What else is likely to be topping the apparel industry's technology agenda this year? Tools that can introduce innovation into the product lifecycle - such as social connectivity, product personalisation and 2D/3D CAD and 3D printing - are all coming to the fore. Cloud-enabled technology and PLM are also high on the agenda for many fashion and apparel companies, as are data security, visibility into factory and environmental issues, and the rise in reshoring.

Peter Blair, VP of global marketing, TradeStone Software:
The advent of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest has vastly expanded the ability for today’s busy professionals to make connections with like-minded individuals for personal purposes. Today, there are a number of great technology choices exclusively for the retail apparel community that enables social connectivity for professional purposes as well. The more retailers incorporate these technologies into their process to share ideas, designs, showrooms and collections, the faster these online communities can grow to critical mass. This will provide a truly collaborative approach that benefits the entire retail apparel industry. By adopting innovative technologies to support more social collaboration among teams, apparel retailers can prove that they are not only forward thinking with their fashion trends but with their technology savvy as well.

Bryan Nella, director corporate communications, GT Nexus:
Data security remains a major issue this year. The security breaches at some of the biggest names in the world have raised concern. An interesting twist is that retailers and brands frequently see security as an internally focused issue and they are spending significant amounts of time and budget on the issue. Yet, supply chain data security is grossly overlooked. Every time data moves in the supply chain, the risk of breach or interception increases exponentially. How often is information simply emailed to factories or trading partners? Even EDI is susceptible to interception. We often have companies transmitting information all over the world, with multiple tiers of trading partners exchanging information. In this instance, the retailer or brand has lost control of that data and security is a major risk. Every time data moves from one point to another, the risk level rises. On the other hand, the less data you having moving around the world, the more secure you are. The approach some organisations are taking is to have external parties come to the data – instead of sending the data to external parties. A collaborative supply chain platform, built with sufficient security measures, is one way of executing this.

John Robinson, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Simparel:
There are a lot of exciting developments to watch in 2D/3D computer aided design (CAD) and 3D printing technology. Leading fashion companies are already looking at how to best integrate these cutting-edge developments into their broader PLM strategy. Those who can successfully do so will only get faster, build better collaboration and be able to deliver products much closer to market.

IT executives, and all C-suite leaders for that matter, also owe it to themselves to really understand what cloud-enabled technology can bring to their business. A recent Aberdeen study found that the majority of mid-market organisations said they chose a cloud solution because of lower total cost of ownership. That is just one benefit of the cloud delivery model. It’s important to ask technology vendors about their cloud offerings and to really look under the hood to make sure they have a reliable hosted solution option.

Lastly, it will be interesting to see how the industry’s leading players embrace wearable technology — not just in the products they develop for consumers but also in the processes they employ for design, product development and supply chain collaboration. Wearables will give new meaning to "seeing" into your supply chain and communicating with global colleagues.

Anastasia Charbin, worldwide marketing director - fashion & apparel, Lectra:
There is no doubt that PLM is in a major adoption phase in the US, Europe and China. This is because it brings improvements to the creative and product development process that facilitate a reduced time to market, product newness, controlled costs and improvements in fit, as well as other factors that contribute to quality. There are many competitive gains to be made.

Any solution that touches on such improvements should be considered and, fortunately, there are many of them. Each offers a different set of advantages and improvements; for example, there is 3D product development, cut-room planning optimisation, improved cutting solutions, professional-level design solutions, etc. There is a lot that can be done with technology (when it is properly applied, that is) to increase competitiveness and innovation at any stage of the product lifecycle.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software:
We’re seeing a resurgence of interest in domestic manufacturing in the US with the 'Made in USA' movement. More than 97% of apparel sold in the US is manufactured overseas, and that’s not going to change. However, domestic production is gaining traction, especially in California, due to higher Chinese labour costs, long lead times for overseas production, the rise of fast fashion, and changes in consumer preferences.

In order to be successful in domestic production, though, companies must have visibility from design all the way through the manufacturing process. For example, styles and production needs can change at any time, so immediate visibility to raw material and production status are required to help companies make the right decisions. This information must be visible to everyone in the supply chain that is impacted by a change. After all, when a customer wants a change, you can’t afford to waste time getting answers – otherwise, the fabric may be cut, sewing is in progress, and it will be too late.

The ability to manage changes further into the manufacturing process is one of the key benefits of local production, and in order to do this, companies must embrace the same technologies that are the cornerstones of sourced production – PLM, Supply Chain Management and ERP. In addition, we’ve seen renewed interest in apparel manufacturing software such as Shop Floor Control.

