Affordable Option for Sales & Operations Planning Software

“Sales and Operations planning”, “S&OP”, “SOP”: is this just a new branding of what I’m already doing? Probably a little bit of both “yes” and “no”. But there really is something new that anyone that’s involved with these processes should be well aware of. Do you know what I’m referring to?

Companies have to plan for their demand and how they plan to meet that demand with their supply. There are different levels of sophistication in each area that vary from company to company and vertical to vertical. However, the basics have to be done to have any measure of business success. So yes, you’re probably doing some form of sales and operations planning out of necessity. Now it comes down to your level of maturity.

The analysts at Gartner research (primarily Noha Tahomy and Tim Payne) have developed a four stage life cycle model:

■ Stage 1: Operational-focused

■ Stage 2: Planning-focused

■ Stage 3: Profit-focused

■ Stage 4: Value-focused

Stages 1 and 2 can be accomplished by process and some basic tools, most commonly, MS Excel. However, to achieve the key business benefits around a one-number forecast, profit optimization, and value chain optimization, a robust S&OP software suite is a must.

It starts with the most accurate forecast you can achieve. This can only be accomplished by simultaneously taking into account not only typical historical information, but also your customer information such as POS, leading indicator information, and not-so-intuitive causal factors. From this most excellent forecast J, the results can be achieved only if the forecast is properly utilized. This encompasses the supply side processes such as distribution requirements planning, inventory management, and purchase planning to name a few. Again, nothing new here. S&OP Stage 1 and 2 are a description of what most companies do now. The new piece are the integrated dashboards and reports layered on top that truly are a big addition to the enterprise-wide visibility of the demand side and supply side that allow decision making for bottom line impacts

Gartner research shows that 67% of implemented S&OP processes are in Stage 2 maturity.

The newer exciting areas are in Stage 3 and 4. This is where you take your S&OP process and make it a true corporate asset. Imagine having the ability to make decisions on maximizing your profits instead of just having product on the shelves. Which customers, with which promotions, with which products should we service first in order to increase OUR gross margins, all while not impacting overall customer satisfaction? The time is now and this is just one example. This does require companies to have more data available to the S&OP process than they have had in the past. But it’s not data they don’t have somewhere.

Our Demand Commander S&OP suite provides the capabilities to achieve these innovative levels of Stage 3 and 4. We offer them in a modular fashion so that you can add the various modules as you need them. Our platform enables a crawl, walk, run approach that supports an organization’s process as it evolves through various levels of maturity. Other vendors make it sound like black magic and charge accordingly. Our approach is transparent and allows you to understand its outcomes. The ROI is very compelling.

Are you looking for an affordable way to make your S&OP process a strategic asset?

Causal Factors in the Recent News – Using Them for Your Forecast?

Great information in the news this week – I am sure everyone reads the news with a specific focus on how to improve forecasting and S&OP, right?  Anyway – to the point.

Yields on 10 year treasuries rose 11 basis points.  Claims for jobless benefits fell to a 5 year low. US home sales for the month of Dec. fell 7.3%, with a 1.3% increase in average sales price, but for year over year sales actually increased 8.8%, with a 14% rise in average sales price.

From an S&OP and demand planning/forecasting point of view, this information raises some interesting questions about causal impact and associated lead times.

What does all of this information imply for demand for your products 3 months from now, 6 months from now?  For future pricing of your raw materials?  Do the implications change per geography? Per season?  Per product line or per customer class?

Does the fact that banks are accelerating repayment of bailout funds mean anything regarding interest rates? And do interest rates impact your procurement policies or demand for your products?

And what is the lead time associated with all of these potentially causal and leading indicators?

Most importantly, does your current process and technology platform allow you to study the impacts, understand the causality, plan for the impact with correct lead time? Are you having these conversations?

Our clients are talking about the implications of increased housing values on consumer spending and in what time frame. They are creating scenarios around different inflation trajectories, different employment rate scenarios and doing this within the context of different weather projections by geographic region. Are you equipped to have similar conversations on a weekly, monthly quarterly basis?

CPG and B2B manufacturing companies use leading indicators / causal factors like weather (temp. and precip. indexes), unemployment, birth rates, housing starts, and Nymex commodity spot prices to improve their forecasting and do so for cascading time frames. They are included in as additional inputs into forecasting process and used concurrently with the traditional historical inputs.

We recently had a good conversation with Amber Sally from Gartner. Among the topics discussed were her views on competitive differentiators in demand planning and forecasting – one was the ability to employ causal factors into your process.

Are you going to figure out how to corral the power of this competitive differentiator, or are you going to passively let your competition outflank you just as you are passively allowing external forces to impact your business without understanding the details of the how, why, where, and how much?

