Efficiency, Optimisation, And Order: The Strategic Importance Of Supply Chain Technology

Despite investment in a range of different technologies that have an upstream footprint, the supply chain remains a stubborn source of risk and a reservoir of untapped possibilities. Could a different approach to the supply chain tech stack hold the solution to real transformation? The Interline partnered with Suuchi – billed as “the new standard for supply chain operations” – to find out.

Ask different job roles at any fashion brand, and you’ll encounter a complex set of conflicting ideas and emotions swirling around the words “supply chain”.

From some angles, the supply chain represents a broad surface of risk exposure, a contributor to long timelines to market, and a source of opacity at a time when consumer and regulatory demand is trending towards transparency. High costs, manually-intensive workflows, excessive sampling – all these problems and more are often laid squarely on the doorstep of the supply chain.

From other angles, the supply chain is wide-open possibility space – the lever to pull in pursuit of key strategic objectives like reducing operating expenses, cutting product costs, improving margins, meeting sustainability targets and regulatory requirements, and increasing speed to market.

In practice, both angles are simultaneously valid. And the thing that sits at the intersection of them – spanning both unaddressed challenges and untapped opportunities – is orchestration, order, and connectivity, or the lack thereof.

From both perspectives, though, this should all feel a little bit surprising. After all, a lot of technology has already been pitched in the general direction of “supply chain transformation.” So why hasn’t the supply chain (or at least brand and retailer’s relationships with it) actually been transformed to the point where those challenges are already being squashed, and those opportunities are on tap for everyone?

The reality is that the industry continues to trip over the same stones it often does during complex, multi-environment, multi-stakeholders initiatives: technology tends to streamline and optimise within rigid, defined lanes, leading to siloed data, limited automation and workflow optimisation between solutions, and fragmentation of knowledge, information, and action. And this same scenario seems to be playing out today in the supply chain technology stack and the ecosystem growing around it.

Which is why, despite significant investment in technology on the part of big brands and retail names, and significant trust being placed in off-the-shelf, industry-agnostic tools by smaller brands, the actual impact of technology in the supply chain has fallen short of the vision for “transformation”, allowing unresolved issues to persist, and potential advantages to remain unseized.

And it’s important to remember that supply chain challenges do not solely affect supply chain professionals. Disconnects at the supply chain level also manifest themselves negatively downstream: for instance, challenges in purchase order (PO) management, inventory planning, collaboration, warehousing, and e-commerce – all have their roots in that same lack of upstream connectivity, visibility, and optimization.

Let’s contrast this with what a “next generation” supply chain could look like, and how it would serve both up and downstream stakeholders. Ideally, it would unify sourcing, product development, production, logistics and other processes under a single productivity and orchestration layer, provided by a technology ecosystem that transcends the traditional, compartmentalised approach.

This may sound familiar. And that’s because this is the vision that product lifecycle management (PLM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and other big enterprise platforms have promised for some time. In short, a way to consolidate data, connect people, and create a “single source of truth” that would unlock supply chain possibilities, from speed to sustainability, at the same time as mitigating risk, cutting costs, and increasing profitability.

The reality, as some companies that have implemented some or all of those systems can attest, is perhaps more of a patchwork than a unified view. Some critical supply lives in one solution, some lives in another, and yet more lives in manual workarounds and homegrown macros and bespoke integrations that sit between the different environments. This has, in many cases, created multiple gaps between systems, people, and data, and it’s contributed to the ongoing lack of any persistent workflow and / or critical path that extends both up and downstream.

For example, for many brands and retailers, product data simply does not live in the same place that communication and collaboration with vendors (past the point of sampling) happens – transactional workstreams are separated from creative and technical workstreams. And, of course, most apparel companies have concurrent workstreams, running in different solutions, pre-purchase order, which are reconciled afterwards before a product becomes a transactional entity. All of which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to build a complete picture of product design, development, sourcing, purchasing, and logistics – let alone aligning different teams to that common vision.

This is precisely the problem that the Suuchi GRID platforms intended to address. The platform was designed to be the connective layer that bridges those gaps – not just unlocking better communication and collaboration between different teams, but actually layering over a universal workflow and a set of missing, value-chain-wide productivity tools.

