Zara: IT for Fast Fashion Identification of issues: The case study, Zara: IT for Fast Fashion, focuses on the retail giant, Inditex, and how its largest retail chain, Zara, has been so successful with their business model of high fashion, product variation, low cost, speed, and flexibility.
Several issues are identified in this case study. One glaring issue that is apparent relates to the fact that a long term Information Technology (IT) strategy does not exist. There is no formal system in place to plan and predict for their future needs, including operational and capital expenses.Another issue consists of the retailer not having a centralized distribution system in place, their stores do not share inventory counts, and the managers do not have a system in place to look up their inventory balances in their stores or other stores, (they accomplish this by canvassing the stores). Another significant current issue relates to the fact that their current IT system is unsustainable, as the equipment is obsolete and unsupported by Microsoft. Their IT system is not wireless, their screens are small, they are using styluses, which can be cumbersome, and older technology such as floppy disks and modems.The last issue involves a lack of shared knowledge of the current system in place; one person is relied upon and depended for knowledge of the systems functionality.
Being so dependant upon one person places the whole system at risk. Importance of the key issue: The key issue in this case study involves whether or not Inditex should upgrade the retailer’s information technology infrastructure and capabilities or whether they should continue using their current system. The problem that Zara faces now is that their current system, P-O-S (Point of Sales terminals), runs on DOS, which Microsoft does not support any longer.Any hardware change in the POS terminal would not be compatible with their current POS software. Without an upgrade, they risk that their current supplier could no longer support them. Investing in IT infrastructure is inevitable as Microsoft DOS is obsolete technology and there is no guarantee that their POS vendor will continue supplying the same terminal without changes to their hardware. Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) are currently used in all Zara stores, POS terminals are not connected with Zara’s headquarters or with other stores.
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here is no system in place to link employees’ daily sales, causing employees to copy this information onto a floppy disk. Zara’s success and main business strategy is dependent upon their ability to respond very quickly to the demands of their customers. By upgrading their current system, they could add functionality and capabilities that could resolve other issues they face, such as sharing inventory, and being proficient at matching supply and demand. They can comfortably meet their mission by keeping current with fashion.Without the infrastructure to support it, it would be impossible to accomplish, as they would not have the security controls, and back up systems in place. This issue is more important than any other issue to resolve, as Zara’s mission, success and future depends on technology reliability and accuracy. If this issue is not resolved, it is impossible to address all of the other issues identified above.
Key Stakeholders: There are numerous stakeholders who are affected by the key issue of whether or not they should upgrade their IT Zara’s customers system want the latest fashions in stock, in their size and color, in a timey fashion.By having an upgraded, efficient IT system, Zara’s customers could experience better inventory controls to meet their needs. This in turn develops customer loyalty which equates to a higher volume of sales. Another key stakeholder is Zara’s employees. Employees want job security. A well defined, upgraded, efficient IT system can assist in sales volume, which turns into profit for the company. Employees also want to reduce their workload and redundancy.
Their current system does not take advantage of functional automation and communication, which can increase their work load.Another stakeholder, Zara’s IT vendor, certainly wants to maintain their business relationship with them, but may find it difficult to continue conducting business with a company who uses such an obsolete, unsupported, vulnerable system. Zara’s managers are also important stakeholders in the decision to upgrade. Their managers want the current POS system to do more, such as look up inventory balances in stores. This basic functionality is lacking. They want to be in a position to negotiate pricing and keep up with their competitors.Zara’s shareholders are interested in maintaining the financial success that Zara has experienced.
They want a system in place to assure that their current fashion demands are met, that a system is in place to account for and share merchandise. They want to be able to invest wisely and innovate themselves to stay fresh in the apparel industry. Another stakeholder, Zara’s suppliers wants a functional IT system to provide better lead time for orders and materials, and to be able to communicate in a timely, seamless manner. Causes of the issue:There are many causes that contribute to the situation that Zara faces at the moment. Having a mission and vision without having a strategic plan to get there is a contributing factor. Having a decentralized decision making system in place can also be a root cause. Having equipment that is obsolescence is a result of the above factors.
Not having staff and systems in place to effectively plan for the future, leads to antiquated equipment and manual, cumbersome, inaccurate, processes. Other factors responsible for the lack of strategic IT planning at Zara include their current business model and leadership complacency.Alternative solutions: There are three alternative solutions. The first would be to purchase the current POS terminals from their vendors so they can support their needs in case the vendor changes their machine to new technology, and continue functioning the way they have been. The second solution involves hire a consulting firm to review their situation and conduct a strategic financial analysis of their options. The third solution to the key issue identified is to proceed in upgrading their current IT system and add functional capabilities to meet the needs of their organization.Recommendations: I recommend the third solution, that Zara purchase and implementing a new POS networking system.
