NGC’S Panorama Conference – The WhichPLM Report
New Generation Computing (NGC) held its annual user conference on 14th & 15th November, at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. Across the two days, over 100 delegates that represented manufacturers, brands and retailers from around the world attended the event. The majority of the delegates were existing NGC customers, however there were also a few prospects in attendance, hoping to learn more about NGC, its solutions and its customers.
Delegates attended from across the United States and Canada, and from further afield such as Mexico, El Salvador, UK, China and Australia. This helped to provide a balanced global perspective, as well as representing the interests of all aspects of the supply chain.
As a location, the Eden Roc Hotel was an excellent choice. The Miami Beach hotel is an Art Deco masterpiece. Its popularity exploded in the 50’s & 60’s when it became a legendary landmark as South Florida’s premier resort property. The Eden Roc was originally designed by architect Morris Lapidus, and whilst it has been kept up to date, still boasts many original features.
The voices of some of the Eden Roc’s celebrity guests over the years such as Liz Taylor, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis, still echo around the lobby / central bar today !
As an independent industry analyst on the retail, footwear and apparel extended PLM space, I was asked to attend and present at this year’s Panorama on technology trends and how they are affecting the industry. Whilst I am always delighted to have the opportunity to share my views, what I hadn’t expected was to learn as much as I and the other delegates did about the depth and breadth of the NGC solutions, and the 31-year history behind the company itself.
Needless to say, this was not NGC’s first Panorama conference; the company has been in business since 1982 and aligned with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) in 2001 following close to two decades providing Product Management and Collaborative Factory Systems amongst other solutions specifically targeted at the needs of the retail, footwear and apparel industry.
NGC is local – based in Miami, with other US offices in Los Angeles and New York. Additional specialist teams of development, training and support resources are located in Mexico, El Salvador, India and China. Their customer base has a US emphasis, but with users spread throughout the supply chain right around the world.
NGC is a division of the American Software Inc. (AMSWA), which now boasts turnover in excess of $100m, and has delivered 50 consecutive quarters of profit. Sales are apparently up 30% this year. Given the recent years of economic challenges, this is no mean feat, and the group also claims significant financial reserves in the bank, and no debt.
The coverage of NGC’s history was too extensive to report on here, but the most salient point is its commitment to the end-to-end approach – delivering solutions that cover effective requirements from planning to delivery.
As a result of extensive R&D investments, NGC now claims an integrated suite of end-to-end solutions that cover:
- Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
- Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)
- Supply Chain Management (SCM)
- Testing & Compliance (T&C)
- Shop Floor Control (SFC)
- Global Enterprise Suite (GES) – combines all the modules in an integrated solution
I gleaned, from literature and from listening to several engaging keynotes, that across that suite of solutions, NGC has prioritised developments in a number of key areas since 2010.
These included: improving the user experience, integrating with Adobe Illustrator, adding Colour Library Management, improving the Line Planning capabilities, enhancing BI capabilities, and introducing Single Sign On across the suite of solutions. These enhancements helped round out and strengthen the PLM solution.
Over the same period, the SCM capabilities also matured adding Bookings, Container Tracking, Costings, Vendor Payment Administration, Vendor On-boarding, Compliance, CPSIA and Product Testing.
The combination of PLM and SCM capabilities allowed NGC to expand its customer base in that same period to include Consumer Goods companies – companies who face some of the same fundamental business problems as the Apparel & Footwear industry.
According to NGC, from this year onward the developmental emphasis will be further functional enhancements in response to prioritization of key requirements by the Customer Advisory Board, requested by customers, in response to industry trends, and of course, the regular enhancement of the underlying technology platform.
It may read like I’ve front-loaded this article, but it’s important to understand the scope of NGC’s ambition, because so much of the content and context of this year’s Panorama conference was shaped by it.
To cover all the sessions, the two-day agenda was partitioned at times into multiple tracks, focused upon PLM, SCM, ERP, as well as the central track for the keynotes and hot topics. The overall conference was co-hosted by Fred Isenberg (NGC’s President of Consulting Services) and Mark Burstein (President of Sales & Marketing).
There were two ‘Keynote Presentations’, designed to bring an external perspective to the conference: one from Kevin Burke of the AAFA; another from me, Peter Bambridge, an Independent Industry Analyst.
Two ‘Hot Topics’ were featured in the central part of the agenda, in response to customer interest. Peter Jennings presented Business Intelligence, and demonstrated how the data discovery capabilities could be used in a real world context. Roger Mayerson presented on Product Testing and Vendor Compliance, and demonstrated how testing and compliance can be tightly integrated with the PLM and Supply Chain modules
The conference also highlighted a series of eight customer case studies, and eight product specific presentations and demonstrations.
