December 2nd, 2013 11:09 am Category: Global Supply Chain, Green Optimization, Network Design, Optimization, Profit Network, Scheduling, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Optimization, by: Jim Piermarini
One of the pleasures of working at Profit Point is having the occasion to reflect on and write a blog about a subject that is of interest to me. Taking time to reflect on what is important, especially now around Thanksgiving and the holiday season has rewards of its own, but especially with regards to the business we are in, helping people make their supply chains better, brings rewards unique to our profession. I am pleased and thankful to be a part of it.
At the grand scale, improving supply chains improves the very heart of most businesses. It reduces waste, reduces cost, increases efficiency and profit, and reduces the detrimental impact of commerce on our world, including reducing our carbon footprint and land fill waste as well as promoting the most efficient use of our natural resources and raw materials. Profit Point routinely has an enormous impact on the business of our customers, and I personally am pleased and thankful to be a part of it.
On a more human level, the people at our customers who interact with Profit Point personnel on our projects, come away with a profound sense that they can make a difference in their company; the impact of our network studies or scheduling work or other projects demonstrates the ability of a better business process to be rolled out and actually change the business for the better. Once involved in a successful project, many of these people move up in their organizations to lead other successful business change projects. Nothing succeeds like success! I am pleased and thankful to be a part of it.
Reflecting on our part in the business world as small actors on a large stage, it is rewarding to be able to know that we have made some difference.
Wishing you the same peace of mind this holiday season, Jim Piermarini, CEO Profit Point Inc.
November 25th, 2013 9:12 am Category: Supply Chain Optimization, by: Editor
We found a great article by Adrian Gonzalez entitled 5 Reasons Why Excel is Champ of Supply Chain Apps. Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen so many companies relying on Excel to make early stabs at supply chain optimization. And, since we recognize that you supply chain “disruptors” will do just about anything to change the status quo to move the needle on continuous improvement, we applaud you.
In fact, Excel – coupled with it’s relatively powerful optimization engine, Solver, from our partner Frontline – is a great starting place for identifying supply chain optimization opportunities. It’s extremely accessible, virtually free and easy to collaborate, since everyone has it. So long as your not looking for near-real time planning and decision support, the optimization features are quite useful.
Of course,when you’re ready to take it the next level, there are some very good reasons to move beyond Excel. First and foremost, connecting your supply chain optimization software to your ERP data warehouse allows you to get a much more granular level of detail. And, a direct connection means that you’re not wasting hours – or sometimes days – extracting and shaping the data into a consumable form. It’s just there and ready to go!
Below is Adrian’s top 5 list as well as some of the limitations that she identified. There’s also a link to the complete article, which is well worth reading.
“I believe there are five main reasons why Excel remains the reigning champ of supply chain applications:
- It’s is easy to learn and use.
- You can quickly and easily configure it to your specific needs and preferences.
- It’s highly portable: you can use it almost everywhere, and share it easily with others.
- It’s ubiquitous: Almost everybody has it and knows how to use it.
- It’s inexpensive.
Of course, Excel has some significant drawbacks that limit its usefulness and value as a supply chain application, such as…
- You’re working with static data
- A macro is not the same as an optimization engine
- It’s not integrated with execution tools
- You often end up with multiple versions of the truth”
October 23rd, 2013 9:00 am Category: White Papers, by: Editor
Today, smart manufacturers view the supply chain as a critical element for gaining competitive advantage. Leading companies have long since gloablized their manufacturing and distribution operations. They rely heavily on enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms to track and record virtually every transaction that occurs in the supply chain – from raw materials sourcing to point-of-sale sell-through.Without doubt, the efficiencies that have accrued through ERP are significant. When one accounts for reduced inventory, carrying costs, labor costs, improvements to sales and customer service, and efficiencies in financial management, the tangible cost savings to enterprises have been estimated to range between 10 and 25% or more. 1 2 Global and multinational concerns have reorgnized themselves – through ERP standardization – to create a competitive advantage over regional manufacturers.
While this ERP standardization has created an advantage for larger concerns, leading supply chain managers are discovering new ways to improve beyond ERP’s limitations. In essence, these supply chain ‘disruptors’ are seeking new ways to separate themselves from the pack. The functional areas and tools used by these disruptors varies widely – from long-term global supply chain network design to near-term sales and operations planing (S&OP) and order fulfillment; and from realtively simple solver-based spreadsheets to powerful optimization software deeply integrated in to the ERP data warehouse.
At Profit Point, we believe that continued pursuit of supply chain improvement is great. We believe that it is good for business, for consumers and for the efficient use (and reuse) of resources around the globe. In this survey, we set out to explore the methods, tools and processes that supply chain professionals utilize to improve upon their historical gains and to gain competitive advantage in the future. You can request a copy of the report here.
We welcome your feedback. Please feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.
When we help our clients improve their supply chains the first step in the process is usually to identify what problem they need to solve, or what questions they are trying to answer. Examples of such questions might be
- What will be the impact of several possible capital investments in our distribution system?
- A major customer is considering changes in their manufacturing – how should we respond?
- How can we improve the assignment of available production / inventory to customer orders?
After pinning down the objectives, the focus will then shift to the design of a planning model, or a software system, that will help them to address the identified needs. We find that a key design tenet for the model, or the scope of the supply chain to be covered, is to include enough detail to be able to answer the questions at hand, but no more.
