Archive for the ‘Supply chain management’ Category

End-to-End Available to Promise Webcast

Published November 24th, 2014 by Melissa Clow 0 Comments

Just a quick post to let our readers know of the upcoming webcast, “End-to-End Available to Promise“.

This webcast will define available to promise (ATP) in dispersed and outsourced operations for environments with high demand and supply variability.  Traditionally, ATP has been done in a request – promise manner across each tier of the supply chain, which adds enormous latency to the decision process.  There is an urgent need to create capabilities that can manage the conflicts and complexities of the ATP process more effectively as it crosses multiple tiers and trading partners.

Join Lora Cecere of Supply Chain Insights, along with Trevor Miles and Kerry Zuber of Kinaxis, as they explore the definition, barriers and opportunity for ATP.

Citing various industry examples and both current and future use cases, this session will cover:

  • the difference between ATP and capable to promise (CTP)
  • what modeling in an ATP context should encompass
  • the different process and technology capabilities required along the ATP maturity curve
  • the Kinaxis ATP value proposition (with product demonstration)

Register now for the Thursday, December 11th  |  2pm EST / 7pm UTC

Speakers

lora cecereLora Cecere, Founder & CEO,  Supply Chain Insights
Lora Cecere is the founder of the research firm Supply Chain Insights, which is paving new directions in building thought-leading supply chain research. She is seen as a supply chain visionary. Lora is co-author of the new book Bricks Matter and the enterprise software blog Supply Chain Shaman. As an enterprise strategist, Lora focuses on the changing face of enterprise technologies. Her research is designed for the early adopter seeking first mover advantage.

kerry zuber supply chain business consultant kinaxisKerry Zuber, Vice President, Business Consulting, Kinaxis

As vice president of business consulting, Kerry is responsible for guiding the Kinaxis pre-sales consulting service, which specializes in establishing the value of the RapidResponse service for prospective clients and identifying specific solutions that fit client needs. Kerry also works closely with the product management and development teams to identify and define product enhancements that will help promote broader value to both prospects and existing customers.

Trevor Miles, VP of Thought Leadership, Kinaxis
As vice president of Thought Leadership, Trevor serves as an expert source for Kinaxis customers, prospects, industry analysts and journalists. Known throughout the supply chain field, he has published many articles, presented at various industry events, and is the primary contributor to the Kinaxis 21st Century Supply Chain blog.

Posted in Milesahead, Supply Chain Events, Supply chain management


Guest Blog: Women of the Supply Chain: Responsibility, Collaboration and Bathroom Lines

Published November 20th, 2014 by Melissa Clow 0 Comments

Josh Greenbaum, Principal, Enterprise Applications ConsultingJosh Greenbaum, Principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting recently published an interesting blog that I would like to share with our readers.

Josh has over 30 years of experience in the industry as a computer programmer, systems analyst, author, consultant, and industry analyst. He founded Enterprise Applications Consulting in 1998 and has been a pioneering independent analyst and consultant ever since.

Women of the Supply Chain: Responsibility, Collaboration and Bathroom Lines

Hanging out with Kinaxis, the relatively small and always interesting supply chain vendor from Ottawa, Canada, never fails to be an eye-opening experience. It’s not just that I get to meet with a vendor and a loyal cadre of customers who are collectively pushing the envelope on all things supply chain, it’s that sometimes they’re pushing an envelope I hadn’t seen before in my peregrinations in the supply chain world.

This year’s Kinexions user conference was no different. What I heard from Kinaxis about taking RapidResponse, its in-memory supply chain planning product, further into the realm of collaboration by pushing users to self-identify their areas of responsibility represented an excellent strategic direction on the part of Kinaxis.

I also learned something from observing the lines forming outside of the bathrooms, which, if you’ll bear with me, I promise will actually reveal one of the reasons I like where Kinaxis is heading with RapidResponse.

I feel obliged to state unequivocally that I don’t usually pay much attention to plumbing and people, except when it comes to pure self-interest. But I couldn’t help noticing that the queue for the women’s room at Kinexions was one of the longest I had ever seen at a tech conference, other than my recent visit to Workday ‘s user conference.

