New Tech: Where to Invest and What to Expect
As the economy recovers, companies are looking to invest in new technology to maximize efficiency, stay ahead of competitors or manage their omni-channel retail operations. California Apparel News Manufacturing and Technology Editor Sarah Wolfson recently spoke to several technology experts about new technology offerings and what benefits they bring to apparel brands and retailers.
What is driving companies to invest more in technology?
- John St. Denis
- Market Development Representative
- Centric Software
Based on our experience within the last year, we are seeing companies invest in several areas. The first camp is companies still trying to use manual tools—whether they are spreadsheets, emails, PDF files—and these methods can't support a growing business.
Silo is used as a metaphor in the tech industry for a condition when data gets isolated or locked in one area, unavailable to other areas where the information could be useful—or even necessary. Just like on farms, where silos are vertical structures that store materials and keep them from mixing, "siloed" information is also stored and isolated. But the problem is that information needs to be available and accessible so that business groups have visibility, can make rapid decisions, don't have to repeatedly enter data (data duplication equals errors), and can move quickly.
Fast-fashion can't afford to be stumbling around, looking to see whose data is the right data. This is a key benefit of PLM technology investment. Everyone—designers, sourcing, quality managers, technical designers, line planners, merchandising, executives, sales people and even customers—all have visibility into a single source of truth about the product, the very latest and most accurate information.
If design decides to use the navy buttons instead of red ones, sourcing knows this instantly and purchases red buttons, not the navy ones. The designers and developers are wasting time chasing work at hand. Management doesn't have the ability to oversee, and they lack visibility with real-time information.
Technology provides solutions to specific problems like tracking and managing compliance or making documents readily accessible when inspectors request proof of compliance from management.
Interesting note: Mobile apps have been the latest development in PLM. They're simple to use, but they're actually pretty sophisticated offerings. In fact, very few vendors provide any mobile apps that integrate with their PLM software.
From our point of view, managing omni-channels or multi brands are for companies that fall into that category of companies who were invested in tech infrastructure years ago. As they grow organically, or in acquisition, they now have extended categories and new brands to manage. They need new technology tools to meet demand.
Whether managing omni-channels, multiple brands, multiple categories or multiple companies, those who were savvy enough to invest in earlier generations of technology are often finding that those systems can't keep up with the requirements of their changing businesses, and that investment now to power the growth they plan for is an investment that will enable strategic success and deliver handsome returns in the future.
Centric Software provides product lifecycle management (PLM) and sourcing software for the apparel, footwear and accessories industries.
- Roy Shurling
- President of Lectra North America
Today's consumers are the true drivers of technology investments. They are fickle, and they want what they want when they want it. Fashion and apparel companies are turning to the most advanced technology to reach these consumers in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The collection-development process must be strong enough to foster collaboration among every department involved, from designers and pattern makers to suppliers and merchants.
Sophisticated technology—such as virtual design, intelligent pattern making and 3-D prototyping, and fashion-specific PLM solutions—creates the visibility and control necessary to align creative needs with manufacturing constraints. These technological advancements have to be employed throughout the entire value chain of a company—as with the need for increased speed in time-to-consumer also comes the need for absolute control and visibility of what is happening throughout the product lifecycle.
Only technology can provide the visibility, and only through technology can the discipline required to work at a frantic pace without mistakes be maintained across complex supply chains. At the end of the day, companies will be able to meet deadlines and protect margins, but they will also create loyalty with quality garments that have the fit and style to appeal to consumers.
Lectra provides integrated technology solutions for the textile, home interior, automotive, marine and aerospace industries.
- Bill Brewster
- Vice President of Sales and Marketing
- Gerber's Yunique Solutions
Companies are investing in PLM technology not only to maximize efficiency and improve productivity but also to quickly determine the answers to critical business questions that help them get the right products to market faster. For example, PLM systems can perform multiple "what if" scenarios that enable teams to determine if a product will meet profitability expectations before designers sketch a concept or generate a single piece of artwork.
With a PLM system, brands and retailers can quickly calculate historical costs using built-in best practices based on a target markup percentage or a target price for both wholesale and retail. This enables the creative and sourcing teams to align early in the planning process. With this vision, merchandising, design, technical design and sourcing teams are left to focus on inspirations and new product innovations as well as the reuse of bestsellers, reducing product-development time and resources to deliver on-trend, consumer-valued products that will deliver higher margins at both wholesale and retail.
Also, either at the line level or sub-assortment level, users can enter planned numbers for a particular collection and track them from planning to development through approved commitments. Teams get an "at-a-glance" visual of the line with the ability to drill down to style categories. In addition, PLM systems provide real-time visibility to new styles and carryovers in development, including input from suppliers, to create a single source of data entry and maintenance for designers and merchants. With this tool, everyone in the process has the most current information, which can be rolled to and from the plan.
A division of Gerber Technology, Yunique Solutions makes product lifecycle management software designed specifically for the apparel, fashion and retail industries.
- Joanna Beerman
- Manager of US Marketing Communications for Manthan Systems
Customer-centric organizations are looking to build a lasting, personalized relationship with individual customers and promote a consistent positive experience across channels. And, fortunately, some technology vendors today have the capabilities to satisfy this requirement with the advent of predictive and Big Data analytics to determine customer sentiment and preferences in addition to personalization engines to drive real-time customer offers.
Manthan Systems is a retail analytics and business intelligence software provider
- Mark Burstein
- President of Sales, Marketing, and Research & Development, NGC Software
Consumers are shopping in all channels, and it has eroded brand loyalty. Most retailers have responded by increasing their private-label offerings and taking more control of their sourcing. The only way to maintain consumer loyalty is to offer products that people want but can't find elsewhere. So, the goal of all retailers and brands is to reduce lead time, streamline product development and lower costs. All of this must take place with an emphasis on ethical sourcing as vendor compliance and product safety are under the collective microscope.
Hence the high demand for integrated PLM and SCM solutions that manage the process from concept through product delivery. It must also include components to manage social compliance, product safety and sustainability. Current demand for this type of technology is outpacing anything I have seen in the past few years. The integrated PLM-SCM solution provides seamless communication throughout the extended product lifecycle.
NGC Software is a provider of PLM, supply chain management, ERP and shop floor control software and services.