A typical supply chain will stretch from procurement of raw materials to manufacturing to distribution to customers (and possibly beyond, on either or both ends.) Part of capturing the supply chain behavior will be to define the transformation of materials along the chain. This can be done by defining a bill of materials, or BOM, which defines the quantities of input ingredients that are required at a point in the supply chain to make an output material of interest. For instance, if you are a baker then your BOM is your recipe – e.g. the amounts of flour, buttermilk, leavening and various other ingredients required to make the batch of biscuits.
Deciding on the detail of the materials going into the BOM, and getting the right quantities for the BOM, is a key step in properly modeling the supply chain. If you are working at an operational supply chain level, the BOM will need to be detailed enough to actually make the product, but many times in a planning situation, it is reasonable to omit some of the detail, and only capture the main flows of product through the system. You will need to make these decisions based on your project objective.
For instance, if you are modeling a beverage company’s supply chain, water may be a key ingredient in the production process. If the question you are trying to answer for the beverage company is whether traditional warehouses vs. crossdocks is a better distribution solution for a part of the territory, then you may decide that the sources and cost of water for the production facilities will not have a big impact on the answer, so you can omit the water consumption from the analysis. On the other hand, if the objective of the analysis is to evaluate the impact of alternative future production locations on the company’s overall environmental impact and commitment to sustainable practices, then water for production (and waste water, and other intermediate or byproduct materials) would likely need to be included in the production BOMs.
Making good choices in defining your BOM is one of the important steps in getting a supply chain model to help you answer your questions effectively. Our extensive supply chain experience allows us to bring a large knowledge base to the assignment when we are helping our clients design in enough detail, but no more.
This month’s IndustryWeek features an article by Alan Kosansky and Ted Schaefer entitled Margin-based Supply Chain Optimization.
“To effectively implement margin-based supply chain optimization, it is important to have three key components in place: data, optimization technology and alignment with strategic business objectives.
Margin-based supply chain optimization is a new business process based on two key business priorities: 1) the desire to deliver more high profit products to customers, and 2) the ability to stop serving customers and products with low profit yield. This supply chain decision support process quantitatively shows companies which customers to serve and what products to produce in order to maximize profit and margin. For companies with complex supply chain operations, this is often easier said than done. Recent advances in the availability of data and optimization modeling, however, enable a growing number of companies to implement more efficient and effective supply chain systems.
A company’s portfolio of customers and products typically changes more quickly than the assets used to meet the customer demand. These situations include changes in the macro-economic environment that precipitate significant increases or decreases in customer demand, shifts in a company’s product portfolio, development of new markets, or changes in the cost to produce and/or deliver products or services. In each scenario, margin-based supply chain optimization is a key tool to help companies manage supply to achieve maximum profitability.
To effectively implement margin-based supply chain optimization, it is important to have three key components in place. They are: data, optimization technology and most importantly, alignment with strategic business objectives.”
Supply Chain Survey 2013:
Gaining Competitive Advantage
If you’re reading our blog, you are probably someone who is deeply interested in supply chain improvement. So we’d like to invite you to participate in this brief survey. And in return, we will send you exclusive, early access to the results of the survey along with our analysis .
Your insights and experiences are very important to us. And we are hosting the survey on a trusted, 3rd-party site so your responses will remain completely confidential. The survey is relatively short and should take only 3-4 minutes to complete. Please take a few moments to complete the Supply Chain Competitive Advantage Survey.
Start the Supply Chain Survey:
Gone are the days that supply chain was merely an expense. These days, savvy decision makers are gaining advantages over the competition by leveraging the data and tools available to them. In this survey, we will be exploring the methods, tools and processes that supply chain professionals utilize to gain competitive advantage via their supply chain.
June 11th, 2013 4:08 pm Category: Supply Chain Improvement, by: Editor
Building a competitive advantage across the supply chain starts with an individual that is unwilling to accept the status quo. Traditionally, these team members might be considered supply chain innovators. We like to refer to this persona as a supply chain “Disruptor”.
Disruptors aren’t nearly as menacing as they sound. They don’t disrupt to people they work with, but rather disrupt a stale, outdated way of thinking and acting. They are the outliers in corporate America. They are not content to maintain the status quo. Making nominal improvements to keep up with industry standards just isn’t that interesting to the disruptor. No, the disruptor sees a very different vision of the future and acts accordingly. The disruptor is not trying to stay with the pack. Their plan is to leave the pack in the dust! Better still, they’re not concerned with the pack, but instead obsess about their customer.
In this series of posts, we’ll discuss what it takes to become a supply chain disruptor, or innovator if you prefer. But let’s start with some basic traits. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts that seem to be common, although not exclusive, to disruptors:
- Recognize that the supply chain can be a competitive advantage
- Rely on smart people to power the supply chain
- Obsess about the processes that define the supply chain
- Rely on technology to improve speed and decision-making
- Have a “modular” way of thinking. I.e., see the whole picture as one unified system, but willing to break up the pieces to improve performance
- Acknowledge that the process and the enabling technology are only as good as the people who will implement and live with them
- Rely on data-driven metrics
- Blindly favor cost-reductions over improving customer service
- Accept limitations that others do
- Become complacent with past performance
- Assume that monolithic, standards-driven technology is good enough for every aspect of the supply chain
- Believe vanity metrics
In sum, this list embodies two key concepts that we at Profit Point hold to be supply chain truisms:
- People, Process, Technology – the essential ingredients of any successful supply chain, presented in order of importance.
