Co-ordinating the various businessactivities that contribute to a particular business objective being accomplished isusually so time consuming that the co-ordination itself becomes a bottleneck. In justabout every business there is frustration at the amount of meetings people have to attend.A typical meeting sees key individuals locked in a room for many hours, most of which aretotally unrelated to their activity.

With companies in the Apparel, Footwear andTextiles industries facing tightening margins, faster moving trade and higher customerservice expectations, the need to co-ordinate and monitor progress more efficiently is ofprime importance. And for many companies - those spread across multiple sites,countries or continents - the problem is further exacerbated by geography, time-zonesand languages.

The vast majority of Apparel, Footwear andTextiles businesses, whether manufacturer or distributor, are involved in global trading.This can require activity co-ordination in a number of forms

  • Management of the design and development processes
  • Management of the pre-production (post sample/contract) to bulk manufacture stages
  • Sourcing of finished products
  • Sourcing of raw materials
  • Management of offshore resources
  • Management of joint-venture resources

Achievement of any business goal requiresplanning and execution - a task of co-ordination that is increasingly complex as supplynetworks become more integrated. Each part of the supply network, be it a business unit orseparate organization, is dependent on the execution of all the tasks in the chain -including those that are not under direct control of the end supplier. All tasks have tobe completed on time, on cost and as specified if the customer is to be satisfied.

Companies have successfully used softwareapplications to improve efficiency in a number of areas, but an automated system toco-ordinate activity and monitor progress is generally seen as an out of reach Nirvana.

However, in the early part of 1999, thespecialist JBA Style team addressed this issue by developing a string of highlyspecialized modules for users of its leading ERP system for the Apparel, Footwear andTextiles industries, JBA Style . These new modules - collectively named EventTracking - enable JBA Style users to replace manual and stand-alone systems witheffective, fully integrated solutions that deliver major time and cost savings and improvecustomer service levels.

By introducing work management technologyto existing systems it is now possible to define what activities contribute to aparticular business goal, to allocate responsibilities and to monitor achievement.Furthermore the system is proactive, pushing work through business processes and warningof impending bottlenecks automatically - even if that bottleneck is outside of thecompany.

The system works on the basis of business'events'. An event is anything that can be considered crucial to the success ofan overall plan, ranging from the first sketch of a new garment to dispatch. These may betasks normally instigated from within an ERP system (for example, raising a purchaseorder) or entirely manual tasks (for example, ensuring timely receipt of a color swatch).

Though easy to use, the system is actuallymore complex than it sounds. In reality, the particular events within an overall plan arefar from a simple linear chain of activities. The completion of one event does notautomatically mean the progression of another, although sometimes that can be the case.

More common is that events runconcurrently. For example, while an order is being processed, various purchase orders mayalso be raised for raw materials while, simultaneously, production capacity planning takesplace for the following day's manufacturing of the goods ordered.

Figure 1 - POT2 Purchase OrderTracking

Shows the key stage in PurchaseOrder tracking - monitoring the progress through the various stages at and betweenthe supplier and the Customer.

This process will be probably bedifferent for each customer and for each of their suppliers. It may also be the case thatseparate processes may be created for each product type supplied.

The system prompts, monitors and thenfurthers progress on a continuous cycle. Prompting will typically be through placing atask on the relevant person's or work group's 'To Do' list. Havingcalculated back from the required delivery date or forward from a first possible startdate, the system anticipates, according to parameters determined by the user-company ,when tasks need to occur. Approaching the due date of an event, the system can furtherprompt the actions or, if necessary, elevate the task to a pre-determined owner (typicallya line manager). An overdue task can then be highlighted as the user-company wishes.

With the task completed, assuming it'sa 'bottleneck' task, the system will then notify any relevant party that issubsequently released to perform their event (or events) within the overall chain ofactivity.

Once again though, contingencyconsiderations are built in. Should an event fail to occur on time the system - whethernotified in advance or following its highlighting of a missed event deadline - willautomatically update all time-sensitive task owners within the chain of activities. Insuch a scenario, new calculations to see if the original completion deadline given to theend-customer can still be met. If the deadline is affected, the system will notify thecustomer service department so it can contact the customer with details of the productiondelay (or it can notify the customer directly).

As some of the above examples indicate, thekey to the system is that beyond proactive creation, monitoring and furthering of events,it is flexible enough to operate in the way the company needs it to. This is a result ofthe @ctive Modeller module that gives companies the ability to define their own businessprocesses step-by-step.

As a result of the way the Apparel,Footwear and Textiles industries operate - globally and via a supply network ofpartners - the system also caters for operation across multiple sites, countries andcontinents. More importantly, it can integrate suppliers, and even customers, to maximizeefficiency. This means that a hold up within a supplier firm will be automatically fedthrough to the end-supplier allowing it to rectify, or cater for, the delay.

If an event tracking system sounds a littlefrightening - with tasks being allocated and monitored by software - it is important toremember that it is simply reflecting the business processes decided by the company.According to that operational model, the system is then communicating between everydepartment in the organization to ensure that no single stage in the process holds upanother.

The result is freed-up executive time,shorter cycle times and improved customer service. Through its monitoring ability, thesystem also allows for benefits and performance to be measured. For example, PurchaseOrder Tracking can analyze the number of goods received on time on a supplier basis. Iteven monitors its own efficiency - data can be used to measure the improvement in supplierperformance after the implementation of the system itself.

Rob Jennings, JBAInternational Product Marketing Manager for the Apparel, Footwear & TextileIndustries, JBA

For more information:

Steve Loynes, Text 100, Tel: 0181 242 4235,stevel@text100.co.uk
Michelle McMahon, JBA, Tel: 01527 496200,
michelle_mcmahon@jbaworld.com