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Posted Date: 4/24/2008


contributed by Gary M. Barraco, Senior Manager, Marketing and Alliance Development, ecVision (gbarraco@ecvision.com)

The face of doing business in the apparel, footwear and soft goods (AFS) space has been permanently altered over the course of the past year and retail brands have had to make significant changes to stay afloat.

Company survival is only assured by achieving profitable innovation and reducing time to market. These factors have led to the implementation of improved technology solutions to enhance the bottom line, notably product lifecycle management (PLM). However, the key features found in typical PLM applications are not enough alone to give retailers the edge. Executives need to leverage automation to give them the greater breadth necessary to accomplish other tasks that aren't usually addressed as part of a PLM solution.

In this Viewpoint, we will look at some real-world scenarios in which retail leaders in the AFS industry have extended their capabilities using technology, giving them the edge they need to rise above the competition, as well as the tools to ensure product quality, effectively manage costing negotiations and minimize risk through factory compliance.

Product Quality - Case Study No. 1

Product quality is paramount, especially when managing a private brand. The need for specialized materials adds to the complexity that already exists as part of the design phase. Design and sourcing teams need to work closely with material and trim manufacturers, as well as factories to ensure that all of the material used in the finished item meets the specifications. Further down the line fit, sample and finished goods also need to meet stringent standards. The level of collaboration necessary involves quality testing specialists and laboratory testing to ensure the standards are adhered to before, during and after production.

This first client's project utilizes a best-of-breed technology solution from ecVision to manage its internal quality assurance process. Users (including vendors, design, sourcing and QA team members) start with the creation of a test lab request from standard template libraries based on the product being tested. These test requests, once submitted, are made available to the testing labs--via the application and a standard XML feed to their external systems.

After the testing lab completes the requested tests, the test results are either entered online into the system or transmitted back to it via an XML data feed. All of the data associated with the tests is contained within the application's database to facilitate an efficient searching and reviewing of test results by sourcing and design team members. Scorecards and configurable reports allow the users, based on their role, to track tasks and timelines for true management-by-exception workflow.

The platform's other functional modules had already been used by this client for many years, so the addition of a QA module was easy to assimilate into the organization. It would replace a home-grown system that used PDF documents that weren't searchable and lacked reporting or visibility. As well, the old system wasn't open to vendors or mills to enter request and test results or have views into them. ecVision's ability to integrate with existing third-party software systems preserved investment in those products and allows for greater flexibility.

The results of this initiative are greater control, enhanced visibility and consistency to the testing process for trim, garments and accessories.

Costing Efficiency - Case Study No. 2

Sourcing in the AFS space is a monumental task. The costing of thousands of products each season, spanning multiple categories (in this case across multiple brands) with multiple agents and factories around the world is quite difficult. Costing has a significant effect on net margin, total store sales, inventory levels, sell-through, and shopper satisfaction. And if that isn't enough to keep you up at night, think of the competitive impact it has too when consumer dollars are so scarce.

This next case relates to a global apparel industry giant that owns and markets a variety of goods under its own and some of the leading licensed brands in dress apparel and sportswear. To support its extensive sourcing operations this international organization deployed a comprehensive PLM system as an online solution used by its sourcing teams in the United States, Latin America and Asia to collaborate on global product design and development tasks. Replacing existing, aging homegrown systems, the costing rollout includes the entire men's woven dress shirt division across all brands - the largest category in the company. The goal is to reduce manpower inefficiency and task redundancy and consolidate the costing data into a single solution to improve buying decisions.

The web-based, role-based application from ecVision serves as a common platform to consolidate pre-production tracking data, standardize product costing, and provide a means of collaboration across the globally-distributed network that encompasses six agents and offices. The solution automates processes for landed duty paid (LDP) and estimated landing cost (ELC) calculations, as well as manages pre-negotiated quotes for design components (i.e., the addition of French cuffs to a dress shirt) and incorporates these costs into the sourced product price. The strong reporting capabilities in the system pair with an external product design (PDM) system to consolidate data, enabling key decisions to be made throughout the product development and sourcing stages.

With all of these tools, the brand team has a comprehensive supplier management process that ensures that competitive pricing is achieved.

Factory Compliance - Case Study No. 3

Analysts clearly state that to differentiate themselves in the retail space, companies need to be able to develop and manufacture anywhere in the world if they expect to win in today's marketplace. Of course a globally distributed supply chain brings with it a greater need to control factory compliance to minimize risk.

Safety, environmental and social responsibility standards and regulatory practices must be enforced to protect brand integrity and image, and reduce the risk of costly product recalls. This applies equally across all industries without regard to the product.

The last customer study focuses on factory inspections and the use of an ecVision web-based PLM/SCE solution to provide visibility into the compliance/inspection process and connect factories, vendors, outside inspection groups, in-house QA personnel and sourcing teams.

The company is one of the world's largest sourcing agents with operations in more than 40 economies employing more than 14,000 people. Given that it doesn't own any of the factories through which it sources, it functions as a supply chain manager, distributing orders for its retail clients and for its own retail stores across the thousands of vendors it contracts with around the globe. IT solutions play a big role in managing the flow of information through its supply chain and its many offices, with this application as a central hub to consolidate vendor information.

Reflective of its sheer size, this agency employs a large number of quality control/assurance inspectors who conduct factory visits and inspections on a routine basis. Many of its factories are located in far-flung areas, so in order to keep on top of progress with individual orders it has deployed mobile PDA technology that links to the application to enable inspectors to receive customized questions for each factory and to input their audit results in real time.

When inspectors arrive at factories, they do an audit for vendor compliance and then they ask specific questions, which differ for each customer, all managed using templates as guides. The information they capture is fed into a centralized database via the PDA or directly into the system online. As a result of deploying mobile devices and the web platform, this agent is able to improve the quality of information it receives at its central offices. QC inspectors are also able to conduct a greater number of inspections in a day, improving productivity.

With the information being fed into the online database, the company conducts more audits in less time and is able to qualify factories much faster as well. This leads to stricter adherence to the numerous performance standards and subsequently builds stronger relationships with each link in the supply chain.

Buy a Solution That Fits

Investments must be made wisely and technology solutions that integrate PDM, PLM and SCM are in demand--but this isn't enough to give brand owners the advantage. Return on investment is easily realized when these critical pieces of the puzzle are combined, but the solution needs to be inherently game-changing before decision makers will justify the expense.

Moreover, top-notch applications don't stop at the three areas focused on in this Viewpoint. So what makes a good fit? A tailored solution spanning the full range of functionality in PLM and SCE software isn't enough. Brand owners and retailers need to find a solution wherein the extra functionality delivers real benefits that make a difference in the bottom line.

About ecVision: 

ecVision provides sourcing and supply chain management software for private brands that enables collaboration and visibility into their supply networks. ecVision XpressCommerce is a configurable, web-based solution for private label owners and manufacturers to facilitate better relationships with trading partners through standardized documents and process flow from product concept to receipt. The end result is minimized risk, lower supply chain costs, improved speed to market and the protection of brand quality.

The functional modules in XpressCommerce provide the capabilities for:
  • collaborative product design and technical specifications
  • supplier production capacity and raw material commitments
  • factory audits and compliance inspection scheduling and reporting
  • global sourcing, SKU level sample management and online costing negotiations
  • collaborative order management and production tracking
  • rule-based product QA and inspection management
  • online shipping documentation (ASN, invoice, carton labels)
  • online shipment tracking
  • time & action calendar management
The intuitive user interface facilitates rapid adoption throughout the supply network. Its configurability allows for easy integration to external systems, affording flexibility and fast implementation. The solution's scalability ensures the ability for organizations to support multiple users with ease.

The XpressCommerce user base includes internal teams, suppliers, mills, factories, logistics providers, inspection agencies and banks. Every day, industry leading companies around the world including Abercrombie & Fitch, BonTon, JCPenney, Li & Fung Ltd, New Balance, Phillips-Van Heusen, Timberland and others use ecVision's award-winning software to effectively run their businesses.

We encourage you to visit our web site and download additional information about our products. www.ecvision.com

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