This year was the second time I’d personally attended LiveWorx – PTC’s annual digital transformation conference. And even though my two visits to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre were only separated by a year, I found that a lot had changed.
First, the most obvious: LiveWorx 2019 was, I’m told, the biggest in the long-running series of events.
This held true for delegate numbers: more than 6,400 in total came through the doors this year, many of which had signed up to the retail track that WhichPLM served as media partner for, and that I hosted and moderated for three full days – from 11th to 13th June.
It was also true of floor space: XTropolis, the expo hall that serves as a showcase for cutting-edge technologies across everything from industrial automation to augmented reality, had grown to more than 200,000 square feet this year, and was home to a military Humvee, massive shipping containers, and a full-sized pleasure yacht, as well as PTC’s biggest retail-focused booth to date.
And it was true when it came to the sheer spectacle. LiveWorx has, in my admittedly limited experience, always been a bombastic event. It’s a celebration of the positive impacts that digital technologies are having on a range of different industries, as well as a chance for delegates and sponsors alike to take stock, experience new inventions, and go back out into the world equipped with a better understanding of the changes that are coming their way. In both of these senses, LiveWorx would be poorly-served if it were a quiet, contemplative affair. So, if I tell you that PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann’s opening keynote played out over several different floors, beneath a bank of gigantic, diamond-shaped screens, next to the cab of a very large truck, then you’ll hopefully get the idea that LiveWorx 2019 was definitely lively.
Before I get too deep, though, it’s important to explain a little bit about how LiveWorx runs, and how PTC’s retail business – and its FlexPLM solution – slots into the company’s wide-ranging portfolio of technologies and solutions.
First of all, LiveWorx 2019 was billed as “the definitive event for digital transformation,” which would be a tall order even if it were focused on just a few industries, but the event actually boasted 12 different topic tracks, which included sectors like aerospace and defense, electronics and high tech, and, obviously, retail. While the keynote presentations and talks that took place on the main stage (next to the aforementioned truck cab) were mostly aimed at a general audience, with content applicable to everyone, each topic track also had its own dedicated breakout room where, over the course of three days, delegates experienced focused sessions tailored to their sector-specific challenges and opportunities. And by the same logic, the XTropolis show floor was segmented according to industry tracks (with some collected under ‘Field,’ ‘Office,’ and ‘Factory’ signs) so that attendees could find the demonstrations, workshops, and hands-on experiences that were relevant to them – all concentrated in one place.
As you might expect, when I wasn’t taking in the general keynotes, I spent the bulk of my time at LiveWorx 2019 in the retail breakout sessions and at the retail booth – and not just because part of my role at the show was to host those breakout sessions. I was obviously keen to see how PTC as a whole was approaching marquee technologies like artificial intelligence, 3D design, and upstream Internet of Things (IoT) applications, but I was most interested to see how PTC’s Retail Business Unit was benefitting from the investments made in those innovations at the company level, and how its customers and prospects stand to benefit. Because if my retail technology spider-sense is worth anything, it tells me that all of those technologies – as well as others like Blockchain – are either already seeing widespread adoption in the Retail, fashion, footwear, apparel and accessories segments, or are about to.
So, with that context and my dual objectives in mind, let me walk you through my experience of LiveWorx 2019, and what I think it means for the future of the retail technology market, and PTC’s place in it.
I arrived in Boston a couple of days before the show began, to prepare and, frankly, to spend a little bit of time walking a city I didn’t get the chance to really immerse myself in last year. I won’t turn this report into a travelogue, but since I’m talking about changes, it would be remiss of me not to touch on the transformation that’s ongoing in Boston’s historic seaport district.
In a lot of ways, Boston reminds me of my home city of Manchester, UK. It has an almost equivalent city-level population, and the same mixture of historic architecture and modern, glass-and-steel resident and commercial developments. More importantly, though, both cities seem to be undergoing a similar renovation of their old industrial areas, with huge international investment. Boston’s Seaport redevelopment is this investment writ large; new skyscrapers are springing up everywhere along the port boulevard, and one of the most imposing bears the PTC logo.
