Where should apparel firms be focusing their investments now if they want to remain competitive into the future? While technology agendas will vary from business to business, a recurring theme is the need for business intelligence and analytics tools to monitor performance. Advanced PLM solutions also have a key role in the introduction of new styles and on-trend products.

Peter Blair, VP of global marketing, TradeStone Software:
Many apparel retailers are still using disparate technologies that are cobbled together to tackle complex challenges. This often means that the teams within the apparel retail supply chain community are stuck toggling between spreadsheets, emails, databases and digital libraries to share ideas and accomplish daily tasks. This is a huge time sink for everyone involved and creates risk of version confusion with multiple communities all trying to work within the same showroom simultaneously. Most importantly, this process is simply not scalable.

An investment in PLM technology today, that streamlines the process to find, design, source, buy and sell product from a collaborative platform, will not only save time, it will protect creative assets, and ensure compliance regulations are supported properly to mitigate risk. Moreover, it’s a strategic investment in a business model that can scale and support growth globally as a competitive advantage to apparel retailers.

Bryan Nella, director corporate communications, GT Nexus:
The brands and retailers that have embraced their supply chain – and operate it as a global business network – will compete as networks. They will have a clear advantage in the future. Connecting suppliers, 3PLs, financial institutions, customs etc in a single electronic ecosystem allows all of the data, which typically resides in somewhere outside of the enterprise, to be captured and stored centrally. All parties have visibility into the information they need to operate efficiently. Trust between trading partners is built through transparency, communication and collaboration. Relationships with suppliers and trading partners grow stronger and more strategic. And the supply chain lives and acts as a single strategic network, opposed to a group of separate and disconnected companies.

This network approach also feeds into big data strategies. When the full network is connected in a single ecosystem and all data sits in the middle – available for all parties to view and leverage – that big data becomes actionable. Analytics are fed to empower each party in the network to take the best possible action to meet demand and maximise profitability.

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:
There are many areas in which apparel firms need to invest:

  • Business intelligence and analytics to monitor and analyse performance and track exception conditions and changes. Make the move from predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics. What’s the difference? Predictive is just the way you’ve always done it – yesterday’s performance is tomorrow’s forecast. Prescriptive uses data from yesterday – tempered with data you learn from other sources of input (like social media) that can have a significant impact on your demand cycles. To put it simply, ask people to make use of that data.
  • Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) including the tools to collaborate with the vendor base to quickly introduce new styles and tweak existing ones based on consumer feedback. PLM has expanded far beyond the Product Data Management (PDM) systems of just a few years ago to support merchandising, design and development processes – including new Fashion PLM systems built on the latest technology.
  • Enterprise resource planning to keep track of merchandise inventory, fabric and trim inventory, customer orders, sales statistics across multichannel distribution, production plans, costs and financials.
  • Technology to improve connectivity between systems and improve workflow.
  • The latest software user experience to attract and retain fresh young talent and improve motivation in the workforce. Companies in the industry need to continue to attract top talent to be successful and those entering the workforce today are used to a different level of user experience.

Mark Gaydon, EMEA regional director, CBX Software:
To be clear, it may be different for the type of apparel business - retailer, wholesale brand or trading partner. However all will be focused on engaging their customers, leveraging both customer-facing and supply chain technology.

In the fast changing world of apparel, consumers are looking for creativity, differentiation and frequent updates in style, trend and delivery. In order for apparel companies to increase product offerings and provide brand differentiation, innovation is required to stay in the forefront and maintain a competitive edge. Tools that provide flexibility, speed to market, and agility are required to change direction with the ever-changing apparel industry and consumer expectations. Cloud technology provides flexibility, speed to market and agility with a platform to grow and expand easily.

With the vast amount of data produced, analytics and dashboards are critical to provide insight, visibility and a finger on the pulse to make fast and efficient business decisions. Apparel companies should also focus on business transformation, removing functional silos and improving the ability to work together across teams. They need to collaborate internally and externally and change the way they go to market to gain efficiencies and reduce lead times. The omnichannel environment is pushing the pace of change with the consumer’s voice being heard much earlier in the supply chain.

John Robinson, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Simparel:
If they haven’t made the leap already, it’s imperative to focus on next-generation enterprise technology. By this, I mean systems developed in recent years from the ground up to meet current industry needs. Older systems simply do not have the flexibility and cannot keep up with the demands of today’s fashion industry. Many of them were hard-coded back in the 1980s and, despite visual updates and bolt-on functionality, they require lots of time- and cost-intensive customisation to try to adapt to changing business requirements. Next-generation solutions are highly configurable and modular, meaning that they can easily accommodate different business models and scale up quickly when a company’s growth takes off.

