For vertically integrated retailers, the opportunities today for leveraging more advanced tools to communicate throughout the enterprise—from the manufacturing to the retailing sides of the business—have and are still undergoing enormous change and vast improvements in key areas.
“You need to keep an open mind, have a clear whiteboard and no sacred paths in mind” when you are looking to invest in your next generation of systems, said Len Jacaruso, now executive consultant, Apparel Wholesale & Retail IS Management, and former VP, IT at Liz Claiborne. “Today is an extremely robust software field. You need to set an investment strategy that goes beyond the basics,” and ensures that you are not back in the same place in three years as you are today, Jacaruso said at TOPSS in Las Vegas in October. TOPSS, the Technology & Operations Store Summit, is produced by Chain Store Age and Retail Technology Quarterly.
The areas of advancement involve numerous key functions that heretofore have barely been addressed in an adequate manner by software companies. That is changing. One such prime area is product-development management, perhaps among the most crucial functions for fashion-oriented retailers.
“Tasks, design, colors—until just a couple of years ago, none of these functions were technology-rich. But now that has changed. There has been a tremendous amount of investment, and now CAD and CAM systems are being integrated into ERM and PDM solutions. They may still be only ‘loosely’ tied together—but it is getting there,” Jacaruso said.
Another area Jacaruso pointed to as high on the priority list and deserving attention by both retailers and software vendors was the availability of better software to provide three-dimensional (3D) renderings of fabric prints, something crucial to the way business is conducted today. “No one is going to make the buy based on that [3D], but it is now expected to be available as part of the pre-purchase process,” he said.
Jacaruso pointed to vendor portals and the opportunity—indeed need—for greater manufacturing-retailing automated collaboration as keys to winning in retailing. “Software is not yet shared nearly enough—it needs to be. Also, people do not do a good job in keeping track of who is doing what, what stage or where a product is in the manufacturing process, and other key points. It has to become more sophisticated,” he noted.
Other crucial areas Jacaruso cited as needing more attention included sourcing and being able to better understand and make much more precise choices regarding fabric and production quality, greater flexibility regarding shipping options right up to last moment, and improved opportunities to shift course in terms of SKUs, sizes and colors produced right up until the moment the article is actually made.
Jacaruso noted that while progress has been made in some areas more than others, much of what he was calling for was still a matter of ongoing development and refinement by software companies.