The history of PLM is heavily intertwined with aerospace, defense and automotive industries. Back those days, these industries introduced the higher level of product design and manufacturing complexity you can imagine. It is still true. But here is the thing – for the last 20-25 years, some other industries gained level of complexity and sophistication we didn’t even dream before.
Fashion industry is one of them. Just thinking about global brands, thousands of stores, customers, supply chain and logistic is already enough. But what about design and mass customization factor? These are very important trends today.
Straits Time article – Zara’s secret to success lies in big data and an agile supply chain caught my attention because it gives a very interesting story how customer feedback, supply chain logistic and global operations can be combined together with big data and analytic technologies to work together and provide a very interesting result.
Here is a passage I specially liked:
Before the doors open daily at each of the 2,213 Zara outlets around the world, floor staff and store managers huddle to have an all-important meeting. During this time, they share details of the previous day’s best-selling items, pieces returned by customers, shopper feedback as well as trends that staff have been noticing on the ground. Has that new khaki jacket been flying off the shelves? A request has already been made for a restock. Are more customers returning that flouncy pink skirt? The design has been flagged.
And while gathering such information is by no means unusual – after all, traditional sales reports are the norm in a retail-driven business – in the case of Zara, big data forms the backbone of the enterprise. Using a sophisticated technology- driven system, specialist market analysts based in Inditex’s headquarters in La Coruna, Spain, data-mine the daily updates and use them to paint an accurate picture of exactly what Zara’s customers are demanding.
The article took me back to my earlier blog about the future of PLM data analytics. Data analytics is one of the fields that can provide a potential to improve design and engineering process by analyzing significant amount of data. Think about leveraging cloud infrastructure, network and graph databases combined with visual and intuitive analytic tools. It is not where we are today. This is how future will look like. And Zara’s example above is just a confirmation of how important data collection and analytics will be for the future of product lifecycle.
Now, let me take this story one step forward. Although, the key element of the article about Zara is the ability to collect information from customers, in many situations IoT devices can provide similar portion of information. Did customer walked across the store and didn’t pay attention on a new collection? Did he touched a product and didn’t buy it after all? What color was preferred by the visitors of the store. Tracking this information can be an interesting way to collect data and use it for analytic. Then supply chain and operations. How many of bill of material items were replaced because quality issues? What suppliers had a problem with time and delivery. To collect this information and analyze changes in bill of materials can be another source of data information collected to improve design and quality of operation.
What is my conclusion? We live in a time when companies started to understand and appreciate the value of data collection. It is not only Facebook and Google problem. It is a problem that is going to touch design, manufacturing and operation of every single manufacturing company in the world. The future role of PLM software will be shifting from data accounting and control to data analytics. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.