According to Suuchi, these capabilities are specially calibrated for both solving supply chain challenges and unlocking supply chain opportunities, and built by a team with significant first-hand knowledge of the reality of not just supply chain technology, but supply chain processes. Suuchi’s belief is that the disconnected nature of the supply chain is something that demands a deeper understanding of the complexity of global sourcing, production, and distribution to overcome.

The GRID has two sets of capabilities: it can function as the system of record, or work with an established underlying technology stack (made up of PLM, ERP, and other solutions) to provide an effective layer for collaboration, efficiency, and productivity. Where GRID is used as a PLM and ERP solution in its own right – offering the usual capabilities across data and asset centralisation, bill of materials and core product data – it also serves as a tool for connectivity and productivity that seeks to break down the divisions between those platforms. And where the GRID is deployed as a layer above existing PLM and ERP solutions, it aims to offer the same unification, orchestration, and productivity benefits to businesses that are not yet ready to replace their existing systems.

In this sense, Suuchi’s approach dovetails with the fashion industry’s demand for data flows that break down the barriers between solutions – being created with the intention that product development processes shouldn’t exist in isolation, but should instead become seamless inputs into production and fulfilment. In turn, according to that approach, upstream supply chain and sourcing operations become inputs into the next cycle of design and development.

The Suuchi GRID also aims to connect users roles and job functions that have traditionally be left out of the supply chain technology ecosystem, adding an extra layer of workflow, organisation, orchestration, and collaboration on top of their existing solutions in a way that opens up new horizons, new capabilities, and connects new audiences.

In both cases, a key aim of the Suuchi GRID is its ability to support brands’ and retailers’ sustainability and traceability goals by achieving better visibility and data quality, through easily tracking the movement of goods, raw materials, and information. The GRID’s objectives here are ones that many brands will recognise: identifying inefficiencies, reducing waste, and ensuring compliance with sustainability standards.

In this role, the GRID is designed to allow brands and retailers to consolidate assets, actions, and accountability, manage exceptions, and build a level of real-time visibility that they may not be able to achieve by simply connecting their existing legacy systems. By using technology to build a transparent perspective on their partners’ performance, expanding the ability to take a broader, more comprehensive view to make better decisions, companies can assess their recent successes and setbacks in their collaborations objectively.

And in terms of productivity, the benefits of reducing administrative effort through a different, more unified approach to supply chain technology, cannot be understated – automating manual processes, decommissioning outdated and off-the-shelf solutions, and potentially also freeing up key resources to focus on more creative and value-added activities. The upshot is brands and retailers improving speed to market, building visibility, accountability and control, and reducing product costs (and improving product margins) by bridging the gaps that have persisted between different enterprise systems.

With the GRID, the Suuchi team have also set out to prioritise ease of usability for all parties using the software. This is particularly important because a big missing piece of the supply chain puzzle is that very few PLM deployments actually extend live data access to supply chain partners, whereas the GRID is built with the boarding of internal users, suppliers, quality inspectors, and third-party logistics partners in mind.

Today, mission-driven fashion brands like tentree have turned to the GRID to directly address supply chain and sustainability challenges and to establish new, cross-functional, collaborative relationships between its in-house teams and its value chain partners. And outside fashion, organisations like SupplyCaddy – which supplies disposables and packaging for the food service industry – have turned to the GRID’s full set of versatile, industry-agnostic modules, including ERP and PLM capabilities – to manage the supply chain side of exponential growth.

Whatever other organisations choose to do with a different approach to supply chain technology, though, the question should be what your supply chain means to you, as a brand or retailer? The answer to that question is going to determine what you should demand from supply chain technology – and if you answer it honestly and with the future demands of consumers, regulators, investors and other stakeholders in mind, you will potentially find that your strategic priorities are not being served by your existing supply chain technology stack.

And in that case, it could be logical to look at a different approach as a way to reduce expenses, enhance profitability, accelerate time-to-market, improve productivity, build transparency, and bridge the gaps that have prevented you from overcoming supply chain obstacles and capitalising on supply chain opportunities.

Read the full article at Interline


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