A new PLM system is allowing Quiksilver's design teams to share large art files globally in real time, eliminating major time lags and improving the creative process.
Surf and skate wear apparel brand Quiksilver has "very talented people globally," says Chris Schreiber of the company's three global design teams, located in the United States, Australia and France, respectively. But until recently, sharing and collaborating among the design centers was time-consuming and slow.
"We wanted to share information in real time," she says.
So about three years ago, the global product development team took the first step toward globalizing the three design centers, tapping Schreiber, vice president of technical services for Quiksilver Americas, to lead a project to research and implement a PLM system for the company.
Until that time, Quiksilver was basically "three separate companies developing three separate groups of products," she says.
"We're a very visual company, with lots of visual pieces and graphics in all of our designs '¦ but we did not have tools to share that information." Designers used ftp sites, e-mail and mailed CDs and DVDs back and forth to share their large art files, but those methods were inefficient and slow. It was a major challenge to leverage the creations of the individual teams across the entire company.
"We really wanted a way to get that information out there so that we could use PLM as a staging ground for a lot of innovation. '¦ If the information is available and somebody can see it and access it, there's just no boundary to what they can do with it creatively," says Schreiber.
Within Quiksilver's three design groups are specialists for certain categories. Some categories are developed by one region. For example, the United States handles global denim, Australia develops bags and Europe develops eyewear and watches. But the majority of product is developed for specific regions. "We're trying to find a way to leverage both the good regional and the good global information and really be able to share that," she says.
Mapping out the process, first trial run
The team's first step was to map out the unique and similar processes of each of the three regions, and to define their requirements. The team was pleasantly surprised to discover that the three regions had much in common, and followed a similar order of operation, in a similar timeframe. All three regions used the Illustrator design tool, and created Illustrator files in the same way. Also, Schreiber says some "grass roots" similarities were developing organically among the designers as part of the natural sharing process, such as in the creation of templates.
Most differences stemmed from small discrepancies such as variations among work group names, and different naming conventions for products.
But so many similarities allowed Quiksilver to come up with a common first step, while still allowing for some unique regional requirements.
Such as? The big and geographically diverse European region, for example, requires more samples for its large sales force. "We create samples as we would for a normal production run. Because they produce so many, you have to do a much better job communicating with your vendors up front regarding raw materials requirements,'VbCrLf she says. The system would have to accommodate those requirements.
Next up was the search for a PLM solution. Originally, Quiksilver looked at Gerber, Lectra, Geac Runtime, Justwin, Freeborders and PTC, eventually narrowing the selection to one, for a proof of concept, or trial.
Unfortunately, the proof of concept was not successful. "We found that we could not accomplish some of the things that we needed to globally. '¦ It's really important for us to be able to 'Ëå"own' information, if you will, in one region, and share it with other regions." The company needed a solution with a much more flexible database to be able to do that.
Schreiber says that the software system it tested was more suitable for a company developing product in one primary location and then "pushing that product out to a sourcing office. '¦ We needed three regions to be able to equally input and pull down information from the database," she says.
"We could have made it work, but we couldn't have made it work for the long run. We were looking for something that we could make work for us as Quiksilver grows and changes," she says.
MatrixOne enters the picture
Quiksilver "circled the wagons" for a while, examining what didn't work. Then it went back to the drawing board, looking again at some of the companies it had investigated previously. Meanwhile, Quiksilver was working with Walter Wilhelm Associates, which recommended that it take a look at Enovia MatrixOne.
For the second round of its search process, Quiksilver chose two PLM providers, MatrixOne and PTC, to conduct "mini" proofs of concept during a daylong event with the company's core users in each of the three regions. "It was the same people who had previously been through the process '¦ and we got feedback from the users," she says.
The result? "It was a pretty close competition," says Schreiber, who notes that both companies are comparable in their approach to the apparel market, have similar challenges and strengths and are powerful from a database architecture standpoint."We
also wanted some more flexibility with the user interface, how we could present information to the users,'VbCrLf she adds. "Both showed they were capable of doing that."
Ultimately, Quiksilver chose MatrixOne because of the structure of its database, which it thought would best support its unique global business model and what it wanted to do with the system, particularly with respect to how it wanted to share and leverage its large art files.
Even though MatrixOne's apparel accelerator (the user interface that the apparel user sees) was "very young," Quiksilver liked the fact that it was part of the overall database, as opposed to a separate piece, says Schreiber. The company also saw advantages stemming from MatrixOne's customer mix, which includes Gap, Guess and REI, all of which have somewhat similar product lines. "We felt the work that was being done by those other customers would be a nice complement to the things that we were doing," she says.
From a "cultural" standpoint, MatrixOne was a great fit for Quiksilver's "non-corporate, counter-culture" atmosphere, and the company appreciated its straightforward manner, she says. "During our sessions MatrixOne was very honest with us about any question that we had. We felt, given the good, bad and ugly -- and we knew there was going to be some of all of that -- that MatrixOne would be a good partner for us."
Rolling out the system
Quiksilver signed a contract with MatrixOne on June 30 of last year, started configuring the system on July 17 and went live with some of its functionality the week of Nov. 13. It was "pretty fast," says Schreiber, but the process work from its first stab at a PLM system had prepared the company well.
By the time it started with MatrixOne, "we had a lot of our questions answered, and we had a very clear vision for how we wanted it to look and feel,'VbCrLf she says.
The company is implementing pieces of the system's functionality in different stages. "This is all very new to our users, and we wanted to give them enough functionality to keep them in PLM but not so much change that we sent them right over the edge."
Also, not all of the functionality exists yet in the out-of-the-box product, and the company is still working with MatrixOne on development.
The first phase of its rollout began with young men's product developed by the global denim team in the United States. The rollout started with raw materials identification, including a library of its raw materials, colors and art files. The team also started building styles, bills of material, care instructions and tech packs in the system. Its next step was to share that style information with its sourcing office in Hong Kong.
Young men's bottom wear came next. Pants and shorts are developed by each region uniquely, so the system rolled out to all three regions at that point, which included approximately 25 users.
Schreiber says that so far, user acceptance has been good, and training has been extremely fast and smooth (less than three days), which she attributes in large part to MatrixOne's willingness to work with Quiksilver to develop "cute" interfaces for designers to help them navigate the system.
"A little bit of good-looking visual ui [user interface] goes a long way with apparel designers, and we have an implementation team that really gets what we mean when we say: 'Ëå"That's just not cute.' They have understood and embraced that," says Schreiber."We had an excellent implementation team from MatrixOne. They're really learning about and growing in the apparel space. The people on our implementation team were willing and wanted to learn about apparel."
She also attributes the success of the project to global teamwork, including from project manager Christian Blot at Quiksilver Europe, core teams in the Quiksilver Asia Pacific office in Australia, the Hong Kong sourcing office and James Kim and Shereef Moustafa in the Quiksilver Americas office. Additionally, Schreiber says the team had full support from management, including the project sponsor, senior vice president of global merchandising and design Vicki Redding, and Quiksilver president Bernard Mariette.
How long will it take to roll out the system to all of Quiksilver's 17 brands and their categories? "We're a big company. Probably about two years," notes Schreiber, who says the company is focusing first on apparel, which is the biggest part of its business, but plans to roll out the system to all of its products, including shoes, watches, eyewear, wetsuits and accessories.
Confronting challenges, moving ahead
"The configuration of the solution is a very technical thing," says Schreiber, who notes that the team underestimated the amount of configuration it would take, as well as the time and effort it would require to get the system where it is today. "In some cases, we tried to design and develop the system too fast, without understanding the impact, and what we needed to do with the database."
Wanting to make the system work for the long run required "longer conversations," and thinking through the consequences of choices, because one thing impacts another thing, she says.
"It's a very young system. It has tremendous potential. We had a lot to learn about how to make the MatrixOne database work for us, and we probably should have spent some more time working with it as it existed before we tried to [do too much]. We have a lot more work to do, but I'm really happy with the solution we've got right now," says Schreiber.
For companies thinking about a PLM implementation, Schreiber offers this advice: "It's a very big undertaking. You're not buying a toaster. '¦ Really know yourself as a company and know the product before you start, so the choices that you make are good choices in the long run. There are some hard and big decisions to be made, and you really have to know how your company does business, and how it might want to do business tomorrow," she concludes.
Jordan K. Speer is senior editor of Apparel. She can be reached at [email protected]