Zweave are already an established player in the enterprise apparel PLM market, offering a suite of products aimed at mid to enterprise sized businesses to streamline their product development processes. Their new offering to the market, My Z Design, however is one of the first lightweight PLMs in the apparel market, a hosted solution that costs less than $1 a day, aimed at small businesses and fashion students.
Apparel Thing caught up with Laura McCann, Founder and CEO of Zweave to find out more…
Apparel Thing: What are the key features if MyZdesign?
Laura McCann: The intention behind MyZdesign was to build something that was between PDM and PLM. A lot of product development in retail and apparel starts with the tech-pack. The tech-pack is usually the first problem organisations need to solve. Typically the tech-pack is done in a PDM system or with Excel, some people even do it in Photoshop and some don’t even have a real tech-pack. The idea behind MyZdesign is to cover everything that would go into a tech-pack. So there are construction guidelines, a size spec, and an area to store all the drawings. There’s also a Bill of Materials, which some PDM systems don’t actually have. Also covered are materials, graphics and inspirations, for example tear sheets. Those are the key features. It’s totally hosted and it’s a SAS PLM product so you just need a URL and your login information. It also has portals that help you organise all of your work and some workflow capabilities, such as collaboration and communication within each of these different templates that you’re working on. It’s a collaborative design automation tool that has the foundation of a PDM tech pack but it also has a little bit more as you can manage all your materials and colour palettes.
Apparel Thing: OK, so it’s a little more comprehensive than traditional PDM then?
Yes, it takes PDM and mixes it with some of the most important aspects of PLM such as the BOM, tying colour to the tech-pack and managing material libraries. So you can manage colours and materials inside the tech-pack but you can also manage them outside of the tech-pack.
Apparel Thing: How does MyZdesign differ to the Zdesign Suite in terms of features?
Laura McCann: When you take most companies whether they are a small business or a very large business, PLM is about taking your process and applying that process to the technology. So you’re going to have your forms, your templates, your data, then you’re going to have a lot of things around how you are going to automate the workflow and make sure the workflow works for how you do business. In MyZdesign there is no workflow of that nature. The idea is that it is really more of a point solution where there are forms that you can fill in that are going to help you with all the work that you are going to do but it’s not something that is going to be configured to your specific process. In addition, there are no configurations to databases that would be able to set up all your pick lists prior to starting. So you are going to build your pick lists using text fields – it simplifies how somebody can get to the foundation of PLM but it is not a fully robust collaboration PLM suite.
Apparel Thing: It sounds like a good bridge in between then
Yes, it’s a good bridge and the other thing is, it doesn’t today but there might be new versions in the future, today really focuses on product development and the design team and the technical design team. It doesn’t go into pre-production and sourcing and other things that are in the later part of the lifecycle.
Apparel Thing: What size/type of company is MyZdesign aimed at?
Laura McCann: So ideally when we are out in the PLM world as a PLM vendor we are speaking to any size company so the challenge with the typical size PLM is that with companies that are under around $10 million in revenue, traditional PLM is too robust and too much for them. So I would say it’s really key for companies that are under $10 million in revenue but it’s also perfect for students, freelance designers that are doing work for clients on the side and it can also be used by a small design team in any size company. So if you wanted 5 – 10 designers and technical designers to have PDM-like tools without the full PLM collaborating with everybody in the process, then it’s also a good solution for those companies.
Apparel Thing: What made you develop MyZdesign?
Laura McCann: I’m a big fan of software that doesn’t require a lot of implementation. The challenge with taking a very big footprint like Zdesign and implementing it with minimum implementation is that it’s quite hard as a software vendor to come up with every single version of what you would need to make everybody happy. So MyZdesign is really about taking the best of what our software solution in Zdesign offered and making it accessible to people that want to get a taste of PLM but their not ready to do a full PLM project. What that means is they may not be ready to do all there as-is/to-be process, they might not be ready to hire consultants to come in and do a full ROI but they really want to try and see what PLM brings to the table, specifically around the first part of the lifecycle which is the product development and design phase.
Apparel Thing: So this is a really good tool for them to test the water with?
