What else is likely to be topping the apparel industry's software agenda this year? Using technology to help mitigate risk in the supply chain, automating data capture, and greater collaboration and information exchange between apparel retailers and brands and their suppliers are all highlighted. Tapping into social media and mobile technologies will also contribute to speed and accuracy.

Esther Lutz, VP of business development, TradeCard Europe
Supply chain risk mitigation will be a big topic. How to make sure, through the use of software technology, that companies are doing their best to know all their supply chain partners. They have to know that they all are playing by the rules.

Also at the forefront will be RFID. Tagging is cheaper at source and supply chains will move towards more support at factory. Omni-channel support will be key if different shipment strategies are being pursued.

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor
The issue of integration will determine a lot of thinking - linking systems such as ERP, CRM and others - especially linking to the "newer" systems of social media.

Deloitte's Center for the Edge publishes an annual Shift Index to provide executives with an overview of the deep dynamics changing our world, and what companies can do to address them. The most recent Shift Index points to the impact of social tools and recommends that industry harnesses that momentum, saying: "Companies must tap into knowledge flows and expand the use of powerful tools, such as social software, to solve operational/product problems more efficiently and effectively as well as to discover emerging opportunities."

Furthermore, there is the issue of actually getting all this data and making sense of it - without huge investment. And that means automation. Most processes for capturing data, generating reports, and alerting individuals can be largely automated.

In a recent presentation, 'Building the Productive Enterprise,' IDC Manufacturing Insights vice president Bob Parker stated that in the next five years "...at least half of all corporate standard processes will have automated data acquisition. At least a quarter will have self-correction capabilities."

Today's advanced software solutions with flexible workflow design allow reports to be automatically generated and delivered to your staff at predetermined intervals. C-level executives can have key critical numbers sent to their smartphones every morning. Automating data capture processes, whenever possible, increases consistency and removes much of the risk associated with human error, distraction, and noncompliance.

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes
In the push for e-commerce I think many firms have under-invested in their brick and mortar shops or think of them as separate businesses. First, think omni-channel - it's the same person shopping, she just wants a choice of venue. Then let's not forget  that retail is entertainment and has been since the days when folks got together to go through the latest dry-goods catalogues!

It's not a new thing, but apparel firms need to remain relevant with engaging environments. What will your customers see when they walk in? Are your shops set up consistently and well, aligned to the merchant vision? Have you provided the stores with the right product and set-up information?

New technologies allow you to create a store layout in 3D and then merchandise the store using 3D product models that can be created from photos or even a good sketch to see what the product will look like from the consumers' perspective. Share a 3D walkthrough with store managers and visual display teams. You can even share the walkthrough with consumer focus groups and get their feedback on your proposed collection before you have to commit to production! And how valuable is that to driving better sales? 

James Horne, VP of marketing and business development, Centric Software
PLM is where the best "bang for the buck" resides for global apparel companies. Most companies understand that PLM's benefits are real and documented. Now, though, the key will be to identify the PLM systems that offer the greatest return in the fastest time period possible. Today, any PLM vendor will enable - at some level - supplier management and collaboration. But many do it better than others. Apparel companies must look for the "best of breed" PLM provider.

Companies also must be able to identify providers that are continually pushing the limits of PLM. Systems that offer ways to get closer to the supply chain will generate the greatest benefit. These may include enabling faster, less-tedious sample review and feedback, mobile apps, or fast-paced deployment methodologies.

Some PLM systems are pushing toward the customer experience, too. In housing the most accurate, up-to-date product information, a PLM system can be the best option for feeding product info to the back end of online websites. It can help marketing and sales teams form individualised collections and catalogues for customers. PLM can even provide visual merchandising teams with product information to link to their planograms for in-store display planning and optimisation of sell-through rates.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC
Social media creates opportunities for companies to take advantage of consumer data and feedback in product planning. Retailers and brands can gain insight from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other social media, as well as user comments and reviews. This information is a real-time mirror of consumer likes and dislikes, and it can have a huge impact on the success of new styles.

Integration with planning and forecasting systems is critical, too, as retailers now must continually make in-season inventory adjustments in order to strike the right balance between inventory and demand across channels.

