One of the key ways in which software can help tackle apparel supply chain issues is by providing visibility into the process and intelligence to track and manage inventory – enabling stakeholders to focus on the product and meet volatile demand across channels. Systems can also help companies be prepared for everything from new opportunities to unexpected events.

Anastasia Charbin, worldwide marketing director - fashion & apparel, Lectra:
Software will do nothing on its own unless it is applied correctly; many times, this is not necessarily the case. The issue today is what lies between different pieces of software; that is to say, process and people.

Properly connecting different business systems, tools and people into a streamlined process matters much more than what any one piece of software can do on its own.

One example of this would be connectivity that allows apparel companies to link data that comes from the sales floor to the production chain; this would allow companies to be more responsive to consumer demand and create a pull effect, ensuring that the right product is being produced. Another example could be facilitating collaboration between creative and technical teams in order to speed up time to market and cut out wasted time and energy. And a final example would be improvements that provide more accurate costing and better information earlier in the process, making design to cost possible.

All of these scenarios require technology, expertise and an approach based on change management, if the improvements made are to be permanent.

Susan Olivier, VP consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes:
Software solutions can support an end-to-end consumer experience from inspiration to realisation and all the way through to sales. And since most companies work with a range of solutions, it’s the connectivity of processes and the design of the digital data flow that’s more important than any single software.

Winning companies are finding ways to design new products based on a 360-degree view of consumer feedback; sales data is important but you also need to analyse your returns, your abandoned online shopping carts and sift sentiment analysis from consumer blogs. Product development cycle times are shrinking again. But the introduction of 3D visualisation and virtual prototyping means designers can quickly iterate through more options digitally – cutting weeks out of the calendar waiting for samples that fall far short of design intent. Once design teams and product managers have refined the target assortment, the final few physical samples requested can be made much more quickly.

What’s more, companies are seeing new ways to leverage digital design in the store-planning, sales and marketing processes, without having to wait for physical samples that need to be hung in a model store, photographed for advertising and e-commerce websites.

Peter Blair, VP of global marketing, TradeStone Software:
Software technology that supports today’s lifestyle and work style is best suited to meet the social, collaborative, and fast paced environment in 2015 and beyond. Apparel retailers should look to software to intelligently embed their process while reflecting how they naturally think and interact. The right software can empower key stakeholders to be more responsive and proactive with a key focus on product, versus having to be reactive to market changes and burdened by process.

The right software can also act as the foundation to create a new culture of efficiency, collaboration and community representing a progressive approach that better meets today’s challenges. This begins with a clearly defined global sourcing strategy that must be flexible to adjustments for apparel retailers to react quickly based on market changes and trends. An optimal technology platform provides real-time mobile/social collaboration across global internal and external teams, analytics to make accurate and quick decisions, efficiencies to minimise administrative time-consuming activities, and a complete repository of documents and data to provide total traceability.

Bryan Nella, director corporate communications, GT Nexus:
Technology can help retailers and brands tackle this issue by doing two primary things. 1: Improve visibility into the movement of goods further back in the supply chain from source all the way to the store shelf or consumer; 2: Enable inventory intelligence by capturing all supply network data in one place and making it usable to the value chain for smarter execution. Visibility and inventory intelligence open the door to agile movement of goods to not only evade disruption but to meet highly volatile demand across channels.

Retailers and brands have to be able to look upstream in the supply chain network to solve inventory challenges. The decisions made there involving cost and service have rippling effects all the way down to the store level. This upstream vision remains dark for most. And it’s a major challenge today.

Technology such as cloud-based platforms can deliver inventory intelligence: the ability to leverage the right information technology to take action about volatile demand. It means using all available resources, like supply chain network data, to analyse and optimise, coordinate and communicate, and adjust expertly to any given situation. The emergence of RFID technology, for example, provides an opportunity for tagging in-factory. RFID at the source plays into the inventory intelligence movement by feeding specific data about goods as they move through the supply chain. These signals enable smarter decisions for fulfilling demand.

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:
Software becomes a necessity rather than a nice-to-have in the digital transformation. Not only do you need to be connected to the internet to track and analyse social media trends, you need the right software to make changes to your designs and production plans and to collaborate along the value chain. In the new world, a style can get 400+% uplift in demand or become a flop overnight, depending on what celebrities wear, fashion bloggers comment on and individuals post on social media.

In a working capital-intensive industry where large amounts of cash are often committed to inventory, companies need to get better at managing risk. They need clear visibility into committed inventory, the ability to change plans and share information with their vendor base at a moment’s notice. Modern software tools can help companies detect consumer responses, amend their collections and styles in a matter of hours rather than weeks, share updated spec packs and change notifications with suppliers in a matter of minutes rather than days. The merchandise and financial teams can also track actuals against budget and revise plans in good time to minimise unplanned markdowns and clearance merchandise, which are a major cost to the industry and dilute margins.

The use of supply chain management tools will help to avoid the logistical nightmares. And if the nightmare can’t be avoided, then at least the best information can be sent to customers making them aware of any less-than-optimal conditions.

Matching supplies to demands requires up-to-the minute awareness of unsold inventory and unfulfilled demand. And as unusual demand factors bring about changing conditions, we’ll have to be prepared to make split-second decisions to bring about better customer and consumer sell-through.

And stay on top of your game. The use of better business intelligence will help you to remain aware of your valuation risks: are your operating profits in line with your company valuation(s)? Are you performing to your own (and others’) expectations?

Chris Groves, president and CEO, Centric Software:
Software solutions can help retailers, brands and wholesalers compress time to market, in effect "collapsing the distance" between themselves and the consumer. Beginning with the collection of inspirations, integrated with merchandising planning, continuing through the coordination of all design, development and sourcing activities, and including marketing, product lifecycle management (PLM) software can greatly reduce time to market ensuring successful collections, while delivering product margins and productivity improvements.