Of course, what I’m really talking about is the proportion of women in attendance at Kinexions relative to both the number of men at Kinexions and the gender ratios found at most tech conferences. And while the lines outside the women’s room at the recent Workday conference that I attended were even longer, there’s an important difference between the disproportionate presence of women at a supply chain conference and the even greater disproportionality at a HRMS conference.

HRMS has always been, to be blunt, a comfortable domain for women in an otherwise all-male corporate world – comfortable perhaps more for the men than the women. This phenomenon is identical to the way minorities studying in the era of affirmative action were often shunted toward the social services – in order to serve their “people” – instead of being directed towards more challenging and intellectually rewarding careers in pure research, medicine, or, God forbid, the humanities. Similarly, HR was the woman’s track in business schools back when the women of my generation were getting their MBAs. This bias towards HR as a women’s field has continued, with a Forbes article from 2011 noting that 70 percent of HR jobs were held by women at that time. Judging by the lines at Workday’s conference, that ratio looks like it still holds.

When I started looking for data to back up bathroom line observation at Kinexions, I was surprised at how much women are represented in SCM, considering that the bias towards women in the HRMS world was never at play in SCM. One data point, from the National Center of Women in Technology (NCWIT), pegged the percent of women in operations research – the nerdy upper echelon of the supply chain world – at 55 percent in 2012, the highest percentage of the eight tech professions cited (#2 was database administrators, a profession where 37 percent of the positions are held by women.) This is a lot better than the percent of CIOs that are women – 24 percent – or the overall percent of women in high-tech – 26 percent – also according to the NCWIT.

So why are there so many women in supply chain roles? Maybe there is a natural bias, though one that speaks to women’s genuine strengths and not men’s discomfort. One interesting article in SCM World cited a survey of global supply chain companies in which 74% of men and 96% women surveyed believe women possess the special skills – labeled in the article as emotional intelligence, empathy and self-awareness – that are useful in managing supply chains. (This same article also claimed that only 10 percent of the senior leadership roles in the Fortune 500 were women – which means there may be a glass ceiling for the NCWIT 55 percenters who want to move up to executive positions.)

So it’s interesting to note that the number of women at Kinexions came in at 23 percent, according to the company, a number more in line with overall tech industry averages, but still higher than the percent of women who work at Google, for example (17 percent, according to IEEE Spectrum), and higher than what appears, anecdotally, to be the average at most tech conferences.

I asked Trevor Miles, Kinaxis’ resident deep-thinker, why there were more women at supply chain conferences like Kinexions, and his response dovetails nicely with those special skills I noted above. According to Trevor, women appear to be better at cooperation and collaboration and to be more open to alternative points of view, all skills that are valued in the supply chain world.

I know I’m riding a fine line between stereotyping and arm-chair sociology, but I don’t think the notion that women on average possess these characteristics in greater percentages than men is too far-fetched. What is certainly true is that supply chain planning and management don’t lend themselves to absolute truths and command and control hierarchical management. In the world of supply chain planning there are relatively few irrefutable numbers and an over-abundance of options and alternatives that need to be weighed carefully in order for an optimal decision to be made.

This means that trade-offs, compromise, collaboration, and a whole host of people skills tend to matter a lot in getting the job done. It takes teamwork, and not just individual initiative, to consider multiple and even opposing or non-obvious alternatives in order to run a supply chain. And that teamwork doesn’t just include fellow employees: Myriad stakeholders, sometimes working across multiple companies simultaneously, must be marshalled in the service of supply chain excellence.

The fact that there is rarely, if ever, a “one true number” or single, irrefutable way to solve a supply chain problem dovetails nicely with the value of tool like RapidResponse, which makes modeling and sharing different scenarios particularly easy and efficient . Indeed, the fact that Kinaxis’ RapidResponse enables a high degree of collaborative decision-making – its use practically demands collaboration, the consideration of alternatives, teamwork, and consensus-building – makes it less surprising that Kinaxis, like the supply chain world in which it lives, can draw a disproportionate number of women to its conferences.

Which leads me to Kinaxis’ plans for RapidResponse. The company has been putting a lot more emphasis on a feature that allows stakeholders to identify – in a social collaboration-lite function inside RapidResponse – the areas that they are individually responsible for and, therefore, willing to help with when a problem in supply chain planning and management arises. What this means is that when a constraint appears, or an order suddenly changes, RapidResponse is able to connect the different stakeholders who share responsibility for a particular product, supply, region, customer, partner, or what have you, and get them working collaborative on a resolution. It’s a way to take the natural collaborative tendencies of supply chain planners and managers – regardless of their gender stereotypes – and enhance those tendencies with a collaboration tool.

The other reason I like this approach is that it serves as a justification for my position on why general-purpose collaboration tools haven’t really set the world on fire, despite the incessant hype around these tools. What Kinaxis is offering is the opposite of a general-purpose tool: the company has picked an essential and well-known business process and injected a new, relatively simple, and highly valuable form of collaboration. Of course you could do this with a general-purpose collaboration tool, but it makes much more sense to have the collaborative process function in the context of the business process and its tool, in this case RapidResponse.

This responsibility function will have a lot of applicability to other areas where Kinaxis wants to take what is fundamentally a superlative planning tool. Areas like capital equipment planning, asset management, project management, and the like are ripe for the things that RapidResponse does best: to go where planning is hard and help manage the path to compromise.

Whether Kinaxis will simultaneously drive an even greater participation for women outside the supply chain world remains to be seen. But it’s important to note, considering the current sturm und drang about diversity in high-tech, particularly gender diversity, that there are domains like supply chain and tools like RapidResponse that seem to attract more than the usual number of women, for all the right reasons.

In an industry that liberally festoons itself with the trappings of hipness, the de facto status of women as a minority borders on the absurd, as do the excuses, even in companies with female CEOs, for the lack of women in decision-making positions. I doubt Kinaxis set out to upend traditional gender norms and favor women and their unique skills when it developed RapidResponse, but it’s nice to note that moving the needle in the supply chain world can also move the needle in the larger society in which we live. For the better.

Posted in General News, Products, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain management


Your supply chain is costing you money – Reason #7 Making decisions based on bad data (supply chain data accuracy)

Published November 19th, 2014 by John Westerveld 1 Comment
English: Book shelf

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:

Making decisions based on bad data (supply chain data accuracy)

I went into a store the other day.  I’d driven an hour to get there.  I went to that particular store because their web site confirmed that they had 12 units on hand of the thing I was looking for.  When I got there and went looking, I couldn’t find it… the slot was there but there was nothing on the shelves.  I found someone from the store and asked about my item.   Yes, the computer shows they had 12 units on hand.  They went looking at the shelf the computer said the item was on (the one I just checked).  Not there.  They looked in the back.  Nope, nothing. They searched the shelves around where the item was supposed to be. Nowhere to be found.  “I’m sorry sir.  It looks like the computer made a mistake…we don’t have any”.  Hmmm… So I went back home and ordered it from Amazon.

A couple things struck me about that interaction.  Having wasted time going to that store, I’d be less inclined to use that store in the future – at least I’d be much less likely to trust their website’s inventory.  The second is that it likely wasn’t the computer that made a mistake, it was a mistake made by a person or process somewhere along the way.  And finally the same types of mistakes and process failings that resulted in my wasted trip occur all the time in supply chain. In addition to losing customers like me, those mistakes result in bad data that cost manufacturing companies millions of dollars.

Bad data in supply chain seems like it should be a minor thing.  I mean, it’s just numbers right? Let’s look at some typical supply chain data errors and think about the potential costs;

Lead time
If the planned lead-time is longer than actual, you get excess inventories. If the planned lead-time is shorter than actual, you get stock-outs and late customer orders.

Bill of Material
The Bill of Material drives material requirements through-out the supply chain. Missing components, extra components, bad effectivity dates, incorrect quantity per values will result in excess inventories, scrapped items, inaccurate costing, late customer orders, stock-outs and increased WIP.

