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Op-Ed | Technology Can Transform the Operational Backbone of Fashion

The fashion industry is entranced by front-end, consumer-facing innovation. But technology has tremendous power to transform the back-end of the fashion business, driving efficiency across the value chain, says Eddie Mullon, founder and CEO of Fashion GPS.
Wool processing | Photo: Deyan Georgiev/500px Prime
  • Eddie Mullon

NEW YORK, United States  In the 1980s, leading auto companies embraced PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software to accelerate their business processes. The fashion and retail industry followed suit in the late 1990s, using similar technologies and empowering organisations to monitor, evaluate and improve the efficiency of their supply chains.

Fast-forward to 2015 and enterprise software has continued to advance at a rapid rate, yet there has been surprisingly little innovation in the solutions that power the operational backbone of the fashion industry.

Updating these kinds of systems is costly and time-intensive — even more so given the decentralised nature of many fashion businesses. But, today, the challenge for every fashion brand and retailer is not simply upgrading legacy systems and processes, but doing so in a way that supports constant innovation. Indeed, in order to compete effectively in this new and complex era of perpetual change, organisations must adopt agile ways of working, meaning their enterprise software must be able to easily integrate with new technologies both inside and outside the company.

Yet traditional enterprise software solutions have often failed to evolve fast enough, putting companies at a disadvantage. This is particularly evident when it comes to the seasonal launch of products. A key consideration for a brand in 2015 is how to properly monitor the flow of products and information through critical business departments and processes. Information is pushed, pulled and shared at each juncture and technology needs to efficiently display this data in order to help designers, press and buyers make better decisions, whether that’s at a runway show in Paris, a tradeshow in Berlin or a press day in London. What’s more, the process of launching products encompasses more than just PR and marketing. It begins at the very point of a product’s inception and continues throughout the development, production, buying and merchandising processes, into PR and Marketing and onto retail.

Some of the world's biggest brands and retailers including Burberry, Kate Spade, Levi's and ASOS are already beginning to embrace new, tech-enabled methodologies which promise to deliver back-end efficiencies. PLP (Product Launch Planning) systems like what Fashion GPS offers increase visibility and real-time data harvesting in order to facilitate reactive process innovation. These systems are critical to providing real-time feedback, so that the industry can react and deliver almost instantly. This encourages smarter, informed decision-making, resulting in more relevant products and services.

While we can’t necessarily predict what the fashion industry will look like in the future, one thing is clear: it will only become more complex. Now is as good a time as ever to prioritise technology investments and, as an industry collective, we should be aiming to establish the kinds of standards and processes, which will enable us to collaborate more effectively in the future. This should be a priority across the entire value chain, from concept to consumer, including the tracking of materials and components, version control and product sampling right down to types, colour and pattern taxonomies.

These steps would help to ensure the power, potential and efficacy of the enterprise applications of tomorrow. To truly harness the technology revolution, investment must also be made in flexible and adaptable cloud-based solutions that sit alongside and across legacy systems like ERP and PLM, seamlessly integrated to guarantee the solid launch of products today, tomorrow and beyond.

Eddie Mullon is the founder and CEO of Fashion GPS.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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