When I visited last year, PTC was in between homes – in the process of moving out of its long-serving headquarters in Needham, Massachusetts, and into an open-plan new building that occupied prime real estate on the Boston Seaport. This year, that move was complete, and while I didn’t get the opportunity to go inside the new office, if the exterior is any indication, it’s likely to bear the same high-gloss sheen as the LiveWorx event that took place less than ten minutes’ walk away.
I finished my ramblings the evening of Monday 10th, just in time to make it over to the LiveWorx-wide welcome reception, which took place within sight of the new PTC building, and occupied a full side-street and several restaurants for what was dubbed ‘LiveWorx Around the Block.’ I couldn’t dally long, though, because I had also been invited to a dinner with PTC’s retail customers – a thoroughly enjoyable way of kicking off the retail-focused breakout sessions that began the following day.
The real kick-off for LiveWorx as a whole, though, came early on the morning of Tuesday 11th, when Jim Heppelmann took to the main stage to deliver an opening keynote that covered a tremendous amount of ground – shining a spotlight on new technologies, sharing customer case studies, and honouring PTC’s heritage in CAD and PLM in a way that underlined WhichPLM’s recent conclusion (in our 2019 Buyer’s Guide) that PLM belongs at the heart of any enterprise technology ecosystem.
Jim was introduced by the tireless Mario Armstrong, who has now served as compere on the main stage for three years. Armstrong was, as always, a livewire host. Decked out in gold sneakers and a shiny jacket adorned with lightbulbs, he did a terrific job of keeping energy levels high across all the keynotes I had the opportunity to see and his opening salvo set the scene for Heppelmann, who followed him on stage.
Heppelmann’s keynote, as I mentioned, was the lynchpin on which the rest of LiveWorx – from the vast expo floor to the different topic tracks – was hung, so I paid careful attention to how he defined not just PTC’s place in the world, but how that world was evolving. Heppelmann opened by drawing a parallel between “work” in the sense you and I use it, and “work” as it’s used in physics, talking about potential energy as a directionless force – something that has to be changed into another form in order to do work. As he put it:
“LiveWorx is about loading you [the delegates] up with new information, new contacts and new experiences – all of which are forms of potential energy – so that when you get back to the office, you can transform that potential energy into new and better ways for your company to get work done.”
He also talked about taking the “abstract, ambiguous” notion of digital transformation, and making it “tangible and actionable,” which is something I’m sure many of us have tried to do ourselves before. But digital transformation is a tricky thing to pin down. The more I thought about it, though, the more Heppelmann’s energy metaphor began to do just that. Digital transformation, except in unusual cases, does not involve a company changing their entire business model; instead, it typically means that the company will use new, digital, tools and methods to manage their existing business model better. That might involve creating more and better products; it might entail revolutionising the way aftermarket support operates; or it might mean achieving new, heightened levels of collaboration with suppliers. Whichever areas a digital transformation initiative makes its impact felt the most, though, it can be summed up along the lines Heppelmann set out: using new technologies to discover better, more efficient ways to get things done.
An engineer at heart, Heppelmann went on to explain things in more practical terms. As he sees it, there are three key levers that any organization can use to deliver on the vision for digital transformation: people, machines, and computers.
“Computers and machines free us up to do work in the areas that people alone can do, like strategizing, planning, and inventing,” he said. “But real innovation happens at the intersection of different levers and ideas, when we marry computers and digital solutions with machines. And that is what the IoT is all about – giving us vastly more productive machines thanks to the ability of computers to monitor, control, and optimize the work of physical machines.”
And if you need a potted summary of Industry 4.0, that’s about as succinct as you’re going to get anywhere.