Another reason to invest in new enterprise technology is to attain real-time supply chain visibility. Only the most modern computing architecture can support and synthesise the vast amounts of real-time data flowing in from suppliers, trading partners and customers. Newer systems also are more comprehensive, eliminating the need for a complex patchwork of interfaces between different software packages. This older systems strategy only obstructs visibility, creates confusion over which data is most current and hinders collaboration. The most competitive fashion businesses are focusing investment on brand new systems that can support important functionality for omnichannel commerce and global collaboration right out of the box, with easy configuration to fit their specific needs.

Anastasia Charbin, worldwide marketing director - fashion & apparel, Lectra:
Apparel firms should invest in tools and process that will enable them to either grow their business or develop a competitive advantage in order to protect their business.

Solutions should bring companies responsiveness and automation, cost reduction, collaboration and overall improvements to the final product itself, for example, via increased innovation. Many apparel companies are looking to develop value-added services, basing their decisions on these criteria.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software:
We believe that a PLM system that includes product design and development, as well as supply chain management, is still the most important technology investment that a company can make. The solution should include WIP tracking, vendor collaboration and management, materials management, quality and logistics. It should also seamlessly integrate with fashion ERP systems, forecasting and replenishment applications, and other systems. This level of integration is crucial for improving efficiencies, reducing errors, driving down costs, and shortening the concept-to-consumer lifecycle.

You don’t have to do it all at once, and that’s the beauty of this approach. You can start with PLM, then gradually build on that foundation with SCM, ERP and other systems as needed.

Susan Olivier, VP consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes:
Everything starts with a strong foundation. Retailers need to have a single ‘digital referential’ on a platform that supports images as well as it supports information. And that means architected to be model-driven and not just data-driven; and easily accessible globally. So apparel firms should be looking at the systems they use to manage the entire product lifecycle. Are they able to flow a seamless process to visualise and to act on design intent, merchant intent, sourcing constraints, retail constraints, dynamic websites and consumer feedback? If not, then where are the tedious hand-offs? How many different images and models do they have in the flow? Do they use a 2D sketch, technical design, pattern, and photographs all described with different sets of information? That inevitably means disconnected efforts and rework. So companies should look at how they can ‘connect the dots’ on their image and information flow to not just tweak their calendars another week or two, but massively reduce time from inspiration to delivery.

Gary Thompson, business development director, Fast React Systems:
Investments should be focused on technology which supports fast access to accurate, up-to-date information, allowing improved decision making and driving improved business performance. There is no one solution that does everything well, and implementing a business-wide system such as an ERP involves considerable cost, time, change management and business risk. There is no doubt that many businesses need an ERP or ERP upgrade, but the priority should be ‘best in breed’, point solutions which involve less cost, time and risk, and deliver significant and sustainable improvements in business performance specifically in those areas which the market is demanding i.e. cost and lead time. Ultimately, investments of this type will deliver a more compelling ROI and more sustainable competitive advantage. For a retailer or brand, the priority is likely be investing in a PLM solution, whereas a manufacturer or mill should be prioritising planning and control software.

Paul Magel, president, business applications at CGS:
To sustain success in today’s omnichannel environment, I think that significant investments will be required at both retail and supply chain levels. On the demand side, store operators must develop more comprehensive IT platforms from which they can better manage customer engagement, relationships, point of sale and other processes. Online retailers are required to constantly update ecommerce capabilities to keep pace in a fast-changing marketplace.

On the supply side, the focus will continue to be on gaining greater visibility and control across the entire supply chain. We believe that moving from an environment with multiple systems, or dependence on spreadsheets and generic software, to a fully integrated enterprise solution offers the best opportunity for business improvement. We advise consumer lifestyle products companies that are looking to grow internationally, through acquisition or organically to also consider implementing an enterprise platform that will easily scale and support rapid deployment across multiple operations.

Companies focused on solving specific operational challenges can also find many recent developments in fashion and consumer products technology. PLM, with its ability to pull together traditionally less structured planning, design, development and sourcing processes, has quickly become an essential application in today’s fast-paced and competitive marketplace. We also see some very interesting special purpose web and mobile applications that can provide immediate results for often challenging areas such as global quality assurance and product compliance, along with applications for B2B ecommerce.

Chris Groves, president and CEO, Centric Software:
On-trend products and successful market launches are the lifeblood of apparel companies today. As such, apparel firms should be investing in technologies that accelerate and optimise the processes that underpin the inspiration-to-consumer innovation spectrum.

Advanced PLM solutions tie in all of these processes to gather inspiration, speed design and development, improve sample development, provide merchandising and marketing teams with access to up-to-date information, and unite the entire style and material development organisation. An investment in the latest PLM technology assures that time to market becomes compressed, and that retailers, wholesalers and brands become more responsive and reactive to market changes.

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