Apparel Industry Catches Up To Supply-Chain Age - InformationWeek

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Apparel Industry Catches Up To Supply-Chain Age

For an industry that makes its money by being ahead of everyone else, few have modernized the all-important supply chain. Koret is one that has invested, however.

Many apparel companies are just starting to use the Web to manage global supply-chain and production issues. Some are rolling out a global supply-chain program that uses a product called e-SPS, which was developed by New Generation Computing Inc.

In fact, the Web-based software is designed to help sourcing execs at Koret of California, which is producing clothes for the spring 2005 season, gain end-to-end visibility of the entire global supply chain and to complete steps in the production process via the Internet.

Koret, a subsidiary of apparel maker Kellwood Co., uses e-SPS to track all of its product purchase orders, which includes monitoring production from the creation of purchase orders down to the receipt of finished products at Koret's distribution center. E-SPS has already helped Koret shorten its overall cycle time by two weeks, says Mark Goldberg, VP of worldwide operations.

In the manufacturing process, communication must take place among retailers, manufacturers, brand managers, contractors, agents, brokers, and logistics providers--and many still share product information either over the phone, via E-mail, through faxes, or by other means of physical communication. With e-SPS, however, all the members of the supply chain communicate through the Web-based system, which means that when Koret's vendor makes a change in the status of a product, everyone in the supply chain sees the change.

"The key in global sourcing today is to minimize the overall cycle, and the most important way to do that is to have live, accurate, immediate information," Goldberg says. "E-SPS has given us visibility throughout the world of current product status at any point in time and eliminated almost all duplication of information."

E-SPS provides Web-enabled functionalities such as sourcing, work-in-process tracking, production routing, product-development tracking, preproduction tracking, problem identification and collaboration, delivery-date projections, and production-related inquiries and reports. Anyone with security access to e-SPS has permission to enter the system.

Koret is using e-SPS to develop product specs, deliver purchase orders and track-and-trace them, manage transactions from global logistics providers, and track the status of products.

"Spring season is our busiest season, and e-SPS gives us the flexibility to change purchase-order quantities, adjust styling in response to our customers because we have instantaneous visibility to where in the supply cycle a product is," Goldberg says.

Information entered into e-SPS doesn't have to be re-entered because it's automatically integrated into other systems at Koret. E-SPS also offers Koret the ability to create bar-coded carton labels and advanced-ship notices. This way, retailers can scan and put products away at the distribution center without having to create labels there, which tends to be expensive, says Fred Isenberg, president of sales at New Generation Computing.

Over the last three weeks, Koret has been changing legacy systems and currently doesn't have access to e-SPS, which has forced the company to go back to previous means of communication. Temporarily terminating e-SPS has caused Koret to experience difficulties in managing its business operations, Goldberg says.

"After four years, our entire organization is so attuned to using e-SPS as our tracking tool that when it's not available, we feel tremendous loss of that information," he says.

In the next few months, Koret plans to roll out another New Generation Computing product called e-Quality, which uses the Internet to capture data and facilitates the early detection of problems that could affect a retailer, manufacturer, or brand manager's ability to deliver products on schedule. E-Quality supports a variety of audits, including workmanship audits and packing-accuracy checks, at the factory level and provides users at headquarters with inspection-status reports, alerts of failed inspections and the ability to conduct defect- and quality-trend analyses.

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