Cost and price data
Inaccurate price and cost information impacts decisions based on margin. It can make unprofitable products appear to be profitable, and profitable products appear unprofitable.  In accurate costs can also impact pricing decisions driving higher or lower prices based on cost assumptions.  Finally, inaccurate cost information may cause you to make incorrect sourcing decisions.

Part master – ordering rules (Lot sizing, policies, etc)
Part master data controls how the system creates new supplies.  Bad data here can cause you to order too much driving excess inventory or too little driving additional ordering costs.

On Hand Inventory quantity/status
Decisions on when and how much to order are based on how much inventory the system thinks you have.  If inventory quantities or status is incorrect, excess inventory, excess costs, late customer orders and stock-outs can be the result.

Routing
The routing table describes how material flows through the shop and includes information on how long work should be scheduled across each work-center.  If this information is wrong, material will end up at the wrong work-center or the right work-center at the wrong time.  As a result, you can expect increased WIP, late customer orders and stock-outs.

Safety Stock rules/quantities
Safety stock influences the inventory levels expected on an item by item basis.  In addition to mistakes when calculating safety stock or setting safety stock rules, safety stock values can get stale.  In other words, the inputs (demand variability, lead time, etc.) that went into setting the safety stock value at the time they were set, may not be valid now.  Inaccurate safety stock values can drive excess inventory, excess costs due to expediting, late customer orders and stock-outs.

Demand (Actual Orders)
Inaccurate order information impacts in two ways; 1) an unhappy customer – especially if they don’t get what they ordered and 2) Increased costs due to excess inventory, excess costs from expediting.

Demand (Forecast)
Forecasts are always wrong.  Yet forecasts are what drive the business in many industries.   When forecasts are wrong, the result is too much inventory of some items and too little inventory of others.   This puts you in the unenviable position of having to explain to your stockholders why you have excess inventory while at the same time can’t meet revenue numbers because of stockouts.

Historical demand
Historical demand is the record of what was sold and when.  Historical demand is used to drive statistical forecasts, safety stock calculations and more.  Errors here will cause inaccurate forecasts, excess inventory, excess costs, late customer orders and stock-outs.

Capacity data
Capacity information determines what amount of work can be done in a given work center.  In finite systems, orders will be moved around to respect the available capacity.  In infinite capacity systems, planners will manually move orders around to level load work centers.  If capacity information is wrong, you can expect to see overloaded or under-loaded work-centers, excess costs due to expediting, increased WIP inventory, late customer orders and stock-outs.

As you can see, there are a variety of ways that inaccurate supply chain data can cost you money (and I’ve really only scratched the surface here).  So what can be done?  There are a number of tactics that can be used to improve supply chain data accuracy;

  • Audits – At a company I worked at in a previous life they recognized, through an earlier failed ERP implementation, the importance of data accuracy.  As such, they implemented a weekly MRP data audit where several parts were picked at random and the part master, BOM and Routing parameters were checked and validated.  In my previous post, Reason #6 Not effectively managing inventory, I talked about cycle counting.  This is a similar type of auditing targeting inventory accuracy.  In both cases, the key to improvement is root cause analysis.  If data is wrong, simply correcting the problem just fixes the data issue for that part.  Understanding how the error occurred and fixing the process that caused that error means that the error is less likely to happen again.
  • Data responsibility/data security – Ensuring that the right people are responsible for a given segment of data and that only those people can change that data is difficult and can be frustrating for some.  However, the risk of not locking down the data is that there is no control… anyone can change anything.  In the vast majority of cases, people won’t sabotage data (although that can happen).  No, usually, bad data gets created because people make changes without fully understanding the impact of what they have done.  Again, in a past life, we had one lady responsible for all item master changes made to the ERP system. Any change needed to be requested via a paper form. This form needed to have various approval levels before she would make the change.  While it did slow things down and admittedly was relatively inefficient, it ensured that any item master change was well thought out and vetted before it was made.  As a result our data accuracy percentage was consistently in the high 90s.
  • Alerting and what-if – With more advanced planning tools, you have a few more options around how to identify and correct some types of data errors.  Automatic detection of errors like missing cost data, missing sourcing data, order policy mismatches can all be detected and alerts generated that inform those responsible of potential issues.  In addition, advanced planning tools enable, through the use of simulations, the ability to try different planning parameters to see what the impact would be without actually driving any change to actual production.

