Apparel software trends 2014: What else to watch?

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

What else is likely to be topping the apparel industry's software agenda this year? 3D product development and design, digital continuity of information and images, predictive analytics, Systems that bridge supply chain processes for end-to-end visibility and collaboration, and tool that help manage supplier capacity and materials are all highlighted. 

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:
The industry is transitioning from a single threaded retail model to one that has more moving parts than a Swiss watch. This is having a huge and still largely unforeseen impact on how fashion businesses operate. It brings new business models, greater complexity, different sourcing requirements, inventory challenges - and demands new infrastructure, processes and new levels of information and speed to satisfy the consumer.

It's no secret that e-commerce continues to grow and is no longer a 'nice to have' but a necessity for most fashion companies. Technology here is moving fast, and e-commerce is an ideal candidate for outsourcing the management of the system to a cloud services provider.

While much of the focus in recent years has been on B2C, there may be a resurgence in focus on B2B e-commerce. Some fashion brands are finding the retail business hard, and are looking for ways to strengthen relationships with their third-party retail customers to grow their business faster. B2B e-commerce could be what is needed to bring brand and retailer closer together to provide a better and more consistent experience. The brand, retailer and end-consumer are all winners in this model. It could even breathe live back into declining high streets.

Other areas that are receiving much attention at present are 3D printing and body-scanning technology, which is likely to start to ramp up adoption over the next two to three years.

Anastasia Charbin, worldwide marketing director - fashion & apparel, Lectra:
A clear move toward 3D product development and design. The apparel product development process has actually changed very little over the years, and 3D is really the first disruptive technology we have had in this arena. Some technologies have enabled teams to work faster and a little bit better. But 3D fundamentally changes the way a company works, effectively leveraging design and product development teams as they have never been before.

As a younger generation starts to come into the industry, it will become more important for the creative process to be mirrored in the way they work; that means sharing, building, mixing media, re-editing, sampling and developing on others' work.

Collaborative tools like 3D where two people can share an idea very, very early on in the conceptualisation phase are effectively giving us new ways to work because design and product development become much more iterative than before.

As they say, two minds are better than one!

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes:
People need to look at what is going to support them in the years to come, and all the different ways consumers are likely to want to interact with retailers. How dies this impact the ways they can re-use their product information and the digital assets associated with those products?

So a designer may start with an early sketch, then technical elements get added, and ultimately you have consumer images on your website and in your catalogues. In-between you are informing your store associates what is coming using images on planograms and for store set-up. So rather than have multiple versions of product information and product images, retailers have figured out how to connect that information through their ERP system to order management to catalogue management, etc.  

Now is becoming the time to do that for images as well. So looking for that digital continuity of information and images is something that should become part of the technology agenda. How to make better use of assets you have invested in.

Bill Brewster, VP of global sales and marketing at Yunique Solutions:
User adoption is everything. Users want software that is going to enhance the way they work, not encumber it. In-depth training and shared organisational goals are necessary to ensure teams realise the full potential of a new business system. In the case of PLM, or any software for that matter, it must be easy to use, engaging and offer seamless integration with standard business tools.

Apparel companies can benefit significantly from integrated solutions that minimise manual data entry and, therefore, reduce errors and rework in the process. As an example, installing a PLM system that is fully integrated with drawing tools, textile design tools and pattern making tools enables development teams to collaborate more effectively, reduce data entry and ensure accuracy and speed to market.

Russel Beron, marketing director, Core Solutions:
In thinking about their future IT apparel investments, companies should look beyond traditional PLM solutions which support apparel companies primarily at the design stage of a product.

Systems that can bridge supply chain processes right from the idea of a product through sampling, quotations, supplier selection, production, order management, logistics and finance offer the potential of true end-to-end visibility and collaboration. These systems should be able to interface with other systems and be offered on a flexible (cloud) delivery model.

Back to the multichannel topic, apparel retailers and brands have been very much focused on revenue growth and international expansion to fast growing retail markets such as China and India. However in many cases they have not addressed the fundamentals of their supply chain where there is a lot of potential for automating much of the workflow involved in getting a product to market.

Leapfrogging into the omnichannel space does not offset the need to address these fundamentals. In some ways companies that have not already invested in large-scale IT systems are in a fortunate position given the greater range of options that the cloud has enabled for IT adoption. Such systems, which are flexible enough to cover the majority of a company's needs at a significantly lower price point, are most suited to adapt to the fast evolving demands of the apparel world.

