a considerable number of users in the international supply chain. Combine that with the ability to clearly and easily manage supplier KPIs, and with our pioneering integration to the Higg sustainability measurement platform, I believe FlexPLM’s support for the retail industry’s most in-demand technology opportunities is unmatched.

Where do you believe PLM sits in the broader technology ecosystem for a brand or retailer? What does it deliver as a standalone solution, and what can it enable in terms of digital transformation elsewhere in the enterprise?

PLM is an essential part of bringing together what we call the digital thread – an end-to-end flow of connected, best- in-class solutions, from concept design to production and beyond to accelerate product development. The core capabilities of PLM have been road-tested and proven by the huge household names who have made FlexPLM the heart of their product lifecycles. But as I’ve already mentioned, the best PLM platforms are also engines for digital transformation in both existing priority areas – like DPC and sustainability – but also in emerging ones.

That’s an important point: we see PLM as being not just a solution for current challenges, but as a springboard for future opportunities. To help our customers achieve that, we offer the power of ThingWorx IoT to enable companies to leverage new purpose-built, market-ready apps– whether that’s for pain points they’ve identified today, or to support their strategic vision for tomorrow. Our teams have already used ThingWorx to build a unique sustainability dashboard – pulling in data from our Higg integration and other sustainability tools to provide at-a-glance impact insights – and our Visual Line Collaboration app, but we’re excited to see what innovations our customers drive us to build into the new market-ready apps tomorrow and beyond.

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

The key realization is that digitization is now non- negotiable. Brands and retailers recognize that their in- house processes, their supply chain communication and collaboration, and the way they engage with their consumers all need to be brought together into a single digital thread. The organizations that are able to do this – with the support of the right technology partner, will be the ones that are ready to thrive in a market where speed, profitability, and transparency are essential.

From my perspective, that’s the world of today. What the next 2-3 years will bring is more unpredictability, more cost and time pressures, increased consumer expectations, new all-digital business models, and a range of other challenges and opportunities that only those companies capable of working at digital speed will be able to measure up to.

Tags: Retail and Consumer Products

About the Author

Bill Brewster

Bill has been in technology for more than 25 years, leading product development, marketing and sales teams. For the past 15 years he has been a President and General Manager, leading global businesses delivering software solutions to the retail industry, primarily in PLM, Supply Chain Management, 3D Design and CAD. Currently, Bill is Senior Vice President and GM for the Retail Business Unit at PTC (Nasdaq: PTC), where he is responsible for all aspects of the Business including formulating the strategic direction, delivering market leading solutions, maintaining an open dialogue with customers and partners, and driving organizational success. Bill has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Connecticut and a master’s in technology management from the University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School.