April 13th, 2013 10:53 am Category: About Profit Point, Global Supply Chain, Jim Piermarini, Operations Research, Optimization, Software Optimization, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Software, by: Jim Piermarini
Building applications, especially custom ones, carries with it the burden of answering the question: Does this do what the customer wants?
With complicated systems with many interacting features and business rules, answering this question can be daunting. In fact, evaluating the answer can be daunting too, from the perspective of the customer. Having the sales guy check some boxes in a questionnaire, or watching a demo just doesn’t leave you with the assurance that the application with handle all the business requirements, from either perspective, the vendors or the customer. Everyone I have spoken to who has sold complex software, or who has participated in the purchasing process of software has expressed the same doubt. They are just not sure that the tool will be a good fit. As we all know, that doubt does not always prevent the purchase of the software, as each organization has its own level of risk tolerance, and trust in the vendor’s brand or reputation. Often these other considerations can outweigh the amorphous doubt that some folks might feel. How can one quantify that doubt? Frankly, it’s a quandary.
This thought got us at Profit Point thinking… Wouldn’t it be great if there was another way to evaluate the goodness of fit or an application, or the appropriateness of the parameter settings, to match the business needs of an organization. Would it be great if there was a way to eliminate (or greatly reduce) the doubt, and replace it with facts. Either a business rule is obeyed or it is not. Either a decision is made according to the requirements, or it is not. Let’s eliminate the doubt, we thought, and the world would be a better place. (well a little bit anyway).
There are many processes for testing an application as it is being developed, with writing test scripts, and evaluating the results. All these are based on testing little pieces of code, to ensure that each function or sub routine does what it should do in each case of input data. These processes work fine in our opinion, but only when the sub of function is able to be considered independently form the others. When the system has functions that interact heavily, then this approach doesn’t reduce the doubt that the functions may conflict or compete in a way that the whole system suffers. How then to evaluate the whole system? Could we treat the entire application as one black box, and evaluate the important business cases, and evaluate the results? This is exactly what we have done, with the effect of reducing the doubt to zero about the suitability of the application for a business.
With several of our clients we have worked out what seems to be a great process of testing a complex software solution for suitability to the business requirement. In this case, the detailed level function testing methods were not open to us, since the solution relied on a Linear Programming technique.
This process is really just an amplification of the standard testing process.
- Define the test case, with the expected results
- Construct the test data
- Build or configure the application
- Run the Test using the Test Data and Evaluate the results – Pass or Fail
This is the standard process for testing small functions, where the expected results are clear and easy to imagine. However, in some systems where there many interacting rules and conflicting priorities, it may not be simple to know what the expected results should be without the help of the tool’s structure to evaluate them. Such is the case with many of our application, with layer upon layer of business rules and competing priorities… The very reason for using an LP based approach makes testing more complex.
In the revised process, we have, for each new business requirement:
- Construct the test case with the test data
- Build or configure the application
- Set the expected results using the results of the first pass build
- Re-factor the code and test until all test are passing
In my next blog I will show you the simple excel based tools we use to facilitate the test evaluation.
In practice, the process works well, new versions of the application go into production without any surprises, and with full confidence of the application management team that all the business requirements are 100% met.
No doubt – no doubt a better process.
By Jim Piermarini
March 4th, 2013 4:19 pm Category: Danielle Cohen Jarvie, Global Supply Chain, Operations Research, Scheduling, Software Optimization, Supply Chain Agility, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Software, by: Danielle Cohen Jarvie
In a recent sailing trip to Croatia, we lost our sailboat. Sounds outrageous, but it really wasn’t difficult at all. It was early evening when we anchored in the harbor and took our dinghy to shore for dinner. A few hours later, seeing the wind pick up, we returned to the spot where we thought we had left the boat and it had vanished. It was dark, very dark. Looking for the boat on the dark ocean at night was like looking for a needle in a haystack. After hours of searching, we finally found the boat headed out to sea, we had not let out sufficient line for the anchor. The harbor was surrounded by rocky cliffs, and we had no idea what course the boat had taken, and if it had incurred any damage in its renegade voyage. We shook a mechanic out of bed to evaluate if any damage had been done. After it was all said and done, we were very lucky, the boat was fine.
