Inventory visibility remains a problem within apparel retail, and one tech company is setting out to alleviate what it believes is the reason why. According to BackboneAI, a data automation platform provider that debuted in early March, the lack of real-time integration of various data sources between companies across the supply chain causes delays in data updates.
On Tuesday, BackboneAI launched Accelerate, a new product suite designed to significantly improve the productivity of data operations across the supply chain, and ultimately give users a more transparent view of where merchandise is in the chain. The company ingests data from multiple sources, such as product availability, product shipment, compliance and regulatory standards, and aims to transform it into a unified, real-time data layer that synchronizes different data systems together and improves visibility.
Accelerate uses natural language processing to automate the acquisition and delivery of supplier data into existing ERP, WMS and CMS platforms. The suite also provides extensive “scorecarding” of suppliers, retail customers and distributors based on their data quality and responsiveness, which means that all parties can measure KPIs and interpret metrics to formulate and execute a supply chain strategy. BackboneAI tracks supplier data qualities like accuracy, frequency of updates, corrections, speed of supplier response on corrections to provide real-time scores about supplier data quality.
With increased data coverage and comprehensiveness, vendors can make more informed decisions and better manage the product flow to their end users with greater data visibility and speed.
Rob Bailey, CEO and founder of BackboneAI, told Sourcing Journal that he believes the platform is vital for apparel retailers given the overnight change in shopping habits resulting from COVID-19, which has shut down non-essential stores for months.
“Apparel manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the U.S. are going need to be faster and more adaptable in terms of how they manage their physical supply chains around apparel to be able to scale up and scale down,” Bailey said. “COVID is a great example of this. Three months ago, I don’t think almost any companies other than medical device manufacturers and other industrial supply companies were making face masks. Now every fashion company under the sun is making face masks.”
Given the unpredictability of whether people are going to wear masks in the long term, how many people continue to work from home and how long the pandemic lasts, apparel retailers are going to need to scale production up and down quickly in accordance with demand, making the quick automated exchange of data between companies all the more important to future success.
Bailey said he was inspired to start the company after working with numerous Fortune 500 companies, where he noticed the opportunity to unify siloed data from different points across the supply chain. He described the exchange of data between companies in the supply chain as “painful,” and even more so for larger companies.
“The problem that I found was seeing companies trying to do digital transformation and move faster and move more of their sales online,” Bailey said. “To move more product faster, you need to have your data moving faster. A lot of companies that try to work together don’t necessarily have great data bridges. There’s all kinds of data automation and integration that has been built within companies, but there wasn’t the equivalent for data that flows between companies.”
Even though retailers continue to see e-commerce demand pick up, many still approach communication in an outdated manner, resulting in numerous data sources still remaining separate.
“The biggest challenge is that way too much important information gets transmitted by phone call, emails and even text,” Bailey said. “You need a collaborative layer that wraps around all this data exchange and harmonization, so that people have all their communication all in one place.”
The Accelerate platform is designed to automate data flows in between companies using their existing infrastructures, in lieu of spending millions on a new ERP system. Optimally, the system can be configured and deployed within one to two months.
With “AI” in the company title, it’s obvious that BackboneAI is heavily emphasizing artificial intelligence as the chief driver of the data flow automation. Bailey noted that he believes artificial intelligence has the opportunity to completely revolutionize the supply chain in the coming years, and it’s only a matter of time before those that don’t use it fall behind.
“if you’re aggressively trying to adopt AI in the management of your supply chains and supply chain data, you’re going to be at a huge competitive advantage to those that don’t,” Bailey said.