ut there can be headaches: most workwear and corporate clothing businesses currently use manual and spreadsheet-based systems for planning and, as supply chains become more complex, it can be hard to stay in control of every aspect of the supply chain.
The solution? Supply chain management software (SCMS) is designed to save time and money while improving efficiency and customer service. Freeing companies from mountains of admin, the fully integrated, real-time system provides businesses with information that helps them to control all products and materials as they move through the manufacturing process from one supplier to another – reducing human error.
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If money were no object, there’s no doubt that every business would be using SCMS. But the real question is, with the global financial downturn squeezing margins tighter and tighter, can investing in SCMS make the difference between whether a company sinks or swims?
As far as Fast React Systems, Prima Solutions, Syscom PLC and Technopoly are concerned, SCMS are essential. These companies provide supply chain management software specifically for the requirements of the workwear and corporate clothing industry and know all about what kind of difference it can make.
Sally Reynolds, marketing manager at Syscom PLC, says: “Increased competition, customer demands and the need to source materials from offshore mean that companies certainly need to review their supply chain. SCMS aims to make businesses of all shapes and sizes and industries more efficient and deliver goods to customers on time when they need them.”
“Given the very diverse nature of the apparel supply chain, the reliance on low labour cost countries and often the low level of supporting infrastructure, a system is needed that must be able to communicate using a variety of technologies such as the web or email,” Fast React Systems business development director Andy Hinton adds.
“Whilst spreadsheets can be easily created, typically they have been designed by one person and therefore cannot be easily used or understood by other members in the supply chain.
“A good SCMS will provide complete visibility of order status to all companies in the supply chain. This means that everyone is working to the same set of priorities and hence problems can be solved before they get critical.”
Integrating all the key areas of the business, the software makes critical path data available through the internet or direct ‘collaborative’ means such as EDI to everyone involved, wherever they are in the world. Activities from stock management to garment sales and warehousing can all be viewed. Most software products are sold as modules, which allow manufacturers, suppliers and distributors to pick those software elements that meet their specific needs – and add more as their business grows. “It is important that any SCMS selected can fully integrate with any existing business systems, so that there is no need for duplication of data entry and that the SCMS provides the key visibility required to all the key areas of the business,” says Andy Hinton.
Stock control is a key factor in the workwear and corporate clothing industry. Most software packages enable stock to be entered and searched for among multiple warehouses and locations by colour, size and style descriptions that reflect the multidimensional nature of the product. Forecasting screens can also predict run-out and generate automatic replenishment orders when stock levels fall below minimum, which is particularly important for workwear and corporate clothing given that, compared to the fashion industry, there is a greater demand for repeat products.
Order management modules, meanwhile, are a great way to ensure you’re getting efficient ordering and reliable delivery times – they allow sales orders to be entered quickly (from either list or matrix screens), matched to stock and tracked. This can also link directly to accounts to automatically generate and process purchase orders.
Kathleen Helliwell, managing director of ApparelGMS producers Technopoly, says: “In the busy world of corporatewear and workwear, customers have realised that SCMS ensures that large volumes of work can be handled quickly and efficiently, freeing up staff to get on with the job in hand and preventing an office sinking under a mountain of admin and paperwork.”
John Norman, managing director of Prima Solutions, agrees: “It reduces the cost per transaction because companies don’t have to receive paper-based orders, key them in and throw them away.”
Straightforward financial benefits aside, John stresses that the right SCMS can help build partnerships between workwear and corporate clothing providers and their customers. “Delivering customer service is increasingly about delivering measurable customer service. Utilising ‘business intelligence’ software in support of key performance indicators to deliver important information to customers accurately and regularly can help our customers demonstrate to end wearer companies exactly where service is being delivered and can really help strengthen those partnerships.” Furthermore in the age of global awareness a transparent supply chain can also ensure your business sends out the right message.
“End wearers are now dictating to their suppliers that they have to have an ethical supply chain and they will want to see evidence of it,” he says. “So if the system enables you to record all the details about a supplier then simply provide those details to your end customer then there is this continuous cycle of commitment and information, which helps our customers to secure partnerships with their own customers.”