Howard Heppelmann, general manager, supply chain solutions at PTC:
Two emerging technologies that should be topping the technology agenda of retail, footwear and apparel companies are the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive analytics offerings.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the Internet of Things has the potential to create economic impact of $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025. The firm believes perhaps 80% to 100% of all manufacturing could be using Internet of Things applications by then.

With increasingly sophisticated Internet of Things technologies becoming available, retailers, brands and manufacturers can not only track the flow of products or keep track of physical assets, but they can also support strategies, such as, system monitoring, connected operations and real-time consumer analytics, all of which can provide critical feedback to improve the merchandising, design and supply chain business processes.

Understanding consumer demand and trends is perhaps the single most difficult decision for merchants. Predictive analytics enables companies to have a scalable solution to capture the voice of the customer by consumer-testing hundreds or thousands of candidate products within days.

By combining predictive analytics with PLM, retailers and brands can consumer-test candidate products and seamlessly integrate consumer input into the product development process - with speed, scale, and science - to deliver improved product success rates, sales and margins.

Andy Hinton, business development director, Fast React Systems:
One trend we have noticed, that we believe should firmly be on the agenda this year, is that retailers/brands/sourcing companies are now looking to monitor the commitment that they are placing on their suppliers and to compare this to their available capacity.

After all, if you 'overload' your suppliers they will either deliver late, use airfreight to compress the lead time, or worse still, they will subcontract the work out to an 'unapproved' factory.

Many businesses are already pre-booking their likely future capacity requirements with the garment factories and then monitoring how much of this 'pre-booked' capacity they have used.

Given the nature of the fashion industry (many products need to be delivered on a specific date), this naturally causes a 'peak' demand on the supplier, usually causing one of the issues described above. Effective supplier commitment monitoring enables this peak load to be smoothed (brought forward), but this has a consequence that the materials are required earlier and this too must be monitored and controlled.

Although the retailer/brand/sourcing company may be buying 'full package', it is still necessary for them to monitor the materials required to produce the finished garments that they have ordered, especially as the key component (eg fabric or yarn) is often the longest lead time item.

Therefore fashion businesses should also be looking to implement a solution that includes MRP (material requirement planning). This will enable them to place an indication of the total requirements to the fabric mills.

We have also seen some businesses go even further than finished goods supplier (factory) capacity management and look at managing the capacity of specific fabric (or yarn) mills.

This effective management of supplier capacity and materials, will lead to a reduction in overall lead time from purchase order placement through to delivery of finished goods - the new 'fast fashion'?

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC:
It is critical to integrate all enterprise systems into one central hub to share real-time data throughout an organisation. A web-based solution should be used as the entry point and distribution mechanism, since this can give every department and external trading partner immediate access to the information they need to do their job efficiently and correctly.

This type of solution breaks down the silos in apparel organisations and puts all stakeholders on the same page.

All too often, however, many apparel companies still rely on fax, spreadsheet and email, with Illustrator files that are emailed back and forth, change orders that get lost in a stack of faxes, and information that's outdated and inaccurate. This is a recipe for disaster - just think what would have happened if Lululemon had identified the quality problems in its women's yoga pants before they ever shipped and had taken immediate action to correct the problems.

When companies can't share information in real time upstream and downstream, the results can be devastating. PLM, global sourcing, supply chain management, ERP and other enterprise systems all need to be part of a single centralised hub that promotes collaboration and data access; this type of enterprise orchestration and synchronisation should be at the top of the industry's technology agenda.

John Robinson, senior vice president sales and marketing, Simparel:
Streamlining and improving planning and forecasting at every stage of the fashion process is essential going forward. Whether it be line planning, raw materials, production, inventory, merchandise or even forecasting consumer trends and buying patterns, the ultimate goal is for apparel companies to permanently remove time, cost and waste from all operations.

In the end, companies need to be able to more accurately predict what consumers want and how they want to shop, buy and receive it. While there are many components to doing this, the demand for next-generation e-commerce, mobile technologies, social media, analytics, and other technology is clearly a growing part of the solution.

Jatin Paul, CEO, WFX (World Fashion Exchange):
Deploying the new-age PLM and ERP systems to drive efficiencies across the supply chain and exploring ways to reach new customers and markets on the web and via mobile should be the highest on any company's technology agenda.

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