Where should apparel firms be focusing their software investments now if they want to remain competitive into the future? According to industry experts consulted by just-style, technology agendas should include tools that better integrate all data between supply chain partners and offer end-to-end visibility.

Bob McKee, fashion industry strategy director, Infor
We know that "time to market" is a very important part of the supply chain process. But what apparel manufacturers need to focus on is "time to consumer" - how long it takes from design, to production, to getting the product in front of, and into, the hands of the consumer (or maybe onto the backs of).

Today, in the realm of e-commerce, social networking and global connectivity, the power to dictate the market is increasingly in the hands of the consumer. Focusing on the consumer requires an advanced e-commerce offering that is seamlessly connected to the company's core data, though this offering can be only as good as the software that supports it. It is now vital to invest in technology that better integrates all data to manage inventory, seamlessly track consumer activities and better predict what the consumer wants.

Kurt Cavano, founder, chairman and chief strategy officer, TradeCard

  • Invest in processes and enabling technologies that deliver end-to-end supply management visibility and the scalability and flexibility to grow - or adapt - your network rapidly and cost-effectively.
  • Invest in key partnerships that expand your sourcing organisation without tying all of your production to a specific set of suppliers or a particular region.
  • Seek out trade experts who will help you become more responsive and rapidly connect with new trading partners in new regions, as challenges and opportunities arise.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software
Investments should be made in tools that can expedite communication and collaboration with all supply chain partners. Incorrect or outdated information will result in wrong decisions. This is the difference between profit and loss.

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes
For many years it was all about PLM systems, connecting the data all along the product lifecycle. But that's just a starting point and today's successful companies need a much more holistic picture of their total environment.

Companies today have so many sources of information both within their four walls and coming at them from multiple outside sources, they need information intelligence from all these sources, and a way to visualise the impact of their options and their decisions. We see companies interested in connecting informal information within a business context for 'social innovation' such as we can offer with 3DSwYm. We see them connecting structured and unstructured data sources, both internally and externally, for fast analytics with Exalead. Both are ways of unlocking value from your associates and your information.

And we really see companies interested in modelling the impact of their options and their decisions in the environment that their consumer will see - whether that's a virtual showroom, a virtual store or online. Companies are using3D images that can be generated faster and easier than ever before - even rendered from 2D drawings - that allow them to visualise the 3D experience, and experiment with it in a very fast and low-risk manner, while continuing to gather the last inputs before triggering their supply chain commitments.

Anastasia Charbin, fashion marketing director, Lectra
Firms should focus on investing in solutions and technologies that allow them to become the best versions of themselves. Technology should help them leverage in-house knowledge and supplement the areas where it might be weak, and bring the essentials into focus to support brand authenticity.

Today's consumer has learned to make choices in a difficult economy and to be more careful about purchases for environmental as well as financial reasons. This is why today's fashion needs to be about creating and delivering value and meaning through unique, quality products that satisfy desire as much as need. An agile design and development process is essential to seeing this through.

Investments that enable good design, proper fit, and timely product availability - which demands a level of control that only a short time to market can ensure - are particularly important.

Tony Parkinson, managing director, Option Systems
Product Range Management (PRM) systems. The investment in these types of systems can easily be cost-justified by increased accuracy, single repository of data, lower administration costs, lower sampling rates and fewer mistakes in sourcing.

Michael Hung, CEO, Core Solutions
Well certainly as a software developer we recommend technology and most apparel retailers and brands already realise that they can use technology such as PLM to improve product development. Where we see a reticence and a corresponding opportunity is across the rest of the Concept to Delivery cycle.

This means we're only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the improvements that can be made in efficiency. We think the message for the global apparel industry is clear, that the days of squeezing profits out of suppliers and low wages are over. Whether they use technology or not, efficiency, process optimisation and collaboration are the long-term answers to global apparel supply chain challenges.