I can’t help but liken this to a manufacturing supply chain, without a business process to chart the way, without software helping to navigate and support the process and without people in place trained to captain the process, the business, like an unanchored sailboat, drifts into sometimes dangerous territory. Yet, this scenario is not atypical for many companies.
How do you know if the anchor is set on your supply chain? Here are some attributes:
- A clear and documented business process that serves as the guide to how you operate under normal conditions as well as defines flows for unexpected changes and events. As conditions change, the process should be reevaluated and assessed in an ongoing fashion.
- Software that supports the business process and enables users to react quickly to unexpected events making your business adaptable and flexible. Software should be tailored to your business needs, one that is one size fits all does not necessarily work for all products and customers.
- Trained people who are living the business process and using the software giving your business a competitive edge. Additionally, attention to detail and data driving the software is crucial and can have a big impact on the business.
To learn more about Profit Point’s Global Supply Chain services, please contact us.
This quarter’s Supply Chain Quarterly magazine features an article by Dr. Alan Kosansky and Ted Schaefer entitled Is standardized software eroding your competitive edge? The article addresses the pros and cons of standard enterprise software packages and discusses how generic applications may not accommodate the processes that leading company’s utilize to gain competitive advantage.
Upgraded Vehicle Route Planner Software Improves Decisions in Distribution Planning, Fleet Sizing, Driver Productivity and Transportation Cost Reduction
Profit Point announces the introduction of Profit Vehicle Planner™ 3.1, a major upgrade to our distribution analysis and design software. Profit Vehicle Planner is designed for Strategic Logistic and Transportation Managers that have large fleets with multiple daily delivery stops and changing logistics processes. The software update includes a combination of new features and technical enhancements which combine to support richer scenario modeling for larger large fleets with multiple daily delivery stops and changing logistics processes.
Designed to be highly accessible and customizable, Profit Vehicle Planner (PVP™) uses standard Microsoft business tools for calculation and display of information, including Excel, Access and MapPoint. The software automatically creates and designs the optimal sales/distribution territories. It does this by dividing customers into territories and days of service, with each territory representing the volume delivered by one delivery vehicle and one driver over the course of the planning horizon. The objective of the proprietary heuristic algorithm used in Profit Vehicle Planner is to assign customers to territories that will minimize the number of trucks required to serve the customer volumes while delivering within the various common and business-specific constraints, including customer frequency of service, hours available per day, volume available per truck, unique equipment requirements and virtually any other custom constraint required.
“With 12 years in the field, Profit Vehicle Planner has been put to the test against some of the world’s largest supply chain distribution problems,” noted Jim Piermarini, Profit Point’s Chief Technology Officer. “Transportation best practices have expanded over time, so decision makers are looking for more comprehensive strategic logistics and transportation modeling solutions.”
With the new release, PVP’s expanded features include extensive customization of the software to tailor the territory planning solution to be cost and time effective to meet your unique and specific distribution requirements and the ability to use imported address data to automatically geocode customers for whom lat/long data is missing.
For companies that perceive distribution as mission critical, users have the option to integrate PVP deeply into their supply chain systems to import and export data in to their ERP system. Companies that seek the most cost-effective solution have the ability to import virtually any relevant data from an Excel template that includes the following:
- Customer data such as address, location, frequency of service, volume per stop, time required per stop, other data as needed
- Truck data such as size, days of the week that it is available, order in which it is to be scheduled, hours available each day, special equipment, other data as needed
- Warehouse and district data such as location and characteristics of associated trucks and drivers
- Time related data such as start date of planning horizon and number of weeks in the planning horizon.
- Product specific data such as unit of measure of the product being delivered
- Any other data required to accurately model unique constraints
Once optimized, users have the ability to review and assess the characteristics of the territories that are created using tables and maps to provide an enhanced visual experience. And to ensure the optimal distribution plan, users can manually move customers from one territory to another or from one service day pattern to another (e.g. from Monday-Thursday to Tuesday-Friday), if desired.
