Posts categorized as 'General News'

Technology and the Supply Chain: What Does the Future Hold?

  • by Alexa Cheater
  • Published

A robot as a depiction of future technologyMeet the Jetsons! Like any well-rounded child of the 80s, I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons. Admittedly the futuristic family sitcom The Jetsons, which actually first aired in the 60s, wasn’t top of my list like He-Man or Captain Planet, but there was something fascinating about the whimsical and almost unimaginable gadgets and gizmos they featured. Smartwatches, drones, jetpacks, robot housekeepers, a food replicator and even a flying car that could transform into a briefcase.

Decades later and a sizable amount of that technology has hit the mainstream market (can anyone say Apple Watch?) with others about to break through. So what does my nostalgic look back at my childhood have to do with the future of supply chains? Apparently everything.

A recent report, ‘Technological Tipping Points’ by the World Economic Forum (WEF), takes a look into a crystal ball, examining the timing and impact of 21 ‘tipping points,’ which they describe as “moments when a specific technological shift hits mainstream society.” A staggering number of those points are things straight out of the futuristic cartoons and early sci-fi series I loved growing up.

Wearable devices, 3D printing, implantable technology, connected homes, automated workforces, driverless cars and smart cities are all on the list. And all of them, once they reach critical mass in the marketplace, will have a staggering impact on the future of supply chain.

The WEF report focuses on five shifts that will directly influence supply chain. Let’s take a look at each, starting with the notion of a more prominent share economy.

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Is Your Supply Chain a Growth Engine?

  • by Alexa Cheater
  • Published

We recently had the chance to sit down with Gary Hanifan, Managing Director, Accenture Strategy, to discuss all things supply chain. And one of the biggest topics coming out of that discussion was how you can determine if your supply chain is a growth engine.

One big red flag it might not be? Your supply chain is still linear. According to Hanifan, networks are the wave of the future. Companies need to be heading in a direction that allows for the concept of a digital supply chain network, with an emphasis on growth and efficiency.

On the road to achieving that requires a few stops along the way. Hanifan says the first is ensuring you have end-to-end visibility. Stop two requires moving from a reactive supply chain to a proactive one. Once you’ve accomplished those two things, you can get the network aspect going – meaning you end up with visibility not only into your supplier’s network, but their suppliers’ networks as well.

But in order for your supply chain to really become a growth engine, one more thing is needed. Speed. Hanifan says speed is the currency of the future. To him that means realizing ways to take advantage of finite opportunities in the marketplace, including introducing a new product or growing a service.

Hanifan does caution against just slapping on a so-called ‘digital band aid.’ That is, overlaying digital processes on top of traditional practices without leveraging the new digital technology fully. It’s a pitfall he’s seen hinder supply chain growth at many companies.

Want to hear more of what Hanifan has to say about supply chain growth? Check out the complete interview.

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Top Four Most Vital S&OP Technology Capabilities

  • by Lori Smith
  • Published

Abstract Image of Business People's Silhouettes in a MeetingIn a previous post, I discussed the sometimes surprising technology choices some organizations are making to manage their S&OP process. Now I’d like to take a look at the Top 4 technology capabilities you need in order to achieve a successful sales and operations planning process:

#1: A single application with deep data

We know that successful S&OP must be fed by solid and complete information from across the extended supply chain and supported by robust advanced planning analytics. Only when you have that all in one place can you achieve broad and deep visibility, fast and accurate analysis, and effective and continuous alignment.

From one system, you should be able to:

  • Integrate data from every division, location, department, product family, legacy system, and supply chain partner
  • Administer both demand and supply planning
  • Centralize, track, and test assumptions of the plan
  • View data at multiple hierarchies at any time to support the specific analysis you need to do
  • Make changes at the volume level that will automatically ripple down to the mix level, and vice versa
  • Translate between units, dollars, and other units of measure
  • Evaluate different scenarios simultaneously, and against multiple operational and financial metrics

Managing S&OP from a single application enables companies to better balance tradeoffs and most effectively align volume and mix, as well as Operations and Finance.

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Four Keys to S&OP Effectiveness (continued)

  • by Lori Smith
  • Published

Buiness person reviews S&OP documentsIn my previous blog post, I compared a pilot flying from New York to LA at night without any modern navigation systems or instruments, to supply chain teams trying to effectively manage their organizations without a proper S&OP process. Obviously, the likelihood of either arriving at their intended destination in an effective and timely manner is quite slim.

Successful sales and operations planning provides a navigation system to help determine where you are going, where you have been, when you are off course, and how to get back on course. To be effective, S&OP must:

  • Bring together demand and supply planning (often referred to as East-West integration)
  • Bring together Finance and Operations (North-South integration).
  • Tie volume and mix plans together
  • Facilitate S&OP on-demand, not only on-schedule

I covered the first two bullets in my last post, so let’s discuss the other two here.


Key #3 Tying together volume and mix plans

One of the stumbling blocks of traditional S&OP is that volume-only plans often end up being infeasible when disaggregated to the mix level. The challenge is to translate the aggregate, volume-level plans to a SKU or mix-level operational plan and then test the feasibility of the plans before committing to them. Otherwise, the S&OP plan will lose credibility within the organization.

The second challenge is to keep the plan feasible.

