Apparel software trends 2014: Tackling the issues

3 April 2014 | Features & Interviews | Source: Leonie Barrie

Software can help tackle the key industry issues by connecting all processes, departments and geographies within a global business and ensuring that correct and up-to-date information can be shared in real time. Systems can also help companies be prepared for everything from new opportunities to unexpected events.  

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:
You need the right software platform in place to manage an omnichannel strategy and manage inventory at a global level. Only once this is in place should investments in customer and consumer-facing technology such e-commerce and mobile commerce be considered.

First, you need to be able to source the right inventory and cost-efficiently. You then need strong warehousing capabilities to manage the pick, pack and shipment of goods. In the past many fashion companies worked on a wholesale model, so sold and picked at the box level. As business models have evolved, picking has become more complex.

Most fashion warehouses today have to cope with a mix of bulk and individual SKU picks, as most fashion companies have to service some of their own stores, e-commerce or other omnichannel dimensions. In addition, there is further complexity from the pre-season push versus in-season replenishment for collections, and the number of collections is increasing.

This nets out to the fact that enterprise software needs to cope with a new set of complex requirements and to move inventory ever faster through the value chain. Today's software technologies can provide global visibility, transform efficiency in the warehouse and provide the tools to collaborate and search for information across your supply chains.

Fashion companies need to ensure they have the software and tools in place to support supply chain traceability from sheep to sweater in order to prove ethical, organic and legal compliance on sourced products and raw materials. You need tools to ensure that not only your organisation, but those of your suppliers, are sourcing ethically.

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes:
What software really brings is the classic single source of the truth. If you can't have everybody easily accessing the information in real time, at least the repository for that information is stable, accessible when they can get to it, and contains everybody's inputs. If Bangladesh knows they're going to have brownouts, and this is the time of day they have to work, when they go to access the information at least it is timely and accurate and that's the classic PLM single version of the truth.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC:
It's critical for brands and retailers to synchronise and orchestrate every facet of the concept-to-consumer process. However, the extended apparel enterprise is extremely complex and driven by information; many different and very disparate departments within the enterprise own and need access to data - the lifeblood that drives the global apparel enterprise. These include sales, planning, merchandising, design, compliance, sourcing, quality, purchasing, procurement, and many others. Third-party entities also need this data, among them raw materials suppliers, freight forwarders and testing laboratories.

If there is no centralised repository of information, so that siloed data can be shared in real time both upstream and downstream, the results can be devastating: production that doesn't match in-store demand, late shipments, design errors, products that are manufactured under unsafe working conditions or recalled because they don't meet CPSIA requirements.

Apparel software is ideally suited to handle all these complexities, and fashion PLM can be the key, because PLM provides the ideal platform to orchestrate all information, processes, departments and geographies throughout the global enterprise. A web-based PLM system can serve as the hub of the enterprise, while a supply chain system on the back end can improve efficiencies, reduce errors, improve product quality, increase sales and profits, and preserve brand integrity.

Bill Brewster, VP of global sales and marketing at Yunique Solutions:
PLM software facilitates collaboration and ensures managers have accurate information to guide their decisions. Sharing information like calendars, quotations, bills of materials, vendor scorecards and compliance details helps refine production schedules, hone cost estimates, choose the most reliable vendors and even determine the optimum method for shipping. Comprehensive information leads to well-informed decisions concerning which products to retain or abandon to ensure a healthy bottom line.

Users benefit from having a single information repository, in the form of a web-based PLM system, where they can communicate and collaborate from anywhere in the world and in any time zone. Choosing a multi-language platform is the best way to overcome language barriers and prevent miscommunication that inevitably leads to errors. Implementing a product lifecycle management solution that makes it easy for contributors, both internal and external, to collaborate from design conception to product delivery is essential to ensuring quality and maximising profitability.

John Robinson, senior vice president sales and marketing, Simparel:
Today's fashion retailers, brands and manufacturers know that leveraging the latest information technology is an absolute requirement to staying relevant and successful. The right technologies, when properly implemented and integrated into the business, can provide entire supply chains with the visibility and control they need to reduce cycle times, costs, and waste.

By centralising and making relevant business information readily accessible, modern systems can work to foster greater collaboration among teams and suppliers and empower them to make better-informed and more-timely business decisions that result in bottom line performance improvements. Cloud computing platforms can help break down the traditional barriers of time and location across the global supply chain.