November 10th, 2011 6:46 pm Category: Enterprise Resource Planning, Global Supply Chain, Network Design, Operations Research, Optimization, Richard Guy, SAP Integration, Software Optimization, Supply Chain Agility, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Planning, Sustainability, by: Richard Guy
The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In a CFO zombie scenario, CFO’s would take over entire companies, roaming the halls eating anything living that got in their way. They would target the brains of supply chain managers and operations people. The proliferation of this idea has led many business people to wonder “How do I avoid a CFO zombie apocalypse?”
Supply chain managers are seeking and developing new and improved ways to exploit the volumes of data available from their ERP systems. They are choosing advanced analytics technologies to understand and design efficient sustainable supply chains. These advanced analytics technologies rely on the use of optimization technology. I am using the mathematical concept of “optimization” as opposed to non-mathematical process of making something better.
Mathematical optimization technology is at the heart of more than a few supply chain software applications. These applications “optimize” some process or decision. Optimization-base programs, for example, those frequently found in strategic supply chain network planning, factory scheduling, sales and operations planning and transportation logistics use well-known mathematical techniques such as linear programming to scientifically determine the “best” result. That “best solution” is usually defined as minimizing or maximizing a single, specific variable, such as cost or profit. However, in many cases the best solution must account for a number of variables or constraints. Advanced analytics technologies can improve a company’s bottom line – and it can improve revenue, too! CFO’s like this.
Advanced analytics technologies provide easy-to-use, optimization-based decision support solutions to solve complex supply chain and production problems. And, these solutions can help companies quickly determine how to most effectively use limited resources and exploit opportunities.
So, from my perspective, there are seven practical reasons to embrace advanced analytics technologies:
- Your company saves money, increases profits.
- You get to use all your ERP system’s data.
- It’s straightforward and uncomplicated.
- You have the tools to discover great ideas and make better decisions.
- At the end of the day, you know the total cost of those decisions.
- You have a roadmap to make changes.
- You avoid the CFO zombie apocalypse
We recently attended a discovery meeting that was focused on how to conduct a strategic optimization planning study of an existing distribution network. The company wanted to know what changes needed to be made to lower the distribution costs. Several members of the management team were present and there were many questions regarding the ideal business process, study approach and modeling tools to be used to insure a successful project.
What was interesting to me was the overwhelming focus on the modeling tool. Questions about who would be on the project, the timeline, the types of scenarios, data gathering and validation were secondary. It may be important to have the right tool to model your infrastructure, but the real focus should be on the experience and modeling capabilities of the users of the tool.
These are the Critical Success Factors
- Full participation in data gathering and results review by the project team and management.
- Clear definition of the key questions to be addressed and the related scenarios required by the Project Sponsor early in the project timeline.
- Availability of leadership resources within the company throughout the project to review assumptions and to ensure integrity and quality of the input.
- On time delivery of a complete set of all required data by Project Team members.
- Acceptance and agreement on the variable, fixed and capital cost assumptions of existing and potential new facilities.
- Availability, communication, and collaboration of the Project Team members, support staff, and consultant for all working sessions, conference calls, and follow-up between meetings.
It’s important that the optimization modeling tool can incorporate the variables and constraints associated with your supply chain, but the real focus should not be on the tool, but rather on the experience of the users of the tool and their ability to deliver the results of a project. If I were to set out on a network optimization planning project to model my entire supply chain, then my primary focus would be on developing an experienced team of individuals that had the skills to minimize the above risks.
At Profit Point we are in the ‘Science of Better’, and we are always looking for new ways to do business, both for our clients, and for ourselves. When we started, we had the challenge of being a virtual company, that is, we have never had a corporate office space. Since 1995, each of us has always worked from home. While there are numerous benefits of this style of company architecture, including having a family that actually knows who you are, and keeping the company’s overhead to a minimum, it also has its drawbacks. Like forcing each person to make the deliberate decision about when to start work, and harder still, when to stop work each day. We knew when we started this company that we wanted to keep our overhead costs low, so a virtual office seemed like the natural choice.
