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Are Software Solutions the Future of Sourcing?

This year has been a historic one for global sourcing and manufacturing, the kind that will eventually be acknowledged widely as an industry changing inflection point. Following the tragedy of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, relentless media attention has fixated on sourcing to less developed nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. Social compliance, once merely a footnote, has become a major political and humanitarian issue.

Also, sourcing and product development have become key drivers behind a product’s price, quality and speed to market. Consumers have become sensitive to the origins of the products they purchase, and question if their creation was environmentally sustainable or if the labor conditions that generated them were safe and humane. No longer an afterthought, the back end of the supply chain has become  just as important as front-end fashion, intensifying the search for more efficient, and more ethical, sourcing solutions.

Finally, from the perspective of relevant free trade agreements, this is arguably the most important year for the apparel and textile sector since NAFTA was signed in 1994. The map of world trade is being hurriedly redrawn by a bevy of  massive regional trade agreements, potentially redefining the rules that govern international commerce. And the potential changes could usher in tectonic shifts in global free trade, collectively harmonizing regulatory regimes, streamlining supply chains, re-conceiving shipping routes, consolidating regional industries and  eliminating gratuitous barriers to international competition. These emerging complexities have sourcing executives on the prowl for ways to manage and organize their business better, often through technological innovation.

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Fred Isenberg, President of Consulting Services at New Generation Computing (NGC), a global leader in PLM software, explained to the Sourcing Journal: “The industry is experiencing historic change and the challenges that comes with that: the ballooning costs of compliance, the emergence of new sourcing destinations, and the general shift of retail to the internet to accommodate a technologically savvier consumer, all demand new solutions, new strategies. The name of the game now is adaptability.”

According to Isenberg, the sea changes coming for the sourcing industry demand a revision of old business models which, in turn, requires innovative strategies to adapt to a commercial sector in flux. Many in sourcing are mining the potential promised by technological research and development of the kind designed and implemented by NGC, a company with history that stretches back to 1982, but manages to keep its eyes firmly fixed on the future.

And recently, there are signs of the increasing importance of software solutions to sourcing and NGC’s advancing prominence in that field. After thirty-one years in business, NGC finally threw a coming-out party, showcasing a bevy of new PLM, global sourcing, SCM and ERP software solutions. The Panorama NGC User Conference 2013, held in Miami Beach November 13-15, solidified the company’s reputation as an international leader in finding customized technological solutions for sourcing companies trying to accommodate their industry’s rapidly evolving demands.

Manufacturing emissaries from more than 100 companies attended the event, hailing from diverse quarters of the globe: the U.S., China, Australia, U.K., El Salvador and Mexico, to list a representative sampling. The attendance alone was a powerful testament to NGC’s increasingly global reach. Isenberg said the attending crowd “was a good representation of our customer base, our most passionate clients.”

And NGC has expanded the scope of the business solutions its offers, the result of aggressive investment on research and development. The company has broadened its customer base by enlarging its basket of product offerings which now include Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Testing and Compliance (T&C), Shop Floor Control (SFC), and Global Enterprise Suite (GES), which combines all the these offerings into one seamless strategy.

Of special interest to sourcing executives is NGC’s progress in providing a comprehensive and integrated set of SCM solutions which now include container tracking, vendor payment administration, compliance, bookings and product testing, among other new capabilities.

The ambitious scope of NGC’s expansion was on full display at the Panorama event. The conference split into three main divisions: keynote addresses by notable industry leaders, special seminars devoted to continued professional education and more interactive sessions that facilitated an exchange between diverse groups of industry executives. The two principal speakers were Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), and Peter Bambridge, a widely recognized leading analyst and consultant who has worked for thirty years in the industry. Among other recognizable speakers were Erik LaValle, Senior Director of Global Supply Chain Systems for Carter’s/Osh Kosh; Austin Mallis, Vice President of Operations at Fashion Avenue Sweater Knits,LLC; Gregory J.Bannister, Chief Operations Officer, Sport Obermeyer and many more.

