The fashion technology dilemma: do you need your own ERP or do you actually need a more manageable business?

It can be a scary moment. Do we sign off this ERP* project? How much is it really going to cost? How long will it actually take before it works? Will it save or kill my future business plans?

In reality, these should be concerns for a number of reasons. First of all, an ERP implementation is a big thing. There is a serious impact on a business during an implementation both in financial and human resource terms. Also, you are making a choice that can affect how you are going to have to run your business going forward. The ERP will want to know how you do each bit of your trade. If your market changes, client demands alter or you add brands or processes the system may actually restrict you for quite some time. This is all considered normal by the average ERP provider but as we live in a fast changing world it should not be.

Unfortunately there is a habit in the industry to paint a pretty picture during the sales cycle, and then to go over budget and beyond promised timelines (I am sure there will be some that disagree, especially those who work for ERP vendors or those who are just better than at project management than the average ERP provider). Perhaps several ERP vendors just underestimate the complexity of the fashion industry and the dramatic impact their work can have on the health or even survival of their client’s business.

To ERP or not to ERP?

I have actually seen several companies implode under the weight of their ERP implementation. The costs spiral beyond what the business can cope with and cash flow becomes the stuff of nightmares.

In the fashion industry, where I spend most of my time helping leaders and teams in small and large companies, there are plenty of CEO’s and MD’s sitting on the fence. Holding up the sign off of a new or replacement ERP projects because there is something about it that could seriously damage their business if it does not go to plan.

What if you did not need an ERP but a structure change to win?

But what is the alternative? It seems such a given path…. You start doing business, you live off spreadsheets, you get an accounting system, if you are clever you also get a PLM system, your business grows, your staff can’t cope anymore under the burden the volume of transactions in and out create…. and you take an ERP system. As scary as it seems, it also seems unavoidable.

Fortunately, the world does not stand still. Not even the fashion world stands still, where style seems to change but the technology used to dye, sew and run our business does not appear to change all that much.