More recently, we have been faced with another challenge, how to reduce the cost of the projects we do. Projects in the supply chain business require a certain amount of industry and company specific knowledge. Until recently, we had been building into our projects ample on-site time where the project team could gel and collaborate and build the trust that is needed for the free flow of ideas. But the world has changed, and we have changed with it. No longer are big travel budgets a normal part of the projects we see. So the challenge was: how to reduce the travel expense line item, without sacrificing the project speed or quality?
In the consulting business, there is sometimes no substitute for ‘face-time’. So travel to the customer site perforce happens. Over the course of the last 15 years, I have seen a marked drop in the amount of time that we need to travel, going from 60-70% a decade ago to less than 20% currently, and this has been brought about primarily by two factors: 1) Companies simply do not want to pay the travel expenses. Since 9/11, most major companies have been slashing their travel budgets, and expect their consultants to follow suit. One particular project comes to mind where I had seen travel expenses that were as much as the consulting bill each month. But in general, we see pressure to reduce the travel expenses that are generated by projects across the board. 2) ‘Remote Touch’ Technology has provided the means to travel less. There are some great remote desktop control tools that allow two or more people to have a telephone or VOIP conversation, and look at the same computer screen, to discuss and collaborate on ideas and tools. These web based telephony and remote control tools have eliminated the need for travel to a greater extent than you might think. Many of our projects today have only two face to face meetings, one to kick it off, and one to present the results or close it out. Some of our clients are handled successfully without any face time. I must say though, that in our experience, low face-time projects only work well within the culture and language: that is, when language and culture barriers exist in the project team, face-time is the best way to bridge these gaps, and mitigate the risk of project overruns and delays.
In business, technology comes into being as a means to enable better business processes. The processes that we use that are enabled by this remote touch technology includes an agile approach to solving business problems or developing software solutions. We use several readily available web based tools every day in our business, and boy have they allowed us to reduce the travel expenses. These include:
This is the best remote touch tool out there in our opinion. Until a robust free app comes along, this will remain the best value for the money. The best part of the app is the recent addition of the integrated VOIP, where you can use a head set (I would recommend the Logitech ClearChat PC Wireless Headset: http://www.logitech.com/en-us/webcam-communications/internet-headsets-phones/devices/4226) to join the integrated telecon line. This has the advantage of freeing up your phone, and being instantly connected to the telecon as soon as you start it. No more long telecon numbers with their passcodes! We use this many times every day, and it is the primary reason why we can travel less.
This is a simple to use and secure web based file storage and sharing application that fosters and supports collaboration with people both in your company and externally. We love this app, and my clients seem to as well. Just drop a file into this app, and share it securely with anyone with an email address. Use it when email attachments just will not do, due to size limitations, or just when the email hassle is too much.
This is a terrific project management tool that is designed for agile projects, and makes it simple to create and manage user stories for tool development. While inviting new members can be a hassle (since their email seems to get caught in many spam filters), once they are in, these folks have made a stellar user interface to manage the tasks in a project of nearly any size. Use it to track bugs too. We have done several projects using this tool. and we will be using it for many more. Great tool.
If you like to look at data, like we like to look at data, then you will want to look at Tableau. You can think of it like a pivot table / chart on steroids. You open it, connect to you data, (whereever or what ever data you’ve got, it can connect to it), and then you start to explore your data like you’ve never been able to before. Like a pivot table, you can drag and drop fields, aggregate data along dimensions, and make sums, etc, but the really cool part of Tableau is the part where it suggests new ways of the looking at the data. Go ahead, make maps, heat charts, time phased graphs, whatever. Then you can assemble the graphs into a dashboard. Dashboards are the best. Want to see a ton of data distilled down into a very compact visually stunning view suitable for management? Get a copy of Tableau, and you can make that view in minutes.
Used appropriately, these tools, and others like them, have enabled us to travel less, and work faster and better. (and more!)
If you have other great apps like these that enable better business processes, I would love to hear about them.
Leveraging Profit Point’s supply chain optimization methodologies, Toyota North American Part Center California improves efficiency and quality of their workload planning sequencing process to receive containers from Japan.