- Manage by Metrics – As Peter Drucker suggested, “management by objectives” leads to improvement. Gather and analyze the right data to generate the best decisions.
In future posts, we’ll dive in deeper and provide case study examples to better explain some of the traits that define the disruptor. If you have any ideas or suggestions that you’d like to explore, feel free to leave a comment below.
Here’s an audio interview with Dr. Alan Kosansky on the “Future of Supply Chain Management”.
Interviewer: What’s the future of supply chain management? Many companies have implemented ERP software solutions, but if you’re relying on well-traveled, standardized software to manage your supply chain, you could actually be eroding your competitive edge. Joining us now to explain why is Dr. Alan Kosansky, co-founder and President of Profit Point. Alan, welcome!
Now, Alan—ERP Software has definitely become commonplace as a solution in supply chain management—it’s certainly convenient, but is the software on its own enough?
Kosansky: ERP software plays a critical role in the enterprise. From its inception it has provided the backbone for accounting and financial functions. As it has extended into supply chain functions, it allows us to quantitatively manage the supply chain. All these systems have enabled significant efficiencies for companies over the past 20 years. And they have become commoditized. Leading companies are both leveraging what these ERP have to offer AND ALSO defining complementary supply chain processes that offer competitive advantage. For those supply chain processes for which being as good as the marketplace is enough, out of the box ERP and APS solutions are great. However, for those supply chain processes where your company believes they can create and maintain competitive advantage, using the solutions that the marketplace is using is not enough.
Interviewer: At Profit Point you believe that the future of supply chain management is in optimization based decision making – what is optimization based decision making?
Kosansky: Supply Chain profitability is based on the price you sell your goods minus the total delivered cost of making and getting those products to your customers. While this may seem like simple arithmetic, it is actually very difficult for companies to accurately predict profitability and then make supply chain planning decisions that maximize their profitability. Firstly, Computing the total delivered cost is difficult. Secondly, even those companies that are have a centralized way to view all this data typically have difficulty making the tradeoffs implicit in their supply chain costs: Inventory or customer service? Manufacturing, warehousing or transportation costs? Optimization based decision making allows supply chain planners to both see all the relevant data and make the tradeoffs that lead to maximum profitability.
Interviewer: … and how can optimization based decision making help ‘unlock’ a company’s competitive edge?
Kosansky: Companies that identify supply chain processes where they have developed some sort of competitive advantage need to embody those processes in enabling technology that support this better decision-making. Most often, this includes some form of optimization decision technology that quickly evaluates alternative scenarios and identifies those decisions that lead to maximum profitability. By combining the big data that is available today, with leading edge decision making technologies, leading companies are beating their competitors in every aspect of their operations, including the supply chain.
Interviewer: Well Alan this is great news – thanks for coming on and telling us about it! That was Dr. Alan Kosansky, President of Profit Point. For more information go to ProfitPT.com… that’s ProfitPT.com.
Lesson 2: You may not know the best and / or ultimate design for a tool until you try it out for some time in the real world.
In my last blog post, I talked about the waterproof boots I received as a gift and how I never knew what I was missing out on until I received and started using those boots. In this blog post, I’d like to continue my story.
My waterproof boots were working just great for me. Our dog, Blue, loved walking out in the wet fields behind our house and I didn’t mind that my boots were getting muddy since I could easily wash them off. Several months after using my boots, I made an unfortunate discovery. My right foot was getting wet! Turns out my boots had developed a crack in the tread. While my boots had several features I really liked and duct tape worked as a temporary repair, I decided I had to replace my boots.
I thought about getting a new pair of the same brand / model but was concerned that there was a design flaw and that these boots were not sturdy enough to walk with on a regular basis. I decided to switch to a boot with a much better and stronger designed tread as well as one with the other features I really liked.
If I had gone to the store before owning and using the first pair of boots, I don’t think I could have articulated exactly what features I needed / wanted in a boot. It was only after having an extended real world experience with the boots that I was able to much more clearly and confidently articulate what I wanted in a boot.
This is a common theme with our supply chain change projects. Often these projects are a discovery process for us and our clients because neither of us definitively know a priori all the functionality that will ultimately end up in the finished tool. That is why our typical approach is to begin with a pilot project that includes the minimum scope required to implement the basic functionality. This allows for this process of discovery to unfold and while starting to deliver on the stream of anticipated benefits sooner rather than later. This allows for the future releases of the tool to have a very tight scope on only those items that we are both confident can be delivered and will achieve the anticipated benefits.
Are you ready to get started on this journey?
Lesson 1: You may not know what you are missing out on until you get something new.
My wife bought me a pair of waterproof boots and gave them to me 2 Christmases ago. Admittedly, I was not the most gracious gift recipient. I uttered the customary thank you but at that moment I had no idea what I was going to use these boots for.
As it turns out these boots were a great gift! I often take our dog, Blue, out for a walk over lunch time in some fields behind our house. Prior to receiving these boots as a gift, when the fields were wet and muddy, I would end up walking Blue on the street in our neighborhood. Blue much preferred our jaunts in the fields and the waterproof boots enabled me to trudge through the mud without ruining my sneakers which is what was happening before if I ventured into the wet fields with them on.
My problem was that I was so into the groove of walking in the neighborhood when it was wet out that I really couldn’t conceive of another way. I thought that Blue and I would just have to grin and bear it when it was wet out and walk in the neighborhood. Receiving and then using these waterproof boots was kind of eye opening for me. I didn’t know what I was missing out on until I received the boots.