One of the biggest challenges facing fashion companies in the information age is converting the massive amounts of available data into actionable information on how to better manage the business and identify new business opportunities. As a result, business intelligence and analytics represents a major opportunity for business improvement.

The rapid shift to omnichannel operations is impacting every aspect of the fashion product lifecycle. While speed and accuracy has always been an important driver for technology in the industry, the growing importance of inventory management, logistics, and related issues are driving the case for next-generation order fulfilment processes and technologies.

Russel Beron, marketing director, Core Solutions:
By automating workflow processes and providing a platform which delivers greater visibility and collaboration across the extended supply chain, the right systems can help companies grow their profit margins, without having to squeeze costs out of the supplier base. Systems can help these companies plan for raw material price fluctuations and estimate landed costs by factoring in other variables such a currency rates and shipping costs.

As supply chain complexity increases, with a growing number of sourcing locations and greater consumer demands, it is becoming much harder to manage information manually. In the omnichannel environment, orders are smaller and more frequent with an increasing number of styles, colours and sizes (by market) which requires a system to manage effectively. These systems can also help companies consolidate orders to enable more collaborative buying.

Unfortunately, despite heavy investments in IT, especially in ERP systems, companies still have a lot of gaps through their extended supply chain and need a way to integrate information across their various systems. As cloud solutions - delivered more flexibly and cost effectively - develop, the opportunities to tackle the issues in today's apparel supply chain will increase exponentially.

Andy Hinton, business development director, Fast React Systems:
Modern sourcing businesses need to have access to appropriate and accurate information quickly. This increased visibility will allow them to make the right strategic decisions and react to issues as soon as they occur. Implementing appropriate technology will give those businesses the necessary control that they need to remain competitive.

The fashion industry has many different software solutions available to help control and coordinate from design through to delivery. The advances made in software design and deployment allow for easy adoption so that merchandisers, buyers, supply chain managers can help their department/business become more efficient as well as providing a rapid return on investment.

Anastasia Charbin, worldwide marketing director - fashion & apparel, Lectra:
Many of the challenges faced at retail are actually product issues. Take promotions and the necessity to sell things on sale. If you sell unique, new and interesting products that people actually want to buy, they will pay a higher price. By infusing creativity back into the business you can build better products.

How to infuse creativity back into the business? Cut out the fat so designers, textile designers, pattern makers and other creative teams focus on innovation rather than the relentless cost and copy treadmill. By optimising the technology and resources that companies already have, costs can be cut and new opportunities can also be created.

There is tremendous opportunity in taking a lean approach to product development or manufacturing or both. Significant amounts of time and money can be saved. Time to market can be cut by weeks. Time can be freed up for creative teams. Companies then either focus these teams on other projects such as new brand concepts or product lines, or sometimes they choose to reduce headcount.

Technology often results in a very fast return on investment - but its misuse or under-use will lead to more waste.

Jatin Paul, CEO, WFX (World Fashion Exchange):
The right software platform can help connect various internal teams and vendors, customers and assist in day-to-day operations.

If a software is web-based or in the cloud, all teams have access to up-to-date information to execute their job regardless of location or time. This real-time exchange of information is key to enhancing visibility, not only internally but also connects vendors, trading partners and even links into customers' enterprise systems bringing everyone involved in the supply chain that much closer.

The proliferation of mobiles and tablets means that technology is now completely mobile and can thus be taken anywhere. This helps in managing various processes from on-site factory compliance to delivering real-time production updates.

Howard Heppelmann, general manager, supply chain solutions at PTC:
Companies have been deploying ERP and supply chain solutions for a long time in order to improve logistics and replenishment, but one area where significant new opportunity exists is product lifecycle management (PLM).

PLM is focused on reducing cycle time, adopting fast fashion, mastering global product development, improving sourcing decisions and reducing material costs. It also enables process automation and visibility across merchandising, design, product development, quality, compliance, sourcing and vendor collaboration to maximise speed, enable agility and improve margin and product success (adoption) rates.

With PLM all teams can collaborate beginning very early in the product planning and merchandising phase to enable informed and rapid decision making from concept to store. This helps ensure that trend-right products get to market faster, without sacrificing margin or quality by enabling a collaborative supply chain that is not seen as an outsider but rather a critical virtual extension of the product innovation team.

Through greater collaboration and visibility across all roles, PLM eliminates inefficiencies in the product development process and reduces cycle time. It also identifies key cost-drivers and risk in the product development process, enabling decision-makers to easily identify savings and resolve issues.

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