In a lot of ways, Panorama is an encapsulation of NGC’s breathless ambition to cover the entire product lifecycle – exhaustive and all-encompassing.
Kevin Burke, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) provided a stimulating Keynote that summarized the state of the political dysfunction in Washington and the impact it is having across the industry. Clearly the AAFA has more to do to help politicians and bureaucrats better understand the importance of strategic global trade agreements, and the real impact of well intended regulation upon the industry as a whole.
As a non-profit organization, the AAFA is focused on amending legislation for the benefit of its members, and providing education globally on a wide selection of topics from product innovation to supply chain leadership. With membership of over 530 companies in the association representing over 85% of the US market, and over 1,000 brands, the AAFA has a significant voice on what is happening across the industry. Despite most of the members being in competition with each other, the AAFA is a cohesive force to gain consensus.
In terms of scale, the industry employs over 4 million people in the US, exceeds $340 Bn in sales, and is twice the size of the arms industry. The US represents 5% of worldwide population, but over 25% of worldwide clothes and shoe sales. In quantities this represents sales last year of over 20 Bn garments and 2 Bn pairs of shoes.
Given the degree of uncertainty on trade legislation, and the geo-political forces at work, the AAFA believes that companies in the industry need to be increasingly nimble, as a result they need enabling systems that provide real flexibility. This translates into an increased need for an underlying integrated platform and business intelligence capabilities to investigate and understand trends and directions.
After Kevin Burke’s presentation, he was then interviewed by Mark Burstein (President of Sales & Marketing at NGC), and then took questions from the delegates.
As an independent industry analyst, I was then asked to present on the technology trends affecting the industry. This looked at the longer term opportunities and implications from multiple perspectives, and refined the view into appropriate conclusions. Topics from Digitalization to Seamless Collaboration, from the Cloud to Social Innovation, and from Virtual Sampling through to adoption of Mobile Solutions were reviewed.
However, given the importance of what the opportunities were for ‘Quick Wins’ with the solutions that are already available. There were a series of key areas where business benefits could be realized in the short term that included:
- Exploiting Business Intelligence and reporting to deliver insight and guided decision making
- Adding Line Planning to existing PLM platforms to better manage collections and progress against targets
- Integrating Materials Management into the overall approach
- Using Vendor Compliance to enhance the adoption of standardized Sourcing guidelines
- Managing Quality Assurance through factory audits and tracking quality
- Adopting integrated product testing for both product and materials
- Considering the relative merits of direct to store to enhance logistics
- Adoption of Master Data Management through the use of a common platform
The topics covered certainly aligned with the experience of the delegates and generated significant discussions throughout the networking aspects of the full agenda.
In looking at what the ideal attributes would be for a vendor to be recognised as a true market leader, research conclusions showed the following attributes were identified as key:
- Broad industry solution footprint
- Functionally rich applications
- Broad product roadmap for future enhancements
- Sound technological strategy & direction
- Deep industry expertise
- Low staff turnover
- Extensive implementation experience
- Proven implementation methodology
- Dependable support
- High implementation success rate
These are all metrics against which I believe NGC score highly.
Once I had left the stage, a variety of customer case studies provided real world perspectives on the implementation of NGC’s PLM, SCM and ERP solutions across dedicated tracks.
Rocky Brands presented their experience in adopting the extended PLM and Supply Chain solution through the implementation of eSPS. It also addressed their e-commerce integration, and item master integration with ERP, as well as their adoption of Line Planning and ezShip. Rocky Brands adopted an open standards approach using loosely coupled middleware and encoding in XML.
Swatfame who presented their experience in adopting the extended PLM and Supply Chain solution, and the business benefits they have already realized. They migrated away from spreadsheets and email based collaboration to a fully integrated solution. By also integrating PLM with their production and QC capabilities, and managing samples and calendaring more effectively, they were able to achieve significant lead-time reductions.
Carter’s (OshKosh) also presented their approach to Supply Chain Management, and the way they have revolutionized vendor on-boarding and payment processes. When Carter’s decided to consolidate to a single warehouse of 1.2 m square feet in Atlanta, their supply chain capabilities needed to become first class. With over 1,560 users, and covering 189 active factories, their product tracking, management of transportation and quality control became critical, as well as vendor management.
Continuous business process improvement was the theme for Fashion Avenue in their fashion PLM presentation. They migrated from an Excel everywhere strategy to an integrated PLM approach for 80 users which enabled a “one company, one process, one solution” approach. They are now on a route of continuous improvement.