Put up or shut up: The corporate guarantee

By Gene Tanski, CEO, Demand Foresight

Things were getting heated at the sales meeting. The cause of my anger was an old theme: Industry-wide, client expectations for business software were so low that stories about the failure of big enterprise projects had practically become wallpaper.

Where were the repercussions for the business performance that never materialized? The big systems failed to deliver what they were supposed to over 70 percent of the time and the big checks just kept getting cut with no accountability. The whole dynamic needed to be nuked.

In the heat of our discussion about the institutionalized negligence of our gigantic competitors and how we could exploit it, a 25-year-old, Xbox-playing member of our team, said: “Dude, if we’re that bitchin’, why don’t we guarantee it?”

“What?” I asked him.  “Are you nuts?  Do you have any idea how software works?”

“No, not really. But I hear you guys constantly complaining about how everyone else over-promises and under-delivers. Why not do something about it?”

That simple dare became our biggest differentiator – and, more surprisingly, revolutionized the way we run our company.

During the dot-com boom, new businesses were founded on completely new thinking by young professionals, unencumbered by any notion of what was or wasn’t possible. Most of that potential was never realized, though – at least not in the first wave, since the young visionaries had no grounding in the disciplines that would sustain their visions over time.

However, we wondered, could our team fuse the experience of the old hands with the “anything is possible” optimism of our young teammate?

Once we got our minds around the concept, the experienced guys on the team were able to adjust some long-held assumptions and work through how to handle the risk, build the pricing and generally operationalize the concept.

It was a little bit like learning how to fly, as characterized by Douglas Adams in his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books: the key to flying was to throw yourself at the ground really hard, and miss.

It was exhilarating. I felt like we had just missed the ground by a huge margin, and instead were flying straight to a business model that embodied the exact opposite of everything we hated about the IT and consulting world.

The guarantee was an explicit one – with no wiggle room. Clients would measurably improve their business performance — in our instance, a 25 percent minimum reduction in absolute forecast error — or we wouldn’t get paid. Not a dime.

It could have been a disaster, but taking this leap of faith actually did incredible things for our organizational focus – and ultimately helped cement our culture and internally align all divisions of the company.

The developers know that the software has to work and be relevant to specific job responsibilities or they don’t get paid. Implementation and technical support? They better get it right or they don’t get paid. Sales people? They had better understand the client problem and know exactly how to solve it, or … well, you know…

Another benefit of this ‘put up or shut up’ philosophy was the elimination of the need to micromanage. Once everybody understood that the promise would not bend, I found I could trust everyone to solve problems the way they thought best.

Vacation policy? Didn’t need it. Our team was entrusted to take the time off that they knew they could afford to take. Office? Wherever they could open a laptop and do their best work. This culture tells us a lot about the kind of people we should hire — can they stay motivated and productive in our unique environment?

So an energetic, passionate clash of skilled professionals turned out to be lightning in a bottle. It let us fuse the brashness of youth with organizational know-how.

We still argue in meetings, of course. But these days I enjoy it. You never know what sorts of benefits it can produce.

This post first appeared on Venture Beat: Entrepreneur Corner on October 26, 2010

IT’s fiduciary responsibility for business performance: Best-of-breed versus the failed ERP approach

A few months ago, I wrote about IT and the competitive disadvantages inherent in an ERP approach. The short version: one-vendor suites are not a competitive differentiator and they’re not a business strategy. With the market requiring CIOs to be more business- and customer-driven than ever, I’m frankly surprised that salvos like Rick Veague’s (CTO, IFS North America) still get any serious credence. In the back-and-forth about best-of-breed and ERP, I appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives. But I say without equivocation that the assertions in this article are just plain wrong, top to bottom. Unfortunately, this seems to be the default perspective for too many CIOs.

In recent years though, there has been a growth in the number of stand-alone software solutions — “best of breed” applications as they are called — that threaten to roll back the progress experienced by manufacturers  these many years. These software products deal with only a segment of the enterprise, inhibiting the free flow of communication and reducing efficiencies. The more these software products proliferate, the more expensive and confusing enterprise technology becomes, and he [sic] more difficult it is to coalesce data for reporting and manage enterprise-wide security.

First of all, the big ERP suites are fundamentally a collection of best-of-breed functionality that was acquired piece by piece from competitors who outperformed them in a particular process or function. ERP vendors are essentially marshaling functions and integrating them in the background in the same way a best-of-breed, or bolt-on, strategy would. You’re just paying a hefty premium for the brand name.

