What else is likely to be topping the apparel industry's technology agenda this year? Robotics and digital capabilities, 3D simulation and visualisation, cloud and mobility, and a shift in power to business intelligence and analytics, are all seen as coming to the fore.

Kurt Cavano, founder and chief strategy officer, GT Nexus:
Disruption is going to be the height of industry's technology this year, mainly in the form of robotics and digital capabilities.

Between the uberification of trucking, where $100m has been spent in the past 4-5 years to develop, and the $35bn spent by companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc (out of which Amazon alone spent $15.4bn) around robotics and AI, we're going to see a greater presence of robotics – certainly in the warehouses, but extending into delivery.

The store experience will also adapt to more integrate more technology. An immediate need is an app for the fitting room. Once you get a customer into the fitting room, there's a 65% conversion rate, and right now there isn't a good model in place to help customers make those transactions and increase conversion. Imagine a world where you needed a different size or colour, and you merely had to touch a button to get that item brought to you in your fitting room. I could see conversions doubling.

Andrew Brown, group managing director, Fast React Systems Limited:
Some of the other subjects that 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 – for example, available vendor capacity and loading, open costings etc.

Bob McKee, global fashion industry strategy director, Infor:

  • Product design and development is an area that is ready for an update in many companies – some are not using a proper system yet, others are using old PDM systems and others are constrained by old technology.
  • 3D – incorporating 3D into a design and development strategy can save time and cost in the sampling process. It can improve simulation possibilities, reduces time to consumer, and cuts need for and cost of photoshoots.
  • Customer Relationship Management – every company has customers at the core of their strategy, yet many lack a good CRM system to help them manage the relationship from lead to opportunity to order and beyond.

Guido Brackelsberg, managing director, Setlog:
One huge topic that should be on the industry's agenda this year is industry 4.0.

The production process will become more intelligent and smart connected. From the start of production every step and status will be communicated into the cloud and can be managed and reviewed there, even updates like usage of machinery capacities or maintenance necessities.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software:
Self-service Business Intelligence – "actionable intelligence" – can help companies react quickly to data and analytics. As Gartner notes in its February 2016 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics, the balance of power has shifted from IT to the business, and that is empowering apparel companies with a new generation of easy-to-use tools for insight and action. Rather than look at KPIs and weekly trends, apparel executives can gain real-time understanding and take immediate action. Given the speed at which the fashion industry moves today, these new tools can help companies take advantage of immediate opportunities and react quickly to problems and challenges.

Mobility continues to see new and innovative applications, too. Designers can snap photos of the latest fashions in a Paris window display and immediately share them via the PLM system with their design team in New York or LA, bringing fresh inspiration to collections in real-time. Companies are now using mobile devices for scanning and packing, quality inspection, factory inspections and a growing number of supply chain functions. There's a tremendous amount of innovation in mobile technology, and it should be a part of every brand and retailer's technology agenda.

Peter Needle, CEO and co-founder, Segura Systems:
Businesses that haven't already done so should be looking to introduce RFID in 2016. There are some impressive examples of apparel brands using the technology to aid inventory in their stores, which is important if the high street is to effectively compete with online retailing.

Many of the companies that have adopted RFID technology have been able to significantly increase the number of stock inventories they carry out, with some going from two per year to one every six weeks. This provides retailers with much more information about the products they are selling, allowing them to easily spot items that are selling well, those that are struggling, and any regional variations in pattern.

For businesses with closely controlled, flexible supply chains, this technology allows them to quickly manufacture small quantities of new designs and use accurate, up-to-date sales information to monitor performance.

What's more, just-style reported earlier this year on new developments in the technology, which will see it become even more powerful and cost-effective for retailers.

Bill Brewster, vice president, general manager, Enterprise Software Solutions, Gerber Technology:
The industry should be focusing on solving core issues like improving agility and minimising inventory to maximise profitability. To prepare for the future, companies who make strategic investments and process transformation to centralise their data with tools such as PLM will be able to leap ahead of their competition during peak cycles and realise cost control during valleys.

Technologies like digital printing, mobile, 3D simulation and visualisation and 3D printing, all could change the industry by dramatically reducing time to market and increasing supply chain agility. This will ensure customers have the right products on the right shelf at the right time and at the right cost.

