Keeping up with fashion

case study Sri Lankan garment manufacturing giant, Brandix, embarked on a full scale ERP implementation to keep up with the fast-changing demands of customers.

case study The fashion industry is a fast-paced and demanding one, as Brandix's Lalith Withana will tell you.

The Sri Lankan garment manufacturer's executive vice president spoke to ZDNet Asia on the company's recently-implemented ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) system.

Brandix, which counts U.S. retailers Victoria's Secret and GAP as clients, operates three mills in Sri Lanka and employs 25,000 people. While it was relying on an internally-developed ERP system, the pressure to keep up with changing orders and customer demands, for insight into the manufacturing process forced the company to look to a broader IT implementation.

Withana explained: "The internal ERP system we had before was a set of piecemeal modules, all very disjoined from one another. Customers wanted connectivity to our [manufacturing] status, and we had to keep up with demands like overnight changes on the cutting floor."

The garment manufacturing industry is seeing turnaround times shrink from over 30 days to a single day, he said. "Where the customer is demanding fast turnarounds, your planning modules have to change and be much smarter.

"A small mistake can be very costly because we produce in high volumes, so your [IT system] has to be flexible to accommodate changes and manage the process."

The multitude of variables that can be changed in garment manufacturing means processes have to be agile yet accurate, said Withana.

Additionally, customers demanded "total transparency" into Brandix's processes, prompting the company's decision to implement a Lawson ERP/CRM offering.

Made to order
Withana said the company explored ERP giants SAP and Oracle as options before signing on with Lawson, but senior management "fell in love" with the latter's offering because they felt it was more inline with the fashion industry.

The offerings from SAP and Oracle were "made to wear" and did not offer as high a degree of flexibility as Lawson's, he said. "The fashion business has different needs for an ERP system; every order is different from the next...Lawson also had a planning tool, which the others did not have," Withana added.

The cost of the solution was not as much of a deciding factor, he said. "It's very expensive [embarking] on an ERP project, no matter [which vendor]. But you can justify it if you are a big company."

Brandix first went live with the Lawson M3 Finance Management Suite in April 2007, but decided after to consolidate other assets and customer records into the system for efficiency.

The largest roadblocks the project faced in the second phase were in getting buy-in from the line managers, Withana said. While the initial phase was "pushed very fast", the IT department was instructed to "go slow" with the second operations phase, "even if it cost extra", because senior management wanted the operations managers to embrace the new system.

Furthermore, the project faced a six- to seven month delay on the second phase as the financial department deliberated on embarking on the consolidation project, Withana said.

The new system is due to go live in April next year, following staff training this month.

Withana expects a 200 percent boost in productivity from the new consolidated ERP/CRM project, based on Brandix's earlier experience with the finance management suite.

"In the fashion industry, you can't compete just on price and quality anymore--that is standard. Keeping up with the competition requires a system.

"You don't realize this till it hits you, that you need a good system whether you like it or not," he said.

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