Faced with a raft of challenges across the apparel supply chain, how can software help tackle the key issues? Tools that connect all trading partners, streamline the end-to-end process, and give industry leaders the flexibility and time to address everything from new opportunities to unexpected events can all contribute to a competitive edge.

Anastasia Charbin, fashion marketing director, Lectra
The only way to pro-actively address the issues of creating value and managing a supply chain in flux is to have a tightly-knit team that includes members of the extended team. This implies sharing knowledge, establishing a common understanding of goals and objectives, and cultivating teamwork.

While software provides the technological foundation to facilitate a more transparent, pro-active and informed way of working, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Teams need to understand the how and why of what they do, and software alone can't answer these questions. But the combination of technology and best practices with fashion-specific experience can definitely transform a muddy process.

Fashion companies hold enormous knowledge within their own teams. These companies often need help building their design and development process from the inside out in order to improve their specific business model and supply chain. At Lectra, we do not advocate a simple, one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we work holistically to align technology and best practices to create lasting team work and genuine process improvement.

Kurt Cavano, founder, chairman and chief strategy officer, TradeCard
Software can help by connecting all trading partners to enable real-time, multi-enterprise communication and collaboration. Cloud-based software, in particular, is an ideal fit for today's complex supply networks that span multiple countries, time zones, languages and currencies. A social media model allows data to be shared in real time across all parties involved in a transaction - planning, ordering, production, shipment, and settlement.

Picture a network of thousands of trading partners connected on a single cloud-based system. If an unexpected event occurs that shuts off trade from a region or country, brands and retailers can act swiftly to shift orders and production to alternate routes or parties. Or if I want to run a very lean supply chain until my forecast picture clears up, I can postpone events such as dyeing and cutting until I have better visibility into what's selling this season - and respond fast to deliver the right goods to the store shelf and sell for the highest possible price. Cloud technology empowers brands and retailers to do this today.

Susan Olivier, vice president, consumer goods and retail, Dassault Systèmes
Apparel sourcing is a delicate blend of art and science; and software works best when it's used to streamline the 'science' portion and support the human insight that provides the 'art'.

Connecting people not just globally, across geographies and time zones, but connecting the downstream sourcing and supply chain teams to the upstream evolving merchant and design views is really invaluable in delivering responsiveness by supporting early conversations on potential shifts in product categories and strategies. It's also a way of leveraging suppliers of finished products and even components to enter their own information, which saves time and errors on data entry, but also provides extended sources of design ideas and new materials.

Additionally, we at Dassault Systèmes are looking at our industry solutions from the perspective of the customer experience and asking ourselves a variety of questions to challenge the status quo from concept to delivery. Questions like:

  • If we could understand consumer demand earlier, how much more successful could we be?
  • If we could provide more natural design tools and a more flexible environment, how much more effective could our design teams be?
  • If we connect everyone to the same source of truth, and allow everyone to manage what they 'own' how much more productive could we be?
  • If we remove non value-added work how much time can we give people back to design, develop, collaborate and make timely decisions? And
  • If we could simulate the impact of cost, delivery time and supply chain constraints, how much more margin could we achieve?

Bob McKee, fashion industry strategy director, Infor
Technology, from companies like Infor, gives organisations the tools they need to move quickly and drive profit by enhancing data management. With the large geographical scale of the apparel industry, it is necessary to have more consolidated and integrated solutions to manage data. On top of this, in order to do business internationally, regional compliance and regulatory requirements have to be factored into the equation - not to mention the need to work in multiple languages and currencies.

Software tracks all of these moving parts, streamlining the end-to-end process and giving industry leaders the flexibility and time to address the continually evolving challenges, such as finding an alternative production centre to China, maintaining quality, and coping with the rising cost of material without compromising quality, time to consumer and profitability. Businesses cannot function without technology; there are too many moving parts and too wide a geography in the end-to-end process. Let's not forget - there is the Fashion of Fashion and the Business of Fashion - and the business side has to return a profit.

Tony Parkinson, managing director, Option Systems

The key is to establish a flexible sourcing base - increasing both the number and location of suppliers. If you are going to use more suppliers, tools to manage them become paramount. You need accuracy of tech packs; the ability to competitively source from your suppliers pool; to record supplier performance; to collaborate on development; to track product development and sourcing; and to outsource as much of the administration as possible to your supplier. These are the type of facilities that PRM (Product Range Management) solutions provide, in addition to ensuring that appropriate parties are working from a common repository of product information.

Rob van Serveen, partner, Genova Consultancy

A Fashion Sales & Operations Planning process (FS&OP), supported by the right tools and the right collaborative attitude, will help to ease down upstream, midstream and downstream issues. Clearly, cotton will not become cheaper because of this, or boats go faster. But the ability to anticipate demand development at 9, 12, or 15 months before delivery, and adjust the "one number" plan if necessary, will enable wholesalers to collaborate with suppliers, change sources, and take fact-based decisions on collection development. An improved (and integrated) merchandise plan, backed up with real-time actuals and accurate forecasts, will lead to effective collections. Own retail, but also independent retailers, will strongly benefit from these developments. The software to support this is required and will pay off. Many leading brands and chains have significantly streamlined business and collections and, at the same time, outperformed competition.

