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.
How to overcome the Amazon effect
When it comes to supply chain excellence, particularly in the retail sector, there is one behemoth dominating the landscape. Amazon is driving innovation and change at a pace that’s putting the pressure on other businesses to find a way to keep up, or fold.
The online retailer’s most recent patent focuses on drone technology, and would involve drones delivering packages with parachutes. It’s just the latest in a string of patents that span the gamut from smart stores to flying warehouses. Amazon is even entering the transportation space, signing agreements with the Air Transport Services Group and the Chinese government to enter into the freight cargo business – effectively cutting out the middleman.
It has leased 20 Boeing 767 aircraft to shuttle goods around the US, and helped ship at least 150 cargo containers from China since October 2016. It’s all part of the global expansion of ‘Fulfillment by Amazon’, which provides storage, packing and shipping to small independent merchants selling products on Amazon’s website.
There have been some pretty significant revolutions throughout history. The French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Chinese cultural revolution – just to name a few.
Well, today I’m going to talk about the need for another revolution. A supply chain planning systems revolution. Will it be the stuff that future historians drool over or universities base curriculums on? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m going to discuss it anyway, because for those of us living in a supply chain world, it’s big deal.
The world is changing – new technology, globalization, shifting markets, changing demographics, global warming – you get the idea. So while everything’s been changing around us, why hasn’t supply chain planning evolved to any great extent?
Times Haven’t Changed
Across the supply chain, functions and processes still operate in silos. Excel spreadsheets remain the number one way companies manage supply chain data (go figure). Current planning systems simply aren’t designed to deliver the speed and agility needed to deal with the complexity and risks associated with today and tomorrow’s supply chain.
Supply chain rigidity could be costing you billions
Getting the right product to the right people at the right time – that’s at the heart of what demand and supply planning is all about. But as anyone who works in supply chain knows, it’s a lot easier said than done. Forecasts are wrong more often than they’re right, and shifting consumer priorities means your supply chain has to be able to react to change and shift directions in seconds.
The success of your business depends on it, because if you can’t adapt and adjust, your customers will find someone who can. Exemplary customer service matters to your bottom line. Whether you work in business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) or any other space, the reality is, we all have customers to serve. Supply chains are built around that fact.
The result of poor customer service
A recent study by NewVoiceMedia shows nearly $62 billion is flowing from companies’ pockets into the hands of their competitors as a direct result of poor customer service. Failing to deliver the right product, failure to meet on-time delivery promises or even just a lack of clear communication are just a few reasons why customers are disappearing. The same research shows almost half of respondents (49%) reported leaving a business due to inadequate customer service, with those aged 25-34 years old 62% more likely to switch to a competitor as a result.
Can your company really afford to lose that many customers?
It is a great time to be a supply chain planning professional. Advances in processing power, networking, and storage aided by the enduring power of Moore’s law have opened doors for some exciting new developments in supply chain planning. Specifically for planners, the advent of real time planning, ability to process massive amounts of data, and the rise of machine intelligence are all opening up newer challenges and opportunities. Mundane tasks such as gathering data and processing it into information are being automated to a larger extent. The ability to run end to end network-wide scenarios is a reality now.
While this revolution in supply chain planning is in early stages of adoption, it is only a matter of time before these capabilities become mainstream within many organizations. Given that such a future is inevitable, how will this change the supply chain planning profession? Let’s examine the possibilities:
“Stempathy” excellence will be critical for success
Words get thrown around like rice at a wedding these days to describe what makes a world class supply chain planning system: “End to end visibility”, “collaborative planning”, and “what if simulation” are only a few of the many terms you hear when discussing the keys to supply chain success. Don’t get me wrong, these are all valuable attributes, but are often addressed in isolation and problems are usually tackled one functional silo at a time.
Kinaxis CEO John Sicard talked about the traditional, siloed view of supply chain during his interview with SupplyChainBrain’s Russell Goodwin. The title of the interview, Revolutionizing Your Supply Chain Planning, immediately made me wonder, “Are you yanking my chain?” The word “revolutionizing” was one I hadn’t heard in any supply chain narrative before, and with a word that strong, doubt is a natural reaction. When you hear “revolution,” you think the American Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, Batman vs. Superman. Ok, maybe not that last one, but epic supply chain battles definitely aren’t top of mind. However, Sicard got me thinking of a revolution like a rotation, a turnaround, a 180 – a way of doing things differently.
Goodwin does a great job of extracting the definition of the supply chain planning system revolution from Sicard. In this case, yanking my (supply) chain is actually a good thing. Let me explain. Mr. Sicard started by looking back with a brief supply chain technology history lesson: “Processes are disconnected because supply chain planning has grown up in a siloed manner,” he said.
Because of these functional barriers, “it’s futile to follow that model and think you can optimize the supply chain one link at a time.” Since functional processes are disconnected, it takes a significant amount of time for the impact of a change to get from one end to the other of the supply chain. In most organizations today, the supply chain is managed by looking at the individual links in the chain. That makes it difficult for individuals managing one supply chain planning process to know what the others are doing or what impact their decisions have on others.
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.
Company processes are disconnected because their supply chain planning has grown up in a siloed manner, says John Sicard, president and CEO of Kinaxis. Consequently, it’s futile to follow that model and think you can optimize the supply chain one link at a time.
Sicard explains how Kinaxis is revolutionizing supply chain planning because it is interconnecting all of the links simultaneously. He analogizes to the human brain what the Kinaxis RapidResponse tool can do. “You have the ability to understand language and math simultaneously. It’s two different parts of your brain, yet you can’t bifurcate those. If I ask you a math question in English, you immediately respond, with no idea how those parts of the brain connected.”
“In our world, if you make a change in capacity, you instantaneously feel the impact that has on demand. Therein lies the key — it’s what we call concurrent planning.”