We find that the same thing can be true with our clients. They may just be doing things the way they have always been done and have a hard time believing that there is a better way. The way they have done things has worked so far so why bother to change when you can stay the same! While the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may be applicable, how about changing so you can operate on a different plane.
Next week I’ll post Lesson 2.
What kind of risks are you prepared for?
As a supply chain manager, you have profound control over the operations of your business. However, it is not without limits, and mother nature can quickly and capriciously halt even the smoothest operation. Or other man-made events can seemingly conspire to prevent goods from crossing borders, or navigating traffic, or being produced and delivered on time. How can you predict where and when your supply chain may fall prey to unforeseen black swan events?
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. (Niels Bohr, Danish physicist) But there are likely some future risks that your stockholders are thinking about that you might be expected to have prepare for. The post event second guessing phrase: “You should have known, or at least prepared for” has been heard in many corporate supply chain offices after recent supply chain breaking cataclysmic events: tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, you name it.
- What will happen to your supply chain if oil reaches $300 / barrel? What lanes will no longer be affordable, or even available?
- What will happen if sea level rises, causing ports to close, highways to flood, and rails lines to disappear?
- What will happen if the cost of a ton of CO2 is set to $50?
- What will happen if another conflict arises in the oil countries?
- What will happen if China’s economy shrinks substantially?
- What will happen if China’s economy really takes off?
- What will happen if China’s economy really slows down?
- What will happen if the US faces a serious drought in the mid-west?
What will happen if… you name it, it is lurking out there to have a potentially dramatic effect on your supply chain.
As a supply chain manager, your shareholders expect you to look at the effect on supply, transportation, manufacturing, and demand. The effect may be felt in scarcity, cost, availability, capacity, government controls, taxes, customer preference, and other factors.
Do you have a model of your supply chain that would allow you to run the what-if scenario to see how your supply chain and your business would fare in the face of these black swan events?
Driving toward a robust and fault tolerant supply chain should be the goal of every supply chain manager. And a way to achieve that is to design it with disruption in mind. Understanding the role (and the cost) of dual sourcing critical components, diversified manufacturing and warehousing, risk mitigating transportation contracting, on-shoring/off-shoring some manufacturing, environmental impacts, and customer preferences, just to begin the list, can be an overwhelming task. Yet, there are tools and processes that can help with this, and if you want to be able to face the difficulties of the future with confidence, do not ignore them. The tools are about supply chain planning and modelling. The processes are about risk management, and robust supply chain design. Profit Point helps companies all over the world address these and other issues to make some of the of the best running supply chains anywhere.
The future is coming, are you ready for it?
DC Velocity featured an article entitled A Network Design is Never Done. The article, which included an interview with Profit Point’s Alan Kosansky, touches upon on the trend of large manufacturers to move from designing their supply chain networks once to continuously improving the design to meet customer demand and supplier mix, among other things.
You can read the complete article here.
July 30th, 2012 12:56 pm Category: Enterprise Resource Planning, Global Supply Chain, Network Design, Operations Research, Optimization, Profit Network, Profit Vehicle Planner, Profit Vehicle Router, Risk Management, Supply Chain Improvement, by: Jim Piermarini
There is nothing like a bit of vacation to help with perspective.
Recently, I read about the San Diego Big Boom fireworks fiasco — when an elaborate Fourth of July fireworks display was spectacularly ruined after all 7,000 fireworks went off at the same time. If you haven’t seen the video, here is a link.
And I was reading an article in the local newspaper on the recent news on the Higgs: Getting from Cape Cod to Higgs boson read it here:
And I was thinking about how hard it is to know something, really know it. The data collected at CERN when they smash those particle streams together must look a lot like the first video. A ton of activity, all in a short time, and a bunch of noise in that Big Data. Imagine having to look at the fireworks video and then determine the list of all the individual type of fireworks that went up… I guess that is similar to what the folks at CERN have to do to find the single firecracker that is the Higgs boson.
Sometimes we are faced with seemingly overwhelming tasks of finding that needle in the haystack.
In our business, we help companies look among potentially many millions of choices to find the best way of operating their supply chains. Yeah, I know it is not the Higgs boson. But it could be a way to recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami that disrupted operations literally overnight. It could be the way to restore profitability to an ailing business in a contracting economy. It could be a way to reduce the greenhouse footprint by eliminating unneeded transportation, or decrease water consumption in dry areas. It could be a way to expand in the best way to use assets and capital in the long term. It could be to reduce waste by stocking what the customers want.
These ways of running the business, of running the supply chain, that make a real difference, are made possible by the vast amounts of data being collected by ERP systems all over the world, every day. Big Data like the ‘point-of’sale’ info on each unit that is sold from a retailer. Big Data like actual transportation costs to move a unit from LA to Boston, or from Shanghai to LA. Big Data like the price elasticity of a product, or the number of products that can be in a certain warehouse. These data and many many other data points are being collected every day and can be utilized to improve the operation of the business in nearly real time. In our experience, much of the potential of this vast collection of data is going to waste. The vastness of the Big Data can itself appear to be overwhelming. Too many fireworks at once.
Having the data is only part of the solution. Businesses are adopting systems to organize that data and make it available to their business users in data warehouses and other data cubes. Business users are learning to devour that data with great visualization tools like Tableau and pivot tables. They are looking for the trends or anomalies that will allow them to learn something about their operations. And some businesses adopting more specialized tools to leverage that data into an automated way of looking deeper into the data. Optimization tools like our Profit Network, Profit Planner, or Profit Scheduler can process vast quantities of data to find the best way of configuring or operating the supply chain.
