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Posted Date: 10/1/2003

L.F. Brands: Gallery, One Year Later

By  Tracy Haisley, Apparel

With the majority of the Gallery PDM implementation behind it, L.F. Brands reflects back on the process, highlighting the challenges of balancing time needed for training with day-to-day design responsibilities; the benefits of a system that puts more information so readily at its fingertips; and plans the company has for the future.

The Implementation Chronology

In April of 2002, with new management in place, L.F. Brands Inc. changed from a cut-make to a full-package business model. In the following summer months, the company went in search of a PDM solution to cater to its new needs and to enable it to work more efficiently with its new sourcing partner, Li & Fung. By the end of August 2002, L.F. Brands had selected and begun the implementation of Lectra's Gallery system.

An Eventful Year

For the past year, L.F. Brands has been successfully integrating eight of its labels, which cover the spectrum of style and complexity, into the Gallery system. Having successfully rolled out the solution to the dress division, the company is in the middle of implementing Gallery and Graphic Spec to the balance of its sportswear division, including both wovens and knits. Additionally, L.F. Brands is implementing Gallery, Graphic Spec and Lectra's Modaris (automated computer pattern design software) to the Cynthia Steffe label. "We are still on plan to be completely live with Gallery and Graphic Spec in all L.F. Brands' labels by mid-2004," notes Paul Robinson, director, product information systems.

In June 2003, the company successfully upgraded to the latest versions of Gallery and Graphic Spec software and has been bringing its users up to speed on the latest enhancements. "Throughout the course of the rollout of the new software, we were able to enhance our report formats with larger graphic image areas to assist our factories with construction detailing," Robinson continues.

From day one, John Short, CEO of L.F. Brands, clearly defined the objective of the overall implementation plan: to roll out Gallery and Graphic Spec across all of L.F. Brands' labels. "As we approach our first year of using Gallery and Graphic Spec, this objective is being realized. We have more than 2,800 styles in Gallery, 36 Gallery users, 23 Graphic Spec users - and, those numbers are increasing every week," notes Robinson.

He adds that keeping the users focused on individual objectives has been challenging. "Our remaining and ongoing objective is to continue to train, update and inform our users of the system so that as we change and evolve, the software and implementation thereof grows with us," he says.

Embracing the New Technology

At the beginning of this series, Short told Apparel: "Organizational change is hard, and the learning curve is steep." L.F. Brands understood from the beginning that any implementation would not be easy. Organizational behavior can be resistant to change, and this resistance can cause many apparel companies to have a difficult time embracing new technology.

"In many cases, we were no different," notes Lee Polsky, senior vice president, worldwide sourcing and production quality. "Some of our experienced users had used other PDM solutions before joining L.F. Brands and compared the functionality of their old systems to Gallery and initially resisted Gallery and Graphic Spec. After training and software updates, they all embraced the technology and are using the system effectively."

In terms of the relationship with Li & Fung, Polsky notes it has developed during the past year to one of mutually creative involvement. "Li & Fung's technical staff helped us in the development of customized report formats. The customization of these formats was necessary on the factory side to capture essential data and graphical illustrations that are essential for explaining the details of a garment's construction," Polsky continues.

L.F. Brands reports that the biggest benefit of its PDM installation is greater availability and easier accessibility of information. For example, before the Gallery implementation, the company utilized many different Excel spreadsheets to identify and control style information. Prior to Gallery, a great deal of time was spent searching for the latest version of a spec sheet and technical information. Once the company started the implementation and began to capture style information, the use of those spreadsheets declined. "Gallery has become the source that stores the most accurate data relating to any given style," notes Robinson.

The system contains all of the latest information from merchandising, design, technical design and manufacturing. In a matter of seconds, this information can be sent around the world -- accurately, he adds.

From a management point of view, "the greatest benefit [of the implementation] has been the consolidation of data into one format that has a lot more integrity than a spreadsheet," notes David Miller, vice president, sourcing and production.

Teresa Robinson, assistant designer, dress division, began working for L.F. Brands shortly after the implementation. "I really cannot compare how we are operating today, as full package, versus how it was before," she says. "What I can say is that the speed of entering and editing flat sketches is remarkably fast now."

She adds that the company has established a small library that enables designers to quickly grab sketches of a previous season's bodies and open them in Gallery. "Even when we are drawing new bodies, it is usually a matter of tweaking an existing flat and building into it. The process is much faster," she says.

Yet, there have been challenges as well. "The greatest challenge I have seen has been to the internal organization, [specifically] training our staff to use the system early on in the process so that it can really be used as a tool to export the information overseas. This was not simply an implementation of a new software system, but rather an implementation of entirely new processes throughout the entire company," adds Miller.

For designers like Terasa Robinson, the greatest challenge has been the initial time needed to spend on Gallery and Graphic Spec in addition to her other responsibilities. "Styles get changed very frequently, so I need to be on Gallery often to update sketches," she explains. "When we get very busy, around markets, there are so many changes that occur during that time that actually changing them on the sketch is one of the last things I get to."

Structural Changes

The company has monitored its budget through all phases of the implementation and to date has stayed on plan. "During our due diligence prior to committing to Lectra, we spent a great deal of time with their strategic sales director and technical staff on the front-end and long-term cost requirements. Their team members partnered with us to review the details of the implementation process and what we could anticipate. As a result of their cooperation and insights, there have been very few surprises," notes Paul Robinson.

In terms of infrastructure changes, the company did have to upgrade its network infrastructure as it implemented Gallery and Graphic Spec. Separate Oracle, file and print servers to accommodate the data and graphic files were installed. Daily Gallery back-up tapes were added for security reasons, which required some additional IT infrastructure changes.

Data directories were standardized across different divisions, and user rights redefined. Additionally, the company had to create paths that would permit anyone within the organization (including those without access to Gallery) to review information that was not specific to Gallery or Graphic Spec. As tends to be the case with any network infrastructure changes, there were conflicts with user read/write access to be addressed, and resolved. "Our IT staff spent a lot of time and effort with Lectra's technical staff to ensure that our systems were accessible as well as secure," notes Robinson.

Next Time Around

L.F. Brands reports it is very pleased with how smoothly the implementation has progressed. "I cannot say that we would do anything differently. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of planning, partnering and understanding the tremendous impact of an implementation such as this. The path to achieve our goals was more difficult than we ever envisioned. However, we are now seeing the fruit of our labor, and know that all the time, effort and sweat was worthwhile," notes Paul Robinson.

As for the future outlook, L.F. Brands is continuing to look for ways to reduce the use of Excel-formatted solutions. The dress division has already eliminated its Excel-based line plan, and the IT staff has migrated that solution into the firm's AS/400 back-office system. The company is now making one entry for all line plan input, and the next project is to migrate some of that information back into Gallery files. "We would like our fabric department to input details of fabric into the AS/400 and then automatically move that data into Gallery on a daily basis. This will require additional, but anticipated, infrastructure changes. We are working with Lectra staff on the project scope and need to define further the costs relating to this project," Robinson notes.

Additionally, the warehouse personnel have eliminated two Excel-based audit reports and begun entering audit information directly into Gallery's database when the finished garments arrive in the warehouse. This information is available immediately to the production and technical design team for its review.

Change is indeed hard, but, for L.F. Brands, change has been good too.

TRACY HAISLEY is associate editor of Apparel. She may be reached at thaisley@apparelmag.com. 

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