Laura McCann: Yes, it’s a really good tool so they can get to know what happens to all this data that I use to get to my tech-pack and when they understand how the tech-pack data drives every other part of the business further down the line I think it makes them smarter in understanding how a more robust PLM system will need to be set up to do all the things they are really going to want to do. You know, what I found in a lot of the PLM implementations is when they start in sourcing or production or more of the ERP or line planning part of PLM and they do the product development piece last, a lot of the times the solution can’t be reverse engineered to handle everything that happens in the design process. So I’ve always been a big fan of start at the beginning, and the beginning is what are the first parts of getting product to market and it’s the research and development, the buying of samples, the inspirations, developing your colour card, getting all your materials together, doing all your sketches, creating your first tech-packs. The you go from your tech-pack and you can do sampling, you can do costing, you can do all the other things, but until you get to that first part where you get the tech-pack, you’re just starting kind of in the middle.
Apparel Thing: This sounds like it would also be useful for user adoption. Often Designers have this “beast” of PLM thrown at them and it’s daunting. By starting with the things they are used to doing like developing tech-packs and working with colour palettes, by just giving them a supporting tool, for me this sounds like it’s a good way to get them use to working with PLM before they progress to more complex functionality that PLM can offer.
Laura McCann: Yes, my background is as a Fashion Designer in the industry and then later on I went into private label sourcing and then into the manufacturing side and now 10 years in the technology side of the fashion industry. To me what differentiates all these companies are their product and the design, so I am a little bit of a design snob! I have always felt that PLM would be more successful if it was something that the Designers could fall in love with. Just like the difference between how Designers adopt MACS versus PCs. I think in PLM there needs to be like a MAC version that is more talking to the design side of the house so I aspire to fill that role. To me MyZdesign is a way of getting this in the hands of the Designer who says “you know what, maybe my company doesn’t want to pay for this, but I can use this to get my tech-pack, so I’ll use it”. They don’t have to wait for the company to make that decision, and I think that’s the idea. Most people today want to be empowered to use tools that help them in their jobs and sometimes the technology adoption is in the hands of people that are not the users and I’d like to bring the power back to the user, so to speak.
Apparel Thing: This sounds in line with a recent article on the Huffington Post by Karen Appleton, VP of Box.net, where she was discussing how we are now going to see commercial software uptake being driven by the users, as they are so use to using these really intuitive tools such as Facebook and Twitter; where user experience becomes the determining factor for technology adoption at work.
Laura McCann: Yes definitely, I’m a big adherent to that. I’m a fan of Salesforce.com and I look at them as having done some really innovative things around taking enterprise software and putting it on the Cloud and packaging it up into versions that can be as inexpensive as a couple of hundred dollars a year. So you don’t have to be GM or Sony and have a multi-million dollar CRM tool, you can have a couple of hundred dollars a month. In the case of Salesforce, you can also self implement, so they created a tremendous amount of resources and tools to allow you to customise their solution. The challenge is you still have to have some expertise and technical knowhow. We decided with MyZdesign in the first phase we would get rid of all of those choices and make it a little more simple and there I aspired to the philosophies of the guys who are the founders of 37 signals. So it’s really about make it simple, keep it simple and of course the users are going to want all the bells and whistles and you have to make a decision at some point that that is going to create a much more complex software. In this case we thought we are going to do the simplest things that will help them get what they want and we are not going to over complicate it. If they want to over complicate it, then you can go and use Zdesign and do an enterprise implementation. There are a lot of best practises in simple solutions that can help these companies and these designers be much more efficient and what you were discussing before, the whole idea of empowering users by giving them tools that look more like the tools they use in their personal lives and not these typical “Excelish” software tools.
Apparel Thing: Could a company initially start with MyZdesign then upgrade to Zdesign as they grew into PLM? If so, how seamless would the data migration be if they did more extensive configurations of even customisations in Zdesign?
Laura McCann: So that’s a great question. The answer is they can upgrade from MyZdesign to Zdesign. In MyZdesign we have taken several of the tabs that we have in Zdesign that are focused around design, fit and materials, a little bit of merchandising and trend and have flattened them out and simplified them. So all the data from that information can go back into Zdesign if somebody would like to go in that direction. If somebody just wants to get their data out of the system we also can export the data. Every point of data in the system can be printed out as a PDF. If they want the data in spreadsheets, we can download certain data to spreadsheets as well. So from a migration perspective it’s pretty seamless. The difference will be the migration into Zdesign will probably then involve an implementation of Zdesign. That’s still going to be requiring a scope of work; what do you want to do and how do you want to do it and the typical enterprise software implementation steps.
Apparel Thing: You mention that MyZdesign should challenge the concept of PLM needing a long implementation. How long would it typically take to implement MyZdesign?