So, while it is not the Higgs boson that we help people find, businesses do rely on us to make sense of a big bang of data and hopefully see some fireworks along the way.
June 22nd, 2012 3:46 pm Category: Distribution, Enterprise Resource Planning, Global Supply Chain, Green Network, Green Optimization, Network Design, Optimization, Supply Chain Agility, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Planning, Transportation, Vehicle Routing, by: Editor
Supply Chain optimization is a topic of increasing interest today, whether the main intention is to maximize the efficiency of one’s global supply chain system or to pro-actively make it greener. There are many changes that can be made to improve the performance of a supply chain, ranging from where materials are purchased, the types of materials purchased, how those materials get to you, how your products are distributed, and many more. An additional question on the mind of some decision makers is: Can I minimize my environmental footprint and improve my profits at the same time?
Many changes you make to your supply chain could either intentionally – or unintentionally – make it greener, so effectively reducing the carbon footprint of the product or material at the point that it arrives at your receiving bay. Under the right circumstances, if the reduced carbon footprint results from a conscious decision you make and involves a change from ‘the way things were’, then there might be an opportunity to capture some financial value from that decision in the form of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission credits, even when these emission reductions occur at a facility other than yours (Scope 3 emissions under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol).
As an example, let’s consider the possible implications of changes in the transportation component of the footprint and decisions that might allow for the creation of additional value in the form of GHG emission credits. In simple terms, credits might be earned if overall fuel usage is reduced by making changes to the trucks or their operation, such as the type of lubricant, wheel width, idling elimination (where it is not mandated), minimizing empty trips, switching from trucks to rail or water transport, using only trucks with pre-defined retrofit packages, using only hybrid trucks for local transportation and insisting on ocean going vessels having certain fuel economy improvement strategies installed. These are just some of the ways fuel can be saved. If, as a result of your decisions or choices made, the total amount of fuel and emissions is reduced, then valuable emission credits could be earned. It is worth noting that capturing those credits is dependent on following mandated requirements and gaining approval for the project.)
If your corporate environmental strategy requires that you retain ownership of these reductions, then you keep the credits created and the value of those credits should be placed on the balance sheet as a Capital Asset. Alternatively, if you are able, the credits can be sold on the open market and the cash realized and placed on the balance sheet. Either way, shareholders will not only get the ‘feel good’ benefit of the environmental improvement, but also the financial benefit from improvement to the balance sheet. If preferred, the credits can be sold to directly offset the purchase price of the material involved, effectively reducing that price and so increasing the margin on the sales price of the end-product and again improving the bottom line. If capital investment is required as part of the supply chain optimization, the credit value can also be a way to shorten the payback period and improve the ROI, or to allow an optimization to occur
So, when you consider improving your environmental impact or optimizing your supply chain, consider the possibility that there might be additional value to unlock if you include both environmental and traditional business variables in your supply chain improvement efforts.
Written by: Peter Chant, President, The FReMCo Corporation Inc.
At the risk of sounding like a supply chain nerd, here at Profit Point, I get a similar sense of exhilaration in enabling our clients to increase the velocity in their supply chains by implementing decision support tools that enable faster and better decisions.
These decision support tools enable faster and better decisions in at least the following 3 ways:
1. Faster visibility to the data – By having a software tool that holds all the data needed to make a particular decision with automated interfaces to source systems, our users don’t have to spend countless hours combing through multiple spreadsheets and other software systems to get the data they need. We bring all the data needed together in one place for the user to be able to make effective decisions.
2. Faster understanding of the data – Supply chain decision support tools have huge amounts of data coming in and going out of them. Making sense of it all can be challenging. Typically what we do is build tools that allow the user to sort through all this data by:
a. Having graphical user interfaces that make it easier to understand what is going on. After all a picture is worth a thousand numbers any day of the week.
b. Show only the exceptions or problems that need to be resolved to help the user focus on what needs to be changed.
3. Faster processing of the data – Oftentimes we will automate tasks that are menial and time consuming or if the task is very complex it may be appropriate to employ an optimization or heuristic solution approach to speed getting to a feasible or better solution. We like to call these “Power Assist” tools that greatly ease the burden on the user while still giving them ultimate control over the decisions that are made.
Do you feel the need for more speed in your supply chain? Give us a call so we can discuss how we can help to get you moving faster.
A husband, two kids and a golden retriever later… I am back to implementations in Supply Chain planning and scheduling. To my surprise, the same challenges I encountered 10 years ago remain in force today: data, defining business processes, data, implementing software, data, training people, data, supporting the change to a new system and data.
Data collection remains one of the cornerstones of success of a supply chain planning or scheduling implementation. Though scores of data may exist in a company’s business, harnessing it to feed into a planning or scheduling model can be extremely complex and time consuming. Interestingly, the data collection process often drives an elucidation of manufacturing practices and process flows, and clients learn what they do and don’t know about their business. This may seem backwards and risky in terms of getting things out of order. In a perfect world, a thorough understanding of manufacturing and business processes would pave the way towards building an Advanced Planning and/or Scheduling System. In reality, they often happen in tandem and are evolutionary in nature.
Deciding how data will be housed, derived and propagated early on in an implementation will pay off in the long run. Establishing a systematic, automated way to update and propagate data is equally important as the decision of what software system to use. It is worth the investment to take the time to put this automation in place as a greater and greater number of products are added to a system the data will remain manageable and scalable.
