Eliminating silos from any company’s supply chain planning processes comes with challenges. And those challenges are only amplified the bigger your supply chain is. When you’re a large global pharmaceutical company operating in more than 100 markets across four geographical regions, overcoming operational silos in the end-to-end supply chain may seem like an insurmountable feat. That’s how MSD ’s supply chain planning story began.
Supply chain planning challenges
Known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the US and Canada, MSD was desperately seeking a way to connect its end-to-end supply chain, which spans four planning hubs, over 80 distribution centers and more than 20 internal and external sites. Setting out on a journey to standardize its enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform meant finding a way to sync its supply chain data and enable access across all those divisions and locations to support better business decisions.
Henrik Frojdh, Supply Chain Planning Lead at MSD, quickly realized the only way to elevate supply chain planning capabilities to support that level of synchronization and at the same time optimize inventory levels, was the adoption of an integrated solution – one that enabled end-to-end supply chain planning, visibility and decision-making.
Over the years, working for and with numerous manufacturing companies, I’ve seen many supply chain practices that cost companies money. Over the next several weeks, I’ll outline these issues and discuss some ideas around how to avoid these practices. You can find the previous posts here:
Reason #8 Keeping supply chain information in silos (and preventing your users from making the best decisions)
Don’t ask… you don’t want to know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase from different people in different contexts. Sometimes it’s true. I probably don’t want to know. Sometimes (like when I hear it from my son) I probably not only want to know, I NEED to know. Not because I want to pry (well… maybe a little) but mostly because I care and if I know I might be able to help.
When companies deploy supply chain solutions, they often make the decision for users… “you don’t want to know”. They do this by preventing them from getting (or making it very difficult to get) any more information than they absolutely need to do their specific job. Sometimes this information limitation actually prevents them from doing their job adequately.
Sometimes this is intentional and necessary;
- Some companies (especially publicly traded companies) restrict access to revenue / margin information to prevent unauthorized financial data from getting out.
- Some companies prevent access to data to prevent trade secrets (or in the case of US military manufacturers ITAR regulations prevent foreign nationals from accessing manufacturing data)
Sometimes this is intentional and questionable;
- One company I’ve talked to told me that they limit information to their planners because they wouldn’t know what to do with it… that it would just confuse them. But in my opinion, there are few things more complex than supply chain management. Planners are smart people and if educated (APICS training should be a prerequisite in my opinion), they likely will have no problem absorbing and using additional information.
- In other cases, information is limited because of interdepartmental rivalries, for example, “I don’t want demand planning to see my supply planning information. I’ll tell them what they are getting.”This is just plain wrong on multiple levels. If you hear this rational, then I’d look at your management levels and how people are being rewarded. In today’s competitive manufacturing environment, the only metrics that count are how a change impacts the company’s goals. Departmental goals should be secondary.
Rushing kids out the door, walking the dog, navigating traffic—life is complicated enough without having to deal with overly complex supply chain management processes. Unfortunately, increasing consumer demands, growing globalization and mounting pressure to stay profitable in an ever-changing world is the new reality, and for many it means working harder than ever.
Just because supply chains are getting more complex, doesn’t mean the job of managing them has to as well. Isn’t it time you simplified your day-to-day responsibilities, made room for a little more ‘me’ time and moved away from bracing for chaos every single day at work?
The first step in re-gaining your work-life balance and getting your sanity back is ditching the plethora of Excel files littering your desktop. To do it, you have to take a deep breath and say goodbye to running your supply chain from Excel. Instead, bring a little peace back into your life by harmonizing all that disparate data from multiple sources and legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and bringing it together in one solution.
Having access to all supply chain data in a single system means you’ll gain the ability to run what-if scenario simulations faster and more effectively. They’ll be no need to import and verify data from multiple sources, which will cut down on the potential for data errors or integrity issues, and speed up the decision-making process. No more fretting about whether your data’s up-to-date and accurate. Just think of all the time you’ll save not having to do multiple data pulls and merging Excel files. You might actually make it home on time for dinner!
There’s no such thing as 100% when it comes to forecast accuracy. Let me say it again. One hundred percent accuracy does not exist. I don’t care how good your demand sensing is or how sure your sales team is of their market projections. It’s just not possible. Anyone who says differently is either selling something, or a deity. So why are you spending so much time trying to make the impossible real?