Laura McCann: It doesn’t take anything. You will register online and within 24 – 48 hours you will receive a URL. If you are doing an implementation of MyZdesign for an individual, the user is registered as what we consider the admin, so they will be given a username and password. If somebody is subscribing on behalf of a small company like 5-10 users, then the person who registered will also be the admin. The admin will go in and set up all the other users; it will be preconfigured to the amount of users that they have paid for, if they want to add or delete users they will have to request that change. After that the only thing they are going to do is start putting their data in the system. That data will be the data that they use to develop their product, so there is no set up whatsoever. The only thing they have to do is put a header and footer in their tech-pack and their logo and they are ready to go.
Apparel Thing: How configurable is MyZdesign?
Laura McCann: Today, in this first release they are dealing with set fields. In future releases we are hoping to give them the ability to create custom fields. The reason we haven’t done a release with that option from day 1 is that everybody wants to start adding things without understanding what’s in there. So what will happen is they would make a mess of their data as they wouldn’t understand any of the interdependencies that are in between the data. We have taken many of the interdependencies out. In Zdesign we have many interdependencies that are very important and very robust and help you do things around workflow that a typically large organisation wants to do. But in MyZdesign we are giving you a much more adhoc type of environment where you’ll have to sync up with the other people that you work with on who does what and how you’ll do it. The forms are there and there are many fields that you can use if they aren’t fields you feel you need. Because each one of our templates lets you upload other files to it, you actually have the ability of using it as a document management tool, so you can use Excel and Word and other files to add to what you feel we may have not have given you out of the box.
Apparel Thing: If a company implements MyZdesign, is there a limit on many users they can have until you ask them to use Zdesign instead?
Laura McCann: We feel that if a company wants to go over 15-20 users then they probably need to upgrade to Zdesign. So today we have a 5 user package and a 10 user package and there is a slight increase in price when you add more than 10 users so instead of our $350 per year, per user it would be $600 per year, per user. And the reason for that is we are probably going to be storing much more data and there are much more administrative costs involved with supporting a larger group of people. It’s also a way to get people to look at the total ROI and say “you know what, maybe it’s time for me to migrate to a more enterprise PLM solution”.
Apparel Thing: If MyZdesign is like a web-based PDM, does this still include access for suppliers?
Laura McCann: In this scenario, because the process is developing a tech-pack, the collaboration with suppliers is probably going to be limited to sharing the tech-pack. They might be having suppliers come in and upload material information. We do have some roles in the system to set up different access. If you wanted a supplier or vendor to come in and work with you in your MyZdesign tool, they would be working like they were in your company. There probably wouldn’t be a finite separation of their information and your information as you would like. In Zdesign we have Vendor Studio, which specifically addresses outside vendors coming in and collaborating. One of the things we see as a potential out-growth of MyZdesign is that people will use MyZdesign for the whole design and tech-pack and then they may want to implement some of our other studios in Zdesign. There might be some hybrid implementations where they don’t do the full footprint of Zdesign but they want the collaboration piece.
Apparel Thing: Ok, so you could in theory take some of the studios from the Zdesign Suite and tack them on as you need them to MyZdesign, rather than completely upgrade to Zdesign?
Laura McCann: I think what we’ll do is as we start to see what people want to do with this and we have a dialog with the user community of what they think they want next, we’ll be taking other parts of the Zdesign Suite which has over 17 unique Studios, which are basically functional process areas. We might take some of those and add them to MyZdesign or add additional functional elements that are not just focused on the initial product development, so there might be like a sourcing version of MyZdesign that would deal with sampling and pricing. The idea is not to again cannibalise the enterprise software business but to really give people efficiency tools for the 10 or so tasks that they need to do day in day out that would benefit from a web based solution that is more collaborative and that is more modern.
As a software company it’s very hard to build a small footprint and then grow it, so we have benefited from having about 5 years of research and development because we started out as a consulting company building custom PLM applications for the department of defence. So by virtue of that we built a very big footprint and now we have the opportunity to take from that and build something that is a little bit more of a Cloud SAS type of point solution, still knowing that we can upgrade to some of the other parts of the solution if we want to. That’s been our strategy all along and we’re excited as we’re finally there. We have enough of the other enterprise software to be able to start to be able to compress it and come to this real clean SAS offering.
Apparel Thing: What would you say to those that are worried about security with a hosted solution?
Laura McCann: I think everybody is worried about hosting and they think that hosting is something they should take care of. But the reality is if you read any of the articles about hosting and the Cloud you find that a small company is probably going to do a poor job of hosting their own information than a company like us who have to perform on a hosting level like a best of breed hosting company. We are actually doing a webinar March 25th called “Zweave in the Cloud” and it addresses a lot of those concerns. Zdesign can be hosted by a client but MyZdesign will always be hosted in the Cloud at this point.
