The function behind the fashion – technology plays a role

Sapphire’s Paul Rogers looks at the increasingly crucial role of the back office in propelling fashion brands to the forefront…

Fast fashion, a turbulent economic climate and the explosion of eCommerce have resulted in an unprecedented need for agility, flexibility and efficiency for businesses operating in the ever-evolving fashion industry. With consumer expectations set to grow higher still, the ability to rapidly respond to and even predict changes in demand has never been more important, with the challenge of managing a constantly evolving global supply chain thrown in for good measure. With this in mind, the majority of fashion businesses have their customer-facing processes and procedures in tip-top shape, with slick, intuitive online stores very much the order of the day. But when it comes to back office processes, from design through to delivery of the product, it’s very often a different story, with disparate, legacy and often manual systems bolted together to ‘manage’ day-to-day operations.

What these systems prevent, is the ability to secure complete oversight over all aspects of the business, not just the outward-facing parts, but the all-important back-office functions too. It’s only with this level of insight and oversight that fashion businesses can hope to achieve the levels of flexibility and agility necessary to gain that elusive competitive edge. Encouragingly, the technology exists to achieve this, with fashion-focused solutions available that not only provide fashion-specific capabilities but a whole host of back office functions, managing the entire lifecycle of a product from design through to production, sales and delivery, by integrating and automating manufacturing, supply chain, sales and finance processes.

Product Lifecycle Management solutions facilitate the management of products from design onwards, maintaining, storing and utilising the inevitably large amounts of product-related data across company processes. Crucially, Materials Requirement Planning functionality is fully integrated with purchasing, finance and stock control for intelligent, responsive re-ordering of stock and forecasting. When it comes to season and collection planning, such solutions provide the necessary visibility of the design process that’s needed to merchandise new collections at the beginning of each season, and with advanced costing functionality by size and colour built-in.

When it comes to the actual manufacturing of garments, the right technology enables fashion businesses to accurately predict demand based on forecasts, with advanced planning and scheduling providing detailed planning of order times, including factoring in the availability of resources. Warehouse management is also taken care of, with solutions available to handle inventory levels, price lists and transfers between warehouses.

All of this functionality is underpinned by vital but often-neglected administrative capabilities, with the most comprehensive solutions handling all financial accounting tasks as well as all bank transactions. The onerous admin associated with sales and distribution is covered as well, with orders, deliveries and invoice management all part of the service, not to mention the roles and responsibilities associated with the purchasing department and the various contracts and transactions that this involves.

Such solutions recognise that customers are key, with the cut and thrust of the fashion industry dependent on how responsive (or not) businesses are to the ever-changing needs and wants of their clients. The CRM aspect of these solutions brings together comprehensive sales management functionality, recording all information from initial phone call through to closed deals, as well as taking care of business partner management – recording vendor, purchaser and reseller information.

Perhaps the major benefit of this next generation of systems is the unified nature of the technology. By pulling all the information together in accessible, real time reports, decision-makers have the necessary knowledge to make informed, timely and effective decisions, safe in the knowledge that they’ve got all bases covered. This enables faster, more responsive innovation – innovation on which the fashion industry depends, and the only way to survive in an increasingly competitive sector.

What to look for in a solution for your fashion business:

You want a solution that can handle the specific needs of the fashion industry – what works for one industry won’t necessarily work for the world of fashion.
Seek the right help – experienced partners can guide you through the maze of solutions and functionalities that are on offer.
Flexibility is key – you need a solution that has the potential to grow with your business. Don’t let your technological capability constrain how your business develops.
Back office functionality is just as important as your outward-facing presence – you could have the best website in the world but if the processes aren’t in place to support it, it’s a wasted resource.
Find out more about the importance of connecting your back office technology with your front office promotion, by watching our latest webinar for the fashion industry.

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