PLM Standardization Effort Limited But Still Useful

Last Monday (March 2), Tradestone Software announced that it was "working with the largest retailers in the world to form the first PLM for Retail Standards Committee." And that was true. But the group consisted solely of the vendor's own customers.

Funny thing, but the vendor's statement announcing the committee forgot to mention that detail. For the record, it did hint at it by mentioning that the committee "is an outgrowth of the TradeStone STARS User Group meeting in September." It's a lot easier to work out a standard if everyone is using the same software. (Envision a meeting of the Microsoft Web Interoperability Standards Committee: "Welcome everyone to our first meeting. First order of business is that everyone needs to use the latest version of IE and only IE. Standard done. Who's up for lunch?")

Having gotten that off our product lifecycle management chest, the Tradestone effort does have quite a few things going for it. First, it's A Team list of retailers—including Macy's, Kohl's, Lowe's, Urban Outfitters and Pacific Sunwear--forces it to be taken seriously. Secondly, there has been so little truly accomplished with PLM standardization that practically any effort should be applauded.

Paula Rosenblum, veteran retail IT watcher whose dayjob is analyzing things for RSRresearch, has the perfect attitude about these things: "Sometimes data standards are just a distraction from actually getting something done."

In a post on her site, Rosenblum said the committee—especially if it soon grows beyond the vendor's own clients—has potential, but only if it mandates quality controls all the way down the line.

"So while I'm glad to hear standards are being proposed, for me, the most important part of these is the one that relates to testing and safety protocols." Rosenblum wrote. "We ought to start from ground zero, straight-up, straightforward check-lists in every PLM system, component by component. 'Does this component match the specification?' Yes or no. Standards are great, but it seems we have to start from a baseline. Will this product make me sick? Will this product fall apart? Technology is a key enabler here, and in the IT Executive Steering Committee of my mind, nothing has a higher priority."

Well said. PLM has never been more important, with more overseas outsourcing giving retailers less and less awareness of what is actually in the products they're selling. This includes inferior products that could break down to lead in toys and disease in frozen sweet potatoes.

IT control implies cost-control and quality control and it presupposes that IT leadership has access to the information to do those controls. And with rampant efforts today to cut costs anywhere possible, never have those quality controls been more essential.