Michael Hung, CEO, Core Solutions

As an enterprise software vendor, we'd love to say software is the answer to all global apparel supply chain problems. While it does address many issues, apparel retailers still need to think about how they want to run their business. Implementing software often goes hand-in-hand with changing your business processes.

From a software point of view, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems are not new, but they are increasingly helping apparel retailers to systematise product development for greater efficiency. While product development is an important part of the end-to-end supply chain and a key factor in determining lead-time, Core's Extended PLM solution goes beyond product development and helps retailers with global sourcing, order management, quality and compliance and logistics. In brief, we look at the end-to-end supply chain, what we like to call concept-to-delivery.

Critical Path Management is a tool that helps apparel retailers and brands to synchronise processes across the organisation and with their trading partners. This powerful function makes sure that everyone is aware of exactly what's happening close to real-time instead of relying out dated and manually compiled spreadsheet reports.

Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D, NGC Software
Brands and retailers have realised that manual processes using emails and spreadsheets do not provide real-time visibility throughout the supply chain. The information is already dated by the time it is analysed. Web-based SCM applications such as NGC's e-SPS collect the information at the source (directly from the factory or mill) and allow the brands and retailers to make quick, accurate decisions. Conditional alerts and status updates enhance the reaction time.

Mike Hill, Asia business development director, ecVision
Brands and retailers have already spent billions of dollars on PLM, ERP, TMS, WMS and other "big data" systems, but a new class of technology has emerged to effectively use the information that is extracted from these existing applications.

Through a platform such as ecVision Suite, content from multiple technology sources and service providers converge into a single solution instead of separate silos. Because these other systems are now "talking" to each other, there is no disconnect and the information is easily traded from one system to another. Then it becomes easier for information to be mined. More importantly this information can be used to collaborate with suppliers of every tier where the real benefits are derived. Furthermore, by connecting internal and external parties, multi-lateral communication flows freely and provides a collaborative space for more efficient commerce.

Stuart Aldridge, chief executive officer at Maple Lake
Software can help, but only if it is designed with the industry in mind. Niche software providers are better positioned than ever before to accommodate some of these unique and idiosyncratic practices (as typically they have a much deeper understanding of the industry specific issues), as enabling the user to execute complex decisions efficiently is now more of a priority than any specific technology or infrastructure.

Karin Bursa, vice president, Logility
It is not just software that can help mitigate challenges. For example, enterprise resource planning (ERP) will not solve the complex nature of today's apparel supply chains. It is the right kind of software that matters. The apparel supply chain is unique and requires better forward visibility and the ability to make strategic decisions regarding inventory placement than your everyday system can

The growth in the global supplier and manufacturing network requires access to reliable data and a more accurate forecast that will drive production orders well in advance of a season, inject more certainty in the plan and minimise the need to expedite orders. It is the right software that can more accurately synchronise production around the world. For example, we see a combination of Demand Planning, Inventory Optimization and optimized Supply Planning as key enablers for a more effective supply chain.

Several of Logility's customers have complimented their ERP capabilities with the depth and flexibility best-of-breed supply chain software provides to transform their supply chain operations into a strategic advantage that reduces costs, improves service and helps develop a competitive advantage.

Brian Marsden, president, EMEA, TradeStone
We believe there are three core capabilities software needs to provide to support omni-channel. Merchandise Lifecycle Management not only supports the visibility required but can also dynamically adjust product attributes to meet local channel requirements.

  • Holistic. Point solutions tend to solve only one piece of the puzzle. We believe that technology needs to cover the entire design to delivery process - with channels being considered at every point in the process. We call this Merchandise Lifecycle Management. PLM systems for example, may consider omni-channel to some degree in the design process - but much of the cost and complexity comes downstream in areas such as sourcing, packaging, testing, and logistics.
  • Automated. Adding channels adds complexity. Scaling from one channel to three for example, add tremendous complexity for any business. Automation and exception management is critical to scaling.
  • Collaborative and Integrated. Early visibility and real time alerting to requirements and issues across all stake holders in the supply chain is critical to successfully moving to an omni-channel business. Many retailers and brands have invested considerable time and money into legacy systems to support each channel. TradeStone layers on top of existing systems to provide one place to manage supply chain visibility: both in terms of development and delivery.

Helle Svana Kristjánsson, marketing manager, Trimit

  • All information in one place and available to everybody on demand will reduce errors and shorten leadtimes.
  • As soon as style information is available it can be pushed to sales websites, for example, that way increasing the speed-to-market.
  • Suppliers working in the same system will have relevant information available instantly and communication will happen in a uniform way.

Ram Sareen, head coach and founder, Tukatech
Any technology, especially software (brain power), de-skills operations while taking out redundancy. It may not give better quality but it does give consistent quality. To get better training, the technology vendors need to partner and offer a total package. We all know that it all starts with patterns: the quality and engineering of patterns can reduce time, cost and sometimes even save a business.

Tukatech's digital pattern making has helped vendors and brands eliminate digitising, and reduce or eliminate grading and marker making. What did that mean for the industry? It reduced work for sample rooms, associated departments like expediters, merchandisers, production planners, fabric planners who received integrated information to get better efficiency. It was not just the software but the engineering pre-process, post process and de-skilling that made it easier for many vendors to survive in this fast paced, fast fashion that required many styles without the need to add more people.