In this installment of my case management series, I consider what might be possible not just for the largest retailer in the world, but also for the fashion forward.

The annual Top 25 Supply Chain came out last month. There were a few surprises but mostly “old favorites” on the list. Apple is again at the top of the list, as are Dell and P&G, and Wal-Mart is there at #7. Wal-Mart has been on the list somewhere in the top 10 since it debuted in 2004. Love them or hate them, Wal-Mart has always competed brilliantly on the basis of their supply chain, focusing on their distribution efficiencies and using IT to help them drive economies of scale. Now in a recent initiative, they are taking over transportation from their suppliers to reduce the cost of hauling goods. The strategy is part of what Wal-Mart calls its “productivity loop” -- efficiency ultimately reflected in lower bills for shoppers at the cash register and an increase in sales for Wal-Mart stores.

To me, one of the most interesting elements of this Wal-Mart strategy is the nature of the competitive advantage it gives them. Apparently a side effect is that manufacturers may face increased transportation costs on deliveries to other retailers as they lose scale. Those increased shipping costs more than likely will be passed on to other retailers.In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article I read last year, a former Wal-Mart executive Randy Huffman commented that “this aligns with Wal-Mart‘s taking cost out of the supply chain for their benefit and not their competitors.”

So, What is Your Competitive Advantage -- Have You Found Your Productivity Loop?

If you‘re not the world‘s largest retailer like Wal-Mart, or even if you are, you need to constantly consider what your company can do to stay ahead of the competition.

While the physical flow of product over the supply chain is one place to find productivity gains, the financial and information flows hold great potential as well. In my experience, the intersection of IT and the supply chain is a great place to lower your costs and increase your yield.And you can look to technology to give you a competitive edge in the processes that define your business.

As AMR (now part of Gartner Research) commented a few years back about Wal-Mart in the Top 25:“Their leadership in supply chain is more than just everyday low prices -- its technology investments have broken new ground in demand sensing and process design.”

How to Take Advantage of Case Management to “Get Your Fashion On”

How to break new ground then in your competitive space? No surprise that I think that adaptive case management can help.

One of my favorite examples is La Redoute, a leader in the French retail fashion market who implemented case management to drive productivity and speed in their new product introduction process. If you want to get a sense of this internet and catalog retailer’s style, check out this clever LaRedoute YouTube video. Behind the scenes, La Redoute’s supply chain is no slouch. It includes a 24-hour service to 3,000-plus delivery points and handles over 30 million parcels per year in France plus another one million outside France. But a key strength is their fashion speed to market and their “New Product Development” (NPD) process that is critical to the creation of new product lines and to coordinate dealings between La Redoute buyers and the firm’s extensive supplier network. Every product line featured in La Redoute passes through this four-stage design and quality control process before it can be put into production.

Learning Opportunities

Case management is sophisticated and flexible enough to successfully adapt to all four of La Redoute’s NPD stages. This gives the buyers the review and decision making environment they need to be successful in the erratic and fast paced world of fashion, while at the same time providing the framework to assure progression through the stages and compliance to stringent security and quality requirements. And, speaking of fast paced, with case management all four processes were successfully implemented within a nine-month deadline.

La Redoute is just one example of a company that seems to have realized their “productivity loop” advantage with case management. For them, critical elements of NPD have been improved, including:

  • organizing and sending new product design files to suppliers
  • enabling design and buyer teams to quickly and collaboratively access key information
  • providing a flexible approach to product introduction
  • ensuring no element of the qualification process can be omitted

I’d be interested in hearing your examples of “productivity loop” advantages that might be accomplished using case management in the value chain.

Editor's Note: You may be interested in other articles by Deb Miller: