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How Mobile PLM Improves Communication and Cuts Mistakes

Coca-Cola Germany CEO Ulrik Nehammer recently dubbed offices everywhere “the most dangerous place to make a decision.”

Craig Crawford, a London-based IT strategist who’s worked with the likes of Burberry, Tory Burch and Liz Claiborne, took that theory and ran with it while speaking at a Product Innovation Apparel conference titled, “PLM Mobility: Myth or Reality?” last Wednesday. “We’re making more and more decisions on the go and we need tools that allow us to do that,” he stressed.

According to a recent survey by Pew Research, 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone, while Gallup calls 31 percent of U.S. consumers “super-tech adopters” who move between their smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers throughout the day. Not to mention, more Google search requests are now made on mobile devices than on personal computers in the U.S. and nine other countries.

So it makes sense to harness the power of mobile for more than snapping food photos, navigating new cities or finding dates. But as Crawford explained, “While about half of product lifecycle management (PLM) customers today purchase some kind of mobile package, they’re not necessarily using them.”

And that’s something that has to change, he said, because apparel companies only spend about 20 to 30 percent of a 100-day cycle being creative. The rest of that time is spent on the “heavy lifting,” picking up the pieces from the creative department and managing challenges that inevitably crop up when incorrect information gets passed around.

“How do you provide technology to creative people that empowers them so the decisions they make cascade to a proper handoff for execution?” he asked, before quickly pointing to mobile PLM as a solution, the reason being that most designers don’t want to spend hours scanning and uploading all their inspiration photos or sketches to an image library for the product development team to access. They will, however, happily take a photo with their phone.

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“If everybody puts data in at source when they’re making decisions through easy interfaces—tablets or phones—and feeds it in, it’s always there and you’re only doing your job once,” Crawford said, adding, “You can capture stuff in real time and be in the moment.”

And mobile PLM doesn’t just apply to smartphones; it has to be multi-screen. “These platforms are highly fragmented—lots of different screens, lots of different uses of those screens and lots of different operating systems,” he noted, “but what you see on your desktop needs to translate to a smartphone to an iPad to a laptop to a watch.”

Offering that level of flexibility frees up the design and development teams, allowing them to spend more time on the street scouting trends or in the factory checking quality and fit. “You make decisions where the activity is happening,” Crawford added, pointing out that he himself has worked off phone almost exclusively since 2009. “It’s not about going to the office and sitting at your desk; it’s about who you bump into in the elevator.”

To anyone worried that other apparel companies will try to hack their smartphones to steal their ideas, he said, “Phones have high levels of encryption so they’re safer than anything else. Your phone is actually safer than your desktop.”

He added, “Mobile is the next wave. It’s coming, it’s here.”