Home Featured The Fashion Value Chain – It’s All About Communication

The Fashion Value Chain – It’s All About Communication


In today’s guest post, Andrew Dalziel, Senior Director, Industry Strategy, Infor looks at the relationship between collaboration and success.

Ever since apparel and footwear manufacturing moved offshore, effective communication and collaboration have become critical success factors for fashion brands and private brand retailers. There is a widely known anecdote from the time of the First World War, where a message was dispatched from the frontline as “Send reinforcements. We’re going to advance” and it became distorted to “Send three and fourpence we’re going to a dance” by the time it was relayed back through a chain to the army headquarters. In the fashion value chain, messages and data are sent back and forth, and the process frequently involves numerous people with disparate tools and various communication methods. As a result, there is naturally a risk of costly errors and delays in getting collections and styles to market.

Communication challenges

In the past, style design specifications, manufacturing instructions, sample and test request were shared by fax. Today, many companies still rely on spreadsheets and emails for communication with their vendors, leading to the risk of someone sending a spreadsheet version that is out of date or contains errors. It’s easy for a person to innocently add columns, change the format or input data in the wrong spreadsheet cell. With no data validation this can lead to costly mistakes while the lack of a documented audit trail means no tracking or alerting on who changed, what and when for a specific collection or style.  Furthermore, when the design office is in one time zone and the vendor in another, by the time that vendor responds the design may well already have evolved.

Many companies have built out custom portals to share information with vendors or are using an old PLM system with some basic collaboration capabilities. While the concept is sound, these have often been built using proprietary technology. Such approaches often result in the need to perform a local software install at the vendor, and the need for specific hardware, operating systems and local IT skills. Many of these solutions have been built by IT departments without much thought to the user experience and thus introduce user training challenges. With buying organisations frequently running on different underlying technology and user interfaces from the vendors, there is also a limited shared learning experience.

Within an organisation, a vast amount of communication is needed to develop new designs, source styles and handle in season style adjustments. Internal staff are usually dependent on email, phone or manual offline means of communication. Sharing of important information in a timely manner is a challenge, and without tight collaboration between the various product development and sourcing roles, processes are sub-optimal, and activities progress more slowly than desired, so accuracy and quality can be negatively impacted. Task management is normally handled offline from the product development system and therefore users are often not automatically alerted to exception conditions or high priority tasks in a timely manner.

Furthermore, there is often no or only limited support in current fashion product development systems for workflow management and mass updates, so users typically need to access system functions via rigid menu structures, which wastes time on non-value adding and laborious tasks such as searching for data and administrative updates to style data. In addition, once a team member finds the relevant data in the system to solve an issue or to support a discussion, they then have the added challenge of how to quickly and easily share the data with colleagues.

Enter cloud-native PLM

Cloud changes everything! It unveils the opportunity for a step change in communication both internally and externally. Deployment in the cloud and a thin-client user interface enables users to access software anytime and anywhere. It opens the door for a mix of devices such as Mac, PC, tablet and smart phone users. With such a solution it’s possible to have internal and external users using the same user interface technology, where access to specific functions and data is controlled through access rights and security. Hence, everyone works of the same data repository, wherever they are in the world, and can access and update data in real-time. This opens the possibility for both data validation and an audit trail.

True cloud-native solutions usually use single version software, so that companies can take advantage of new software innovations without the need for major upgrades. While sharing the same infrastructure helps reduce the cost of ownership versus deploying PLM on premise.

Transforming the way users work

The latest cloud native Fashion PLM systems offer a consumer grade user experience, making the solutions easy to learn and use, reducing training requirements. Styles can be viewed in tabular or card format depending on the user’s needs or preference. Role based homepages can deliver a portal to one or a number of people with the same job function to provide easy access to all the information and processes that they need to perform their daily work. Such a UX can help focus users in on the relevant data, support workflows and alert users to specific issues and tasks that they need to perform.

The latest collaboration technology can enable communication and the sharing of information with colleagues on, for example, design or sourcing issues, shortening the time to market and reducing the use of phone, email and undocumented conversations.  Collaboration can support the assignment of tasks to individuals; these might, for example, include the sharing of a link to a particular view in the system or be part of an approval workflow. One of the major advantages is that all messages are documented in the solution rather than held in a separate email system, or not being captured from an offline phone or corridor discussion. Collaboration tools within modern PLM solutions can enable much closer collaboration between creative designers, technical product developers, merchandisers and sourcing staff to shorten time to market and better document the style development process and the decisions taken.

Bottom line benefits

Cloud native PLM for a fashion organisation combined with a modern user experience and built-in collaboration capabilities can transform communication both within the enterprise and across the value chain. Users become more productive, tasks can be performed more efficiently, while up to date data reduces the risk of misunderstandings and errors which help shorten time to market, allow more time for innovation, reduce costs, and ultimately increase margins.

A modern, intuitive user experience can increase system adoption and employee motivation, while reducing system training time. Improved system adoption also provides the benefit of better data quality and more up to date product development data in one central repository for analysis, planning and decision making. Role based homepages allow a task-driven and process-oriented approach to a user’s work which can improve both task prioritisation and effectiveness.

The centralisation of product development processes that a cloud native solution supports provides the opportunity to operate as one team wherever the people in your value chain are located around the globe, whether they are internal employees or external partners to your organisation.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.