ERP cannot provide the best in all things, all the time. Instead of empowering critical teams to seek the best way to do business, everybody is yoked to lowest-common-denominator performance. My thinking is uncomfortable and inconvenient for many CIOs who know that big suites make their life easier and provide a dependable supply of embroidered shirts and free rounds of golf. But it ultimately comes down to this: once a company is strategically clear about how they’re going to compete, they should then go find the technology to execute, giving their people the absolute best tools they can to beat the competition. ERP vendors routinely blur three critical areas of focus: best of talent, process and platform. This is old-school, reflexive protection of IT empire. It’s locked-in thinking that is killing companies’ ability to compete.

Selected facepalm moments from this article

Late in the article, Veague highlights a number of disadvantages of best-of-breed. On the whole, I found these objections were shallow, ticky-tacky or low-level. What they collectively miss, and it’s a big miss, is the imperative that all technology should directly support your strategic initiatives. One vanilla system cannot possibly help your company do this. If you have an ERP that’s sub-optimizing critical functions that your team needs to better compete, I can guarantee you that it’s costing you a lot more than the growing pains of integrating a best-of-breed ever would. I’m talking about revenue, cost-efficiencies and EBITDA. If you can’t point directly to how IT is driving all those factors, your IT isn’t doing its job.

That’s the standard we hold ourselves to, and the linchpin of our company’s value proposition: we guarantee that our software will deliver outstanding performance (like reducing forecast error by 25%) and a bottom-line impact (minimum 5% increase in EDITDA) that would offset any issue listed below 100 times over. It is this type of performance that underlies the strength in best-of-breed. Companies need to understand it, utilize it, and let their IT help them be more competitive rather than dummied down and made to be like everyone else. But on to Veague’s points…

Integrating best of breed solutions requires the work of systems integrators, adding cost and substantially extending implementation time. These efforts are typically unnecessary with a Suite application.

Ain’t necessarily so. Today, integrating can actually be faster and cost less.

Reporting and access to information can be more expensive using a best of breed solutions because corporate information is spread across multiple applications and platforms.

Technologically, this is completely wrong. This has been proven time and time again. For example, having a data warehouse that supports best in breed/performance architecture bears a cost that is certainly no more, and possibly less expensive than an ERP.

A best of breed solution can increase costs for supporting technology acquisition and maintenance costs.

Only if mismanaged. The amount you pay for installs, maintenance and upgrades of an integrated suite are going to more than erase any savings you get here.

Different best of breed solutions tend to have distinct or unique security models, and that means it is harder to maintain security and privacy across an integrated collection of products.

Sorry, but this sounds like garbage to me. There are many applications that will exactly mirror the security model from your ERP and/or financial systems.

Usability and the ability to collaborate are often diminished with a collection of best of breed solutions because users that must work cross-functionally must learn different user interfaces and systems. This is in contrast with a Suite product that offers a consistent, well-thought-out user experience.

I think that this is fundamentally wrong. If you have a big ERP suite with a forecasting module that is there because, well, it just comes with the rest of the bundle, your people aren’t going to use it to the degree they they should. Your best performers aren’t going to adopt some perfunctory, clunky what-not just because it’s integrated. However,if you give them a tool that is tailored to the way that they work and they see how it will make them better, then they’ll see the value and usability will go up accordingly. If you go down to the lowest common denominator, people don’t get deeply involved and they won’t collaborate anyway.

There are a lot of companies out there that are less competitive than they could be because thinking like Veague’s is taken for granted. I’ll be blunt about it: any officers at any company who swallow this stuff wholesale are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities to their teams, their bosses and their shareholders.

Competitive Advantage: Best Practices for Delivering a World Class S&OP, Forecasting and Demand Planning Capability

This might be more about me than you wanted to know, but guess what? The new season of Dancing with the Stars is on. My girls and I are enjoying being all snarky about outfits and physical coordination; we are jointly rooting for Evan and Nicole and I, of course, have a personal fondness for Pamela. Watching dancing that’s alternately enjoyable and gut-wrenchingly horrible naturally gets me thinking about — wait for it — forecasting and demand planning. Are most companies good at forecasting?  How would they rank as contestants on FWTS (Forecasting with the Stars)? Okay, I won’t take that one any farther.

What the hell does this have to do with demand planning and forecasting?

Just the same, most of the research from the likes of AMR/Gartner indicates — and our experience at Demand Foresight certainly reinforces — the idea that the current state of forecasting and demand planning is in a state similar to a young couple learning how to dance. They might currently be focusing on spins or twirls or lifts, but it isn’t until it all comes together in fluid, integrated simpatico that it really works and makes the dancers and the audience happy.

The perfect steps
What, then, is the perfect incarnation of demand planning and forecasting?  Ideally, it would be a way of day-to-day working in which:

• Every professional within an enterprise understands that the forecast is the most important business tool to get right and use correctly.

