In 2018, Janice Wang, Chief Executive of Alvanon, said that “technology-driven supply chains are more important than design,” adding “an analogue supply chain is serving the digital consumer.” Wang’s words expressed frustration towards an industry that needs to disrupt its current methodology because time has been identified as one of the biggest risk factors in the supply chain because it isn’t on our side.
The good news is that as we enter 2020, there has been an increased rise in strategic supply chain technologies intended to disrupt the supply chain. These newer technologies offer a better ROI, faster time to value, and other advantages. It is also worth noting that supply chain digitization is capable of helping retailers and brands overcome technology barriers. John Thorbeck, chairman of industry consultancy Chainge Capital, was famously quoted saying “The industry’s over-reliance on outmoded ways of supply chain communication, like spreadsheets and emails, means too many are maintaining an analogue supply chain that can’t accommodate a digital consumer”.
Last year, Gartner, Inc., a global research and advisory firm, identified eight supply chain technology trends that shaped 2019. Although not all of them were widely adopted, technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Digital Supply Chain Twin, and Immersive Experience have been designed to bring about significant changes in disrupting the supply chain. “These technologies are those that supply chain leaders simply cannot ignore,” said Christian Titze, research vice president at Gartner. He continued: “Within the next five years if half of the large global companies are using some of these technologies in their supply chain operations, it’s safe to say that the technologies will disrupt people, business objectives and IT systems.”
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Giving Power to Fashion Brands
Leading disruptive technologies are expected to generate trillions in economic value in the decade ahead by disrupting the supply chain and ways companies do business. Creating entirely new experiences, technology has the power to give fashion brands more significant control over product development, sampling, and material development. It also opens the door to exploring 3D printing and the role it plays in helping fashion businesses produce goods on-demand and create new avenues for customization.
Besides the expected monetary worth, other reasons why the fashion industry needs to rethink its supply chain are sustainability and efficiency. By adopting leading disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, a technology that has the potential to make a business supply chain more efficient, the fashion industry can add value to areas like design and manufacturing processes.
Another area that the industry is investing in is Blockchain. It is a technology that has been described as having a transformative potential to make the supply chain transparent. Although its potential has been widely written about in a positive light, Forbes writer Steve Banker described Blockchain as a ‘hyped technology’. “Hyped technologies are getting a lot of publicity but have little proven value,” he wrote in an article published 30 December 2019. Arguing: “We have continued to ask blockchain providers for the names of customers that are using their technology daily as part of their newly entrenched way of doing business. Blockchain providers cannot provide these references. That is a sure sign that the technology is still in the hype stage”.
Although Banker made a valid point, the good news is that quite a few fashion brands have already been looking into how Blockchain can help their business become more transparent. An example of Blockchain at work was Provenance’s collaboration with London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard. They managed to show how it is possible to track the journey of raw materials through the supply chain right up to the finished garment. The result was that a consumer could scan the finished garment and view a map of the clothing’s movement through the entire manufacturing and distribution process.
The Connected Enterprise
Another excellent example of a company reinventing the fashion industry’s supply chain using technology is Suuchi. Through the Suuchi GRID, a cloud-based technology, has been able to help more than 200 emerging to established fashion brands double their margins, deliver the product to market up to 20 times faster, while reducing excess inventory, markdowns and landfill waste. “We’re helping [companies] geographically diversify their supply chain, with a primarily US-based solution, and transform production in an incredibly cost-effective way,” explained Suuchi Ramesh, Founder and CEO of Suuchi Inc.
Lastly, it is quite clear that without the interjection of technology, the fashion supply chains would be destined to remain disconnected, an outcome, in my opinion, cannot be our future. We need to look to a tomorrow where fashion businesses naturally rely on digitization and AI to help them create a “connected enterprise”. Investing in digital supply chain technologies will not only lead us closer to a more connected automated future but will also bring benefits to essential areas like planning, design, sourcing, production, logistics, and replenishment.