When the inaugural PPAI 100 list was revealed, Charles River Apparel (PPAI 111644, S10) was announced as one of the industry’s leading suppliers, coming in at No. 44. But hidden without that ranking are many sub rankings. One of the things Charles River does best, according to the survey results, is technology.

The New England-based company earned PPAI 100 High Marks in Innovation, ranking among the best of the best in that category.

Charles River Apparel strives to be at the forefront of the industry in terms of digital transformation but also has the foresight to understand that maximum efficiency means the rest of the industry comes along on that journey.

Jeison Ortega, chief technology officer at Charles River Apparel, who is also a sitting member of the PPAI Technology Committee, spoke to PPAI Media about how the company views digital transformation and what it aims to accomplish with existing technology.

PPAI Media: Congrats, Jeison, on the High Marks for your work. Let’s dig into it. How big of a part of improving customer experience focuses on eliminating frictions that tend to come up often in our industry?

Ortega: At Charles River Apparel, we are committed to continuously improving the customer experience by addressing frictions and streamlining processes. We recognized the challenges presented by the pandemic and seized the opportunity to make significant improvements to our supply chain process.

To further enhance convenience and satisfaction, we have implemented a live chat support system. This allows customers to receive immediate assistance, personalized guidance and real-time support whenever they need it.

Furthermore, we have implemented an Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system to optimize the customer experience. This feature eliminates the need for lengthy phone calls or waiting on hold.

       READ MORE: See the full PPAI 100 rankings.

PPAI Media: What went into the decision to incorporate both PDX and PromoStandards?

Ortega: We have chosen to work with both PDX and PromoStandards to cater to the diverse needs of our promotional products customers and align with our customer-centric philosophy of making it easy to do business with us. We recognize that PDX represents a significant portion of our customer base, and by integrating with their platform, we ensure that we meet our customers where they are.

Regarding PromoStandards, we are fully compliant and diligently follow the updates made to the endpoints. The benefits of our integration with PDX and PromoStandards are substantial for our customers. They gain access to accurate and up-to-date data, facilitating informed decision-making and reducing the risk of errors.

By standardizing the data, suppliers can leverage these technologies to improve their internal processes, generate more accurate business intelligence data and ultimately enhance their ability to serve customers effectively.

PPAI Media: What best practices do you consider vital to cybersecurity?

Ortega: Regular employee training. Conduct ongoing cybersecurity awareness training to educate employees about potential threats, safe browsing habits and best practices for handling sensitive information. Our focus is to reward good behavior and identify opportunities for training.

For strong access controls, implement multi-factor authentication, role-based access controls and regular access reviews to limit unauthorized access to critical systems and data.

Robust network security. Employ firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems and regular vulnerability assessments. This is work that never ends; we run these tests several times a year and address vulnerabilities with a sense of urgency.

Establish a strong incident response plan to respond to security incidents, minimize damage and restore normal operations quickly and effectively. More importantly, make sure you benchmark and test your recovery time responses as well as your recovery point objective.

PPAI Media: What can you tell us about your ERP and why it works for Charles River?

Ortega: Charles River Apparel utilizes FDM4. Our ERP system integrates various aspects of our operations, including inventory management, order processing, production planning and financials. It provides us with real-time visibility into our business processes, enabling better decision-making and resource allocation.

We arrived at FDM4 through a comprehensive evaluation process. We identified our key requirements, considering factors such as scalability, flexibility, ease of integration, user-friendliness and cost. The ERP we chose has proven to be a reliable and efficient solution, streamlining our operations, and supporting our ability to scale and grow in the future.

PPAI Media: Is there a hurdle that Charles River Apparel faces that you see a potential tech solution to?

Ortega: The inadequate communication channels between sales representatives and the technical liaisons within our clients’ organizations can lead to various challenges. It can result in delays and misunderstandings in gathering technical requirements and specifications, which may affect the accuracy and timeliness of order processing and system integrations.

We think the industry could improve this by dedicating technical liaisons, investing in enhanced collaboration tools, providing technical training for sales representatives and streamlining the onboarding process, perhaps through standardization.

PPAI Media: Thanks for being a part of the PPAI Technology Committee. What are you working on there that you are excited about?

Ortega: I am thrilled to be a part of the tech committee and to contribute to the industry’s advancement on behalf of Charles River Apparel. Technology has been a passion of mine from a young age, and I am delighted to channel that passion toward helping our company and the industry as a whole. Contributing through technology allows us to support suppliers and distributors in their digital transformation journeys.

The digital transformation journey is crucial in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. By leveraging technology, we can drive innovation, streamline processes, and enhance operational efficiency for our partners. It is incredibly fulfilling to play a role in this transformation and help streamline transactions between suppliers and distributors.