Heppelmann also brought key customers on stage to showcase demonstrations that cut across the full spectrum of PTC’s products and services, including examples from companies like Volvo, Rockwell Automation, and The Howden Company. Partners also featured heavily, with Heppelmann citing, among others, Matterport and Microsoft Azure – the latter of which had recently named PTC their Manufacturing Partner of the Year and Mixed Reality Partner of the Year.
As I hinted at before, though, Heppelmann also spoke about how vital PTC’s history in CAD and PLM was to power the company’s ability to pursue new breakthroughs in all the different technologies that collectively contribute to what he referred to as “the digital thread.” Not to be confused with actual digital thread dyeing (recently highlighted here on WhichPLM,) the digital thread Heppelmann referred to was something else that has been covered at length in these pages: a single, consistent flow of information that extends throughout the product lifecycle.
“Nobody is going to truly transform an enterprise without CAD and PLM playing a role,” Heppelmann said. “PLM is the basis for the entire digital thread. IoT may be driving digital transformation, but it needs PLM as badly as CAD ever did. And AR, which is essentially IoT for people, also feeds off the digital thread, which means that it too needs PLM as badly as CAD ever did.”
These were encouraging words from a vendor that, last year, was leaning heavily on IoT as a primary engine for growth in its future. In 2019, PTC appears to be taking a better-balanced approach to its entire solution portfolio. And if Heppelmann’s presentation was anything to go by, PTC seems to share WhichPLM’s vision for a holistic approach to digital transformation that hinges on PLM. Or, as Heppelmann put it, “CAD and PLM are never going out of style, and the arc of new technologies like IoT, AR, and AI are transforming the way we think of PLM, too.”
This cohesive technology ecosystem was evident in the demonstrations that formed part of the opening keynote. Heppelmann and his team showed an example that relied on computer vision identifying a spare part based on its silhouette, while integrations allowed that part to be matched to a library of CAD components, and also the repository of detailed information that resided in PLM. This is obviously something that would be harder to do with a garment, where the variation is as likely to be in the material or the pattern as it is in the outline, but certainly not impossible. I have already seen compelling demonstrations of neural networks that can identify patterns, artwork, and even components like cuffs and collars, so it’s likely we will see similar applications – where augmented reality acts as the gates to the reservoir of product information held in PLM – in our industry soon.
Heppelmann closed his keynote with a snappy summary: “Our vision for the future deeply leverages our heritage, which has propelled us into a leadership position in all these different high-tech fields, and has allowed us to bring these innovations to the market in the form of solutions.”
And so it was that the breakout sessions began with an overview of PTC’s heritage and future from a different perspective: that of the Retail Business Unit, which has been tasked for many years with designing retail, footwear and apparel (RFA) focused solutions that turn the promise of PLM and other technologies into real value for brand and retail customers – a large number of whom were in the audience.
I took to the stage first, to introduce the retail topic sessions, and to provide a brief look at the conclusions of WhichPLM’s 2019 Buyer’s Guide, which had been published just days prior. I was then joined by Bill Brewster, the SVP and General Manager of PTC’s Retail Business Unit, for a fireside discussion focused on the ways that PTC is aiming to tackle brands and retailers’ biggest digital transformation challenges, and how the strategic direction of the company’s retail business is evolving in line with the market.
Appointed to his role at the start of 2019, Brewster was a new face to some of the audience, so he took the opportunity to explain to them the journey his career had taken him on in retail technology, and what he had discovered about PTC’s retail business since joining the company. Brewster emphasized PTC’s heritage as a preferred PLM supplier to the world’s biggest businesses – something he said was borne out by the company’s claim to have the most widely-used PLM solution in the entire retail industry, with more than 185,000 users worldwide, and 20% year-on-year user growth, with 30,000+ new licenses being added in 2018/19 alone.
