Real Time Information Sharing in the Apparel Industry

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Defining Real-Time System

An IT enabled system that is able to provide necessary information to its users, as sooner as things are rolled on, is called real time system.
Having worked in the apparel industry for some time now, I have always thought about the importance and challenges being faced by an apparel exporter in sharing information in real time within and between departments to ensure smooth workflow.

Going by the famous English proverb “A stitch in time saves nine “sharing information in real time is very useful for all the people involved in the entire supply chain of apparel manufacturing.
A supply chain consists of suppliers/vendors, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers interconnected by transportation, information, and financial infrastructure.

The supply chain’s objective is to provide value to the end consumer in terms of products and services. In addition to the financial and information flows, there is a significant physical flow between supply chain members including raw materials, work-in-process inventories, finished products, and returned items. Managing these flows effectively and efficiently requires a systems approach to successfully identify, analyze, and coordinate the interactions among the entities. However, attaining supply chain integration is not an easy task. This becomes all the more challenging for a large group as the number of people and processes increases.

However, I shall limit myself to garment manufacturing side of the supply chain as of now.

The Need for Real-Time System

Below are few examples across various departments of an apparel industry in order to identify the need for real-time information sharing in the apparel industry.

1. The majority of small factories struggle for getting production status on time. There is no transparency in sharing information. One can find a big gap between actual production in floor and production figure in the status report. But one cannot improve process without having correct data on time. So the need is a Real-time system.

2. Factories employ data recorders and engineers to capture production data and make reports. Unfortunately, when data collection is done and data is compiled into the report, many things are changed. Sometimes it becomes too late to take further action for betterment. Many times lot of data is collected but nobody bothers to analyze that collected data and share with top management. In such a scenario, the industry needs a robust shop floor control system and adequate data.

3. Real Time shop floor production tracing system can play a very important role providing information and reports of various activities on real time basis. For example, if someone wants to know in a sewing line how many pieces are produced by each operator, the detailed report is there, just one click away.

4. Lack of accurate information results in wrong estimates of the inventory at the various stages of the supply chain resulting in variation among exact requirements, orders placed and delivered inventory, which is known as bullwhip effect. Lack of visibility reduces the real-time traceability of the inventory which results in the very common problems of obsolescence of the inventory, overstocks of the existing inventory in the stores and stock outs of the running inventory which is in demand.
For example, certain exporters have a very good tracking system of the amount of fabric present in the fabric store, how much of it is issued and how much is balance. All the information is regularly updated in their software at regular intervals.

5. For retailers, the key focus is on making smarter decisions about stock levels. If a retailer stock too little, or the wrong merchandise mix, he misses out on sales because of out-of-stocks. If he stocks too much he will risk markdowns and price erosion.

A lot of apparel exporters are now using various software systems for real-time tracking of their processes through ERP and other systems.
One such example is the use of RFID on sewing floor which tracks the operations and can generate reports which are beneficial for the line supervisor and factory floor in-charge to take remedial actions against bottleneck operations and on the other hand reward those operators who are outperformers.
When it comes to retailing, in-store business intelligence, with the use of real-time, affordable visual intelligence, today’s retailers can clearly see the path to understanding daily activity in the store and maximizing the use of every square foot.

New data from network-based video, combined with data from existing sources, presented in easy-to-use reports, will drive more targeted decisions about merchandising and promoting products, directing traffic more effectively through the store and maintaining best-in-class customer service at all touch points. Customers will enter the store with a clear purpose and leave happy with purchases in hand.

However, a lot of areas is still to be explored in the industry and it leaves scope for a lot of improvement as far as real-time information sharing is concerned in the apparel industry.

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