Time and again I’ve heard how important forecast accuracy is when it comes to improving supply chain operations. It always seems to be a priority no matter where on the maturity scale a company falls. But this practice of chasing perfection is killing your supply chain. Not slowly, over time, but rapidly, like a tsunami sweeping your profits out to sea as that one giant wave recedes. Because that’s all it takes to destroy you. One catastrophic unexpected event.
Why forecast accuracy fails
It could be a natural disaster, a drastic shift in the political landscape or even the collapse of your only tier one supplier. The unknown is your biggest supply chain weakness, and the one you’ll never see coming, no matter how great you are at forecasting. Pretending otherwise, that forecast accuracy can save you when the unexpected strikes, is foolhardy at best, a death sentence at worst.
The other day I turned on the news to the headline of Sears Canada closing 59 stores. My thoughts went immediately to images of my mother passing around the Sears catalog as she asked us to mark pages with gift suggestions. That tradition continued with my own children as she would sit down with them and shift through the toy section for ideas. What happened to those “good ole days?”
Those days of bonding over the Sears catalog were over a decade ago and the strategy of mailing a catalog has long been left in the dust. In the meantime, Sears hasn’t turned an annual profit since 2010, with losses in the billions. The gut reaction for many would be to say Sears, or its Kmart brand, didn’t keep up with the growth of online shopping, but the store’s troubles started long before browser buying became the norm, and can be tied to the brand not planning for the future of their supply chain.
For the most part during all those years of losing money, Sears didn’t change the way it did business. The company just went about the day doing things the way they’d always been done, like mailing catalogs. It did little to invest in its brand and tried to work its way back to profitability by cutting. There was also little done to attract new customers and the Sears clientele remained for the most part late baby boomers. One would have been hard pressed to find a millennial coming out of Sears and pulled aside for an interview on what they thought about the store’s demise.
Recently, Madhav Durbha, Vice President of Industry Strategy at Kinaxis was interviewed by SupplyChainBrain on supply chain planning in the digital age.
I wanted to share their fascinating conversation with our readers – check out the video interview and transcript below:
SupplyChainBrain: What are you hearing from your customers about the biggest challenges they are facing right now in supply chain planning?
It’s fairly simple. It’s complexity and volatility are the two themes that I constantly hear from our customers, regardless of the industry, that seems to be the recurring theme.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, who led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl victories in four years in the early ‘90s, may not be the first person you think of when it comes to giving great supply chain advice. One thing the legendary pro athlete does know is leadership. You can’t be a great quarterback without it and that was the topic of his keynote presentation at the recent Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference.
The wisdom he shared, while not directly related to supply chain leadership, is certainly applicable to that space.
Lead from a basis of who you are
There are tons of great leaders out there, and while some have common characteristics, Aikman says ultimately, being a good leader means being true to who you are. He cautions that if your personality naturally tends to swing one way or the other between soft and caring, and tough and demanding, you’re going to need to find a way to strike a better balance. You can’t coach everyone the same way. Learn what works with your team members and be a better leader by motivating them in the way that works best for them.
This lesson comes down to gaining a better understanding of how you and your team members work individually, and as a whole. When it comes to your supply chain, understanding cross-functional dynamics, much like the dynamics between the different positions of a football team, becomes critical in overcoming the all too common issue of silos. If you properly manage the team dynamic, you’ll have a team that’s more collaborative, and ultimately a supply chain that’s better equipped to make better, faster decisions.
This blog is part of a video interview series. Check out the video below as well as links to other supply chain practitioner and Kinaxis executive interviews.
Even though some traditional forms of learning continue, companies are turning more and more to digital technology and learning tools to collect, analyze and share knowledge, says Sarah Sedgman, Kinaxis chief knowledge officer.
While familiar forms, such as instructor-led teaching, continue to some degree, industry is shifting to digital knowledge networks because of the flexibility the technology offers. “Among other things, that flexibility means there is instant access to information when people need it,” says Sedgman.
Companies that may once have been slow to invest in such technology see now that they become more efficient and make better decisions, Sedgman says. “It’s important for us to invest in these technologies and become more familiar with them, and that’s true all the way up to the executive team, not just those who are actually using these technologies.”