Business Process Automation Aids Global Retailer
By Claire Joel
The French Connection Group is a successful and widely recognized global fashion brand. Based in the United Kingdom, our company designs, produces and distributes clothing for men and women in more than 30 countries around the world through a network of branded retail stores, concessions and licensed franchises. And our organization continues to expand.
Our operations rely on having the right products available for our customers at the point of sale. As an international retailer, we need a fast and reliable process to ensure this. To improve efficiency, we must also cut out as much manual activity as possible from the process. We’ve been able to support these demands and our continued growth by transforming our IT capabilities to support our U.K. and U.S. retail business.
We have more than 100 retail stores and concessions in the United Kingdom and the United States, and each one requires the right stock available every day. To do that, we need timely, accurate information.
This means that our IT systems must gather and collate sales and inventory data from point-of-sale, warehouse and production systems, then input it all into the company’s centralized SAP ERP landscape very quickly. This data can then be used to determine product distribution and replenishment from the warehouse to the stores.
This labor-intensive process had historically been handled by a team of contractors working through the night to manually manage a number of interfaces and system processes. To automate these processes, we implemented a system from Redwood Software that would automate and streamline our overnight processing.
Since we deployed this system, we’ve been able to build cross-system, end-to-end automated processes. This gives us much better visibility into our IT processes through Redwood’s Cronacle centralized monitoring portal and by receiving regular status emails as tasks are completed. We can use logic to either manage failures so that essential processes keep running, or alert the IT team about failures that need manual intervention.
Since we can’t be in the office 100 percent of the time, this kind of functionality is invaluable to our IT team. It means that nobody has to sit up all night monitoring the data-gathering and reporting process, and most problems are handled automatically. We’ve found that this solution dramatically improves the reliability of our stock-replenishment process by increasing the number of times sales and inventory data can be collected from one time each day to five times.
At some point, we realized that this approach could be used for more than overnight processing. As a result, we began using Redwood’s automation technology for integrating other business processes.
For example, we‘ve consolidated our e-commerce and retail stock pools to create a complete view of available stock. Process automation also allowed us to rapidly integrate a new conveyor-belt-driven automatic sorting and packing system in the warehouse.
Our business systems analyst believes that, through various savings, our project with Redwood has paid for itself. In addition, when we automated our key business and IT processes, we gained tremendous agility and adaptability that we could connect and build on.
As we begin new projects, we now find ourselves telling our business users, “Yes, we can do that!” Now that's a phrase people like to hear—in both business and IT.
Claire Joel is the IT director for the French Connection Group, where she leads the global IT and communications strategy and support, working with a small team to support 180 stores in five countries, as well as its corporate offices, warehouses and production offices.