Apparel Thing: You say that MyZdesign can be used by students. As PLM is a collaboration tool between multiple parties, it is difficult for students who are working on their studies/projects as individuals to use PLM in a meaningful way. What benefits do you see for individual students signing up and how can they use it?
Laura McCann: This is a great question. You know you have absolutely described the challenge. Implementing PLM in an education environment would be fabulous but it’s all about creating and mimicking a real business and typically that’s not what’s going on in a school setting. So what this will do will let each person do the individual piece that they contribute to and this case its probably more in line with what the design students are using in the first place; merchandising, material development, colour development, trend development and the style development and the tech-pack. So here they can literally work alone or they can work with a group of people but there’s no challenge in kind of giving them a tool that’s robust enough to do the work of one but could also include others. The collaboration would probably look like “hey lets develop a product together and communicate about whose bringing each part of the product information to the table” but it wouldn’t be as challenging as it would be with PLM where you would be talking across multiple departments and multiple processes.
Apparel Thing: PLM is obviously very important in the fashion industry today, but due to the issue mentioned in the previous question about PLM being a collaboration tool, many students have no exposure to PLM until they reach the workplace. How can universities better educate student on PLM? If universities are to sign up to licenses, how can they make it relevant and usable for students, instead of just “lecturing” about PLM?
Laura McCann: You know I always had the same concern – how will PLM take off if there are no students trained in PLM? The workforce today that is using PLM is probably using very customised PLM to the organisation that they work for and if they leave that organisation and go and work on a different PLM system in a different organisation, they’ll probably have a little bit more of a skill set – there may be at least one PLM job in the bag. In the old days somebody could take some of these point solution classes and start out, then maybe they are interning or freelancing and learning the tools, then they go out into the workforce and everyone is looking for this particular CAD tool or PDM tool experience. I think MyZdesign could be a good tool to start these students out on understanding what PLM is and be a great foundation for them going into organisations with other PLM solutions so they are walking in with a better understanding of what that job will look like in the future. And you know what, that job is a much more digital job than is traditionally has been in the past, it’s probably less about the ‘touchy-feely’ of design, though there is always that element, it’s really more about being great at the paperwork around design.
Apparel Thing: As a fashion design graduate myself, many of the courses focus a lot on the design method, the inspiration and the creativity, they don’t really focus on the business process. Do you think it would be a good idea if the universities set up real-life working scenarios with the students using PLM to simulate the design department, the sourcing departments etc so that student have a better idea of how they will be expected to work as designers once they get into industry?
Laura McCann: Yes absolutely. I remember being a design student and it was very much about being good at drawing and understanding how to make a garment. If you look at shows such as Project Runway, they are very exciting to watch but it’s still very much about the creativity but the people who can make it to become winners are the people who can execute. In this case they are executing in terms of being able to sew and have a good understanding of style, but if you take the step after that it’s got nothing to do with any of that. Everything after that is the business of fashion. It’s all the paperwork and documentation, how to do a lot of work very fast and cost efficiently and if you go into these larger companies and ask the Designers what they want out of a solution most of the things they want, other than obvious “I want to do everything I can do in Excel”, is “I want to be able to do it fast”. They are not concerned with what the data is on the construction guidelines, they want to know they can access a library with 100’s of existing templates and they can quickly assemble something. So you go from the precious design to “how do we do this as fast as possible?” There are definitely better ways to work and I think our solution will be attractive to students wanting to learn this. Our individual pricing is probably the same amount or less than if they wanted to buy an Adobe product to start out. If schools want to be able to buy packages, then we will do discounts on multiple users.
Apparel Thing: Often when you are doing implementations of PLM, it’s often the Designers that cause the most issues with user adoption. I think if design students had a better grounding of what is expected of them once out in industry this may help with projects in the future.
Laura McCann: We would love to build a user community around this, one of our goals is to wrap a social media environment around MyZdesign and build a community of MyZdesign users that can share resources, not just about the product itself and how they can leverage it, but also to create more of a user community around how designers can learn from each other. Today shockingly, there is nowhere to really do that; Facebook maybe, but still that’s a very personal kind of interaction. Where do designers get to hang out and talk about the trade of what they do? We would love to see an extension of this tied to brining other products and services to the Designer community that really is left a little bit to the side.
Thanks to Laura for the great interview. If you would like to find out more about MyZdesign, check out the website http://www.zweave.com/myzdesign