This heritage, Brewster explained to me on stage, is not something PTC intends to shy away from. Although by far the largest share of new PLM sales was made to small businesses this year (as seen in the WhichPLM Buyer’s Guide 2019) the revenue distribution of the industry, Brewster argued, did not reflect this, and consequently PTC would be betraying its heritage by completely redefining it business model to cater to very small businesses when it has historically specialised in selling to some of the largest retailers on the planet. And the Buyer’s Guide does indeed support this conclusion: sales to small businesses accounted for 71% of all new sales in the financial year 2018/19, but only 5% of the market’s size based on vendor revenue. This was, Brewster added, a place that PTC intended to keep playing – consciously choosing to remain a true, enterprise-class PLM partner, with the additional benefit that improvements to cloud infrastructure, the FlexPLM user experience, and other areas may cascade down to help a more diverse range of businesses to obtain real value from choosing to work with PTC.
On-stage, Brewster and I both echoed Heppelmann’s earlier comments about PLM serving as the centre of any enterprise-wide technology ecosystem or digital transformation strategy. Brewster explained the role of the recently-launched ThingWorx Retail Connector in bridging almost any two business systems, and the two of us discussed the importance of open standards in a future where integration with other digital solutions (and ready-made partnerships) will reshape the potential of PLM.
We also discussed the importance of extending the use of PLM into the supply chain – something that WhichPLM has highlighted for the best part of a decade as being the difference between true PLM and glorified PDM – and the need for PLM solutions, if they are to succeed as being the heart of complete digital ecosystems, to offer a clear, cost-effective way for customers to remain on the upgrade path. That, Brewster told the audience, is something that PTC has placed a particular emphasis on this year, and he cited an upgrade program that, the company says, has seen more than 20 customers move to the latest version of FlexPLM in the last twelve months.
Finally, I asked Brewster to give the audience some insight into the PTC Retail Business Unit’s strategic direction for the future. In response, Brewster explained that he and his team were paying particular attention to strengthening their partnerships with existing customers, as well as focusing heavily on improving core FlexPLM functionality and the solution’s user experience – as a way of providing the strongest foundation they can for their customers’ ongoing digital transformation journeys.
The second and final retail-focused session of the day was delivered by PTC’s core product team – spearheaded by Quach Hai, PTC’S VP of Retail Product Management, and including Pam Buckingham, Director of Product Management, Kiran Kari, Senior Director of Product Management; and Ben Robbins, Solution Manager. This session provided some insights into the roadmap for the future of FlexPLM, a demonstration of key elements from the upcoming redesign of the user experience, and a series of insights into how the PTC retail team are adapting and using technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality to offer new value opportunities to their customers.
After that session, I led the first of three scheduled tours to the retail booth out in XTropolis – all of which drew delegates, and which covered everything from 3D integration to a new brand-to-factory initiative which was the subject of a panel discussion the following day.
I then made my way over to the general stage, wishing by this point that I’d thought to head back to my hotel and change shoes; 200,000 square feet is a lot of ground to keep crossing.
Taking the stage just as I arrived was Peter Diamandis, Executive Founder and Director of Singularity University. Diamandis’ session fit nicely into what seems, to me, to be a willingness for the LiveWorx organizers to look beyond PTC’s immediate priorities, and to tackle the technological challenges and opportunities that are defining society as a whole. Popular scientist Professor Michio Kaku filled a comparable role last year, and Diamandis, who was a confident, passionate speaker, talked along quite similar lines.
The future, he said, is being steered by the exponential growth of technologies like AI, IoT, and blockchain – the potential of which is doubling every year. As Diamandis told it, that accelerating pace can be seen as either a source of stress or an opportunity, depending on your perspective. For the CEO of a Fortune 500 company whose product or service is about to be disrupted, it means stress; for the small startup doing the disruption, it means opportunity.
Diamandis also talked about a similar pace of growth in storage space (1TB MicroSD cards are now available,) processing power, and battery capacity. Diamandis revealed that he and famous futurist Ray Kurzweil are both investors in a type of nanotechnology memory that could put the volume of information currently held in a data centre onto something the size of a sugar cube. He also predicted a future of low-cost solar-generated electricity, coupled with new battery technology that could allow an electric car to charge to a 300-mile range in minutes.