From PC to Cloud, emails to tweets, networking happy hours to LinkedIn, it is nice to know some things stay the same.
When working with our clients we try to understand the reasons why they decided to use an outside consultant. I surveyed several of our clients to understand their thinking on this topic and the content of this blog entry should largely be credited to them.
While there are a number of reasons for engaging an outside consultant, those reasons fall into three broad categories which are
1) Resource capability
2) Resource availability
3) Training / Partnership
In planning a project a key question to ask is “What skillsets are required to accomplish the work?” It may not be cost effective to maintain certain skillsets in-house if those skillsets
1) are not part of the core mission of your company and / or
2) are readily available at a reasonable cost on the outside.
Resource capability, though, can be thought of in broader terms than just expertise. An outside consultant can provide
1) a fresh perspective
3) knowledge of best-in-class practices
4) political cover
In these kinds of situations, engaging outside resources makes eminent sense.
Once you have settled on the skillsets required to accomplish the work, if those skillsets are not available in-house then obviously you’ll need to engage outside resources. But if they are available in-house you’ll need to determine if those in-house resources have enough capacity to accomplish the work within the required time frame.
If the resources needed are not available over the time frame required then an option is to make a permanent hire but there may not be enough time to do a proper search and after you hire someone presumably for the long term.
By engaging an outside consultant you can almost always get that resource working on your project sooner and will have that resource engaged for a limited time for a known cost up front (assuming fixed pricing).
Training / Partnership
Some of our customers want to have capable and available resources to do the work in house but do not currently. In those cases, an outside resource can help you build the capability in house via a partnership of training and / or mentoring. Here the clear end goal is to develop the long term in house resources to continue the work.
So whether it is to complement the capabilities of your organization supplement existing capacity or train and mentor new in house skills, consider how outside resources might help you meet your objectives.
Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is an integrated business management process that enables a company to continually balance and manage the supply chain supply and demand to achieve its strategic and tactical business objectives. More and more business leaders are relying on S&OP to align and improve decision making across the disparate parts of their organization. And, many companies are still adopting and improving the techniques and tools that they use to improve S&OP.
So this year, we conducted an S&OP Survey of key decision makers to learn more about their challenges, concerns and expectation for 2012. Business leaders from a variety of companies and industries were polled. Here’s what we learned:
- Many companies lack the metrics needed to capture the benefits from S&OP
- Scenario and sensitivity analysis is the tool of choice for S&OP planners who understand that sales forecasts are imperfect
- More companies are beginning to collaborate with suppliers and customers to improve S&OP
- For many companies, point-of-sale (POS) data may be the key to effective sales and operations planning
To read the complete report, including our conclusions, click the link below:
November 21st, 2011 12:20 pm Category: Global Supply Chain, Network Design, Optimization, Risk Management, Scheduling, Supply Chain Agility, Supply Chain Improvement, Supply Chain Planning, Sustainability, by: Jim Piermarini
Change is hard.
In the businesses that I help, change comes for several reasons. It may be thrust upon the business from the outside, a change in the competitive landscape for instance, or a new regulation. It may come from some innovative source within the company, looking for cost savings to increase profitability of productivity, or a new process or product with increased productivity. Change can come from the top down, or from the bottom up. Change can come in a directed way, as part of a larger program, or organically as part of a larger cultural shift. Change can come that makes your work easier, or harder, and may even eliminate a portion (or all) of the job that you were doing. Change can come to increase the bottom line or the top line. But primarily change comes to continue the adaptation of the company to the business environment. Change is the response to the Darwinian selector for businesses. Adapt or decline. Change is necessary. It is clear to me from my experience that businesses need to change to stay relevant.
This may seem trite or trivial, but accepting that change is not only inevitable, but that it is good, is the shift in attitude that separates the best companies (and best employees) from the others.
So, you say, I see the need to change, it is not the change itself that is so difficult, but rather the way that it is inflicted upon us that makes it hard. So, why does it have to be so hard? Good question.
Effective managers know that change is necessary but hard. They are wary of making changes, and rightly so. Most change projects fail. People generally just don’t like it. Netflix is a great example. Recently, Netflix separated their streaming movie service from their DVD rental business. After what I am sure must have been careful planning, they announced the change, and formed Quikster, the DVD rental site, and the response from the customer base was awful. As you likely know, Netflix, faced with the terrible reception from their customer base and stockholders, reversed their decision to separate streaming from DVDs. What was likely planned as a very important change, failed dead. Dead, dead, dead. Change can be risky too.
If change is necessary, but hard and risky… how can you tame this unruly beast?
The secret of change is that it relies on three things: People, Process, and Technology. I name them in the order in which they are important.
People are the most important agents relative to change, since they are the one who decide on the success or failure of the change. People decided that the Netflix change was dead. People decide all the time about whether to adopt change. And people can be capricious and fickle. People are sensitive to the delivery of the change. They peer into the future to try to understand the affect it will have on them, and if they do not like what they see… It is the real people in the organization who have to live with the change, who have to make it work, and learn the new, and unlearn the old. It is likely the very same people who have proudly constructed the current situation that will have to let go of their ‘old’ way of doing things to adopt to the new. Barriers to change exist in many directions in the minds of people. I know this to be true… in making change happen, if you are not sensitive to the people who you are asking to change, and address their fears and concerns, the change will never be accepted. If you do not give them a clear sense of the future state and where they will be in it, and why it is a better place, they will resist the change and have a very high likely hood of stopping the change, either openly, or more likely passively and quietly, and you may never know why the fabulously planned for change project failed.
