Every year, certain words seem to define the year. If we look back over 2020, there were few contenders. I think most people would agree Covid won hands down! Looking closer to home in the IT industry, the word of the year was almost certainly ecosystems. But it wasn’t just the IT industry that saw these develop.
Behind the huge efforts being made across government, business, academia and healthcare, it was the collaboration between often diverse organisations that has given us hope. The incredibly fast creation of a UK vaccine by scientists at Oxford University was enabled through the contribution of many others. They needed data on the virus, the genome sequencing, access to funds for the substantial resources required, the thousands of volunteers for clinical trials and the manufacturing capability of Astra Zeneca. This is before it is rolled out through the NHS and potentially third parties, as we strive to win the race – jabs versus mutations.
It has been the willingness to work together that has accelerated the time to market for the vaccine, creating interdependent organisations within a successful ecosystem.
Ecosystem - the word that guided the IT industry in 2020 will continue into 2021
Businesses are beginning to recognise the greater opportunity of partnering with like-minded companies to create better solutions and address wider customer requirements, within a particular industry. As I’ve covered in previous articles, this isn’t a simple process and requires hard work and commitment for new partnerships within an ecosystem to work. See: Making Partnerships Work in the IT Ecosystem (techdata.com)
One of the benefits of the Tech Data Ecosystem programme is it brings a wide cross section of skills and experience together, that can be focussed on an industry problem. This is currently the case in the Fashion industry. IBM and Tech Data have been working with UK fashion & textile industry partners, through UKFT and aligned with the Future Fashion Factory Programme, led by the University of Leeds, to bid for a Government Innovation Project.
Our project objective, which is part funded through the UK Government’s Innovate programme, is to build a platform to support the supply chain for companies in the UK Fashion industry. A global supply chain that has many component parts and with no individual company capable of supplying all of them.
The challenge for companies involved in providing solutions within the supply chain, is that the various technology products from a wide range of suppliers do not integrate, creating gaps in data flow and significant technical challenges. This in an industry where traditional margins do not make continuous investment in IT easy. The ability to use data to support business decisions, collected seamlessly through the supply chain, is not there. At the same time new entrants to the industry have recognised where the high costs in the supply chain are and have disrupted traditional businesses through their application of technology.
The pandemic has accelerated the move to online purchasing. Those who have invested in technology, and their understanding of how it can improve the customer experience, have benefited at the expense of many established, high street retailers.
In addition to the on-line trend is an increased awareness, by both consumers and governments, in the full lifecycle of the products we wear. Understanding how technology can help authenticate, track, trace, promote, sell and end of life their products, now differentiates the successful retailer from the rest. In a world where we are buying so much of what we wear from a website, being able to articulate the product’s journey in a positive, eco-friendly way is becoming as important as how it looks. Sending all our old clothes to landfill doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. The recent BBC article on the recycling of clothes, included at the end of this article, gives us an example of what is possible.
The Tech Data Ecosystem Programme has been designed to help the innovative, specialist businesses find routes to market for their ideas. Typically, these businesses are small, creative and agile, requiring access to opportunity, which we can provide in the form of a partnership with an established industry partner.
Gaining references for small businesses is a challenge, so this project provides an ideal platform for these niche, specialist companies to develop their solution in partnership with IBM, Tech Data and UK Fashion industry experts. The platform we’re developing will also provide access to technology and a range of associated skills that these companies might otherwise struggle to get access to. This will help accelerate their solution development and time to market.
Working within the project will also introduce companies to each other. Those who have complementary products and skills can build partnerships, increasing their value proposition. Once the platform has been built and deployed, it will act as a catalyst for other innovators to build, test and deploy their solutions, increasing participation in the retail ecosystem in the UK and reducing time to market for these solutions.
So, the call to action. If you have a solution that addresses part of the supply chain for UK Fashion retailers and would like to participate in a funded programme that seeks to integrate solutions from raw material sourcing, manufacturing and product tracking through the full supply chain, please get in touch.
The project start date is March 1st 2021 and we are looking to identify prospective collaborators during January and February. The Tech Data Ecosystem, delivering on its objective of building industry solutions through a structured engagement programme.