This may sound like sky-high thinking, but Diamandis also highlighted perhaps the most topical (and controversial) bleeding-edge technology of the moment: 5G connectivity. Anyone who has tried to actually use the current spectrum 5G networks will have found very variable speeds and limited reach, but this roll-out is really only part of the picture when it comes to a planet-wide data connection. Google, Amazon, and SpaceX all have ongoing initiatives to put clusters of satellites into space, covering the earth with bandwidth. This, Diamandis was keen to point out, will usher in a revolution. In 2017, he said, around 3.8 billion people had access to the internet, but these technologies promise to connect everyone on earth by 2025 – a full 8 billion people.
That evening, before the retail industry evening reception (which took place in Boston’s Innovation District) I had the opportunity to catch a replay of Kathleen Mitford’s keynote, which had taken place earlier that day.
Mitford is PTC’s Executive Vice President of Products, and although her session was focused quite keenly on industrial solutions, I did note a few areas where her comments resonated across industries. Between case studies of companies that had been able to realize significant value from their digital transformation strategies (aided by PTC,) Mitford talked about the need for businesses in any sector to be able to differentiate their products and services, improve their operational effectiveness, and to achieve greater productivity by building what she called “an ecosystem of multiple technologies working together like a well-rehearsed orchestra”. Leading on from this, she highlighted PTC’s push for deeper integrations between its own technologies and those of its partners, which she explained allows the digital thread to run from initial CAD design to AR-driven sales and marketing.
Echoing one of the major driving forces behind the adoption of 3D tools and other digital product creation solutions in footwear and apparel, Mitford cited the potential for tools like AR to replace physical samples by “bringing your designs into the real world, in 3D, at scale, and in context – anywhere on the planet”.
I then made my way to the Innovation District, where I joined the retail delegates in socializing and networking ahead of day two, which, as they were soon to discover, was packed with back-to-back panel discussions on a range of hot retail industry topics.
As the sun rose on day two of LiveWorx 2019 I took to the retail stage to introduce the first of the panels I would chair and moderate that day – this one focusing, appropriately enough, on digital product creation. The panel was made up of representatives from PTC, VF Corporation, Deckers Brands, Browzwear, and Kalypso. Our topics of conversation ran from creating a business case for adopting 3D (a long-running topic but still a valid one,) to designing a holistic digital workflow based on the integration of 3D with PLM, and the use of open standards. We also discussed the most common barriers to success in the implementation and use of 3D, included the often-cited concern about who within an organization is responsible for the creation of 3D assets. In conclusion, the panellists put forward their views on the future of digital design, concluding that mass adoption is already taking place and that 3D and other tools will see even greater use both upstream and downstream – provided some hurdles around usability and standardization are overcome.
Immediately afterward, the retail track shifted gears and I hosted a panel discussion dedicated to the crucial role that PLM can play in creating a connected, digital, and sustainable supply chain. For this panel, I had the pleasure of interviewing representatives from PTC, Kalypso, Zilingo, and a world-renowned luxury brand and retailer, who were all keen to talk about the way PLM has evolved beyond the management of core product data and processes, and into a world of connected, transparent supply chains where vendors and suppliers can participate on an equal footing to their customers. Over the course of an hour, the panellists discussed how and why attitudes to supply chains have changed (primarily a result of the combined pressures of transparency and speed to market), where the barriers to supply chain visibility have traditionally existed, and what it means to orchestrate a complex supply chain with the goal of delivering the right product, to the right market, at the right price and the right time. The panel also paid special attention to sustainability – both in terms of environment and ethical compliance, and the need for retailers and their suppliers to build stable, repeatable models for collaboration.
After lunch and the second of three booth tours, delegates returned to the retail room to discover more about the aforementioned brand-to-factory initiative – something that was actually on full display at the booth, with a real-time integration running between FlexPLM and a connected sewing machine, using the ThingWorx platform as an intermediary. Panellists were given the opportunity to explain what they believed was a chance to leverage a convergence of different technologies to completely overhaul the way brands operate by offering direct, real-time insight into the manufacturing process. These included representatives from PTC, Blacksmith International, Black Swan Textiles, and Henderson Sewing Machine Company.
