Product lifecycle management has brought the spirit and the letter of collaboration to one of the worlds largest surf wear brands, while bringing consistency to its product development and specification processes.
If you know surfing, you know Rip Curl. The Australia-based brand is one of the biggest surf wear names in the business, with global operations, including design teams in Australia, the United States and Europe, supporting its presence in just about every corner of the world.
Despite its global reach and footprint, until recently, Rip Curls three design teams primarily operated individually, sharing little when it came to design ideas because of challenges when it came to exchanging data in a consistent or real-time format, says Troy Smith, global IT project manager.
Because each group did not have visibility into what the other two were doing, the company as a whole did not have a consistent view of its ranges, says Smith. Because it lacked a synergistic approach, time and effort were lost on duplicated efforts from office to office, while great ideas that developed from within one design team didnt necessarily have the opportunity to make an impact across the pond at another.
For example, styles could have been developed in the United States that would also be applicable to the ranges in Australia and France, but we had no technical way of knowing that and sharing the styles, he says.
By operating separately, the teams lost out on collaborative possibilities, and each also handled its designs and specifications differently, says Smith, so a supplier in China could end up with three different forms of specification from Rip Curl.
Selecting a PLM system
The company decided to seek a product lifecycle management (PLM) solution to enable it to share data globally between its entities in a consistent format.
For approximately 12 months, Rip Curl evaluated various technologies, including PLM solutions from Infor (formerly Geac), IBM and Justwin, to determine which product best met its needs.
Ultimately, it selected Infors Quest solution, which at the time was the only one that had the ability to replicate data globally, says Smith. Obtaining this capability was one of the driving forces behind the search.
Each of Rip Curls main locations in Torquay, Victoria, Australia; Hossegor, France; and Costa Mesa, CA runs locally off of its own servers. With Quest, the data is replicated to the other regions automatically.
[With the Quest solution,] if Im in Australia and I want to choose a U.S. design, I dont have to log onto the U.S. server. I can actually see it here almost instantly from when its updated in the U.S. And it runs fast, because its running locally.
Rolling out the system
The entire implementation process was staged over approximately nine months, starting with France in early 2005, continuing with Australia in May and finishing with the United States in September. Obviously, we didnt get the full benefits until all three major regions were online, says Smith. Now familiar with the system, Quest users at Rip Curl are very happy with it, but initial user enthusiasm was rather low.
It was probably harder than we expected, simply because a PLM solution involves introducing a lot more rigid standards for users and theyre not used to that, being creative people, says Smith.
For example, part of the PLM solution involves the use of templates to develop designs. All must be the same so they can be shared globally in one standard format, and the designers were unaccustomed to that type of restriction. Yet after using the system for a short time, designers realized its benefits and user resistance disappeared pretty quickly, he says.
The biggest challenge of the implementation arose from differences in the way particular issues were handled regionally, whether because of local requirements, cultural preferences, habit or other factors, says Smith. We had to build a system that was global but could adapt to the regional specifics of all three areas.
With the initial kinks worked out and all three key areas live, Rip Curl is growing more comfortable with the system and discovering the areas where it would like to see improvement, and new features it would like to explore.
For example, Rip Curl is interested in using Quests Advanced Collections Planner (ACP), a planning and forecasting module that links to a companys ERP system, analyzing developing product ranges against the performance of previous seasons styles.
The company would also like to use Quest PLM more for workflow management, which Smith cites as one of the strengths of the system.
A greater collaborative atmosphere (and fewer SKUs)
Probably the greatest benefit of the PLM system is that it has allowed Rip Curl to be one company, rather than almost three separate companies, especially in design and development, says Smith.
Because of the ability to share data consistently and swiftly, there is less travel, but a lot more communication, such that the whole approach of the design team has changed.
It never used to be the mentality of our designers, if they were designing a T-shirt, [for example], to check to see if [their counterparts in] the U.S. or Europe had done any T-shirts similar to what we were after [here in Australia]. That never used to occur. Now it does, says Smith.
Such sharing has led to a smaller number of overall SKUs company-wide, and an initiative to produce a global range as a percentage of its lines. If we produce 400 different SKUs of T-shirt globally per year, [for example], maybe 100 of those would be exactly the same in every region, he notes. Up until we had [the PLM] system, that figure would have been much lower.
In sum, three brain trusts are better than one? Exactly, says Smith.
Jordan K. Speer is senior editor of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected].