The Back Office Is the New Black: Making the Case for Digitization
Supply chain inefficiencies arise when communication breaks down and information gets lost along the winding road of the supply chain. Digital tools can address these headaches by smoothing connections, cutting costs and reducing waste.
For example, take the complex path of a T-shirt, from its inception in the design studio to its final destination in the hands of the consumer.
On the journey from the cotton mill to the retail store, the shirt passes through many hands, as its design and material components are exchanged between manufacturers, distributors, brands and other partners. Physical swatches of fabric are sent back and forth until one is approved; calls are made from one time zone to another to find out what is happening on the factory floor. If there is any misunderstanding along the way, the shirt may come out a little different, depending on which factory made it. With so many players involved, insufficient communication (or miscommunication) is common, and it can be difficult to maintain consistency, efficiency and cost control.
The customer only sees the polished product, but the trajectory of the shirt is not so clean-cut. The story of the shirt reflects the intricacy of today’s fashion industry supply chain. Industry experts know it actually involves many different chains that are interconnected, interdependent and, unfortunately, sometimes fractured. Communication and coordination are of utmost importance in such complicated procedures.
“A lot of systems exist in their own silos: manufacturing companies have had their systems, distribution have their systems, warehousing logistics have their systems,” says Paul Magel, President of the Business Applications and Technology Outsourcing Division at CGS.
The question Magel and CGS are striving to answer is: “How do we connect all of those?”
Yet, the fashion industry has struggled to modernize and digitize. Often, partners in the industry are gathering data and communicating through outdated paper, phone and email. Worse, sometimes they’re not speaking to one another at all. The adoption of digital systems would address these issues by allowing teams to communicate and share data with their partners in real time.
The solution may seem obvious, but it is hardly simple. Magel and his colleagues in the industry discussed the benefits and challenges surrounding digitization at the recent 2022 Texprocess Americas Symposium in Atlanta, GA.
While most agreed that the incentives are there – from improved efficiency to sustainability – it is still difficult for companies to shift, especially if they feel like they’re the only ones in the whole process doing so.
Trying to convey why companies might not be quick to jump at digitizing their systems, Anton Wilson, President of Guidance Solutions, LTD, compared it to swimming against a school of disorganized fish.
“Imagine that you’re one of these fish in this school, and one of your brand retailers is giving you data one way, another one’s giving you data the other way, another one’s giving you half the data, another one's giving you too much data,” Wilson says. “And you're still trying to swim.” All the moving pieces, the partners, appear to be moving in different directions.
Being at the forefront of these changes can be daunting. But digital tools, such as those offered by CGS, help remove these barriers, making it easier for companies to transition into the digital world and connect with their partners all along the supply chain.
“We’re on the unfashionable side of fashion,” says Magel. “We're in that back office, but I think with what's been going on the past couple of years – in fact, probably the past couple of decades – the back office is the New Black.”
As they grapple with both new pandemic-induced obstacles and decades-old supply chain challenges, companies that invest in digitizing their systems are able to streamline their processes.
Design software and 3D augmented reality tools can digitize the conventional system – including color and fabric, and in the case of digital try-on tools, even the body that wears the clothes. With these capabilities, companies can eliminate costly, inefficient back-and-forth processes with their partners and get immediate feedback.
Over the past few decades, the fashion industry has improved the customer experience by going digital, through online shopping and creative solutions like try-before-you-buy programs. Now, facing immense supply chain disruptions, companies must digitize to improve their own experience and build more effective systems with their partners.
Looking for more information on how to digitize your supply chain operations? Visit our BlueCherry® Suite page to learn more about this technology. You can also learn how industry leaders are navigating supply chain disruptions and consumer demand changes by downloading our 2022 Supply Chain Trends and Technology report.