During this session, delegates also heard about some of the unseen costs of traditional manufacturing (especially delays in time to market and excess inventory) and the panellists spoke about how a brand or retailer should articulate the mutual benefits of brand-to-factory connectivity to their suppliers. And, building on the demo that was running at the XTropolis retail booth, the audience received more granular insights into the nuts and bolts of taking operational, performance, and maintenance information from a connected sewing machine on a factory floor, and making it available to the retailer who commissioned the order from the other side of the world.
The third and final booth tour ran immediately after that session, and it was interesting to see delegates flocking to the live demonstration of the connected sewing machine, with a new appreciation (certainly in my case) for the interplay of technologies behind the scenes that was making the end result possible.
Delegates then gathered back in the retail breakout area for the final session of the day: a panel discussion dedicated to Artificial Intelligence. Now, AI is a topic that I have personally devoted a lot of attention to over the last few years. In 2017 I spent about half a year researching the subject, interviewing academics, speakers, brands, and technology leaders, and although I concluded that technologies that fall under the umbrella of AI (things like machine learning, computer vision, neural networks, speech synthesis and others) had tremendous potential, a lot of what they were capable of was, at that time, either theoretical or only in the proof-of-concept stage. This year, I spoke with every panellist beforehand, and all of them agreed that the time had come to discuss how AI can be put into practice, which became the focus of what I believe was one of the most-attended sessions of this year’s retail breakouts.
The panellists for this session included representatives from First Insight, PTC, Kalypso, and WWD (formerly Womenswear Daily), as well as Bala Mandani, who is Senior Manager of Product Development Systems at Dick’s Sporting Goods, and who served as my co-moderator for the session – asking questions that helped to steer the conversation towards the current, practical applications of AI from a realistic retailer’s perspective.
We opened the session with a presentation of WWD’s latest research into retailers’ attitudes towards AI, and how and where AI-umbrella technologies are being adopted in the value chain. This included data predicting that, by next year, the AI market (across all industries) will be worth almost $60 billion, and that fashion and retail will spend $3.6 billion on AI projects in 2019. The panellists then moved on to discuss the definition of AI – what falls under that umbrella and what doesn’t – and how PTC is working to make sure the most important AI technologies are as accessible as possible for its customers. We then talked about the role of generative design – something that had its share of the spotlight in Heppelmann’s main stage keynote – in fashion, and how AI technologies can be used to improve the accuracy of planning processes through predictive analytics. Finally, we debated the role of AI in retail – not only in consumer-facing applications, but in performance analysis, inventory allocation, and other areas.
Then, although my sessions were concluded for the day, there was another keynote taking place on the main stage – this one delivered by Michelle McKenna, SVP and CIO of the NFL. You’d be forgiven for thinking there were scant few parallels between the work McKenna has done with American Football and the business of retail, but I did pick up on two key points of commonality.
During her presentation, McKenna (who has previously worked on the technology powering theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios, including an early iteration of a CRM platform) broke down what she saw as the key technology-led trends that were vital to delivering, as she put it, “experiences that amaze and delight guests”.
The first of these was ‘location independence’ – something that should come as no surprise to any brand or retail readers. Far more than just fielding a conference call in our pyjamas, technology has allowed effectively anyone to work from effectively anywhere, with access to both distributed computing power and a centralized source of product information. And while McKenna was talking about distributed franchises and the need for players and coaches to access relevant data on the side-lines, the parallels with the retail value chain, where mobile working is becoming the norm, are strong.
