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Report: Forget the Supply Chain of the Future if the Tools are from the Stone Age

Sometimes it feels like speed is all anyone’s talking about these days, as retailers and brands look for ways to increase the efficiency of their supply chains. Unfortunately, most companies are only able to pay lip service to reducing time to market.

In its latest report, digital sourcing firm Bamboo Rose surveyed 250 retail and supply chain professionals to find out what’s keeping their companies from evolving. The results show that sourcing managers are often mired in a mix of red tape, antiquated processes and opaque systems.

“There’s a severe lack of understanding about the tools that are available today to help make sourcing easier,” the report stated. “Most retail professionals are relying heavily on generic programs like email and spreadsheets to manage complicated sourcing operations.”

Many in the survey say they’re cobbling together tools that were not designed to meet the challenges of a modern supply chain. Email, for instance, is used by 63 percent even though it does not offer parties the ability to collaborate, operate in real time, or easily track revisions and comments. Excel, which is used by 62 percent, has many of the same shortcomings. Microsoft Word was employed by 31 percent, while written notes, mobile apps and images were each used by about 25 percent. Surprisingly 19 percent say they have no tools at their disposal.

For those who have embraced more robust solutions, often they’re designed to aid only one part of the sourcing process, resulting in the need for multiple tools. As a result, 53 percent use two or more applications. The sourcing executives polled called for a more streamlined, integrated process that puts all retailers and vendors in a single market.

[Read more about how supply chains are evolving: The Present State of Supply Chains and What You’ll be Facing in the Future]

The need is even more pressing given that not only are supply chains long and complex, they’re also ever changing. More than 90 percent of respondents said its not uncommon for them to work with 10 new suppliers each year. Multiply that times the number of departments in a typical fashion firm and a retailer could have 500 new vendors in a year. With that much supplier turnover, the company is spending countless hours finding new suppliers, evaluating their capabilities and cost, and getting them up to speed.

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Ultimately without the right tools, communication—the one thing that could help move the process along more efficiently—is lost. Only 28 percent of respondents regularly turn to their suppliers for inspiration and feedback. Instead, 88 percent troll social media, the Internet and magazines to get new ideas.

For real-time communications that keep everyone in the loop, Bamboo Rose advocates a digital sourcing platform. “As a result, you can speed up time to market, stay on top of trends and make more profitable operational decisions. Companies can avoid issues like creating products that factories can’t make or items that won’t work in certain markets,” the company said.