North Brookfield, MA (PRWEB) October 6, 2008
Profit Point today announced that Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc.’s North American Part Center California (NAPCC) has improved its receiving sequencing processes using advanced mathematical optimization techniques. NAPCC is one of the parts distribution centers among TMS’ North American Parts Operations network, which was established to improve local parts sourcing and manage a parts distribution network that supplies all North American Toyota distributors, U.S. Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealers as well as export to parts centers in Japan. NAPCC turned to Profit Point to apply mathematical optimization techniques to further improve their supply chain operations.
“We turned to Profit Point to apply mathematical optimization techniques to further improve our supply chain operations,” Johnnie Garlington, NAPCCs warehouse operations manager. The program supported the increase in daily offload by 16% resulting in labor savings, off-site storage costs and detention expenses.
Profit Point, the leading supply chain optimization company, combines proprietary software with proven optimization techniques to help business managers improve their operations. Profit Point supported NAPCC’s objective to redesign their workload planning process to improve the efficiency and quality of their sequencing processes. Profit Point carried this out by designing and building custom supply chain software to optimize their sequencing processes.
“We were asked to investigate a mathematical approach to solving Toyota NAPCC’s container receiving sequencing process,” said Joe Litko, Profit Point’s Business Optimization Practice Leader. “This was an interesting challenge for several reasons. We needed a cost-effective solution using legacy tools, the model needed to run quickly, be flexible, and give robust solutions that consider several performance measures simultaneously.”
NAPCC had been using a traditional spreadsheet to manually achieve an hourly workload plan. Profit Point reviewed the sequencing process and designed a stand-alone application to smooth out the flow of containers to maximize the daily unload capacity.
“Like most businesses, Toyota NAPCC was using good, traditional operations practices,” said Dr. Alan Kosansky, Profit Point’s President. “But, by combining the right mathematical optimization methods with a clear understanding of the business requirements, we were able to achieve a superior supply chain process for Toyota.”
About Profit Point:
Profit Point Inc. was founded in 1995 and is now a global leader in supply chain optimization. The company’s team of supply chain consultants includes industry leaders in the fields infrastructure planning, green operations, supply chain planning, distribution, scheduling, transportation, warehouse improvement and business optimization. Profit Point’s has combined software and service solutions that have been successfully applied across a breadth of industries and by a diverse set of companies, including The Coca-Cola Company, General Electric, Rohm and Haas and Toyota.
LQM Petroleum Services is one of the largest international marine fuel oil brokers in the world, with core competencies in marine fuel oil brokerage, futures markets and outsourced bunker procurement solutions. With its deep expertise in marine refueling, LQM recognized that marine operators lacked a comprehensive refueling and inventory management system.
When it came time to build the system, BOptimumTM, LQM partnered with Profit Point to optimize the software algorithm in its bunker refueling recommendation software system. Read our case study to learn more about how LQM partnered with Profit Point to optimize its BOptimum bunker refueling recommendation software system.
Look for our new web-based release of Profit Network in spring 2008. Profit Network is a stand-alone optimization planning software package that is used to design better supply chain networks. Profit Network can be used to analyze the placement and location of production facilities, distribution centers and warehouses over a multi-period planning horizon. Profit Network helps firms restructure their supply chains after mergers, periods of rapid growth or in anticipation of geographic or product preference shifts in the market. Savings of 10% of supply chain costs and 25% of supply chain cycle time are typical.
Profit Vehicle Router (PVR) helps distributors save money by cutting the time needed to develop sales/distribution territories and schedules, as well as reducing delivery miles and the number of sales/delivery vehicles and drivers needed. PVR helps you plan optimal delivery or sales territories, cycle-day territories (what days each site will receive deliveries), and daily routes from a distribution center or office, improving customer service, employee productivity and ultimately increasing profits.
ILOG has selected Profit Point Inc. as a preferred ILOG SP Service Provider due to our strong technology expertise and proven ability to integrate software components into custom solutions.
ILOG products are used by tens of thousands of end users in telecommunications, manufacturing, transportation, defense, and other industries.