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4 Ways Donna Karan Set the Stage for Business Process Innovation Success

Global fast-fashion giant Zara has done a lot more than simply churn out trendy, inexpensive products—it reinvented retail by re-engineering the process to increase productivity, cut costs and ensure all teams are on the same page at all times.

Apparel brands and retailers have been turning to high-tech software solutions to step up their own business processes. New York-based design house Donna Karan International decided to replace its existing business system by rolling out an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution across the company in September 2013 and is in the midst of introducing product lifecycle management (PLM) software.

But it hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies. As Cindy Payero, vice president of DK/DKNY Systems at Donna Karan, put it, it’s tough to “understand how all the different business units interact and how to put in these systems to support that need.” At a Product Innovation Apparel panel discussion titled, “Why is Business Process Innovation Challenging?” in New York last week, she outlined how the company overcame some common implementation hurdles.

By calling it a business solution, not an IT solution.
The key, Payero said, is to speak their language. “You can’t talk system terminology; you have to talk business terminology,” she said, adding that sometimes the toughest challenge is explaining to each department that something they need to do in the system can really help another department. “You have to connect those dots for them. You have to talk to them and make them understand they’re helping each other as a division, as a brand and as a company.”

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By staying in tune with their needs.
“We have to make sure they understand the technology will support what they’re doing as a business unit, that it facilitates that process and actually puts in efficiencies and will let them have end results that they’re looking for that they just don’t know that they need yet,” Payero said, noting that convincing them to leave behind their corporate cure-all (Excel spreadsheets) is difficult—but doable. “They think they’re getting it done when they go into meetings with lots of hard copies of paper but once you can automate the report that went onto that table, that’s how you help them. When they’re not manually creating it offline, that’s how you help them.”

By starting over.
Look at obstacles as learning opportunities, not roadblocks. When Donna Karan was implementing ERP, the rollout was waylaid when the company took on a new division. “You start on a path, you have a plan, everything is supporting the company as you know it today—and then the company changes in the middle of that plan,” Payero said, pointing out that any change, no matter how big or small, can impact implementation and the original plan isn’t going to work anymore. “It’s something you have to work through. Everything is a challenge as you get there and you just have to be prepared to stop, look at it again and make sense of it, and go from there.”

By listening to users.
Paying attention to users’ concerns is crucial and hosting focus groups goes a long way in putting their minds at ease. “In order to get a little buy-in we actually sat all the departments in a room. We took our test environment and brought it up on screen, circled through the process in front of them all, including the division leaders, and showed them that the system was coming together,” Payero said. “By the time we got to the end of the session we had a group walk out with a little confidence. That was a success. It wasn’t the system selection; it was how to sell it.”