Brian Parnes, CIO, Down Lite International
Technology in the textile industry, specifically bedding, ranges from outdated equipment on a production floor to state of the art automated lines, home-grown ERP systems to full-fledged SAP installations. In between all of this are mounds of paperwork from faxed orders to shipping documents and historical records that have yet to be converted to a digital medium. Much of these systems and equipment serve to keep the businesses running. Producing product, shipping it, and moving on to the next project serve as the bulk of what is done. So what challenges are present in the industry? That requires a slightly deeper look.
Many companies are producing products with a large degree of uniqueness in specifications, labeling, and packaging. Retailers not only have their own private label programs, but they also purchase items under national brand licenses, and some from a smattering of manufacturer-created brands. This leads to a very unique world when compared to others in the larger textile industry and brings a few challenges with it. These challenges include everything from economies of scale on raw materials to rapid product design on an unprecedented scale to production efficiencies all the way through analyzing data on what sold at retail level and why. Another challenge common in the industry is the role of IT in business strategy. To narrow the scope here, I’m going to focus on big data and innovation with concentration on including IT in business strategy.
"I'm going to focus on big data and innovation with a concentration on including it in business strategy"
Big Data is a term that likely is not given enough – if any – attention in the bedding textile industry. While each company’s amount, types, and forms of data likely varies, one thing is consistent: there is an abundance of data and little focus on turning that data into useful information that could ultimately be used to spur innovation or narrow the focus of products.
The types of data that are included range from manufacturing data points on efficiencies, run times, and pricing to point of sale data, customer reviews, in-store details, customer requirements, consumer data, brand data, and much more. Only a fraction of this information is currently in a form where it could be used. Traditionally, IT’s role in all this has been limited to maintaining the ERP system, servicing desktops and laptops, and making sure the company’s network is running. But what if that role shifted to be included top-down?
Taking the steps of gathering all that data and getting into a system is a monumental task in itself, but bigger than that, the shift in mentality to bring an organization from a data-entry driven one to an analytical one is even bigger. Turning that data into information that is then analyzed, sliced, diced, and used to turn mediocre products into good products and to great products is the next big challenge for the industry. IT can help here. Finding ways that consumers talk about products, diving in to see what is truly selling, where it sells, who’s buying, and more can lead to turning that Big Data into actionable information which can help spur innovation and efficiencies in the daily business.
Innovation being Innovative isn’t Easy
By establishing firm processes within the business that foster innovation, yet channel them in effective and efficient ways that don’t disrupt the business, can lead to it becoming engrained in the corporate culture. Traditional R&D methods, combined with Big Data, can help drive that innovation forward in a productive way. With IT as a key partner to each of the business areas, and one of the drivers of change, this can lead to a much more modern and efficient approach to maintaining high levels of innovation.
Each industry looks at innovation in a slightly different way. To some this is solely product driven, or product and packaging driven. To others this shifts the business to service mentality or can lead to entirely new business segments altogether. In the bedding industry, for example, taking information gleaned from Big Data could lead to a new way to market a product based on consumer reviews and the way the consumer speaks about a product. That in turn could lead to higher sales, faster turn, and more productive use of space at retail.
What about the manufacturing process and everything behind the scenes? How things are done behind the scenes, and bringing IT into decisions on equipment, robotics. Imagine saving one second on every unit that goes through a production line. One second in itself may not seem big, but over the millions of units produced annually means big savings, and dollars saved potentially. Having a robust system where IT, manufacturing, engineering, and others can evaluate and make the back-end processes better is a form of innovation.
The end-game of all of this is customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and profits. Incorporating Big Data and a robust methodology of Innovation can certainly play a huge role in achieving them in today’s fast-paced world.