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Managing your apparel supply chain effectively from raw materials sourcing to manufacturing and shipping to inventory control is key to providing a streamlined, end-to-end process that saves both time and money. Today’s supply chains, however, can use a boost from new technologies using analytics to help you optimize your apparel supply chain process.

Managing the supply chain can be a daunting task for any apparel company, but especially for those with tens of thousands of apparel items across hundreds of retail establishments. How do you analyze your supply chain to respond to changing market conditions that can impact your pricing strategies?

Data analytics can provide the business intelligence you need to make key decisions that could influence your supply chain visibility, allowing you to meet challenges head on and make changes on the fly to enhance and increase your profit margins. In the upcoming year, as competition gets tighter in apparel industry supply chains, data analytics technologies will be the pivotal tools to help apparel companies achieve success.

Here are 5 new technologies using analytics that will help you optimize your supply chains and gather the business intelligence you need to make forward-thinking decisions.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics let you use real-time data to analyze and predict performance and strategies in your apparel supply chain. This type of business intelligence can be both expensive and time intensive, depending on whether you bring the process in-house or if you outsource your predictive analytics to a consultant.

Regardless of in-house or outsourcing, predictive analytics are the future of supply chain optimization. Forecasting models and trend analysis offer the kind of business intelligence you need to make timely and intelligent decisions about your apparel supply chain from end to end.

Consider how important it would be to your supply chain to use predictive analytics combined with weather data to forecast seasonal apparel needs down to an individual retail store location.

Wearables

When you think of wearables, you might picture a smart watch or something along those lines, but manufacturers are using wearables to optimize their supply chain. These technologies allow a frictionless workflow during production so that key metrics can be captured in process to help you analyze production efficiency.

Consider how textile manufacturers are using RFID tags that capture data along the supply chain from raw materials sourcing to finished product. This data can help manufacturers and retailers determine where the process needs improvement and how best to handle the necessary changes.

Wal-Mart instituted RFID tags in their supply chain in 2003 and by 2005, company revenue rose from $1 million to $20 million thanks to efficiencies gained through significant labor reduction.

The Cloud

While the cloud isn’t new technology, new advances make it an attractive analytic tool that’s much more agile than “old school” analytic methods like Excel spreadsheets. The cloud lets you access big data to forecast and predict future apparel trends, determine how to streamline your supply chain, and share information between departments for a big picture look at your end-to-end workflow.

The cloud is perfect for companies that don’t have the IT resources or the infrastructure necessary to support their own big data center. It leads to adoption of Software as a Service for most apparel companies to track, manage, and monitor everything along the supply chain, allowing top and bottom line performance analysis and management. Supply chain analytics can offer attractive profit margins that can be optimally improved using cloud-based solutions.

McKinsey reports in its IT-as-a-Service Cloud and Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure Survey published in September 2016 that adoption of the cloud will jump from 10% in 2015 to 51% in 2018. This significant increase in cloud adoption indicates the veracity of cloud computing to help the supply chain.

Drones/Driverless Vehicles

With Amazon moving towards drones and other enterprises testing driverless vehicles, the supply chain stands to be impacted the most. This disruptive technology will, in effect, remove the human component from the shipping equation, resulting in less errors and returns.

Not only does safety increase through drones and driverless vehicles, but consider the enhanced data in real time that can be collected through use of these technologies. Delivery routes and package handling can be analyzed for minute improvements that add exponentially to your supply chain’s effectiveness.

According to the 2016 Annual Industry Report of MHI (an international trade association), 59% of survey respondents indicated that driverless vehicles and drones have an impact on supply chains, while 37% said they provide competitive advantage.

Machine Learning

Imagine applying machine learning technology to the supply chain to continuously identify trends and make business predictions about inventory, raw materials sourcing, and even shipping methods. Machine learning will let apparel companies select the best predictive models and use their historical data to optimize supply chains and provide detailed business intelligence to affect outcomes.

Machine learning lets apparel companies find patterns and trends in their supply chains that offer intensive insight into real-time practices and how to improve. This new technology empowers users to use big data analytics without needing a degree in data science or the help of a data analyst to make sense of the results.

Conclusion

One thing is certain: the apparel industry supply chain is poised for big changes in the coming year. These new technologies effectively use analytics to optimize your supply chain from end-to-end, and provide insight that will shorten the path, while accelerating the time to achieving value.

Beyond the cost savings, apparel companies should take advantage of these technologies to master on-time delivery and ensure highly quality products, among other advantages, to benefit customers, suppliers, and others in the supply chain.

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