Faced with a significantly more challenging and competitive market, what else is likely to be topping brand and retail supply networks this year? Firms would be wise to watch ways of maximising investments, doing more with less, true collaboration, accurate material forecasting and planning, and 'cloud' technologies, the experts say.

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes
Companies want to maximise the investments they've already made. Being able to leverage what you already own and quickly get new levels of value will be important to supporting rapid decision-making.

As we continue to expand our business solutions beyond PLM, we're working with a wider range of existing PLM and CAD environments and helping our customers unlock value from analytics and social innovation without having to completely change those environments.

Kurt Cavano, founder, chairman and chief strategy officer, TradeCard
Brands and retailers are always seeking better ways to align their supply networks with consumer demand. Today, most analysts and solution providers are talking about cloud technology and social media tools for the supply chain. The reality is that these technologies have only started to transform how global trade networks function more efficiently.

The next big wave of innovation will be the widespread deployment of true collaboration platforms that deliver robust functionality which, in turn, gets extended with an emerging portfolio of applications built by a growing number of in-house and independent developers. Think of Apple's AppStore, where you can find over 600,000 applications for the iPhone and iPad. None of these were built by Apple.

Transformation is not just about "doing more with less." Going forward, you have to do more, in more places, with more trading partners, in less time, with lower margin for error, while maintaining costs at bay. Look for new applications and extensions of cloud and social media technologies in areas such as raw materials and supply planning, end-to-end supply visibility, RFID integration and network optimisation through benchmarking and rich data analysis.

Michael Hung, CEO, Core Solutions

  • Raw material costs have been a headache for executives and we expect this trend to continue this year. The ability to execute on accurate material forecasting and planning will give certain companies an edge.
  • As apparel retailers look for opportunities to optimise their supply chains they will rely on end-to-end lead-time reduction from concept to delivery, requiring process synchronisation across the organisation and across the supply chain.
  • We can expect to see more widespread application of technologies, especially in the adoption of Cloud solutions, to increase visibility, collaboration and automation.

Tony Parkinson, managing director, Option Systems

  • Hosted services time has come - for an industry that is typically conservative when it comes to IT, having your data hosted by a third party in a datacentre is now seen as not only viable, but quite cost-effective in removing responsibility for backups and security. Most companies have outsourced their consumer web sales activities, and are more confident in letting corporate data follow suit. But companies still like to know where their data is, storing it in "the cloud" is a bridge to far at present.
  • Channels - most branded businesses are multi-channel these days, offering a variety of routes to the consumer: typically on-line, through their own retail stores and through wholesale sales. However we are also seeing an increase in the concession and franchise models. Concession (from the retailer's point of view) since you can fill a space with stock that doesn't have an up-front cost or commitment, and franchising (from the brand's aspect) so you can increase your footprint without investing precious capital. These additional channels are causing some companies to review their ERP systems to make sure that management information is relevant.
  • Business Intelligence - making the most of the corporate database. It's all about having the right garments in the right place at the right time, and we're seeing several companies using dashboard tools to visualise trends and optimise their stockholdings.

Ram Sareen, head coach and founder, Tukatech
Historically, the garmentos are too shy to invest. But the challenges are too many and automation is the only way to go forward. We all need to look at our business models and invest accordingly. We all have CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CTOs - but every company has to have one CPO, the Chief Paranoia Officer who makes sure no-one gets too comfortable with old systems. There is nothing old in this business any more.

I cannot guarantee that most of us will not go out of business if we don't invest in technology, but I will guarantee that we will if we don't invest(igate).

Mike Hill, Asia business development director, ecVision
Supplier diversification and shifts to new regions for production are at the top of each retailer's list this year. There are significant challenges that need to be addressed. This need to diversify stems from factors such as high risk and labour/product cost increases in certain regions. Brands need to be able to onboard new suppliers in new regions quickly and easily. In order to effectively manage a supplier base brands and retailers need to analyse the entire supply stream down to the raw material supplier. This level of analysis will ensure practical decisions are made that have positive, long term impacts.

Stuart Aldridge, chief executive officer, Maple Lake
We think that there will be a greater emphasis on risk analysis and assessment for merchandising and buying decisions in the next 12 months. It's one thing to understand where the business is moving to and how the original plan is playing out, but having a set of potential trend forecasts and understanding the business exposure on the up and down sides of each of these forecasts should become a standard part of the decision toolkit for the weekly and monthly meetings.

Bob McKee, Fashion Industry Strategy Director, Infor
In this fast-paced and globalised industry, it is important to keep one's eyes open and remain alert. We must be attune with the trends and challenges, and remain flexible to better adapt, keep current and attain success.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software
Social and regulatory compliance throughout the supply chain are increasingly important. CPSIA, Proposition 65, and SB 657 are just a few pieces of legislation that will continue to affect the industry in the upcoming months and years. More are on the way, too.

Karin Bursa, vice president, Logility
The supply chain is seen as a competitive advantage for many companies and no longer a cost centre. The ability to drive cost savings and service level improvements has helped secure a seat for supply chain at the executive table. The apparel industry has to continue finding effective means to improve sell-through at retail, reduce costs and lower the risk of inventory obsolescence and markdowns.

Brian Marsden, president, EMEA, TradeStone
We believe the concept of bringing the shopping experience to retailers and brand manufacturers is something the industry is clamouring for. The shopping experience for retail merchants and designers is chaotic, cumbersome and just plain stressful.

As the retailers' shopping experience moves closer to mirroring the way consumers shop, new technology is needed to support how retailers capture inspirations, shop competitors and the market, collaborate on programmes with suppliers and then seamlessly transition to the buying process of sourcing, commitment, production and delivery.

Earlier this year, TradeStone Software introduced the marketplace where retailers shop with its latest innovation - Bamboo Rose - a global e-market community for retailers and suppliers who want to exchange ideas and product information before they buy. With Bamboo Rose retail buyers have a buying tool to capture inspirations, publish wish lists, access online supplier showrooms and organise buying trips. The application is offered through cloud computing and as a mobile application. We believe these types of technologies will not only be exciting for buyers and designers to use - but help support the omni-channel as early as the product inception process.

Anastasia Charbin, fashion marketing director, Lectra
We are witnessing the convergence of several market trends: geo-political and economic influences; social media's role in giving consumers a voice; the maturity of 3D technology and its acceptance by both the general public and the fashion industry; and increasingly informed and discerning consumers.

This all points to one thing: to be competitive in the fashion industry today, companies need to get everything - quality, price, design, fit and timing - right at once. Synchronising the elements that make a successful product is extremely difficult and can't be done without an informed, empowered and knowledgeable team. Yesterday's technologies and ways of working aren't enough anymore; fashion companies need modern tools that are made for their industry. Fashion is unique, which is what makes it both challenging and fun!