Let's say you’re a chef at a fancy farm-to-table restaurant. You don’t have a set daily menu for your dinner service, focusing instead whatever fresh produce and other ingredients you can lay your hands on. This gives you a lot of room for creativity, but it also puts a lot of pressure on your supplier relationships. While the chain restaurant down the block places the same order (with small adjustments) through the same produce supplier every week, you need to consider seasonality, brainstorm potential dishes, and have a frank discussion with your supplier about which items in a given week are going to best meet the needs of your culinary mission.
According to Gartner, by 2023 cloud-based supply chain technology will be worth $11B. And from the looks of it, that might not be far off. Optimism about the cloud is guiding decisions that companies are making with regard to their SCM and ERP technology—with investment in cloud infrastructure continuing to rise across industries. As with any new technology, though, it’s hard to separate the hype from the real value adds. Is the cloud the right choice for your value stream, or is good old fashioned on-premise hosting a safe bet?
As the Harvard Business Review points out, the 2011 Fukushima disaster had a large and unexpected impact on the global supply chain. While most large supply chain players didn’t expect their sourcing workflows to be impacted (based on the locations of their first tier suppliers), they quickly realized that a tremendous number of second and third tier suppliers were being hit hard by the incident. The result was that planners had to scramble to find new sources for raw materials, or risk shortages, outages, and late deliveries.
Supply chain forecasting lies at the heart of the balancing act between current supply and future demand. At a fundamental level, it’s the process of combining historical purchasing data with customer buying trends to develop a prediction of what sales flows will look like at a given time in the future. The ability to generate an accurate demand forecast is challenging enough in and of itself, but when you mix in the inherent risks and outside challenges of your end-to-end supply chain—you start to see how easy it can be to get things wrong. Think of it like this, if you’re having a party and invite 12 people, what do you do when each of them unexpectedly brings a friend? Did you get enough cups? How about food? Do you have a contingency plan for the quick delivery of extra supplies? That’s a simplified example, we know, but the fundamentals remain the same—you must have all the data at hand to overcome whatever challenges present themselves and create the most accurate forecast possible.
Depending on your background, when you were a child your parents might have told you that your Christmas presents came from Santa Claus. From a supply chain planning perspective, this would have made things difficult for you, since your only source of information was fairly opaque, and you had little insight into the distribution mechanisms for toys and gifts. As a result, you were stuck jumping through whatever holiday hoops were presented to you, whether that was mailing a letter to St. Nick or putting out milk and cookies the night before. Once you realized the truth, however, all bets were off. At that point, you knew that the things that wound up under the tree just came from the toy store, and if you were feeling enterprising you could change your supplier relations to arrive at more favorable terms.
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?
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?
Why does your company exist? This isn’t a metaphysical question, like “why are we here,” it’s purely practical. We hope the answer you thought of was, “to keep our customers happy,” because if not, the rest of what we have to say today might not make as much sense. Customers are the reason manufacturers make things. If there were no customers, you would have no reason to make products, and therefore you’d have nothing to ship, right? As a production planner, you’re likely already relying on S&OP workflows and software solutions as a key piece of your strategy to keep your customers happy. Especially in today’s world of next-day shipping, S&OP remains necessary to keep up with these demands and delivery expectations.
All the way at the far end of the supply chain, when an automobile reaches its end consumer, it looks like they’re buying one large item. But automotive manufacturers know differently—they know that each car on the road is really comprised of about 20,000 different parts, and all of them had to come from somewhere. After being sourced, they had to be stored, allocated for various production plans, brought to the production plant, and assembled into a road-worthy vehicle that someone could drive off the lot at their local car dealership.