Data errors if uncaught can result in millions of dollars of losses.  That being said, with some focused effort and perseverance you can eliminate the majority of data errors and get your supply chain running like the well-oiled machine it should be.

What data errors have you seen and how did it impact your supply chain?  How do you manage data errors in your supply chain?  Comment back and let us know.

 

Posted in General News, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain collaboration, Supply chain management


Supply Chain Professionals Speak on Delivering Better Business Outcomes with Kinaxis

Published November 13th, 2014 by Melissa Clow 1 Comment

I wanted to share this video compilation of several supply chain professionals that we have interviewed over the years. In the following clip these supply chain practitioners share their opinions on:

  • What is the primary change we are seeing in today’s supply chain?
  • What are key supply chain challenges organizations are faced with today?
  • How does Kinaxis compliment and extend ERP investments?
  • How is Kinaxis helping improve supply chain processes and deliver better business outcomes?
  • How is Kinaxis unique in helping solve complex supply chain challenges?

Hear customers from Qualcomm, TriQuint, Flextronics and Jabil speak on how RapidResponse has transformed their supply chain.

Posted in Best practices, Control tower, Demand management, General News, Inventory management, Miscellanea, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain collaboration, Supply chain management


Humans-In-Loop – Part 3 of Kinaxis & Cognizant Series

Published October 28th, 2014 by Prasad Satyavolu 1 Comment

Trevor Miles and I have been having a healthy discussion on the Internet of Things and how these technology changes are shaping the way we work.

This is part 4 in our series.

analytics-velocity

As the IoT (Internet of Things) unfolds across multiple aspects of human life, we should expect an exponential increase in human connectivity. Relying on a shared computing environment to having more than 2 computing devices per person and counting- Computing and Connectivity have come a long way for Supply Chain professionals.  As the graphic below suggests, the Analytics velocity is also increasing with time.

Consumption of the Analytics output in Supply Chain can both be human centric as well as an automated control action.  We know that operations environment demands an Agile and Effective Fulfillment which requires individuals in the Supply Chain organization to make fast decisions in real time.  There is ample scope of automating several of these decisions with multi-dimensional information input and in Memory Computing based engines. However, not all scenarios can be modeled even with the availability of perfect information. Thus posing a limit to this automation and paving the way for human intervention. These limits are being challenged as new paradigms emerge.

human involvementWhen we speak about IoT, our focus is on the Automation of 3C’s – Communication, Control and Computing – in a network of “things”.  How will the Automation thrust from IoT a.k.a. Cyber Physical Systems impact the organizational roles in the Supply Chain function particularly planning and execution?   How will the shifting locus of Industrialization from physical to cognitive workload impact the human involvement? (See graphic)

In Supply Chain systems, we are always trying to create efficient closed loop feedback systems for achieving higher performance levels.   I found the comprehensive construct of Cyber Physical Systems created by UC Berkeley particularly useful in analyzing and designing systems with Humans- In- Loop.

The design thinking with H-I-L can be applied to the Demand side (where human sensing due to large scale device proliferation and ubiquitous communication creates better information flow) and on the Supply side (reconfiguring organizational roles with real time analytics and information consumption possibilities to automate and aid human decisions).

While the sensory network of physical things is going through its adoption curve,  proliferation of “human sensing”  is almost viral–a billion+ people on Facebook and twitter- generating a context that can be useful in varying degrees in Supply Chain planning – from Consumer demand  preferences to the outbreak of a deadly virus presenting a logistical hazard and risk.  A multidimensional Humans- in –Loop design approach to IoT leveraged Supply Chain paradigm?

