Supply Chain Blog

Supply Chain Analytics: Sprouts, Imodium & Harry Potter

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, Jan 18, 2017

Christmas and new year holidays seem a long way behind. The decorations have been squeezed back into their boxes for another year and Slade, Cliff, Bing, Bowie and others are safely back in their CD cases. Turkeys around the world are rejoicing as much as the children who do not have to tackle Brussels Spouts for another 12 months.

 

As ever, platform 9 at London’s Kings Cross station is a lonely place jam-packed full of people. Fellow commuters all with the same futile hope of securing a double seat with a table and a charging point nearby. A seat of any kind would be a bonus on your daily commute out of London to Cambridge on the 07.44 but at least this train will run and is on time. This must be the only form of transport globally where you can pay a premium seat price to stand next to a blocked toilet. Enjoy!

 

Blue Monday, even the odorous toilet spot has been taken so you are further relegated to the unheated bicycle area which must have been designed for Eskimos with unicycles. Settled as well as it is going to get, your thoughts turn to the new year ahead and the depressing expectation of the same old operational problems and challenges popping up. The slow chug-chug of the train brings the first lines of Bohemian Rhapsody to mind as an apt description of how you feel:

 

Is this the real life?SUPPLY_CHAIN_ANALYTICS_IT_FMCG.jpg
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

 

This sneaks into your head repeatedly even as the chugging slows and Cambridge eases into view. Time to snap out of it and get the business hat firmly on. At least the new ERP is in place and after a 3-month error-ridden ramp-up it should be ready to support the business a little better than the in-house, low cost, back of a fag packet version that lasted more than 10 years. There is a lot riding on this expensive ERP; this ERP will finally tell us what is really happening in our supply chain.

 

Well no, it will not.

 

Don’t worry, you have not invested heavily in the wrong software. The ERP will do exactly what is says on the tin which is probably in the German language.

 

Thinking back to that train toilet, consider for a moment that your ERP is Imodium – a fantastic product which does exactly what it claims on the pack. You can trust Imodium to get you from A to B where B is not necessarily where you want to be but it is a place of distinct safety and comfort. Imodium does not tell you what went wrong inside nor does it tell you what to do differently to avoid the same effect at a later date. In short, Imodium slows down your business but doesn’t tell you what is wrong.

 

What you need is some form of Supply Chain Analytics to sit on top of your ERP/Imodium – not a substitute. Your new ERP will have automated your usual ways of working but this seldom leads to huge improvement and often, performance visibly worsens with the increased noise and operator nervousness in the planning processes. Inevitably, the forecast takes the blame. The issues lie within the supply chain processes, the set-up of the IT systems and how add-on tools are being used. To protect themselves, your supply chain managers are buffering supply chains with unnecessary inventory and backside-protecting lead-times.

 

Analytics uses your data to analyse and diagnose what is happening in your supply chain by providing a suite of tools and dashboards to model the implications of your decision making. Achieving extra visibility across the supply chain inevitably delivers better service, lower costs, happier people and a supply chain that is easier to manage.

Analytics is transforming the way organisations improve performance and gain competitive advantage, every day. Even on those cold, wet Mondays when you are at the station contemplating another standing commute. Take a look at Supply Chain Analytics and you will find yourself with exclusive access to Kings Cross Platform 9¾ and we all know what magic is possible there!

Image courtesy of Poulsen Photo at freedigitalphotos.net

Tags: FMCG, Dave Jordan, CEO, Humour, Supply Chain, Supply Chain Analytics, IT

Supply Chain Analytics: Is your data providing information & actions?

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, Nov 09, 2016

Who coined the term “Big Data”? How did we get there without tiny data, ordinary data, slightly larger data, chubby data and bordering on big data? People working in or associated with Supply Chains seem obsessed by data yet data itself tells you absolutely nothing. Really, not a lot apart from the fact that something is being measured or calculated.

Firstly, a couple of information irritations. If you need to renew your UK passport (must be similar for other countries too) you need to have your identity confirmed by someone in a certain profession, e.g. doctor, teacher and be a person of “good standing in their community”. The allowed list of professions includes Bankers which baffles me these days. Anyway, the signatory must provide information confirming your identification and you get the passport. Information and not data gets the job done.

 

My bank writes to me – note, sends me a physical letter – asking me to confirm my address! “If you know where I live why do I have to call you to confirm what you already know?” TINA as Maggie Thatcher would say, there is no alternative so you must bite your tongue and provide the information.

In Supply Chains the data obsession is growing. “Show me the data. How does the latest data look? Will the data protect my backside?” Data is only valuable if you know what it is measuring, what it means and what you need to do to change or influence an aspect of future business performance. For data to be useful it must be converted into useful information and then into appropriate actions.

Someone is shouting “data is information isn’t it”? Well, no it is not and as Michael Caine insists he never said, “not a lot of people know that”. Consider this example.

Due to some poor forward planning by the travel department you find yourself airborne for the duration of a vital end of season relegation encounter. On leaving the plane you ask an airport worker about the big football game. All he/she can tell you is that 4 goals were scored. Is that helpful?

CANALYTICS_SUPPLY_CHAIN_DATA_INFORMATION.jpgertainly, the match sounds like it was entertaining but your overpaid wimpy football idols needed a win. The data you have been given is 100% accurate but it does not actually tell you anything about the outcome. Was it 2-2, 3-1, 1-3 or even a diabolical 4-0/0-4?