The broader the reach of the software across the inspiration-to-consumer process, the greater the acceleration of time to market – and the greater the return on the financial investment delivered by the software. State-of-the-art PLM software has evolved to go beyond collaboration and supply chain coordination, to now encompass upstream processes including inspiration management and merchandise planning, and downstream processes including supplier collaboration and market launch. This evolution and broad scope is providing overarching acceleration in time to market, while providing greater financial benefits.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software:
PLM can play a critical role. Across the industry, we are seeing strong support for the idea that PLM should serve as the central repository to orchestrate all information, processes, systems, departments and geographies within the fashion enterprise. This concept, which the industry refers to as "PLM-as-a- Platform," is being embraced by technology analysts and fashion companies alike. With PLM-as-a-Platform, PLM becomes the core platform in all phases of the product lifecycle.

The information that resides in PLM can come from within the PLM system as well as other enterprise applications. We believe that PLM should integrate information from a host of enterprise systems, such as Planning and Forecasting systems, ERP, Supply Chain Management, Logistics, and other systems, depending on each organisation’s needs. PLM isn’t a fixed, static set of processes; it continues to expand into additional areas in product design and manufacturing – everything that is involved in bringing products to market.

More than any other enterprise solution, PLM has the ability to unify information and break down the silos that typically existing in product design and manufacturing. That’s why the notion of PLM-as-a-Platform is a hot topic in the industry right now.

John Robinson, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Simparel:
End-to-end enterprise software enables apparel companies to close visibility gaps across their businesses. Without this clear visibility, from concept to consumer, they will struggle to compete. Natively integrated, all-in-one software solutions provide accurate, real-time inventory tracking and management, which is a core competency every apparel enterprise must possess to qualify for the omnichannel playing field.

When apparel firms choose an integrated software package over best-of-breed technologies, they attain not only greater visibility but also speed and cost savings because they are not wasting precious time and resources on building and maintaining expensive interfaces between disparate systems. In addition, comprehensive enterprise software encompasses all of the essential functions of enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), supply chain management (SCM), manufacturing resource planning (MRP), electronic data interchange (EDI), warehouse management (WMS) and even mobile wholesale solutions (MWS). That means that with a single solution, apparel businesses can manage all of their product-related data. This gives them many tactical advantages. For example, with integrated PLM, they can better utilise materials across product lines, reduce sample iterations and shorten product development cycle time. With MRP filling a notch on their IT tool belt, they gain greater control over materials and manufacturing at a more granular level. That just isn’t feasible with technology built to support full-package production.

Mark Gaydon, EMEA regional director, CBX Software:
Software, increasingly cloud based, provides a platform for visibility and a place for global organisations to work in a virtual environment off the same data with the same insights. This ability to collaborate in real-time removes the time zone barriers and workforce issues that exist in today’s global environment. Data can now be available and accessible in real-time to make proactive, versus reactive decisions.

Visibility and collaboration remove the friction in the supply chain to make high quality products faster. The ability to have full real-time visibility across the extended supply chain is critical when issues arise allowing them to react quickly and change course to meet deadlines.

Software in the cloud enables an organisation to easily synchronise processes and share data managing the end-to-end supply chain across the globe. Transparency into business processes and ownership of tasks allows people to work collaboratively and more efficiently. Today’s cloud based platforms provide time to market advantages for global companies at a reduced cost and risk relative to IT investments of the past.

Gary Thompson, business development director, Fast React Systems:
In an industry which has traditionally been slow in its adoption of new technology, we are rapidly approaching a tipping point. The largely manual systems and multiple spreadsheets which so many fashion businesses use to manage critical activities such as design development, souring and tracking, supplier collaboration and manufacturing planning and control, are simply no longer able to cope. The global apparel supply chain needs specialist fashion industry software solutions that improve visibility, coordination and control and provide instant access to accurate information which supports earlier, better decisions to drive improved business performance. Without this, businesses will simply not be able to efficiently cope with demands for cost/price stability and reduced lead times.

In a design, development and sourcing context this means improved design adoption rates, more efficient managing of the sampling and technical specification (fits, size charts, make-up method), getting designs right first time, improved visibility and control of margins, effective critical path management, improved material management and supplier collaboration, and visibility of the KPIs which drive business performance.

For fashion manufacturers, the priority is a dynamic planning and control solution which supports fast, accurate planning and efficient management of capacity, materials and critical path, driving significant improvements in business performance. A software solution which supports ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ strategies is key, and the results include a faster, more accurate order confirmation process, improved productivity and reduced inventory and lead times.

Paul Magel, president, business applications at CGS:
We believe that the challenges facing supply chains today clearly require a new approach to both business processes and systems. Driven by the requirements for innovation, speed, visibility and more, retailers, brands and manufacturers are rediscovering the value of running systems that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of their industry and business. We also see many turning to fully integrated enterprise solutions to ensure complete end-to-end visibility and a common user experience across in-house and global supply chain operations.

I can cite numerous examples of how today’s IT solutions are helping supply chains address their challenges. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), for example, that once focused primarily on managing orders and reporting financial performance, now extends across the complete concept-to-consumer product lifecycle. Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) integrates design, development, sampling, sourcing, quality, vendor relationships and more. Manufacturing solutions such as Materials Resource Planning (MRP) help companies more efficiently purchase and time deliveries of materials; while Shop Floor Control (SFC) provides real-time visibility into production status and enables more efficient and balanced productivity. Logistics solutions more effectively manage deliveries, inventories, and distribution. Other important solutions can manage demand planning, business analytics (BI), B2B ecommerce and more. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) plays an increased role in the efficient distribution and omnichannel retail processes.

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