Prof Tarek Abdelzaher talks about the Cyber Physical Systems with Humans in Loop http://slideshot.epfl.ch/play/ntass13-zaher1.

cyber physical

 

 

Posted in Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain collaboration, Supply chain management


SMAC in the Middle of Supply Chain Change – Part 3 of Kinaxis & Cognizant Series

Published October 27th, 2014 by Trevor Miles @milesahead 0 Comments

digital natives versus digital immigrantsMy friends at Cognizant and I have been having a healthy discussion on the Internet of Things and how these technology changes are shaping the way we work.

This is part 3 in our series.

Some colleagues and friends think I am nuts to put so much emphasis on the Digital Natives, and perhaps I am. Being a Digital Immigrant myself, I am only too aware of the command and control structures with which I grew up and which have been the foundation of all organizations for which I have worked. I’m not so naïve as to think that this change will happen quickly.

Throughout history major changes in technology have driven changes in social and business structures, the classic being the Pony Express and the steam train. But more fundamental change came from the printing press. This is a closer equivalent to the impact digitization will have on business structures, including a major shift in business models and therefore winners and losers.

We used to go to an office (many still do) because this was the easiest way to organize a workforce and structure work. Similarly with factories. People have to go to where the machines are. But in a digital world the only reason to have an office is for the management, which are almost always Digital Immigrants, to enforce a structure and linear decision making processes, the very things that Digital Natives find most constrictive.

I’d also like to point out that these are the very things that cause siloed organizations and long decision cycles in our supply chains. The hand-offs and approvals which are the basis for our existing organizational structure date from the days of runners and carrier pigeons.  Jonathan Lofton raises many of these points, form a different perspective, in his blog “Unleash Pixar-like Creativity in Your Supply Chain Management Organization”. The braintrust Jonathan writes about has no authority, is collaborative, and is consensual. This is how Digital Natives like to work and what Digital Immigrants find threatening.

Technology is simply an enabler. It is how we use it that brings value. And much as we have had to rethink the first applications that were simply a digitization of a paper based paradigm, we need to rethink how we structure our organizations and get work done to get maximum utility out of the digital world. And the Digital natives are experimenting with these as we speak. As we have in the past, let us, the Digital Immigrants, extract the value from their experimentation rather than resist the inevitable change. I find these tremendously exciting times.

For additional reading on the topic of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, check out my recent blog on “Do Supply Chain Planning systems generate any value?” as well as the following presentation by Marc Prensky from the Handheld Learning conference.

 

 

Posted in Inventory management, Milesahead, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain collaboration, Supply chain management


On-demand Recording of Purposeful Collaboration: What It Could Mean for Your S&OP Process

Published October 21st, 2014 by Melissa Clow 1 Comment

Purposeful Collaboration What It Could Mean for Your S&OP Process

Last week Alan Lepofsky, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research and Trevor Miles, VP Thought Leadership, Kinaxis participated in a webcast on ‘Purposeful Collaboration: What It Could Mean for Your S&OP Process’.

The two discussed how even with heavy investments in Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP), many organizations are not achieving material or sustainable breakthroughs. This is often because they are executing a sequential, disjointed process with contributors operating in their narrow functional box.

In this recorded webcast, learn how purposeful collaboration can connect content, conversations, colleagues and communities to drive improved business outcomes.

Topics covered:

  • Harnessing and capitalizing on “working social” in a B2B environment
  • Using the key tenets of purposeful collaboration to enable effective decision-making, resolution and consensus building
  • Capabilities required to facilitate purposeful collaboration in S&OP
  • Changing the mindset away from the individual supply chain / S&OP functions to connecting functions and most importantly, people

If you missed it, feel free to check out the slides or the webcast recording.

 

Posted in Demand management, General News, Inventory management, Milesahead, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply Chain Events, Supply chain management


Your supply chain is costing you money – Reason #6 Not effectively managing inventory.

Published October 20th, 2014 by John Westerveld 4 Comments

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:

Not effectively managing inventory.

