Project Fashion is an ERP system built from ground up based on operations in an international trading company who has a specialty in fashion products. Each season there are between 10 and 20 vendors and a few thousand new SKUs. Most vendors roll out new designs twice per year — spring/summer season and fall/winter season. Some may have new products every month. To keep track of these products and keep up with vendor's schedule have been the primarily challenge this coompany has.
The system's role, therefore, is to replace previously paper-based operations with now an online version so that product catelogue can be centrally maintained, and multiple subsidaries who are geographically separated can coordinate sales, purchase and inventory, and upper management can receive instant up-to-date reports and the ability to drill down to SKU level details when needed.
Unlike a full blown ERP, a decision was made during design to remove complexity so user and customer can operate with little training. Configurable UI and workflow were scratched off. Instead, hard coded workflow and accurate cross reference were implemented so operator at each business function can understand and operate her job intutitively.
On the broad side, functions are divided into the following categories:
- CRM: customer and vendor database
- Product: product database
- Inventory: product inventory
- Sales: sales order
- Purchase: purchase order
- Invoice: order invoices
- Report: management reports
The key concept I'd like to clarify is the product SKU. It has been a surprise to me how many people who, even have been working in this industry for years, do not understand SKU. SKU is a stock unit. In other words, it is the smallest unit the company chooses to manage its product. The more detailed it is, the more accurate the rest of the operations can be, but also the more work to set it up initially.
One interesting challenge relates to how one finds a particular product in the system. Shoppers are visual animals. During 2015 Fall/Winter season we followed clients in stores and observed their pattern. All went on by first picking a cloth up from rack and looking at it before she seeked out for more concrete information such as its vendor or season. On the other hand, staffs can often directly recall a product through their familiarity with its attributes such as vendor, season, name and style's serial number, instead of seeing it physically. Therefore, to staffs filtering by these attributes will be more efficient.
The search by season function is built with an e-Commerce interface in mind. Customers are to "browse" instead of "search". Products are first grouped by season then by vendor. Customer browse through product catelogue as if in a e-shop so it creates a more direct experience that filter boxes. User can drill down from season to vendor, and to add product to shopping cart which later turns into a sales order.
Product inventory are mapped to a 3-layer structure: company — location — storages. A location represents a store, and within a store there can be multiple storages. Inventory in storage can then be rolled up to location level and company level. There is also a common setup of region or district level that is between company and location. It is not implemented but can be added easily.
For each product, there are two inventory counts: theoretical and actual. Theoretical counts are derived from sales, purchase, returns and so forth; actual counts are directly obtained from physically counting products in a storage, also called physical inventory. As you can see, theoretical counts are dynamic because they are influenced by business activities. Physical inventory is a snapshot in time when a staff walks into the store's storage to count. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that comparing the two implies a time stamp that both sides have to agree. Otherwise, such comparison is meaningless.
|Theoretical inventory||Physical inventory|
|Product count will increase and decrease dynamically due to sales and purchase.||Product count is obstained only through counting goods in inventory physically.|
Physical inventory is usually scheduled. Some companies have daily count while some have weekly or monthly count. On physical inventory page, user can select from a list of storages to do the counting. Season and vendor list within each storage are derived from products in that storage by the application automatically.
When taking the physical count, one has two modes to choose from depending on how counting is done. Admin mode displays product details such as style and size. They are used as assisting information to the counting staff. Counts are default to 0. Only the ones having a non-zero count will be highlighted and saved later. However, it is possible that a product has been sold out. So to handle this special case we use a star to indicate this situation.
User mode removes product details from the view, leaving only product SKU and size information for reference.
So far I have covered Product and Inventory functions. In part two, I will dive into the core of this application to talk about how we will handle sales orders and purchase orders.
— by Feng Xia