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How Coronavirus is Underscoring the Digital Divide

For years, the industry has been preaching “digitize or die.” But there was no way anyone could have known how true those words would come to be—and today, companies are either thriving or struggling partly based on whether they heeded them.

By adopting tech tools, some fashion firms have been able to mitigate risk by adding visibility into all aspects of their businesses. Such firms have found themselves in better condition than their less-digitized competitors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

As this pandemic threatens to grind much of the value chain to a halt—first on the supply side and now on the demand side—it’s become almost impossible to conduct business as usual. The days of jetting back and forth across the globe to aid in product development, sign off on samples, or check up on production are gone. At least for now.

Today, the story is one of the haves and the have-nots when it comes to digital tools, with the haves showing greater resistance to virus-inflicted interruptions.

“Today, quality control needs to be remote and companies have to be resourceful,” said David Klein, co-founder and president of AI-powered quality control platform Inspectorio. “For brands and retailers to be more cost-efficient and monitor quality remotely, they need to rely on automation and real time visibility.”

Take product development as an example. For brands and retailers that are up and running on 3D prototyping software, the process takes much less face-to-face interaction—if any. This means some companies are already working on upcoming seasons, while their analog competitors are falling farther and farther behind with each sample FedExed from one corner of the globe to the next. The amount of daylight between these two models has been steadily growing, but the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a complete divergence.

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Guesstimates and estimates have been a part of life when it came to determining when deliveries would arrive and where stock ended up. That simply won’t do in an environment in which consumer buying habits have drastically changed overnight. Retailers using data-led inventory optimization tools are moving goods from areas where demand has stalled to places with swifter sell-throughs. A similar trend exists with quality inspections, which are a critical process for retailers. Those leveraging a digital platform for quality control have been able to uphold quality standards, avoid costly defect-remediation cycles, and circumnavigate travel bans for inspectors through the use of factory self-inspections. Such capabilities are a lifeline in an era when too many wrong moves will quickly put brands out of business.

“Companies have to be more effective and accurate in determining factory risk—that’s why machine learning is so critical, as it removes subjectivity and bias,” Klein said.

Inspectorio collects data from millions of inspections on their network and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to assess factory risk. The platform, which digitizes and automates product quality verification activities, empowers brands and retailers to manage self-inspections across their global supply chain from their home offices—and these days, even their homes. Based on risk, companies can determine the level of oversight and automate when and where inspections need to happen.

Inspectorio’s platform eliminates the need for on-site visits, which even in the best of times are costly and time-consuming. Their defect prediction algorithm, which leverages machine learning, prompts inspectors to focus on areas more likely to have defects. This allows for greater risk prevention. After instantly uploading the report, powerful analytics dashboards provide actionable data to enable quick, informed decision-making. This level of visibility and risk prevention fixes quality problems more efficiently by surfacing patterns that normal pen-and-paper analysis might miss. Companies can easily take rapid action to increase accountability of vendors and factories.

“Only with AI can organizations rapidly identify risk and irregularities in the self-inspection data they receive,” Carlos Moncayo, CEO and co-founder of Inspectorio, wrote in a recent blog post. “This combination of self-inspection data, vendor risk management through AI, and informed decision-making to address problems is the most reliable formula for success in this difficult time.”

However, it’s not too late for those in search of a lifeline during these difficult times, as certain digital platforms like Inspectorio can be implemented in days. While there are plenty of companies that have been slow to adopt digital tools, the current unprecedented disruption will likely force more to examine their practices and determine how they can become more efficient, agile and insulated from risk. Digitizing their operations, including their supply chains, is likely to be a key strategy for survival.