Rob van Serveen, partner, Genova Consultancy
The three Ts: Talent, Tools and Training. Too many times we see Excel based, fractioned, planning. Finance, Product development, Sales, all use their own plan. And they are not linked and do not match. For example, Demand developments are reflected in the Sales plan but not fed into the Merchandise plan, resulting in ineffective collections. Margin developments are anticipated by production, but are only noticed by finance when the goods are invoiced after 6 to 9 months. But it all starts with Talent.

Mike Hill, Asia business development director, ecVision
Retailers could pass along the increased costs to the consumer who may not be willing to spend more. Retailers could absorb rising costs and try to rework the way you have done business in the past. Sourcing executives who we have spoken will all confirm that the key is a more efficient, streamlined and collaborative supply chain.

Getting there isn't always as easy as it sounds. Change needs to occur and you can't stop the flow of goods to make any dramatic shifts. At ecVision, our solution is a combined effort of data integration and the sharing of this information where decisions can have the greatest impact - each level of the supply chain.

The new supply chain is based on partnership. Retailers and brands that set out to partner with not only their tier one suppliers, but tier two and three suppliers all the way down to raw materials, have a significant advantage. Innovators of today are opening the lines of communication with their suppliers, a historic change in business.

Stuart Aldridge, chief executive officer, Maple Lake
Assortment Planning and Allocation solutions are unique in their ability to enable a retailer to shape their future, rather than just react to it. It's one of the few ways that a retailer can be genuinely strategic in their thinking and then efficiently translate this into decisions that are easy for the business teams to take.

Karin Bursa, vice president, Logility
For many apparel companies they need to focus on laying the right foundation. As part of this, we see leading apparel companies investing in improving their sales and operations planning (S&OP) processes. S&OP helps synchronise the organisation and tie its operational activities to strategic goals such as growth, market penetration, and new customers and retail partners.

Integrated performance metrics are necessary to ensure desired behaviour throughout the organisation. When you define how someone is measured, you have determined how they will act. The reality for many companies is the key leaders are not measured and rewarded for the correct behaviour. In some cases, sales managers are measured and rewarded for reaching sales and service level goals, without regard to margins, allowances, gross margin return on investment (GMROI), or other holistic measures that truly reflect corporate success.

A comprehensive S&OP process is vital for resolving issues that may impact the plan, gaining executive level buy-in and ensuring everyone is measured on and working toward the same goals.

Brian Marsden, president, EMEA, TradeStone
Apparel firms should be looking into technology that supports the entire design to delivery cycle. In keeping with the rise of the omni-channel, apparel retailers and brand manufacturers should consider the multiple factors that occur during the design process to assure reliable lead times and cost management, including:

  • Assuring varying size ranges are established upfront;
  • Assuring packaging needs are understood and communicated to vendors;
  • Assuring country specific testing requirements are known and communicated to vendors;
  • Factoring local duties and standards into lead time and costing;
  • Dynamically source as required based on demand by channel.

Ram Sareen, head coach and founder, Tukatech
Get technology, replace people with machines wherever we can and we can all survive, even thrive. Italy and Sri Lanka are the greatest examples. We just don't have the luxury of adding more people to grow so, with technology, we were able to get way more from very few people. We just don't have enough skilled people in the world.

We need to collaborate and eliminate re-work, find ways to communicate better. It is so hard to communicate fashion on a piece of paper; the sketch and instructions leave too much guess work. In this multi-language, multi-time zoned global industry, technology is the only saviour. Tech-packs, spec packs started out as an alternative communication tool when we outsourced product development but didn't work. The actual design process starts when the first sample arrives, as that becomes a reference garment for all the changes the designers actually wanted but failed to communicate to their own technical designers. According to [TC]2, it takes 5.2 samples and 63% of total cycle time to get a final product approved.

By engineering, almost all our customers in Asia and Central America get over 95% of their first submitted samples approved - which gives them opportunity to get more business as they take away the pain from their buyers. The TUKA3D allowed more than 400 brands to communicate fashion digitally while it helped vendors to develop assets to help them develop many iterations in the shortest time.