And the breakout sessions were numerous and instructive, educating NGC’s customers about the prevailing direction of the industry, both from a broad bird’s eye view but also replete with actionable detail. Neatfreak’s COO Kevin Burnatowski presented on how his company successfully implemented NGC’s GES Solution, PLM, Supply Chain and ERP with breakneck speed. Austin Mallis discussed how NGC helped his company effectively implement PLM solutions in a way that prepares for the future streamlining of business processes.

Speaking to the Sourcing Journal, Mark Burnstein, NGC President of Sales, Marketing and R&D, commented on the uniqueness of the Panorama conference. He said, “One of the main things that made Panorama so special was the energy and enthusiasm of our customers. It was truly an extraordinary event. A number of our customers presented case studies on the innovative ways they’re using NGC’s solutions — companies like Rocky Brands, Carter’s, Swatfame, Fashion Avenue Knits and Stony Apparel — and the insights and approaches they shared were tremendously valuable to the other customers that attended. The networking between the customers was unparalleled; our customers were very eager to share best practices, tips, different ways they are using our software, and to learn from one another.”

For many of the attendees, one of the main attractions of the conference was learning about how other NGC clients were taking advantage of its products. Austin Mallis said, “For me personally I was looking forward to finding out how other companies are using the software.  When you work at a company you get used to the workflow and processes in place and how that relates to the PLM, so when you get the chance it is important to take a look around and get a fresh perspective on how the system is working for others.”

Isenberg said that one of the primary benefits of the conference, though, was not just the communication of fact and strategy, but the mutual sharing of company narratives. He said, “People love a good story and to tell their own in the language of the business they know. There was a sense of community and collaboration at the conference, driven by the stories businesses tell about their progress and improvement.”

Mallis concurred, “As mentioned, hearing the stories of other companies using the software, I find to be the most impactful.  Hearing the experience of Stony and Swatfame and how their implementation, rollout and day to day use of the software has impacted their company is able to remind me of the strides we have made as an organization.  Sometimes when you are in it on a daily basis at one company, you forget to take a step back and remember how far we have come as an organization, the issues we have solved, the workflows we have improved and the ease of use the system has brought to the users of the company.”

The core of the Panorama User Conference, nonetheless, was the unveiling of new technological solutions companies can arm themselves with in preparation for a new and progressively more competitive business environment. One that captured the attention of many was NGC’s new Business Intelligence (BI) tools, the latest, cutting edge software designed to make data collection and analysis as user-friendly as surfing the internet. Isenberg explained that the new technology helps locate pertinent data with lightning speed through more-easily customizable search capabilities. “The objective is to get better information more efficiently with less of a dependance upon clerks. The caliber of research will get significantly better, and the work produced by real analysts will improve by leaps and bounds. “

As one could expect, social compliance was also a major theme at the conference. Burnstein said, “Vendor Onboarding and Factory Compliance were major themes in all presentations.  Roger Mayerson, NGC’s VP of Business Solutions, discussed the requirements of supplier certification and product safety.  Afterward, NGC’s solution consultants demonstrated how our Extended PLM|SCM solution could manage the vendor relationships and provide visibility throughout the global supplier network.”

Isenberg stressed the overarching significance of compliance today. “Social responsibility is not a secondary or tertiary concern anymore–it has to be built into a brand’s DNA. They simply can’t take a hit on this issue anymore–they can’t afford it. Supply chain transparency of the kind necessary today requires a more technologically sophisticated approach.”

Any misconceptions that NGC is a narrow PLM specialist were decisively put to rest by the Panorama User Conference, a three-day exhibition of its comprehensive scope. Isenberg noted, “We’re not just a tech company. We have real and acknowledged expertise in the commercial areas in which our software is implemented. That combination of tech innovation and business-specific knowledge is what sets NGC apart.”

Isenberg continued, “The conference really affirmed for us how far we’ve come as a company. You don’t stay in business for thirty one years, and thrive, unless you’re a world class company.”

As the contours of the textile and apparel industries bend and shift to new realities, it might be the case that superior software solutions will become the competitive lever that distinguishes business leaders from followers. The Panorama User Conference was strong evidence that NGC is at the front of that march, leading the way.