Reason #6 Not effectively managing inventory

I had to throw out some carrots yesterday. I hate throwing food out but there was nothing to be done for it…all I can say is that I’m glad the carrots were in a bag….and it didn’t leak. That got me thinking about why I was throwing away what had been perfectly good food;

  • I had forecasted needing a certain amount, but the customers (my family) didn’t take what I’d forecasted.
  • I thought we would want carrots, but everyone wanted broccoli…which I didn’t have.
  • I lost track of how many carrots we had and ended up buying more when we really didn’t need any.
  • Spoilage can happen.  In the case of my carrots, there was a limited shelf life – but they could have been dropped or stolen (hey, it could happen!).

That was carrots.  All in all, it cost me a couple of dollars.  Unfortunately, all the same kinds of things can happen to your supply chain inventory.  Except that your inventory costs millions of dollars.

Those of you that manage inventories know how hard it can be to get the quantities just right.  If you maintain too little inventory, you have stockouts, line stoppages and unhappy customers.  If you have excess inventory, it ties up working capital and is at risk of damage and obsolescence.  The worst possible world is when you have too much of something you don’t need, and too little of something you do need.

So what strategies are out there to maintain inventories at the “right” level? There are many but let’s focus on some of the high runners;

  • Sales and Operations Planning – How many times have you seen this scenario play out? Marketing sees an opportunity and plans a huge promotion for Product B.  Operations is going full out building anticipation inventory for Product A because Product A’s demand always goes up this time of year. By the time operations realizes that marketing is promoting a different product, they already have too much inventory of Product A and don’t have enough time to make enough Product B to satisfy the demand driven by the promotion.   If this company had an effective S&OP process, operations and marketing would have been aligned as soon as Marketing had approved the promotion, and would have had the right amount of inventory of the right product.
  • Better forecasts – Forecasts are always wrong! True.  But sometimes they can be less wrong…and the more accurate your forecast, the more likely it is that you’ll be building the right quantity of the right products at the right time.  Forecasting is hard, however, advanced tools like statistical forecasting algorithms, collaborative forecasting tools and forecast accuracy measures and what-if scenarios helps guide demand planners to a more accurate set of numbers.
  • Lead time reductions – Supply chain improvements can actually help improve forecasting!  Well,actually it would reduce the impact of bad forecasting when you are a make to stock shop.  How does that work you ask?   Imagine you were asked to accurately predict the weather for this time next year.  Pretty tough right? What about six months from now….still hard. What about next week? Getting easier.  How about tomorrow?  No problem (usually)!  In a make to stock environment, if I have a 6 month cumulative lead time, my forecast is being used to buy inventory today for something I’m going to sell in 6 months.  If through process improvements, I can reduce my lead time to 2 months, my accuracy will be much better where it really matters; during my cumulative lead time.
  • Better/faster planning – While there are things you can (and should) do to improve your forecasts, you are never going to realize truly accurate forecasts.  For example, a surveyfrom 2012 showed that average forecast error by industry ranged from 15% for retail to 39% for manufacturing/industrial and consumer packaged goods. Forecast error for most other industries was around 30%.One of the problems with poor forecast accuracy is that today’s legacy systems are unable to respond fast enough to satisfy demand that is in excess of forecast.  This leads to a) higher than necessary inventory levels as we maintain higher inventories on those items with the highest variability and forecast error or b) lower than acceptable customer service. Neither are good results.

So how do we respond faster? There are multiple capabilities your demand system must have to allow faster response to demand fluctuations;