This recommendation would create a robust system that is more responsive to Inditex’s supply chain network. It also removes the risk of the system becoming obsolete and non- compatible with the vendor’s machine upgrade. It decreases their exposure for system failures, helps to maintain and improve efficiency of decentralization because information flow can be improved between stores, distribution chains and vendors.The most important aspect of Zara’s approach to information technology includes the ability to meet the needs of their customers, whether that involves accuracy, timeliness, marketing, demand, or communication. Their original business model involved linking demand to manufacturing, and linking manufacturing to distribution, this involves a reliable, compatible IT system. Upgrading the POS applications to include additional functionality, such as networking capability, and the ability to share inventory with other stores, only makes their corporation more productive and efficient.The use of larger screens, and keyboards, vs.
smaller screens and styluses would also be beneficial to the employees and customers. There are however pitfalls to this recommendation. Above and beyond the obvious capital expense of the equipment and software, implementing the recommended solution in the short term may require restructuring the IT department to include a Chief Information Officer (CIO). The CIO would also be responsible to conduct a comprehensive review of current industry technologies and determine which IT capabilities and functionalities will best support the company’s strategic mission.This person would also be responsible to initiate a formal IT budgeting process that is part of the broader capital budget, and create a formal process for selecting and prioritizing IT projects that includes both financial and non-financial metrics (Porter, M, 2001). In the medium term, Zara may consider an outside team to initiate this IT change. It is questionable if Zara currently has the time and internal talent to effect the change.
An outsourced professional team may accomplish this task, while allowing personnel to focus on their day to day operations.Zara can cross train a few IT personnel to work closely with the implementation team, to assure a seamless transition. A “train the trainer” may be beneficial. This may mean that they may have to hire replacement personnel on a temporary basis. In the long term Zara should develop a “long-term IT renewal plan” as recommended by Feld and Stoddard, 2004, to develop a plan to maintain and sustain their new system; this requires time, money and talent. Incorporating the three principles in executing IT effectively: A long termIT renewal plan linked to corporate strategy, a simplified unifying corporate technology platform and a highly functional, performance-oriented IT organization would benefit Zara (Feld and Stoddard, 2004). Keeping up with technology allows Zara to focus on future fashion trends, with effective IT they will be able to stay ahead of the curve and keep their leadership.
They will sustain their business model based on short deadlines, decrease quantities, and updated styles and fashion.If Zara anticipates opening up new stores in the future, they would need to upgrade their system anyway. If they opened up new stores with new technology, their current technology would not be compatible and the stores could not communicate effectively with one another and share information. The second solution mentioned above, which involves hiring a consulting firm to review their situation and conduct a strategic financial analysis of their options is not in the best interest of the corporation.Hiring consultants takes time and energy and are expensive. They are not familiar with the organizations structure, strengths, weaknesses or capabilities. Financial resources would be better spent on the purchase of new upgraded equipment vs.
putting off the inevitable. The first solution described above, purchasing the current POS terminals from their vendors so they can support their needs in case the vendor changes their machine to new technology and continuing to function they way they have been is not an option, if they want to remain viable.Change is unavoidable, as this profitable, highly reputable company cannot continue to function with obsolete equipment. Obsolete equipment sets them up for failure in the event the equipment fails or needs repair. It does not allow them to implement a systematic plan to move the organization forward, instead it stagnates their capabilities. The likely outcomes of my recommendation would be an efficient, accurate, timely IT infrastructure that communicates well with all stores, accurately accounts for all inventory, allowing manual processes to dissolve.This creates greater efficiencies on the part of the staff.
Changing and upgrading their IT system would compensate for their internal communication weaknesses. Upgrading the POS terminals to modern inventory management software, would allow orders to be made on a daily basis instead of twice a week. This would allow the demand and supply to be matched more accurately, making the production process leaner. Inventory management software would lso allow designers to follow the sales of garments more closely, instead of relying on manual orders from store managers. Store managers could send new fashion or fabric ideas over the internet to headquarters. This constant monitoring and updating can give designers an advantage over the competition in developing new styles and keeping up with the latest fashions. Updating their communication and IT system sooner, rather than later would overall sustain viability of the corporation and enhance their business success.
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