Process is the next aspect of a change project that matters. A better business process is what drives costs down. Avoiding duplication of efforts, and removing extra steps. Looking at alternatives in a ‘what-if’ manner, in order to make better decisions, these are what make businesses smarter, faster, better. A better business process is like getting a better recipe for the kitchen. Yet, no matter how good a recipe; it still relies on the chef to execute it and the ovens to perform properly. Every business is looking for better business processes, just as every Chef is looking for new recipes. But putting an expert soufflé recipe, where the soufflé riser higher, in the hands of an inexperienced Chef does not always yield a better soufflé. People really do matter more than the process.
Technology is the last aspect of the three that effect change. Better technology enables better processes. A better oven does not make a Chef better. The Chef gets better when they learn to use the new oven in better ways, when they change the way they make the soufflé, since the oven can do it. A better oven does not do it by itself. An oven is just an oven. In the same way, better technology is still just technology. It by itself changes nothing. New processes can be built that use it, and people can be encouraged to use it in the new process. Technology changes are the least difficult to implement, and it is likely due to this fact that they are often fixed upon as the simple answer to what are complex business problems requiring a comprehensive approach to changing the business via it people, process, and technology.
Change is necessary, but hard and risky. Without change businesses will miss opportunities to adapt to the unforgiving business world, and decline. However, change can be tamed if the attitude towards it is changed to be considered a good thing, and is addressed with a focus on people, process and technology, in that order. Done right, you can implement the change that will increase the bottom line and avoid a collapse of your soufflé.
More than a decade has passed since businesses started using Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) for managing data and transactions throughout the supply chain. Traditionally, ERP systems have provided transparency and insight into transaction-level data in the supply chain that support important business planning activities. Now, a new generation of applications is being developed to help fill the gaps between general business planning and business-specific, tactical and strategic decisions. These ERP-connected applications offer supply chain executives previously unavailable analysis and insights into the decisions that directly impact customer service, profitability and competitive advantage.
Supply Chains Differences
Supply chains are as different as the companies and people that run them. Some companies view their supply chain operations as a “utility” that is expected to function without any investment in intellectual capital. These organizations are content to rely on industry best practices in their supply chain operations and follow the leaders (or the features that are added by ERP software providers) in supply chain improvement. Other organizations see their supply chain operations as a strategic opportunity to develop a competitive advantage and increase market share. They know that with some small departures from the norm and a modest investment in intellectual capital, supply chains can provide enhanced performance to the business. These companies understand that there are opportunities for creative and unique ideas in the supply chain to improve company performance and achieve business strategy objectives.
Today, many C-level executives see their ERP systems as key enablers to company productivity, and for the most part, they are correct. Since ERP systems perform many valuable functions, there is a natural assumption that they can handle whatever business strategy the company adopts. However, new business ideas by definition run the risk of stressing the ERP system features beyond their ability to cope. Usually these failures are discovered only during the implementation of a new business strategy. So what happens when the ERP system fails to support the new business strategy in certain critical details? Those working in the trenches know this scenario all too well. But, what can be done to implement strategic supply chain initiatives when ERP is not equipped to handle business-specific initiatives?
Making the ERP Work
There are three possible approaches for implementing supply chain planning activities that offer a company a competitive advantage:
1. Figure out how to get the ERP system to do it. This approach works well if the company’s needs align well with current industry practices supported by ERP systems. Otherwise, companies may find themselves going down a path that consumes significant resources for a poor fit in the end. Companies that adhere to this path typically do so in part because there is a strong C-level edict in favor of simple, clean upgrades for the ERP system. Faced with this, the IT organization has enormous power to shape the nature of the supply chain operation to fit within the established ERP norms, and thus can act as a barrier for business innovation and supply chain improvement.
2.Modify the ERP system to provide new functionality. This is an approach often promoted by IT organizations committed to supporting the fewest number of tools. While this is an important cost management objective, it is important to understand the full cost to implement and support the system over the long term. What can be accomplished is often limited by the lack of flexibility in large ERP systems and IT organizations. Since ERP systems are mission-critical systems, the support and maintenance of the core functions are of paramount importance. This task, placed on a limited IT staff, leads to large backlogs of enhancement work and long queue times. And while IT departments are well-equipped to manage their primary assets, few if any IT departments have the requisite domain knowledge to cross over into supply chain optimization. Given long wait times, organizations will often choose the simplest approximation of the business change that can be ushered to the top of the queue. This approach can result in a quick-fix style of strategy implementation, rather than a priority-based feature development, and may leave the most important aspects of the initiative lingering in the queue.
3. Add an integrated solution to the ERP system that replaces one or more functions that are needed to achieve the business strategy. This could be from an out-of-the-box third-party provider, or for full competitive advantage, a targeted or custom supply chain application that integrates with the company’s ERP data. This approach has the benefit of including priority-based features that the current ERP system lacks, and the additional benefit of avoiding the ERP enhancement queue. The downside, however, is that it suffers from the stigma of being yet another application and not the ERP system itself. This usually presents a hurdle that requires a careful analysis to understand the total cost relative to the strategic benefit. While not all business changes will overcome this roadblock, there are good reasons to look at this approach. These include:
- Ensuring a tight fit between the business strategy and the tool execution
- Minimizing the cost, overhead, and extra setup and maintenance in un-needed functions from a shrink-wrapped general purpose tool
- Providing the marketplace with a specialized and unique operation of the supply chain for competitive advantage.
