F&F currently operates in 19 countries across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Trading in Tesco supermarkets, standalone outlets and department stores, F&F is already the market leader in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. The success of the brand to date has also led to the launch of F&F franchise partnerships, expanding the brand’s offering to Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Jordan, Switzerland, Gibraltar and Dubai, with new branches actively being planned.
F&F recognised that a key strategy in building its brand across all geographies was to enable its in-house buying & design teams to create a clear brand position and product DNA. However, the teams at F&F have previously been hampered by laborious manual processes that make communicating and collaborating with a globally dispersed, internal and external supply base difficult as the brand continues to grow its operations on a global scale.
Previously, a number of manual processes, combined with a dependence on email exchanges between designers, buyers, technologists and international sourcing teams, often resulted in inaccuracies and delays during various aspects of the development process, increasing lead times and waste. In addition, the reliance on manual systems also made it difficult to produce a clear audit trail, leading to a lack of visibility into the efficiency of processes or the inability to identify bottlenecks between the different teams involved.
To continue increasing its market share, F&F decided that it needed to liberate its design and buying teams by delivering a new technology solution that would enable a streamlined process to be easily and consistently deployed across all of these teams, whilst enabling local variances in a controlled manner.
As F&F continues to expand, serving millions of customers in-store and online each week, it has embarked on a large programme of change to support its growth across international markets. In early 2013, Tesco and F&F started a lean six sigma process redesign, using appropriate techniques to identify best-practice process models across its business. In parallel, Tesco decided to deploy Microsoft’s Office365 cloud platform to improve communication and collaboration amongst its global employees.
F&F engaged Hitachi Consulting to create a collaborative process portal, based on Microsoft’s SharePoint Online (part of Office365). Hitachi Consulting developed an integrated online workflow system, designed to help users see the status of each product line, their own prioritised tasks and progress against service level agreements (SLAs) through a tailored role-based and category-based dashboard. The new portal also provides management with clear visibility into the progress of each team or product collection to help provide quality and consistency whilst also reducing lead times.
Being cloud based, the portal is intended to be accessible globally through the internet, and is initially being used by teams within UK offices and 12 global sourcing hubs. The platform has been designed to support mobile team members so that they can communicate, collaborate and signoff on product development anywhere in the world, and at anytime, allowing design and buying teams to break away from their desks and innovate on the move.
In addition, using its experience of Microsoft’s Office365 cloud platform, Hitachi Consulting has optimised the portal so that once a new product design is created, it can be easily uploaded and presented to buyers and technologists to help ensure the product conforms to the necessary internal and external regulations. Once parties agree on the product brief, it can be quickly produced and sent to a number of international sourcing hubs for pricing and sample production.
Furthermore, the solution provides a rich data set for future analysis and supports F&F’s aims of continuous improvement by reducing lead times, refining quality and enhancing value for the customer. Developing the ability to link specific designs to finished products and sales performance also provides vital metrics on the effectiveness of design and supply chain choices.
Reduction in lead time and sampling costs
Previously, thousands of samples were being produced annually, with physical samples being requested, sent by air to the UK, reviewed and signed off. Following the implementation of the Hitachi Consulting platform, the approval is online, based on a photo and feedback that is uploaded by the global sourcing hubs. This process can be conducted as soon as the sample is produced, which is expected to save multiple weeks of planning for the majority of products and reduce samples sent to the UK substantially, with direct commercial and environmental benefits.
Improved quality standards
Maintaining the integrity of the design and quality standards of each product brief is vitally important for F&F. The solution has been designed so that suppliers are not able to update the specification after it has been sent to them. This is achieved through an innovative web service built to run on Microsoft’s Azure platform, which automatically creates PDF documents locking down both the requirements and the technical specifications.
Insightful decision making
The technology portal assigns a unique number to each product brief that is created, which is subsequently associated to the selling reference ID within the range plan. This provides a significant opportunity to measure and improve both lead time and design impact by linking the product throughout its lifecycle.
Increasing sales opportunities
By utilising Tesco’s existing Office365 tenant, which requires no additional infrastructure, the deployment has been achieved in a matter of weeks, on time and within budget. Already, a minimum of two weeks has been taken off the overall process lead time – the lifeblood of fast-fashion retailers - with plenty of scope to reduce timescales further through better collaboration, visibility and stability.
Andrew Hughes, head of business change at F&F, comments on the project: "This portal is perfect for our creative teams who are true digital natives that adapt to new technology easily. Being cloud based, it allows employees to concentrate on product and customer needs by pushing frustrating tasks to the background and allowing F&F employees to use an internet device, from anywhere, to convert designs into products that our customers want to buy online and in-store. Developing this capability means we now have greater agility to quickly meet consumer demand or respond to new trends in the market, leading to an increase in sales and helping cement our position as a leading clothing brand as we continue to expand into new markets."
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By helping us introduce new technology to support a variety of simple processes, Hitachi Consulting has enabled us to free up our colleagues to do what they do best: creating great products for customers.
– Jason Tarry, CEO, F&F