More than a dozen small and medium sizedclothing manufacturing companies in Scotland, from Peterhead to the central belt, havesigned up to a project which gives them access to new technology to improve businessprocesses and deliver training to workers where and when it is needed.

The benefits of the Telematics project -the broad term used to refer to the joint use of information technology andtelecommunications – were explored at the end of last year during a breakfast meeting atthe Scottish Enterprise Technology Park in East Kilbride headed by Marks & Spencer,Bairdwear Glasgow, and Fife College of Further and Higher Education.

Telematics gives companies access toe-mail, business information and advice, training materials, the Internet, and videoconferencing. Participating companies have already been equipped with a top of the rangecomputer through which they can dial in and access materials held by the project leaders:Glenrothes College, Lauder College, Fife College and CAPITB Trust, the British apparelindustry’s National Training Organisation.

Jerry Dunleavy, specialist manager of Marks& Spencer’s clothing group, set the scene for the requirement and use of the mosteffective communication techniques in today’s highly competitive marketplace. He said thatthey and their suppliers have one common purpose, and that is to satisfy the millions ofcustomers who visit their stores each week. Their partnership approach embraces the wholelength of the supply chain and covers the dyestuff and chemical supplier, the machinemanufacturer, the raw material supplier, the garment maker and, of course, the retailer.He showed a fly-on-the-wall film demonstrating the use of video conferencing from theirBaker Street head office in London for technical buying procedure meetings.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing equipment has beeninstalled within Marks & Spencer for approximately seven years and has been used on aregular basis within their operations. It has been used for critical path meetings frompre-production to white/green seal meetings and is now tried and tested.

Bairdwear’s Hazel Small joined thegathering from her Glasgow office via a video conference link in order to show delegatesat first hand the benefits of video conferencing within the supply chain and its potentialfor other applications such as training.

“Video conferencing is now integral tothe performance of Bairdwear business”, explained Hazel. “It was once aboutsaving travel costs and avoiding the ‘red eye’ from Glasgow to London. Even with a paybackof less than 6 months the real benefit is about the quality and speed of decision makingin a fast moving multi-site organisation”.

Jerry Dunleavy commented: “To carryout the meetings without the necessity for anyone to leave their place of work, with theability of calling on experts and their suppliers who would not normally be present atthese meetings, improves overall communication and reduces travel costs.

“From a manufacturing point of view,their suppliers will save time on travel by the reduction of trips to Baker Street forroutine technical work meetings”.

Equipment Requirements

He ran through the various types ofequipment required to conduct a meeting, from an immobile zoom lens onto which fabrics canbe placed and shown in the finest detail, even down to counting stitches, to the use of anauxiliary camera for fitting sessions giving excellent colour and clarity and allowingquick amendments to be made to garments through visual and verbal instruction. Linking acamcorder into the system can even allow problems on the production line to be discussed.

He stressed that video conferencing willnot always replace the need and benefits of travelling. What video conferencing does ishelp to be more focused and selective about travelling, resulting in higher quality andmore effective visits. This should allow them to spend more quality time with theirsuppliers.

Ian Hail, the Teleflex manager at FifeCollege, cautioned the audience not to get carried away on the tidal wave of thetechnological revolution and to resist the urge to set aside all that we currently do andreplace it with something else. He said: “The Telematics project in Scotland hasachieved the objective of developing an easy to use environment that combines remotelydelivered training and access to business services. It combines the traditional and theinnovative in as close a replication of the traditional learning environment as possible.

“Good quality training materials aredelivered into the workplace over a network linked by ISDN telephone lines. Employees nolonger have to leave their place of work on a wet and windy day to get the No 19 bus toattend College or University to receive training. The savings in terms of time, cost,efficiency and effectiveness are obvious. There can be nothing worse, however, thanputting an employee in a darkened room in front of a PC and told to learn”.

The Telematics project extends throughoutScotland. Companies wishing to become involved should contact: Yvonne Jarron, CAPITBTrust, East Kilbride: 01355 237427.