End users are starting to shape supply chains in other
ways, too, as the impact that IT can have on uniform ordering is realised. John says Prima Solutions is being approached by companies that are “recognising that they need IT not just to run their business but to help them win new contracts, as tender documents are asking how their IT deals with certain aspects of service such as wardrobe management, entitlement and web ordering.”
In an industry where an initial roll-out can easily involve 10,000-plus wearers, the ability to track which wearer is entitled to what depending on their job role and grade is vital – and can be achieved through ‘wardrobe management’. “Our customers need to provide all of those people with appropriate sizes, colours and fits and ship them all out individually to a variety of sites,” John says. “Our wardrobe management application enables our customers to take on the details of each of those wearers electronically, and then pick and pack and despatch the orders.”
“Top up ordering and availability can then be controlled through a web ordering management system. It enables the wearers themselves to order top-up garments but restrictions are in place to make sure they don’t exceed their annual allowance, which can be measured in points or, in actual garments”.
Sally from Syscom says: “Our Web Wardrobe application allows customers to place orders for uniforms and workwear via a website 24/7.
The portal integrates fully with the back office, thus generating customer orders and delivery notes automatically – speeding up and increasing reliability of delivery times. Within the corporatewear market, the need to be able to create web portals for customers quickly and at a relatively small cost is a real winner when tendering for new business.”
For companies that rent rather than sell workwear or PPE, specialist modules that enable individual garments to be tracked can prove life-saving – they can highlight whether an item needs to be replaced by showing what materials were used in the original manufacture of a garment and what service or repair work it has undergone since it was first issued.
Having the right software tools is only part of getting the correct SCMS for your business. Andy from Fast React Systems says: “It’s also important that the right partner is selected – one that has the right experience and expertise in the industry. This will ensure that the software is effectively installed, configured and utilised – otherwise the required business benefits will not be achieved.”
Flexibility in a service provider is key and all software companies should work closely with customers to create a package that best suits their needs. “Every package will have varying functionality and it really is a case of speaking to the suppliers and discussing your requirements,” Sally says. “My advice would be to contact the supplier and ask them to visit and undertake a discovery day with you. This would determine how the software could help your business and whether it is a good fit for the organisation. This is a service that Syscom offer and, as we are specialists within this sector, we work closely with our customers to determine the best way forward.”
The implementation process of SCMS can take anything from two months to a year depending on the size and complexity of the business and can be carried out all at once or in phases. “During the implementation cycle, Fast React Systems provide an implementation consultant on site as agreed on the project plan,” Andy says. “In addition, we provide help desk support at all other times, we also make extensive use of web-based support where we can ‘take control’ of a user’s screen and guide them through any problems.”
Kathleen agrees that customer support, during and after implementation, is an important part of the whole package. “Technopoly’s UK-based customer support has seen it gain a growing reputation for ensuring that users get exactly what they want and all the assistance they need at any time. ApparelGMS support staff are available on the phone or online at any time and will make any onsite visits that are necessary.”
“It’s important to recognise that you are entering into a long term partnership when you select a supplier of SCMS. Half the reason that our customers choose Prima Solutions is our experience in this sector,” says John. “We employ 50 people specialising in this sector which means we are able to offer a wealth of experience on best practice, methods of deployment and making your systems deliver the very best in return. Ensuring your system supports your business goals is only the start. The real test comes in seeing it offering long term flexibility in support of the ever changing market. Our customer service team works closely with each of our customers to deliver support through ongoing use and to accommodate any directional changes.”
In the current economic climate some software suppliers recognise how difficult it is to justify the investment in new technology and therefore offer flexible payment terms (e.g. software rental). This approach means a positive return on investment in a much shorter timeframe.
SCMS is an expense and, when a company is just starting out, it may be that they are able to carry on without it. But, sooner or later, Andy believes the need to step up a gear is inevitable.
“If the right system is selected and installed effectively, SCMS can help a business to SURVIVE in the current very difficult trading environment,” he says.
“And, remember, it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Sally agrees: “For smaller companies, manual systems may be sufficient but, as a company starts to grow, it usually outgrows these systems too and finds they are inadequate for the business moving forward.
“SCMS could be a significant investment for companies who are growing but, without it, their business will not be able to achieve the demands of their customers in today’s competitive market place.”