Today’s supply chain managers require unprecedented transparency to meet consumer demands that are increasingly varied, ephemeral, and omnichannel. These demands make the job of getting the right goods to market at a profit exceedingly difficult, especially in high-turnover consumer sectors, such as fast-fashion clothing.
Over the past several years, fast-fashion apparel sellers have shortened their product sales cycles and production lead times to meet up-to-the-minute buying trends. They’re betting that long-tail marketing efforts to reach the greatest variety of consumer niches, combined with continually refreshed product lines, will drive the greatest possible revenue — and profit, as long as production and supply planning are spot on.
Driving this evolution are consumer expectations for low-cost, high-variation items with lightning-fast delivery times. At the same time, consumers have an increasing bent for sustainability in merchandise, or what they perceive to be socially and environmentally sustainable sourcing practices. These concerns include worker safety, labor rights, and environmental standards for processing cotton, leather, and other materials whose production is chemically and industrially intensive.
As a result, supply-chain traceability and sustainability are now also top issues among apparel makers and retailers, in addition to profitability. These trends are interesting because they mark a significant evolution in the apparel industry’s economic model, which is traditionally based on a low-cost, low-tech production system, fragmented across many poor and highly unregulated environments.
The challenge here is for manufacturers, brand owners, and retailers to balance cost-efficiency with sustainability. To do so effectively, these organizations are integrating vertically (at least as far as data is concerned) and making increasingly net-value decisions based on real-time insights and more shared understandings of supply chain risk.
This requires investment in supply chain computing environments that make data accessible across platforms and networks. Invariably, this leads to cloud computing applications and SaaS integration.
Many organizations struggle to integrate and synchronize data between on-premises and cloud apps. Some of that is for lack of due diligence. Following are some considerations to keep in mind:
- Plan ahead for differences in data semantics across tools and platforms. The complexity of a SaaS integration requires non-technical decision makers to become aware of the challenges and trade-offs of decisions about data semantics and structure. These elements change during the transformation process and sometimes lead to semantic-related conflicts, such as value or naming conflicts.
- Implement a data integration solution. The ability to deliver products on time is essential to organizational and supply chain success. So is the ability to trace and track the whereabouts of products through various stages: raw materials, production, distribution, and retail. Best-of-breed cloud planning platforms are capable of this level of visibility. They should integrate seamlessly with potentially several data sources while enabling access to users anywhere and on any device. This is key to effective data integration and management responsiveness.
- Explore Integration as a Service. Supply chain leaders can take advantage of Integration as Service (IaaS) or Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS), on which some cloud vendors bundle the application, middleware, and integration middleware. This can be critical to connecting various sets of on-premises and cloud-based data, applications, and processes, both internally and across partner organizations.
While the challenge of cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground app interoperability discourages some organizations from adopting SaaS applications, it shouldn’t. Consider the following:
- Avoid synchronous communications: The internet is a best-effort data transport and it’s important to maintain some resilience on location and connectivity. Opt for a more resilient communications model, such as acquire-store-resend, or store-and-forward. This is why your email client is still useful, even without a connection.
- Design a RESTful interaction solution: Unless your application requires ACID transactions, avoid the overhead of SOAP/XML. Instead, use a RESTful API to simplify and minimize communications. This helps reduce the volume of information that must be transferred.
Effective SaaS integration and application interoperability are essential to connecting supply chains for real-time visibility and efficiency, and improving communication among various computer systems and across the internet. Following a few best practices, increasingly more organizations are successfully optimizing supply chains to meet ever-evolving demands.