Emerging markets, with their major outsourcing sectors, offer an excellent marketplace for operational software vendors. This is especially the case as American and European markets mature.

In China, textile and clothing manufacturers are not known for their heavy IT investment, but the financial crisis of 2008 has slowly pushed them into adopting management software such as ERP and PLM to cut costs through optimising their operations, said Patrick Hu, sales director at the Huansi International Group, a Hong Kong-based software vendor specifically targeting Chinese manufacturers.

"After 2008, we saw more Chinese local manufacturers coming to us, asking for advice to cut costs as the order book was getting thinner," Hu said.

Huansi now serves both large and medium-sized Chinese manufacturers, including Shanghai Challenge Textile, a company listed in the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, the Black Peony Group, a state-owned company based in Changzhou city in Jiangsu province, and Shaoxing-based Phoenix Village Textiles.

"Our clients trust us not only because we are a vendor, but also we have a consulting team composed of experts with extensive experience covering the entire supply chain, including yarn procurement, dying and clothing manufacturing," Hu said.

Rivals to Huansi include the Shenzhen-based Kingdee International Software Group.

Hu expects there will be more IT spending driven by Chinese local textile companies in the future. "As the current business owners are getting older, their children will be in power. These young people usually have studied abroad, which makes them more open to highly modernised management system."

Investment growing in Brazil
Investment in ERP software is also growing in Brazil's textile industry. In fact, it is increasingly considered a necessity rather than a luxury, with growing awareness of how it can increase production chain controls to avoid waste and increase capacity.

ERP, PLM and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are becoming more commonly used.

According to a report by business advice agency the Brazilian Service of Support for Micro and Small Enterprises (SEBRAE): "The high complexity of the process chain and the high value of the investment in machinery are the main difficulties, so there is a greater supply of customised software for the textile industry, which currently sees a concentration of use of ERP systems in 67% in commerce and clothing industry and spinning and weaving."

Price tags are still high for small businesses however. Andrea Mansano, president of software company AlfaPeople said: "A customised solution for ERP costs no less than US$100,000 and this cost can rise according to the number of users."

And certainly this is far from being a mature market. In the southern state of Paraná, for example, SEBRAE said less than 8% of information technology (IT) companies have worked for the textile and clothing sector.

Improved decision-making in India
India's apparel and textile companies are also availing themselves of production-optimising software systems, many made in India itself.

In the past, the country's textile and clothing manufacturers limited themselves to electronic data processing systems, but are now opting for better ERP systems especially, to improve efficiency, optimise operational control and exploit data to improve decision making.

KG Sowbhagyawathi, vice president of operations at Axon Infosoft India Private Ltd, told just-style: "India has many textile manufacturing units, thanks to the availability of required raw material and manpower. Since an ERP organises all the information of a company into one centralised system, the demand for ERP has increased tremendously in India."

Forward-looking textile and apparel manufacturers in India are now also adding PLM systems.

Mumbai-based Ptex Solutions' managing partner Prasham Kamdar told just-style: "As retail expands in India, manufacturers realise the efficacy of ERP and PLM systems in providing real-time data to maximise accuracy, efficiency, innovation and profit."

Corporations such as ITC Ltd and the Madura fashion and lifestyle division of Aditya Birla Nuvo have been early adopters of these systems. They have invested in PLM systems from New York-based Infor and its affiliate Lawson. Even some family-run companies have started to invest in ERP as well as PLM. Shahi Exports, one of India's largest apparel manufacturing companies, is using Infor M3.

"These new generations of PLM and ERP systems can provide much needed analytics, visibility, and collaboration capabilities that help clothing and textiles companies to make the business decisions and provide a competitive edge. Hence, companies like Infor software can play a pivotal role in the growth of manufacturers and retailers in India," Kamdar said.

Sateesh Gururajachar, CEO of Bangalore-based Lamp Software Private Ltd, stressed how family-owned businesses usually depend on line managers for key information - software gives them a more powerful data tool.

"With customised ERP solutions, we arm the entrepreneur with a tool that enables him to get completely dispassionate information at his fingertips - information that he can use to make necessary changes for better business," he added.

Looking forward, Gururajachar foresees IT increasingly helping manufacturers source material for production, with the fashion industry using remote 'cloud-based' operational software.

Elsewhere in the region, Sri Lanka's end-to-end apparel supplier Brandix Lanka Ltd has used systems from suppliers such as Infor and Tukatech, to help it manage its rapid growth.

Click on the links below to read other articles in this management briefing:
Software solutions: ERP systems offer apparel-specific options
Software solutions: PLM becomes more sophisticated and connected
Software solutions: New tools develop in diverse directions 

With additional reporting bSheena Rossiter, Mini Pant Zachariah and Wang Fangqing.