Has your supply chain management situation changed recently? We’d wager it has. With the introduction of Industry 4.0 technologies to the value chain over the last few years, things have been changing at an ever-increasing pace. Where once there were information silos, spreadsheets, and clipboards, now there are SCMS solutions, AI-powered advanced analytics, and IoT sensors. Rather than being the purview of autonomous managers acting in their own departments’ best interests, there are CSOs (chief supply chain officers) acting in the best interest of the whole company. And along with that shift has come a renewed understanding that the company’s best interest is generally synonymous with the customer’s.
Of all the stages of the supply chain, logistics often gets a bad rap. This appears to be largely due to a combination of the seeming unpredictability of the unknowns like weather patterns and fuel costs; and the skyrocketing costs associated with last-mile delivery in recent years. This potent combo makes it all the more unexpected that logistics is also quite often overlooked when it comes to applying learnings from demand forecasting. The predictive analytics used by demand forecasting solutions takes historical data, runs it through advanced AI algorithms and generates predictions for demand in a specified upcoming time period. That sounds pretty useful for cutting logistics costs and leveling out some of the uncertainty that’s endemic to this sector, doesn’t it?
There’s a coffee shop down the road known for ham & cheese croissants. So you stop by one morning only to discover that they’re out. The barista says they only get 3-4 each day and that they’re generally gone before 8:00 AM. The 2 people behind you sighed and said they were looking for the same thing. This is the best (and smallest scale) analogy I’ve ever seen for poor demand capacity planning. The shop knows there is a demand for the item, and they know the bakery makes more than they order, yet they never have enough to even come close to meeting demand. Leaving many unhappy, and unsatisfied, customers debating the breakfast options down the street. For you, the demand capacity planner, this is the scenario you dread more than anything—being unable to meet your customers’ demands and losing them to competitors as a result. Follow along with the following steps, and you’ll be on your way to avoiding this situation by keeping production and demand evenly matched.
How are you using your ERP software? Strictly for resource planning, as intended? Or are you stretching that definition to include aspects of your supply chain management needs as well? ERP solutions are an offshoot of financial software, and most of it functions as such and can be clunky when pressed into alternative uses. A dedicated SCM software solution, on the other hand, is as flexible and multifunctional as your supply chain itself. Think of it like this: would you rather build your personal daily calendar out of an Excel spreadsheet, which is totally doable, or just use a ready-made calendar tool like Google Calendar? Yes, both are workable solutions, but only one is actually made to help you keep track of lunch dates and offer reminders for those important meetings you just can’t miss.
Imagine you’re hosting the family reunion this year. 75 people are going to be expecting a great venue, amazing food, and some planned activities. But you’re just one person, with some help from your girlfriend. Are you going to cook all the food, decorate the community hall, schedule and set up for the band, AND be there to greet everyone as they arrive? I certainly hope not. You’re going to hire a caterer for the food, be sure the band brings their own crew to set up and tear down the stage, and rope your girlfriend into being the greeter so you can still supervise the proceedings. On the other hand, if you’ve got a wife, 3 grown kids with their own significant others, and a circle of close friends, maybe you can do it all in-house. This is the power of outsourcing, it keeps the playing field even for even the smaller players. The question is—how do you maintain control over the cooks, musicians, crew, and cousins?
The manufacturing industry is in a bit of a pickle. Emerging technologies are coming at it from every direction, as digital transformation and integrated supply chains are being touted as the solution to all their woes. Industry 4.0, Logistics 4.0, AI, IoT, RFID, there are enough buzzwords and acronyms to make even the most seasoned production planner’s head spin. What’s a planner to do? As with so many areas of life, the key is to move one step at a time. See if any of the following five challenges apply to you, and if so, start by addressing them. Then, when you can see your way clear of that challenge, you’ll have a better understanding of what to address next for the greatest impact.
Consumer financial technology has reached a tipping point where pretty much everything you need to do on a regular basis can be done electronically. You can pay the rent, make a car payment, and even lend your friend $20 all from the convenience of an app on your smartphone. Then there’s that one payment, you know the one, when you have to dig around in your desk drawer to find your checkbook. At its core, supply chain integration does for you, the production planner, what eliminating the checkbook does for the general population, speeds up transactions and allows every relevant stakeholder access to the information they need. It’s about enabling your entire end-to-end supply chain to interact and interconnect via Industry 4.0 technologies. Because no matter how much of that tech you have deployed internally, if your supplier is still presenting you with a handwritten invoice—well, it just doesn’t add up.
Do you check the weather report before leaving for work? What about for the upcoming weekend, to be sure your plans for a hike won’t be washed out? OK, how about paying attention to the long-range outlook, like how much snow is expected next winter and how that will affect the prospects of a drought the following summer? Weather forecasting shares many aspects with demand forecasting for your supply chain. You need to be able to look at the near term—say the upcoming few weeks—as well as the next 3-18 months and beyond. This is equivalent to checking the weather for tomorrow, the next two weekends, and the upcoming few seasons. If you want the whole picture, you need to gather as much information as you can on all three time frames.
Remember the “paperless office?” Back in the early days of computing for the masses, and particularly after the invention of the public internet, it was all any of the pundits could talk about. They expounded on the wonders of digital this and online that, with the underlying theme being the elimination of physical copies of paperwork. It’s been well over two decades, and I don’t know about you, but my last office had a 30’ run of filing cabinets that certainly weren’t empty. Today, those same pundits are going into great detail about the “disruption” of the automotive industry that electric vehicles (EVs) signal. But is the shift to EVs really going to have that much of an impact? As with so many things, the answer is a resounding “it depends.”
Remember that one part of The Wizard of Oz? The one where the wiz comes out from behind the curtains? How was that one little guy able to control everything from his perch back there, without anyone being any the wiser? That I can’t tell you, but I can tell you we’re getting closer to a 21st-century version with the continuing maturation of the Internet of Things (IoT). The emerging technology that powers the 4th industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, is giving us a glimpse of what it would have been like sitting back there, with a view into all the goings-on of our realm.