It's critical to be able to quickly access and understand this information and then make adjustments in the supply chain - for example, by accelerating the production of the top-selling SKUs and making the right sourcing and logistics decisions to help speed replenishment. Conversely, retailers need to put the brakes on slow-moving items, shifting materials and capacity to the items that are really selling. These are areas where PLM and SCM can make a difference.

Andrew Brown, managing director, Fast React
Speed and customer service, efficiency and cost saving or technological advantage? Depending on where in the supply chain you sit (ie, buyer, trading company or manufacturer) the priorities for investment will vary.  

Nevertheless, given the over-riding pressures on the industry, any investment should pass the test of satisfying one or more of these criteria.

Solutions may range from investment in automation (whether 3D modelling solutions or advanced production machinery), to mobile applications and web dashboards, providing information on the move.

What is certain is that, in an industry not historically known for cutting edge technology, the pace of change and technology adoption is, by necessity, increasing rapidly.

Judy Gnaedig, director, strategic projects - fashion, Lectra
To understand the technology must-haves, the industry needs to get together and talk about technology and learn from those who have made greater progress. It's no longer about "if" but "when".

In addition to the systems question comes the "skills" question. The apparel industry is essentially very low technology, so apparel companies also need to recognise that if they want time and cost efficiencies via technology they need the resources to adopt it.

Mary Beth Borland, worldwide director of RFA Strategy, PTC
For companies that have yet to implement a PLM system, they should seek to deploy mature offerings that provide an out-of-the-box solution complete with preconfigured industry proven practices to achieve higher levels of process maturity. Preconfigured PLM solutions build on years of proven practices with industry leading companies, while also offering the best pathway to faster implementation and lower total cost of ownership.

We've found that most of the PLM business process improvements that retail and apparel companies rely on to create value can be defined by common processes and best practices. So, while there may be the occasional justification to implement a unique method or best practice, the days of each company rolling their own deployment are quickly fading in favour of faster deployments based on pre-configured processes and best practices that deliver rapid return on investment and proven value metrics.   

Michael Hung, CEO, Core Solutions
Assuming that apparel firms realise that the industry is in the midst of a significant shift where the days of focusing solely on labour rates and the next low cost country for savings are numbered, then they must adjust their focus.

Going forward, we believe supply chain collaboration is one answer to this shift in the apparel industry, which can be addressed through a combination of technology and process improvement. As the private label departments of retailers and brands look to close the gaps in their supply chain, they will continue to seek closer partnerships with their key vendors. Such partnering through sharing of information and expertise brings long-term efficiency benefits for both parties.

Technology will continue to play a significant role in helping apparel retailers and brands exchange information with their suppliers. This collaboration will enable greater automation and visibility, not just in their logistics functions but also across the extended supply chain, including processes such as planning, product development, production, social compliance, quality assurance and finance.

Tony Parkinson, managing director, Option Systems
I expect to see some interesting retail layouts and the death of the conventional till, as iPads and mobile phone payments allow sales staff to come out from behind the counter. And tablets everywhere, although the laptop and PC will still rule for intensive data input.

Ben Muis, managing director at Conceptable.com and 1970i.com, fashion industry process and PLM expert
The other technology aspect that has seen some really promising developments is on the sales side. This year the order taking process has become interactive at a new level, with companies taking orders on their tradeshow stands and in their showrooms using tablets, which fed demand straight into their other systems.

Collaborations between different cloud-based providers will see this turn into something that would be fed from images and data held in PLM systems, so that another level of data entry is removed and it all becomes a circular process.

The real benefit is speed, accuracy and adaptability. If you can see in real time what reaction you are getting on which products, create variations to that product in real time on your PLM, share that with your supply base, confirm cost variations and offer the product back (with the right details) to your customers almost immediately, you are truly acting on what you are learning in-season. And in that whole process any new data was only entered once.

Today, it does not really matter what size your business is to make use of good systems and processes. The larger companies should be doing more to use the tools available to be flexible and adaptable, and with cloud-based options the smaller ones can now afford to do it as well.

Worry less about your final reporting and more about what happens before data even hits your legacy systems because that is where you are still losing real money, time and opportunity. Structure the front part of your process well and you can be writing a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With the right tools and the right process knowledge, one of the things that should be topping the technical agenda in the fashion industry is having the courage to take the opportunities and allow yourselves to be brilliant at what you do.