The second was what McKenna referred to as ‘performance management.’ The logical parallel here would be that retail is an industry rightly obsessed with KPIs and other statistics, but in fact, McKenna talked about the value in on-body and in-clothes sensors as an example of the kind of information that can be measured and analyzed. This, for me, dovetailed with the ongoing conversation around the ability to capture huge volumes of extremely granular information with IoT technologies (such as the flow of people in-store, or the journey a product takes from raw material to distribution centre) in retail, and McKenna explained that even large, statistics-driven companies like the NFL do not always immediately know what to do with the data they collect. For me, this cuts to the core of contemporary data science and analysis, where obtaining results from historical or real-time data is as much a matter architecting the right service layer on top of raw information as it is about collecting that information in the first place.
Following McKenna’s keynote, I went straight to the Mix @6 party, which was hosted on the adjacent Lawn on D – an open space that, that evening, was baking under the Boston sun. Unfortunately, by the time I’d migrated from the convention centre to the lawn, I had missed a welcome presentation given by Games of Thrones actors Richard Madden (Robb Stark) and Alfie Allen, who played Theon Greyjoy. And as much as I would have liked to explore Boston more that evening, I had two final panel discussions to chair the following morning, so I ducked out of any further festivities.
The final day of LiveWorx 2019 ran until lunchtime, with the XTropolis floor closing mid-morning. But nevertheless, the retail breakout track still had two sessions in store.
First, I chaired a panel dedicated to the Material Exchange – a PLM-agnostic platform designed to digitalize the material sourcing process. Revealed in full at last year’s LiveWorx in a popular presentation, Material Exchange now has a larger, dedicated team working on it, and this session was dedicated to charting the progress made with the platform, and discussing how two retail businesses have been able to bring their material sourcing processes into the digital age. On stage were panellists from PTC, Deckers Brands, Wolverine Worldwide, and the CEO of Material Exchange, Darren Glenister. During the course of the discussions, we paid special attention to the positive impact that digital material sourcing can have on transparency and sustainability, as well as providing a new voice to material suppliers who have traditionally had no platform through which to present their full offer.
The final retail-focused session was a panel that dived deep into the world of return on investment (ROI) analysis for PLM and other technology implementations and upgrades. Although a lot of the information shared on stage was proprietary, representatives from Archer Grey, Brooks Brothers, and Skechers spoke candidly about their experience of calculating the value of a PLM project, analysing its impact on key business drivers, and then realising continuous value by maximising the use of PLM over time. We also discussed the difficulty inherent in assigning a dollar value to so-called ‘soft ROIs,’ where an immediate impact on the bottom line might not be noticeable, but time can nevertheless be saved and better spent on value-added activities.
After closing the retail breakout sessions, I left Boston to catch an afternoon flight. I flew home, after spending the best part of a week at and around LiveWorx 2019, I realized that I’d left some major milestones unacknowledged. It had not escaped me that the crucial role that PLM plays in a modern IT ecosystem had been a key pillar of the event, but until I had a moment to sit back and think, I hadn’t realized just how many technologies had advanced beyond the arms-length acronym stage to become real, viable applications in a very short space of time. PLM, AI, IoT and AR had all been brought to life at LiveWorx – in the retail breakouts, at the booth, and, most obviously, across XTropolis. And this had happened so seamlessly (or I had been so blinkered) that I hadn’t even noticed.
If I took one thing, above all others, home from LiveWorx this year, though, it was this. Inside and outside retail, the march of technology is picking up an even quicker pace every year – and this is manifesting itself in the broadest and deepest selection of digital solutions I think our industry has ever seen. But in order to make full use of these and to seize new opportunities, every business, bar none requires PLM. From 3D design to AI-driven planning, a central source of accurate information and a full trail of integration and accountability are the foundations that any digital transformation strategy needs to succeed.
PTC’s task now is to carve out a strategy for the future of its retail PLM business that measures up to its promise to remain the logical choice of technology partner for large multinational enterprises – most, if not all, of whom will be considering PLM as the backbone for an all-encompassing digital transformation project. But based on what I saw at LiveWorx 2019, PTC has all the right building blocks in place to articulate and deliver this vision.