Embracing Unified Apparel ERP Solutions Article
A Unified Approach: The Next Wave of ERP
Forward-looking apparel companies are embracing unified ERP solutions to gain control of business information, drive global collaboration and streamline the concept-to-cash cycle.
The apparel business is all about looking forward — to the next season, the next big trend, the next must-have garment, or the next hot sourcing and manufacturing location. So it makes sense that many apparel companies have begun to embrace the next wave of ERP systems: robust solutions that offer full functionality on a single, unified platform. As the latest step in the evolution of ERP, the unified model offers a centralized flow of information that enables organization-wide collaboration and essential real-time visibility into inventories, orders and production processes.
In the same way that apparel customers would not be pleased to walk into a store and see clothing from 10 to 15 years ago on display, apparel companies are no longer content to muddle through daily operations with ERP solutions that were designed more than a decade ago. Instead, they are replacing these outdated ERP-plus-best-of-breed combos with a unified ERP platform that has been developed as an open system meant to provide end-to-end visibility. These solutions help companies gain control of business operations and information, nimbly respond to new market and channel opportunities, and realize significant process improvements. And because they utilize the same platform throughout all business processes, unified ERPs offer an easy-to-use atmosphere and remove the need for costly integrations between solutions.
“Thanks to our unified ERP solution, we now have a platform that allows us to move into the future rather than being constrained by the past,” says David Cropper, CIO of Mamiye Brothers, a designer, manufacturer and marketer of children’s, tween and teen fashion apparel brands. “This platform has helped us improve process efficiency and has given us the ability to tweak our business model to tap into other distribution channels that would have been difficult in our old environment”
The company, which works with brands including Flapdoodles, Little Me, Disney, and Guess Kids, adopted a unified ERP solution in 2010 after tiring of its dated legacy ERP.
“We managed to ‘milk’ that original ERP for 15 years, but over that span of time it became a highly customized solution,” Cropper notes. Because ERP developers at the time did not take a broad view of the supply chain, Mamiye Brothers added to the ERP its own bolt-on solutions to handle front-end concerns such as product lifecycle management as well as back-end functionality such as vendor integration. The ERP vendor did not support these modifications so making changes or upgrades to the solution was a costly and time-consuming endeavor.
As a result, Mamiye Brothers realized it was time for a turnkey solution that could accommodate its growth plans, help the company improve supply chain efficiencies, and reduce central costs, while providing one consistent and accurate view of the entire business. “We also needed a solution that better supported our ability to adapt to a changing retail customer environment,” Cropper explains.
ERP for Today's Marketplace
Apparel companies looking to their legacy ERPs to help support the growth of new channels have mostly been disappointed, and have instead turned to various additional applications to manage functions such as e-commerce and mobile commerce. The challenge, of course, is trying to mix these solutions in with the core business process technologies.
“Many apparel companies utilize an e-commerce platform from one provider, while their order management and/or inventory management system resides in their corporate enterprise, and they also maintain a separate application within the fulfillment or logistics organization to actually deliver the order,” explains John Seidl, partner, Kurt Salmon. “So the act of taking and filling an order has to go through three applications, which means it is much harder, when issues arise, to understand where those issues are coming from.”
“Integrating these applications has become a nightmare from a business process and technology standpoint,” Antall adds, “so apparel companies are now trying to move into a single platform where they can integrate these channels and be able to more effectively manage the entire business cycle.”
A big part of what makes for more effective management of the business cycle is the ability to handle master data management in one place. “When you have a single repository of enterprise data within your ERP solution, you do not have to worry about replicating master data information from your ERP to an e-commerce platform over here and a supply chain or PLM platform over there,” Seidl says. “Also, from a support perspective, if you have a single vendor partner that is providing your application infrastructure, when issues arise, there is only one throat to choke.”
Different from the Ground Up
Expanding a style number in the metadata world of a unified ERP, for instance, means simply making one change to a table, which is then permeated automatically throughout the system. To do the same task in a traditional ERP, the change must be coded, compiled, and implemented manually — in every place the system will call on that change. This approach to solution architecture accelerates development and enables easier customization.
In addition, unified ERPs are built as open systems, strategically designed to provide interoperability, enabling apparel businesses to import and export information easily to and from external sources. Most legacy systems, by contrast, operate as separate, unconnected systems resulting in processes and data being isolated, making access and interaction cumbersome.
These unified solutions are also easily deployed via the cloud — an option that was a big benefit for Mamiye Brothers, which has embraced cloud-based solutions throughout the company. “We have our ERP, phone and e-mail on the cloud, and currently we are moving other virtualized systems to the cloud as well,” says Cropper. “Using an ERP via the cloud helps minimize our on-premise datacenter footprint, which is cost-effective and allows us to concentrate on our core business.”
Cloud-based ERPs also contribute to enhanced collaboration and mobility, because the software operates in one central location, but is accessible to people across the globe, Antall notes. “The cloud enables people to have access anywhere, anytime, and makes location almost irrelevant,” he says.
“People can share the same data in Hong Kong that you have sitting in New York and that really facilitates the product lifecycle,” adds Seidl. “A cloud-based platform can dramatically shorten the time it takes to get from concept to production.”
Indeed dramatically shortening, enhancing and streamlining the entire apparel business cycle is what unified ERP is all about.
Q: The unified model seems to be the next wave for ERP solutions. Why do you think apparel companies are embracing this approach?
Q: How does a unified solution enable that collaboration?
Q: Product lifecycle management functions are crucial for apparel companies. How does a unified ERP provide benefits in that area of the business?
Q: From an IT perspective, how does a unified ERP solution differ from traditional ERPs?
Q: And what advantages does that metadata-drive platform provide?
Q: Unified ERP systems can also be delivered via the cloud. Can you share some insight into the benefits of that option?