Susan Olivier, vice president, Consumer Goods & Retail industry, Dassault Systèmes:
The future of retail combining 3D creation with sales and marketing is the new hottest topic and it is not just a trend. Digital has changed all the conventional standards and techniques we used to follow for years and now disrupts even the way it had been introduced some years before.

Digital is perhaps best understood today for social media or e-ecommerce platforms, but why stop there with the expression of the need or the end fulfilment? What about the entire value chain from creation to consumption? As products become increasingly 'smart', consumers want more information about what's inside, how it works, how they can connect their purchases to their lifestyle.

And because we are living in the age of experience, consumers want to be part of the process – they want to be heard, they want opportunities to express themselves through 'co-creation,' they want to interact with more dynamic product choices, mass customisation and personalisation. And they want to 'see' as much in store as they can online, something which can easily be enabled through digital displays of the extended assortment – regardless of store footprint.

Céline Choussy-Bedouet, CMO, Lectra:
Innovation is about technology; but it is also about process and expertise.

When it comes to processes, apparel manufacturers should be increasing investments in automation (both for product development and for manufacturing) and considering the implementation of lean processes to increase their agility. As consumers have come to expect variety and fresh new merchandise in the stores on an on-going basis, apparel manufacturers must adapt as well, to develop more products and process a larger number of smaller, more complex orders in a more cost-efficient manner.

The combination of genuine fashion expertise and lean methodology brings impressive results to this industry, in terms of productivity, efficiency, fabric savings, quality and customer satisfaction.

Christophe Therrey, EMEA sales and marketing director, Centric Software:
This year and in years to come, those who seek and achieve an agile supply chain that is transparent and allows for real-time collaboration will differentiate themselves in the market. Accessibility on an iPad or an iPhone ensures flexibility and real-time collaboration. Going "mobile" is not a new concept. However, taking a complex application out of the office and going 'on the road' is something that innovative software companies have to consider in today's connected world. Introducing flexibility and real-time activity without being chained to a desk, allows early decision-making, cuts down costs, and speeds up the development process to bring the right products to stores on time.

Paul Magel, president, Applications and Technology Outsourcing, CGS:
Cloud and mobility should be at the top of the apparel industry's technology agenda for 2016 because they offer added benefits in leveraging the aforementioned software.

The cloud is the "in" platform for ERP software, and it is rapidly taking market share from traditional on-premises and SaaS-based applications. According to the IDC Cloud Spending Report, by 2019, cloud infrastructure spending will top $52bn, representing 46% of total IT infrastructure spend. With its cost, implementation and operational benefits, cloud-hosted ERP is becoming increasingly more attractive for companies looking to implement an ERP system.

Additionally, mobile applications are key investments for apparel firms to consider, specifically those that relate to supply chain collaboration, manufacturing shop floor control SFC and B2B ecommerce. In fact according to a 2015 Aberdeen Group Research Report, 74% of top performing companies support the use of mobile applications and technologies. These applications enable on-the-go access to essential information.

Sander Schoneveld, managing director, K3 Software Solutions:

  • System integration: several systems need to integrate into just a few or maybe even one.
  • Business integration: today, through portals, integration is established with vendors/suppliers. Yet, in an ideal situation, suppliers are integrated, becoming part of our world. They would be helped by more information, sharing more detailed information, taking over data entry work where entry seems duplicated. Suppliers are not only the ones that supply goods, but also provide a service that should be part of our world. A great example would be to fully integrate freight forwarders so that we know what they know, and vice versa.

Channel independency:

  • Today a retailer takes the existing retail business as a base: the brick and mortar stores. The focus should be on one process that works for all channels, where brick and mortar stores are only a physical environment next to webstores, Facebook, and other social environments to get in touch with customers. A brick and mortar store should be considered a place to meet consumers, not a place where you stock products and have a cash register.
  • In a wholesale environment, wholesale customers should be part of 'the brand's world.' Brands should be able to influence a wholesaler's purchase activities, optimising the sales from a wholesaler point of view. The brand should get control over stock positions at the wholesaler's to take out redundant stock and replace it with successful products. A brand should be able to run promo activities covering both own and wholesaler's owned products. All this will create that single brand experience with the consumer.

Click on the following links to read other reports in this management briefing:

Apparel software trends 2016 – Key supply chain challenges

Apparel software trends 2016 – Tools to tackle the issues

Apparel software trends 2016 – Where to focus future spend