Example from the Field
A leading consumer electronics company with about $2bn in annual sales implemented an integrated solution to its ERP system to manage its order fulfillment process for competitive advantage. The company had recently modified its corporate strategy to increase retail sales through its “big box” customers (Walmart, Best Buy, Staples, etc.). However, key service level agreements were not being met for these customers due to lower than expected order fulfillment measures. A simple inventory analysis recommended large increases in the stock required at the warehouse, with some method of segregating inventory for each big-box customer so it could not be taken by orders from other customers.
In this case, one of the leading causes of low service for customers was that they ordered “just-in-time”. These JIT orders were not being given any priority over other customers’ orders with longer lead times. The company noted that these important customers may have provided accurate plan information, but that was not being used to assure them any better service. The analysis recommended that separate stocks of inventory be set up based on the big-box planning information, and that other customers not be allowed to take from those inventory locations. This would result in a large increase in overall stocks, but should achieve the desired increase in service levels.
One manager questioned this recommendation, wanting to know why the ERP system did not use the big-box planning information to appropriately manage the company’s service levels. She also questioned what could be done to avoid increasing her inventory risk and yet still achieve the business strategy. This is a question many managers face when their analysts say that to improve service you need to increase inventory levels. Often there are alternatives. This key manager’s insight set the path for her company to make a significant shift in their supply chain operations, with remarkable benefits. What follows will answer the question: Can I raise the service level of my key customers without increasing my inventory and capital risk? The short answer is, “yes”. Significant service benefits and risk reductions can be achieved, but only if you are willing to deviate from your ERP’s standard approach to implementing key supply chain initiatives.
The industry standard approach for assigning available inventory to open orders is to use a FIFO (first in, first out) approach. This approach prioritizes orders based on when the order was received and assigns on-hand inventory to those orders that were received and entered into the system first. While this approach has a degree of fairness to it, and is available in all ERP systems, it did not align well with the business objectives of this company. It actually penalized key customers who issued JIT purchase orders while giving ample planning information. These JIT orders would have to wait until all the older orders, from non-key customers, were allocated before they would be assigned any inventory.
The standard ERP process does not take into consideration the customer’s strategic importance or their planning information. Given this FIFO process, the internal recommendation makes sense: set up separate safety stocks for each big-box customer (based on their planning information), in separate inventory locations, and make a rule that directs big-box orders to their separate inventory.
But having separate safety stocks violates the principle that more customers need lower inventory together, than each does individually. Pooling the inventory helps to avoid unnecessary capital risk. The standard ERP FIFO inventory assignment process could be replaced with one that met customer needs more effectively.
The company embarked on a project to take into account several important factors when deciding how much inventory to assign to each order:
- The priority of the customer
- The amount of inventory actually in the sales channel of the customer, and
- The planning information that the customer shared with the company.
Customer priority is a key and strategic factor in deciding which customers receive product, when inventory availability is limited or delayed. This business need meant that strategic and high-volume customers should typically be serviced before others. However, this may not be the case if a strategic or high-volume customer happens to be sitting on a lot of inventory in their channel. In these cases, it may be preferable to share the wealth with smaller volume resellers to maximize the sell-through to retail customers. Moreover, these rules may apply differently for each SKU in a manufacturer’s product line.
The business rules to implement these sorts of complex trade-offs can get complicated. If one wants to retain a certain amount of flexibility in these rules, then the ERP system is a poor place to make these decisions. However, since most, if not all, of the data resides in the ERP system, these decisions must be tightly integrated with the data and transaction handling within the ERP system. So an application was constructed to manage the inventory assignment process in this way to more closely match the business strategy. The new application is run several times a day, extracting needed info from the ERP system, making the assignment of inventory to all open orders, and sending back the info to the ERP system.
Using this integrated solution, overall service levels for these key customers were sharply increased, prompting several supply chain awards from these big-box customers. As a result of the increase in service level, Walmart (a strategic customer) was so pleased they chose to increase their orders of all this company’s products by 100 percent. The overall inventory did not increase.
The new method demonstrated that pooled inventory was an effective approach to containing inventory levels. In subsequent versions of this application, the integration of point of sale data has allowed even more control over the inventory in the various channels to market. As a result, this company has declared this application a business-critical application. It overcame the hurdle, and the application can defend its spot on the chart of critical business applications alongside the ERP system.
Integrated Solution Success
Using an integrated solution to the ERP system was a win-win approach that allows the business the flexibility to manage order fulfillment for competitive advantage while maintaining the benefits of centralized data and the strong transactional handling capabilities delivered by ERP.
But order fulfillment is not the only area where there is opportunity to supplement the strengths of ERP with flexible and powerful business optimization processes and tools. Other areas where leading companies have decided to enhance their ERP capabilities include optimization-based infrastructure planning, sales and operation planning, distribution route and territory planning, transportation bid optimization, transportation fleet planning, and production scheduling.
These are just some examples of where complex and/or strategic business rules can provide competitive advantage through improved supply chain performance. While ERP systems remain the backbone of all successful large business operations today, they are not the only path available to companies who desire to apply innovative approaches to their business and supporting supply chain activities. Global enterprises that seek a competitive advantage now have the opportunity to leverage their ERP investments by integrating optimization-based solutions to key business strategies.