Creating Competitive Advantage Through Information Technology in Apparel Retail Industry

By Mahesh Khetan, Assistant Vice President – Supply Chain, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd (Pantaloons Division)

When the Rate of Change outside Exceeds the Rate of Change In­side, the End is in Sight” – Jack Welch

Excellence in Information Technology Management can make your organization’s rate of change exceed than that of the competitors, thereby converting it into a Compet­itive Advantage. IT is no longer just an important tool, but a necessity to run a Business. Monitoring various operations through real time data/information is a must in today’s evolved consumer expectations.

Many organizations suffer from these common pain areas:

• Data non-availability

• Data analysis not systematic

• Deployment of IT initiatives not in-depth

• Review and refinement processes not visible

• Insufficient benchmarking

• Lack of enabling environment for creativity and innovation

Excellent organizations address such gaps by build­ing and managing their Knowledge Assets through the following key attributes. These are gradually becoming hygiene (bare minimum requirement) in the industry.

• Management of organizational data, informa­tion and knowledge needs to be done to ensure the properties like:

• Accuracy

• Integrity and reliability

• Timeliness

• Security and confidentiality

• How the required data is made available to the work­force, suppliers, partners, collaborators and customers creates a major difference in building long term relation­ships

• Ensuring that hardware and software are reliable, se­cure and user-friendly

• In the event of emergency, continuous availability of hardware and software systems

There are number of IT interventions which, the Ap­parel Retail organizations are undertaking to manage their businesses in an effective manner and get an edge in the market place:

• Creating IT & Technology roadmaps, in alignment with the Business Strategy – formulating technological roadmap for a horizon of 3-5 years

• Functional MIS and Dashboards at various organizational levels for decision making – Identification, development and execution of dashboards for each functional role in the organization

• Visibility of product from design to delivery stage – implementation of technology enabled tools and process to track the product at every stage

• Effective product deployment through allocation and replenish­ment – Development of Inventory management process and tools to improve planning & replenishment

• Transaction systems integrated with customers and suppliers

• Enhancing supply chain efficiencies through paperless warehouses – implementation of WMS, RFID enabled transactions and automation at back end

• Synergy across Businesses (particularly for a big corporate having multiple businesses) for IT tools and services

 Develop Knowledge management framework – Identification of Knowledge Points across functions and designing of process to capture knowledge in structured way, which may include:
• Effective collection and transfer of workforce knowledge
• Transfer of relevant knowledge from and to customers, suppliers, partners and collaborators
• Rapid identification, sharing and implementation of best practices
• Assembly and transfer of relevant knowledge for use in innovation and strategic planning process

“The best swordsman in the world does not have to fear the second best. He has to be afraid of some ignorant who has never held a sword in his hand before. He does the thing he ought not to do and catches the swordsman unaware” – Mark Twain

Gap identification is the starting point for planning any IT initiative. Ability to see the ‘Gap’ develops from the belief that the ‘Gap’ is always there. The consumer expectations are evolving rapidly in an E-Commerce and Omni-channel environment. From a brick and mortar store being the only point of contact to order/collect/return the goods, now the consumers wish to have multiple channels and expect inter-convertibility between the channels at various stages of their purchase lifecycle. This poses tremendous challenges to the apparel retail industry. Managing inventory and demand across all channels separately, cross channel reallocation of inventory, pooling of demand across all channels and integration of logistics for all channels are the market differentiators in the apparel retail industry. This requires greater automation of inventory planning and high level of technical collaboration between stores, warehouses as well as logistics partners.

Global megatrends are no longer business dependent. Demand sensing tool can be made more & more intelligent by incorporating various external factors in the algorithm like weather forecast, economic conditions, oil price and dynamic behavior of consumers.

Building long term sustainability in IT strategy is needed to future proof the business. Need for a robust IT framework is felt much more now than in the past for Business sustainability.

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