• It would be supported by simple and straightforward processes and enabled by intelligent and helpful technology.

• It would be measured.

• It would form a large portion of compensation.

• It would be an articulated focus of the organization and its leadership in pursuit of its vision and strategy.

Unfortunately, in most enterprises, the current state of demand planning (modeling and managing the demand side of the business) falls far short of unison, confidence and grace.

For example, we as a business community don’t even know what to call it: Demand Planning? CPFR? S&OP? Forecasting? Sensing? Guessing? We discussed that in an earlier set of blogs – hopefully our definitions make sense.

Timing the steps: what are the time frames for demand planning and forecasting?
Some of the terms above and/or approaches are delineated by time frames (someone mentioned demand sensing the other day) — short-term forecasting focused on minutes, hours and days. S&OP, on the other hand, is purported to focus on mid-term time frames — 6 to 18 months out. Then, of course, there is Strategic Planning (the providence of highly paid prognosticators, researchers and people afraid of getting their hands dirty actually making something), which focuses on issues years out (minimum 18 months and longer) — capacity requirements, brands, market positioning etc.

In my mind, all of these time frames are included in a successful demand planning and forecasting dynamic.  They feed into one another and are dependent on each other.  Successful forecasting around a new product launch (very near-term forecasting: “Do consumers like this color?”) will impact strategic thinking about what new products in which to invest. Investments in capacity will drive new marketing activities, which will promote sales volume that needs to be forecasted 2 to 4 weeks out, if that capacity is domestically sited. I think you get the point: fundamentally, the process needs to include what is going to happen 10 hours from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now — all are part of successfully integrated demand planning.

I also want to spend a little time with this oft-occurring question: what is the right view point to drive demand planning and forecasting? Sales forecasts?  Marketing forecasts? Customer forecasts?  Financial forecasts?  These are different pictures of demand based on inputs from professionals with specific responsibilities, external factors, and business requirements (“We need to have this market share or margin,” etc). The answer is not that one of these viewpoints is correct, but that each of them has value in the true picture of demand and need to be included into the process of continuously quantifying demand.  The hard question is how to include all of these points of view.

You are well aware of the appropriate technical platform for enabling this work…right? But what is best process? The best process is the one that works, the managers are willing to enforce etc. All the same stuff has been laid out in numerous books and courses through out the years. But I think there are a few other keys…

Ownership of forecast accuracy
One key we have seen is that regardless of the process, one person or group does have to own the forecast and its accuracy.  One way we have seen this work well is for each group to have its own forecast (our software happens to support multiple forecasts across an organization): sales will have a forecast, as will marketing, maybe even the customers’ forecast can be integrated, too. Then each is locked according to the process time frame, i.e., first Wednesday of the month).

Now, let’s say the planning group owns the forecast. They will perhaps host a meeting (a consensus meeting?) and get everyone to compromise enough to generate one consensus forecast that can be sent to operations and/or purchasing.  Or if planning really owns it (and is measured on it and compensated by it), they will make the decisions unilaterally.  The key is: each forecast submitted from each areas of focus can be measured against actuals to get a specific view as to forecasting accuracy.  And that will help drive future process improvements and allocation of responsibilities.

In order to keep everyone focused on the process — do not forget, this is really, really key — do not forget to have every one of the input groups, from sales to finance, have part of their compensation predicated on forecast accuracy.  There are number of ways to do this, and perhaps we will share some experiences in a future post. But the big point is to have forecast accuracy drive compensation in some form or fashion.  And this makes perfect sense if you believe in the importance of forecasting for bottom line performance and competitive advantage over time.

When this holistic version of forecasting is working well, it is like a really enjoyable dance.  When one professional from sales makes a change to a short-term forecast, they understand they are also impacting the planning group’s 13-month rolling budget view and the strategy group’s 3-year investment plan.  During the monthly forecast cycle — time should be spent 12 or 13 month out — think what this would save (time, resources) for annual planning process.

And like the beautiful, organic dance routine that the new dancers want to master, this is a goal for demand planning and forecasting in companies that are going to thrive in the future. In fact, it is imperative that everyone understands and accepts the responsibility for as accurate a forecast as possible.

This means accounting for as many time frames as possible. It means taking into account the many different perspectives within and without an organization; Utilizing the many forms of data currently available to organizations — both internal and external. It means making demand forecasting a strategic imperative within the organization, tied directly to the successful attainment of the corporate strategy and vision. And that means making sure compensation is tied to the accuracy of the execution level forecast. And by the way, the technical platform to enable this is key and I happen to know a solution that can enable this nicely.

P.S. Go, Pamela!