Mark Gaydon, EMEA regional director, CBX Software:
As the consumer’s voice grows louder and becomes more empowered in a more social climate, companies need to be able to address the global and local impact the brand has for the consumers and community. This means providing visibility into what is happening in the factory and into environmental issues to provide a connection to the brand. Consumers want information and content – including how the products are made and what the companies are doing to better the world for the future.

Consumers are interested in much more than going "green" – what you are giving back and how you are changing your product manufacturing; how you are working with the extended supply chain across the globe – to make the world a better place environmentally and for the future of our children.

In addition to mobile and agile technology, the industry will increasingly look to tools such as Critical Path Management, which provides visibility and efficiency through the extended supply chain. The industry also needs to leverage technology to improve work environments, provide safe working conditions and enable jobs on a global basis to support the global economy. Apparel companies must also provide compliant products taking safety and testing processes and embedding them into the production of the goods. This takes collaboration, transparency and the ability to provide product data throughout the supply chain to educate and reach the consumer.

Susan Olivier, VP consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes:
In the competitive battle to win the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers, we often forget the human touch, the personal relationships consumers used to have with their favourite retailer. As shops have become larger and more global, and as consumers shop across channels and cities, it’s no longer easy to maintain an individual relationship with the shop owner…but you can still have a personalised relationship with your favourite brand. Retailers are increasingly looking at how to build that personal relationship with loyalty programs and special offers.

But what about ‘special product’? Another great benefit of 3D design in the mix is that it allows consumers to configure the different ‘parts’ of the products from a range of available materials. Athletic footwear and handbags provide two great examples where materials and trims can be interchangeable and for a small fee, and for just an extra delivery wait, the consumer can act as a participant in the design process building a product that’s unique to them, and a relationship that’s unique to your brand.

Gary Thompson, business development director, Fast React Systems:
Some of the other subjects which will feature prominently in this year’s technology agenda are 3D fits, and tools that facilitate improved, real time collaboration in the apparel supply chain e.g. available capacity and load, open costings.

Paul Magel, president, business applications at CGS:
With the rapid rise of omnichannel in fashion and consumer products industries, we will see retailers and their suppliers adopt supporting technologies for years to come. Mobile applications, like those that empower supply chain collaboration and B2B e-commerce, will also be more widely used by both retail buyers and wholesalers. I also see significant opportunities for these companies with big data and advanced analytics solutions that not only monitor key performance indicators, but also spot and predict new business opportunities. Improved planning and forecasting capabilities will also continue to grow in importance.

With the rise in reshoring and local production, solutions that provide hands-on control of raw materials and manufacturing processes will become more popular as the need for even greater supply chain execution, visibility and agility continues to increase. Market spend for PLM will continue to grow as companies upgrade from earlier Product Data Management (PDM) systems to fully-fledged PLM solutions to meet increasing supply chain complexities.

Across almost all technology categories, we believe that the impact of cloud solutions, managed services and IT outsourcing will continue to drive down the time, cost and human capital requirements that companies must invest to make use of the latest technologies. We expect to further reduce the time to benefit from technology with built-in industry best practices, which result in faster implementation times, more out of the box capabilities, and simple configuration rather than individually customised software deployments.

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:
With the continued rise of omnichannel, the interest in next generation e-commerce solutions is increasing. Many companies have been doing some B2B or B2C e-commerce or both for a number of years and are now looking to take this to the next level. While the front end e-commerce software and buying experience remains important, there is increasing recognition of the need to have e-commerce integrated to the back-end ERP to ensure optimal supply chain execution. It is also becoming widely recognised that the key to success in omnichannel is global inventory visibility and the logistics processes and systems to ensure you can actually deliver on time and in full to delight the customer.

Cloud is also coming high up on the agenda for many fashion and apparel companies in order to shed the cost of purchasing and operating hardware, applying upgrades and patches and always being in a position to benefit from the latest software functionality. Over the past few years many companies have gradually added cloud solutions around the edges for the likes of CRM and HCM and are now considering moving their ERP to the cloud.

Chris Groves, president and CEO, Centric Software:
Additional integration of back end processes, including enablement of highly sophisticated supplier collaboration, will be key. Such supplier enablement will allow suppliers to fulfil more dynamic functions, including the origination and delivery of product ideas into the product pipeline. Such enhanced technology capabilities will further help retailers, wholesalers and brands engage with suppliers to compress time to market, become more effectively reactive to rapidly changing market trends, and "collapse the distance" between product inspiration to the consumer.

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