Big Data and PLM: Paving the Path to Transformation


Apparel companies are tasked with continuously bringing new products to market as efficiently and quickly as possible. A fundamental challenge for many fashion brands is that, increasingly, they lag consumer expectations, due in part to either lack of or too much insight. As brands look to remain profitable, they are embracing digital technologies to integrate all aspects of their business and keep pace with consumer preferences. But it’s not solely about investing in the latest and greatest technology: It requires gaining data throughout the supply chain, interpreting the information for context and mapping out your organization’s unique goals.  

Here are some tips to help you on your path to digital transformation:

Bridging the digital technology divide Before apparel companies and brands can even begin to envision transforming their companies to remain competitive, it’s important to understand exactly what digital transformation is. It goes beyond introducing the latest software to streamline business processes. A true digital transformation affects every aspect of the supply chain, and this transformation starts with data, which can bring the right products to market faster.  

It allows companies to be more agile and nimble with product, as they have the ability to pull data constantly from a number of sources whether that is their supply chain or their customers. Immediate, constant feedback allows course correction while products are still in development mode to help manufacturers and retailers reduce wait times and increase speed to market.

Major retailers such as Walmart have intensified their digital acquisitions to compete with Amazon and other eCommerce companies. However, a successful digital transformation takes more than just having access to data; it needs to be reflected throughout the entire supply chain and creative product development processes. This is where identifying the right Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution becomes paramount.

Why PLM is critical to Digital Transformation

Historically, PLM solutions have been a repository for all the detailed data around a new product, from measurement points to bills of material to manufacturing instructions. PLM has also provided a mechanism to track the activities of all the stakeholders and ensure the product is developed in a timely manner. From concept to consumer, PLM doesn’t just house comprehensive data on any given product, it allows for improved collaboration among teams, increased process visibility and real-time information flow, fostering speed to market.

With a comprehensive set of tools to manage the entire product lifecycle, PLM enables brands to tweak product designs, produce smaller batches of products to test the market and try out different business models to react better to the changing market and capture more sales. It helps brands create more profitable products. By providing one version of the truth for the details and status of each product under design and development, PLM enables brands to quickly shift production, no matter the location of the manufacturer, as customer demands change.

With the right PLM system, apparel designers can enter designs into the system straight from their design applications. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers get enhanced visibility across the supply chain. Seasonal and fashion items sell within their window of sales opportunity, without having to cut prices. Buffer stocks and bullwhip effects go down. Sell-through, customer service and inventory turns go up.

When considering adding an integrated PLM solution to your digital transformation strategy, there are three key components necessary for a holistic look at the lifecycle of a product:

Line Planning

Managers can forecast trends and demand by looking at the previous year’s business against the current designs in the PLM system. Line planning helps companies determine how much merchandise to send to different locations and stores to help reduce markdowns from excess stock.


Collaboration is a key benefit to shared visibility across the entire supply chain. PLM systems share tech packs in real-time, making it easier to jointly manage production schedules with partners and accelerate the production process for on-time delivery.

Scale and Timeliness

With product information shared in real-time across the company and external vendors, there is a reduction in delays and errors, and implementing changes can be seamless. Once the concept steps are in the PLM system, all departments will be aware of any potential problems with design earlier in the process. This will result in fewer iterations, and smoother collaboration between design, product development and sourcing.

Integration is the Answer

Apparel brands need to innovate every aspect of their processes from the supply chain to the way in which goods are conceptualized, designed, shipped and sold. To ensure supply chain efficiency, while addressing fast-fashion trends, it requires speed, personalization, transparency and the right technology to achieve these competitive drivers. 

A successful digital transformation strategy must include an integrated, intelligent system that delivers the product lifecycle, from the stitch to the shelf.

Paul Magel is President, Business Applications and Technology Outsourcing division, CGS.

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