GTM Sportswear focused on the opportunity to ‘Build an A team’ through the implementation of end-to-end PLM and Supply Chain. They needed to migrate off a Gerber PDM solution, to a platform that could support their urgent need for a single version of the truth for business information, with accurate forecasting for product planning, with Line Planning to manage the high volume of SKUs, and real time WIP tracking & collaboration.
Stony Apparel Corp. presented their approach to getting the most out of ERP and how essential maximizing the benefits is to them in managing a quick turn, fast paced apparel business. With over 100 users on the system, it took them a while to migrate off their old system.
Sport Obermeyer shared their experience of a record breaking concurrent implementation of PLM, SCM, ERP and WMS in a total of 9 months. While not every organization would choose to take on quite so much change in such a short period of time, it provided additional lessons learnt through the process that realized tangible business benefits. The entire project delivered an ROI in 21 months.
On the Global Enterprise Solutions (GES) front, Neatfreak presented how they have adopted GES in record time and with outstanding results.
Every one of the customer presenters made reference to the significant ‘value add’ that the experienced implementation and support resources were able to bring to their projects, which when combined with the robust implementation methodology resulted in strong results and the realization of substantial business benefits. Implementation best practices and the realization of tangible business benefits were a common theme.
The conference was also preceded by an Advisory Board meeting, where a select group of leading customers provided input and suggested relative prioritization for the future development plans for phased releases over the next couple of years.
There were a selection of presentations by NGC resources that updated the conference on the current status of the solutions, and their future direction.
These included sessions on Allocation, ARMS, Task & Calendar Management, Line Planning, Scan/Pack Factory & DC, Raw Materials Management, Advanced Logistics and Vendor Payment.
In addition to update overviews, in many cases delegates were treated to demonstrations of early versions of up coming modules from across the entire product roadmap. There appeared to be a real thirst across the customer base for the deliverables illustrated in these demonstrations, which seems like a strong endorsement of the strategy and direction of the NGC product roadmap.
There was a healthy mix of delegates present at the event, from leading retailers, manufacturers and brands. Despite the varied backgrounds and roles present, there was a remarkably positive level of engagement in all the sessions, and a real enthusiasm to learn and share insights.
Some of the most popular topics of discussion included:
- The importance of leveraging maximum value from the adoption of the reporting and BI capabilities
- The importance of adopting industry best practice and avoiding individual customizations
- The business benefits that can be derived from upgrading to the latest version of the solutions
- The importance of engagement with the entire workforce when new systems are adopted to ensure maximum impact
- How challenging implementation timescales can be attempted with success, based on proven implementation methodology
- How the benefits from PLM can be further enhanced by including aspects of SCM in delivering Extended PLM
No conference would be complete without the opportunity for delegates to interact socially. An evening dinner cruise on the four-tier ‘The Floridian Princess’ yacht around the Biscayne Bay was the highlight of the social aspects of the conference, and the networking continued late into the night.
Overall, the 2013 Panorama agenda was well constructed and covered all the main topics that the delegates wanted to hear about. Balancing product focused NGC presentations, with customer case studies. The two Keynote presentations brought a thought provoking external perspective to the proceedings, and helped to stimulate extensive discussions throughout the conference.
There was, as you might expect, a healthy interest in the selection of customer case studies. If there was a criticism, it would be that more customer case study presentations would have been even better.
Any perception that NGC was a boutique specialist solution provider focused on the retail, apparel and footwear industry is clearly out of date. This was a coming-out party where the debutante was not 18 years old, but had already reached the grand old age of 31. That maturity is reflected in the NGC team’s experience, and the breadth of the solutions they offer.
I can’t overstate the impact of having such an enthused and committed customer base at an event like Panorama. Having attended many such professional events organized by enterprise solution providers over the last thirty years, I was struck by the unique combination of keenness to collaborate and the long-term commitment of the customer base. The enthusiasm and energy of many of the customer presenters was truly exceptional, with a remarkable openness to sharing experiences and best practices. And the open attitude and willingness to learn made the collaborative discussions both fruitful and engaging.
If this event is anything to go by, then I would strongly encourage customers and prospects of NGC solutions to consider scheduling their attendance for the next Panorama conference.
Peter Bambridge is an Independent Industry Analyst and Consultant, who has worked for 30 years creating, selling and implementing software and services solutions for the retail and consumer goods industry. Over recent years he has worked with a variety of leading PLM solution providers such as Freeborders, Dassault Systèmes and Gerber Technology / Yunique Solutions Group. He also served as a Research Director in Gartner’s Industry Advisory Services team, focused upon the retail, footwear and apparel industry, covering key business areas such as PLM.