Getting a Firm Grasp on the Supply ChainBy Guest Author | Posted 04-28-2015
By Patrick K. Burke
For a company that helps people stay comfortable outdoors when disconnecting from the stresses of work and, to some extent, technology, Columbia Sportswear has managed to balance a business philosophy that combines the best of technology with a respect for the natural world.
The billion-dollar company headquartered near Portland, Ore., is best known for its outerwear, footwear, camping gear and skiwear. Columbia distributes its products in more than 72 countries and operates its own chain of retail stores.
Visibility into the supply chain is essential to the success of the outdoor lifestyle company. Supply chain analytics also provide insight into the environmental practices of Columbia’s suppliers as well as its own environmental footprint, which the company has made a concerted effort to reduce.
Fred Pond, Columbia’s CIO, spent some time discussing with CIO Insight how Columbia picks environmentally friendly partners, why supply chain software is so important and what makes the Pacific Northwest a unique place to call home.
CIO Insight: I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest. Is it worth a visit?
Fred Pond: Absolutely! It has a good vibe—it’s a big city, but has a small town feel. That’s what makes it different than other metropolitan areas like Seattle or San Francisco.
Portlanders pride themselves on being uniquely different. There’s a saying —“Keep Portland Weird”—and it’s true. We’re just a little off kilter. And proud of it.
CIO Insight: At Columbia, environmental impact is given serious consideration, as one would expect of an outdoor apparel company. How does technology help Columbia meet its environmental goals?
Pond: Columbia is a very earth-friendly brand, from the materials we use, to the factories where we make the products. This is also reflected in our IT infrastructure as well. We use the latest in virtualization technology and are extremely efficient with cooling and power. We also have solar panels on the roof of our headquarters building.
Internally, our Corporate Responsibility (CSR) team looks at what we’re doing in our factories, and they make sure to pick partners that are environmentally conscious and friendly, while also being efficient. Our logistics partners are conscious when it comes to moving our products around the world.
Our IT strategy is to adopt a services approach by leveraging cloud platforms like FusionOps. Using FusionOps allows us to have all of our supply chain analytics in the cloud which eliminates the negative environmental overhead of increasing our internal data center footprint, with more hardware which requires more electricity and more cooling, etc.
CIO Insight: The supply chain can be an unwieldy beast. What steps does the IT department take to gain control of the supply chain?
Pond: Columbia’s supply chain is complicated because we outsource our production in 16 different countries. Trying to manage it all at once can definitely be a daunting task. Our goal is to make it more strategic by using solutions that allow people to access information from anywhere across the world to manage, oversee and analyze the whole supply chain. This allows us to be proactive in optimizing our supply chain.
That’s where cloud solutions like FusionOps and GTNexus come into play for us. We have a number of initiatives around data, reporting and analytics. FusionOps and GTNexus help give us the visibility to see where all the moving parts are at all times. We issue around 60,000-80,000 purchase orders each year, and FusionOps helps us make sure all our orders are fulfilled, shipped in full, and delivered on time.
CIO Insight: Are you able to capture data within the supply chain that provides value to Columbia and its customers? How so?
Pond: Yes, our SAP ERP system contains endless amounts of data. The challenge is in how to make sense of that data. We track all aspects of supply chain from inventory, order management and purchasing through a number of different integrated systems. FusionOps is our primary tool for reporting and analytics over our supply chain data. We use the data to help forecast inventory, evaluate suppliers and to let our customers know when they can expect to receive a shipment, among other things.
CIO Insight: Have cloud applications simplified supply chain management? Have they given a more accurate view of the supply chain’s many moving parts?
Pond: For us, absolutely. We use a variety of different cloud applications, including FusionOps, which is designed solely for the supply chain. FusionOps gives us visibility on both a tactical and operational level, and provides analytics for the sales, sourcing/manufacturing, and shipping teams, as well as for purchasing analysts. These teams can now be proactive in how they manage their part of the supply chain.
CIO Insight: How has technology enhanced the outdoor experience of Columbia’s customers?
Pond: Our technology and insight into the supply chain helps us be more accurate in predicting what we need to produce and what is selling well, and what isn’t. We can better estimate demand, and make sure we get the right inventory to the right place at the right time, making sure our customers are always able to get the products they need. And consumers really value that.
On the flip side, we also use technology to interact with our consumers. We use videos, media and different graphics to give our consumers tips on how to enhance their outdoor experience, for example, how to stay warm, cool, dry and protected while out on an excursion, hike or camping.
Patrick K. Burke is senior editor of CIO Insight.