  1. Visibility across the enterprise – to be able to respond effectively, your planning system must contain all data across all plants, regardless of the source system. Responding quickly means knowing what you have and what you don’t have.  If you have to wait hours or days to get a report off a remote system, you can’t respond.
  2. Always on analytics – Imagine creating an excel model but every time you made a change, you had to wait 6 hours to see the impact.   It wouldn’t be very useful, right? Yet this is what we accept from our ERP systems every day. To simulate effectively, you need to be able to see the result of a change as soon as that change is made.  Not only must the calculations be fast (seconds not hours) but the calculations must be configurable enough to allow you to model ERP results from any ERP system (what’s the point of figuring out what to do, if you can’t replicate the results in your execution system)
  3. What-if scenarios including scenario comparison – There is never only one answer to complex problems like supply change. Being able to try out multiple approaches very quickly and compare these approaches means that you can quickly zero in on the best answer.
  4. Collaboration – No one person has the knowledge of the entire supply chain in their head.  You must be able to rely on others to help figure things out.  You must be able to determine who needs to be involved, then share the appropriate scenarios and information with those people if you want to respond quickly (and confidently).
  5. Alerting based on impact, not on the event – There are a lot of things vying for our attention today.  So many, in fact, that we don’t have time to deal with items that aren’t truly important.  Traditional ERP systems drown us in frivolous messages; this supply order is 1 day late, this customer added an order, this job finished on time, etc, etc.  This is not important information –and as a rule can be relegated to summarized reports.  What is critical is: what the impact of these events?  For example, if that order is one day late, it impacts $3 million in customer orders. That’s what you want to know.  If the order is replenishing safety stock – who cares?
  • Inventory planning and optimization – Safety stock traditionally has been a pain to calculate – as a result many people didn’t. They either set the safety stock level once – and forgot about it or did a best guess at what the Safety Stock should be.  Inventory Planning is a relatively new area where safety stock is statistically determined based desired customer service levels and on supply and/or demand history. Traditionally, Safety stock was calculated a single level at a time and didn’t consider the stock of the parent or component item when calculating its own stock level.  Multi-Echelon optimization looks at the inventory for a family of parts and determines where it makes the most sense to locate inventory for individual items within that family and potentially lowers the overall inventory for the family.
  • Inventory accuracy – similar to my carrot analogy –  we all have had situations where you go to the store, buy some goods – then discover that you have 6 cans of the thing you just bought hiding behind the peanut butter.  Or worse, you THINK you have 6 cans of thing you need for supper and you don’t pick more of it up – then you discover that someone (maybe you?) ate it and you actually have none.  In supply chain, the same thing happens – but the cause is inaccurate inventory records and the cost can be huge.  How do inventory records get out of alignment?  In a previous life, I used to work with the operations team and track down inventory records. The biggest culprit was human error; incorrect quantities, incorrect BOMs, spillage, waste, etc.There are two approaches to maintaining accurate records;1. Annual physical inventory – This is a traditional inventory management technique where you take several days, tag all of the items in inventory and have some poor guy count the items, write the count on the tag and turn the tag into a central team that updates the records.  If there is a problem, the poor guy may be asked to go out and count the items again.  There are some problems with this approach;
    • While the inventory is being done, the factory cannot run. This means inventory must be done over the weekend or the factory needs to be shut down.
    • Physical inventories are not fun.  It’s tedious, boring, dirty, nasty work (speaking as someone who’s done it). It’s often performed by people not necessarily tied to the inventory function. It’s difficult to be precise counting thousands of different parts in the course of a few days.  It’s very likely that a significant number of the counts will be wrong.
    • The root cause of the error (why the inventory is wrong) is seldom ever caught and as such, doesn’t get corrected.

    2. Cycle counting – Cycle counting is a system where some small percentage of items get counted every day.  Important parts get counted several times per year, while unimportant parts are counted once per year. Every item is guaranteed to be counted at least once. The advantages of cycle counting are numerous;

    • The supply chain continues to function while the cycle count is done
    • The count is performed by inventory specialists that know the inventory, are used to counting and are incented to get it right.
    • Key parts are counted more frequently and therefore will be more accurate.
    • When a discrepancy is found, the team seeks to understand why the error occurred and ideally determines what changes they need to make to prevent the error from happening again.

    Inventory Management is a large and changing topic.  I’ve hit on what I think are some of the top runners in this post, but I know there are more factors that can cause inventory problems.  What issues have you seen?  Comment back and let us know!

     

Posted in Demand management, General News, Inventory management, Sales and operations planning (S&OP), Supply chain collaboration, Supply chain management