Whether working with manufacturing partners in-country or overseas, brands and retailers of all shapes and sizes are now seeking greater visibility into sourcing and production as an essential part of their digital transformation strategies.
There are some common reasons for this, as well as more complex, more unique ones. Recent headlines have exposed the extremes of what can happen when manufacturing is left out of sight and out of mind, with serious reputational consequences for household names in the UK and USA. The COVID pandemic has also revealed the fragility of some supply chain relationships, with the inability to actually source product leading many businesses to evaluate news ways to collaborate more effectively and sustainably with their key manufacturing partners.
But at the same time, this drive to better understand and control design-to-production processes is not just a reaction to current events. In less tumultuous times, brands and retailers were also pursuing supply chain improvements to help them better plan the timeline of upcoming collections, to improve speed to market once designs are approved, to improve product quality, cut cost and control material waste, and much more.
Earlier this month, McKinsey reported that large-scale supply chain disruptions are now occurring more frequently than every four years, underlining the need for retailers and their supply chains partners to not just weather the current storm, but also prepare for a post-COVID recovery that insulates them as far as possible against further shocks. This builds on earlier research where analysts identified key objectives for improving supply chain resilience that included having the responsiveness to manage and redirect inventory, the capability to add production capacity safely, and the need to become as agile and flexible as possible in distribution and fulfilment.
All of these improvements, whether they’re focused on near-term survival or longer-term success, will rely on improved control and clear visibility of the processes that carry products from design, through development, and into production. And all of them emphasise the importance of digitisation for the ongoing prosperity of design-to-production workflows.
And that visibility will need to incorporate a seamless flow of information from initial design to finished product. Until recently, that level of integration, data sharing, and accountability has been reserved for large enterprises on the brand and retail side of the equation, but that trend is changing in several important ways.
First, the level of interconnectivity between design, development, and production that today’s world demands means that this is not a problem that either the brand or their production partner can solve alone. Historically, smaller factory owners have concentrated on pure process improvements and investment in new equipment rather than software to try to achieve their aims: better results for their brand and retail customers, and lower costs per order in production. Unlike larger brands, who have been able to place more of an emphasis on technology investment, digital solutions have traditionally been out of the reach of smaller brands and factories due to factors like cost, infrastructure, and expertise.
But the changes being wrought to the international supply chain by COVID mean that small suppliers like these are set to become even more vital partners when the inevitable need for alternative sourcing options emerges. And this is only likely to be compounded by the ongoing pressure of market forces such as shifts in consumer buying behaviour, the drive for increased sustainability, and the rise of personalisation and on-demand production.
Inverse to their importance, though, these businesses are also likely to be the ones hardest-hit by both the current crisis and the constant pressures of fashion’s ever-accelerating cycle. Just as the pandemic has changed the conversation around the importance of data sharing between design and production, it has also highlighted just how much of the risk in disconnected scenarios falls on smaller brands and factories. Where multinational retailers and large-scale, high-capacity producers are more able to weather the impact of high street closures and cancelled orders, the same disruptions can have a much more significant – and potentially permanent – effect on smaller businesses. And this disproportionate risk makes the need for digitisation greater than ever.
For example, smaller brands reliant on perhaps a single channel to market and a small pool of suppliers to source from will feel the pressure much faster than a larger organisation whose risk profile is spread across multiple channels and sourcing locations. At the same time, a small, specialised factory will struggle to survive multiple cancelled orders, or the migration of retail customers to different suppliers.
In these circumstances, it will be essential for SME brands and their key suppliers to not only control and digitize their own processes but establish both visibility and data flow across the full design to production lifecycle, because the benefits – for survival and beyond – are mutual. From order allocation and confirmation to clear, accurate factory capacity planning and order execution, SME brands and suppliers who work together can both insulate themselves from risk and prepare themselves for a rapid pandemic recovery.
To secure their futures, these small brands and suppliers will need to prioritise technology rather than sticking to the strategy of incremental process improvement. When it comes to the future of the retail, footwear and apparel industry, it is increasingly clear that digitization is the key to winning the recovery and delivering a sustainable, efficient and connected supply chain.
But what solutions do companies of this size and shape actually need to put in place to protect themselves and then thrive? As we’ve established, the primary requirement to delivering on the vision of a more resilient, responsive design-to-production cycle is a clear through-line of data and visibility from initial design to sample, and then on to production and delivery. Achieving this requires a PLM solution which not only delivers on smaller brands design and development needs, but also sourcing and purchase order management, connecting with and leveraging data held in critical factory software solutions such the international standard for time and method or production planning and control solutions.
This kinds of connectivity has, though, been prohibitively expensive for all but the largest enterprises but this is changing.
First, PLM itself has had a long and deserved reputation as being inaccessible to all but the largest brands and retailers; it has required significant capital outlay, with a risk profile of its own when it comes to the timeline for achieving a return on investment – especially in the many cases where brands were required to purchase their own hosting hardware. And even as the total cost of ownership for a modern PLM platform has come down – thanks to SaaS hosting and subscription pricing –few SME brands and factories have had the luxury of pausing their development and production cycles for long enough to manage a time-consuming PLM implementation.
While factory capacity planning, material yield optimisation, and labour quantification platforms have been more affordable and faster to implement, until fairly recently they have typically been deployed as individual on premise solutions, rather than being integrated into a connected digital ecosystem.
Taking this into account, there is a clear requirement for comprehensive, accessible, and affordable solutions that support brands’ and manufacturers’ automation and acceleration of their own key business processes as well collaborating and sharing data to improve their joint time to market and cost efficiency.
To support this requirement, and to provide a response and recovery toolkit that caters to businesses of all shapes and sizes, the team at Coats Digital are proud to announce a new initiative .
Fast Start for SMEs will make Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Production Planning and Control (PPC) more accessible than ever before, with rapid implementation (in as little as 4 weeks), no requirement for IT expertise or infrastructure, and scalable solutions with subscription pricing to support cash flow.
Fast Start is a low-risk, rapid-time-to-value solution specifically developed to help smaller businesses survive the sheer disruption of COVID, and then to thrive by accessing digital solutions to drive significant improvements in visibility, coordination and control, increasing efficiency and speed to market. In a very short span of time, small to medium sized businesses will therefore be able implement digital solutions that were previously out of their reach, build vital bridges between design and production, and both navigate the current storm and enhance their competitive edge for a post-COVID recovery.
Securely hosted in the public cloud, and deployed remotely by our experienced teams, Fast Start is built and implemented by people who are intimately familiar with how intelligent, informed design and development can feed safe, sustainable production to create significant value for both parties. And with no IT infrastructure to purchase, minimal disruption to day-to-day business, and affordable ongoing pricing, Fast Start offers a compelling solution to the pressing problem of design-to-production visibility – by making it available to everyone.