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3 Ways Crowdsourcing Is Revolutionizing Supply Chain Management


Visual representation of crowdourcing using heads made of mechanical gearsThe term crowdsourcing—the process of obtaining ideas, services or information by soliciting feedback from a large group of people—has existed since 2005. But its fundamental concept predates the name by centuries. In 1714, the British government offered the public a monetary prize to the person who created the best solution for measuring a ship’s longitude.

As has been this case with so many concepts, the internet has given crowdsourcing phenomenal reach and influence. We’ve already seen the significant impact that crowdsourcing has on modern business product development, production and delivery, and that effect will undoubtedly only grow over time. Here are three ways that crowdsourcing is revolutionizing supply chain management today—and in the future.

Crowdsourcing increases on-time, cost-effective delivery.

Amazon consistently ranks on or near the top of lists touting the best supply chains—and for good reason. It drives an innovative fulfillment strategy through its vast distribution center network and independent delivery fleet that enables it to guarantee two-day delivery. Amazon’s achievements in supply chain management have led consumers to establish an incredibly high bar for timely and accurate product delivery. The Amazon customer satisfaction standard has changed the game for every retailer of every size.

Crowdsourcing transportation presents a solution for smaller enterprises to compete in this environment. One such service provider is Cargomatic, who connects local shippers with carrier companies who have extra space in their trucks. The “last-mile” phase of the traditional fulfillment process is often the most expensive (accounting for as much as 50 percent of a company’s logistics costs), but crowdsourced transportation can sometimes enable same-day delivery at the cost of standard shipping. And crowdsourced traffic apps like Waze are helping a multitude of delivery drivers find the most efficient routes with real-time help from other drivers.

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Four Keys to S&OP Effectiveness

  • by Lori Smith
  • Published

an airplane cockpitIn a previous post, I talked about the ineffectiveness of Excel, ERP, and legacy planning for S&OP. If those aren’t the right tools for the job, what is?

I heard a colleague once give the following analogy: Imagine a pilot flying from New York to Los Angeles at night without any navigation systems or instruments to measure his location, wind speed, or altitude. Instead, every two hours he checks the stars with a sextant, extracts data from the flight recorder about his throttle settings, and draws in the plane’s likely location on a map.

What are the chances of that pilot actually getting to LA? Can he arrive on any predictable timetable? You’ll likely agree his chances are slim to none.

A modern pilot embarks with a general flight plan, but then monitors a continuous readout of key metrics, which he uses to make numerous small course corrections to arrive at the proper destination on schedule.

It’s the same for business. Successful S&OP provides a navigation system to help determine where you are going, where you have been, when you are off course, and how to get back on course.

The four keys to highly effective S&OP are:

  1. East-West integration – bringing together demand and supply planning
  2. North-South integration – bringing together Finance and Operations
  3. Tying together volume and mix plans
  4. S&OP on-demand, not only on-schedule

With this model of S&OP, process execution evolves into operational orchestration, efficiency goals are coupled with measures of effectiveness, and cost control objectives are appropriately balanced with mandates for delivering business performance and value-based outcomes.

In this post, I’ll tackle the first two keys and I’ll follow-up with a second blog post for the latter two.

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Excel, ERP and Legacy Apps, Oh My! What Technology is Supporting Your S&OP Process?

  • by Lori Smith
  • Published

Can the S&OP process be done without technology?

The answer to that question has certainly evolved over the years, and while there are still some holdouts, most will now agree that technology is indeed required. Whether its objective should be to support the process or help define the process remains a healthy debate.

Fundamentally, the more complex the organization and the more mature the process, the greater the need for technology. So what technologies are today’s supply chain teams using to support the critical S&OP process? Amazingly, it seems most organizations are running their process with spreadsheets.

It never ceases to surprise me when I hear how many enterprises entrust a mission-critical task to the desktop spreadsheet software Excel®. On the other hand, the fact that so many turn to Excel is proof that despite the plentitude of systems (or perhaps because of it), existing ERP and legacy planning apps are not meeting the requirements for S&OP processes regardless of where that process is positioned on the maturity curve.

Consider the Supply Chain Insights report, Research in Review (Nov 2014), that states:

“Many companies have five to 30 Enterprise Resource Planning systems and two to three supply chain planning systems. In addition, companies will have two to five S&OP processes working independently.”

This demonstrates an enormous level of complexity, from both a process and data perspective.

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Tackling Life’s Big Questions… What is S&OP

  • by Lori Smith
  • Published

Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) has been around for a long time. It’s been called “old hat” and “the new kid on the block.” Both are true. And despite having been around for decades, S&OP continues to gain momentum and grow in maturity.

Most of us in the supply chain industry have a conceptual and common understanding of what S&OP represents, however the variety of ways in which S&OP is executed demonstrates that it can mean very different things to different organizations.

A typical/traditional Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process is primarily:

  • Operations led
  • Mainly focused on satisfying revenue and margin goals
  • Aimed at attempting to meet a forecast for a discrete planning horizon, usually 6-24 months
  • Sequential and involves isolated planning activities consolidated at a high level and then pushed up to management for approval, and pushed down to manufacturing for execution

And most experts agree that S&OP has four ingredients:

  • People: the cross-functional teams involved
  • Process: the way you make decisions and manage meetings
  • Information: the data from your demand and supply chain
  • Technology: the systems that support planning and decision-making

Not everyone agrees on the correct proportions of these ingredients, but everyone agrees that S&OP needs all four. Knowing exactly what is required for each of these areas, and potentially most importantly, finding the right balance between them is the key to effective and efficient planning cycles that drive maximized value for the enterprise.

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