When you understand the final score was 3-1 in favour of your football wimps you are elated and think about kissing the moustachioed guy at security but back down just in time – that metal detector sausage could cause some damage. Instead of being as sick as a parrot you are over the moon, y’know what I mean?

You have converted that raw goals scored data into information and then into celebratory actions. In terms of actions this means you have wisely decided against kissing the Village People lookalike security guard to head off to quaff several pints of the foaming ale. When you only had the 4-goal data you had no idea of the outcome.

Increasingly you need to turn to analytics to understand what is actually happening in your Supply Chain why it is happening and most importantly, what needs to change for future business success.

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at freedigitalphotos.net

Tags: Supply Chain, Inventory Management & Stock Control, Supply Chain Analytics, IT

Supply Chain Analytics: The birth of a new Dawn, or Daniel

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, Nov 02, 2016

Anyone expecting their first child has probably been told by a gloating-doting grandparent-to be that their lives are about to change dramatically. This is of course untrue as in reality dramatically is too simple a word and in any event, that “change” is far, far different than granny suggests. Your pre-natal life as you know it will become obsolete at the snip of a chord.

Sleep, sanity, social life and other activities beginning with “s” will soon become history as you become slaves to the mini-me you have created who appears to have over active exhaust systems at both ends. Night and day whizz past in a blur of endless demands for food and cleaning and screaming and that is just the husband.

Did you know what sex the little darling was before the big day or did you wait and see what would be delivered? Did you and the family try to predict boy or girl based on family history? You know, things like the first born is always a boy if the birth takes place in summer. Or, it must be a girl based on the size of the baby bump etc., etc.

Supply_Chain_Analytics_CEO_Planning.jpgDespite all the indicators and family history and old wives’ tales you got the sex of the baby wrong? Dear me, there are only 2 options after all! If you can get that 50/50 prediction wrong how on earth do people cope in the supply chain business when the number and type of variables is enormous? (You knew the segue was coming and there it is!)

What is going to happen in the future is always difficult to predict even remotely accurately.

Hold on a minute but what about all that Supply Chain data? Your Management Information System is running red hot; the KPI Dashboard has digital steam coming out of its ears and you can see numbers bursting out of the air vents on the top of the Data Warehouse. You have more data available than you can shake a USB Data Stick at!

The problem is that all those numbers and colour coded percentages help to tell you everything that has already happened in your Supply Chain. Good to know of course but isn’t it better to know why certain events happened and how they can be avoided in the future?

I can imagine your last S&OP meeting involved making considered changes to plans and activities to correct certain deficiencies or to take advantage of opportunities. All well and good but the internal operational deficiency you have is that you must wait weeks or months or longer to find out if your strategy was successful.

What you need is an analytical tool to take advantage of all that data and convert it into actionable information. A tool which allows you to diagnose the precise causes of past events and which allows you to model the probable results of your decisions into the future. These tools exist as cost effective cloud based solutions but most companies stubbornly remain convinced that their expensively installed MIS/ERP should be sufficient. Put simply, alone, they are not.

When you were thinking about starting a family if you knew which “tadpole” was most likely to win the race you would not be on a ladder hurriedly repainting the nursery blue!

Image courtesy of dream designs at freedigitalphotos.net

Tags: CEO, Forecasting & Demand Planning, Supply Chain Analytics, IT

FMCG – Hunkering down for Supply Chain Analytics

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

Have you ever “hunkered down”? I remember being asked to hunker down during a supply chain training course many years ago and I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Eventually I had to ask as failing to follow the hunker downwards request appeared to be causing a bit of a problem for the presenter.

This hunkering failure occurred during one of the many versions of the Beer Game in which I have taken part or run over the years. Anyone who has been involved with supply chain activities will probably have taken part in the Beer Game, or the Moussy Game as it is sometimes known in dry countries of the Middle East.

What does the beer game do? The rules are relatively simple and in summary the overall objective is to meet consumer demand for cases of beer in a complex, extended supply chain while controlling unplanned expense on back orders and inventory. The game involves four overlapping and inter-dependent supply chains, i.e. manufacturing, distribution, procurement and a retail outlet. There is a cost penalty for holding excess stock and any backlog unfulfilled orders.

Players rely on colleagues in the other departments to do the right things for the business but frustration soon surfaces. Usually, things do not go well and players feel frustrated because they are not getting the results they expect. Assumptions are made about consumer demand and erratic patterns emerge as backlogs mount and/or massive unnecessary stocks accumulate. It was at this stage in the game I was told to “hunker down……….”.

Does that sound like your own supply chain – not the hunkering bit? Frustration is common between departments who all aim to do the right thing but only have the necessary data and information to do the right thing for their specific area of responsibility at that specific time. Even after careful consideration and informed debate, the real effect of an adjustment can only be seen in the future.

supply_chain_analytics_fmcg_inventory_performance.jpgIF - a big if -  nothing else changes and all assumptions are correct and accurate then there is a chance the desired effect will develop. However, life is not like that and certainly not supply chain life. What can happen?

New launches kick-in and are successful, or not.

Competition by definition is designed to disrupt your plans.

The weather turns out rather different to the forecast.

The economy takes a turn up or down.

Factories, 3PLPs and distributors all suffer performance variability.

Customers and consumers change their needs and habits.

Etc., etc., etc., this list really is endless. Absolutely anything can happen to turn apparently sensible decisions into foolish, forecast failure.

Hey, what about all that IT we have? Doesn’t that help us understand what is going on? This should tell us what is really going to happen in supply chains? No, not necessarily. Common supply chain IT tells us what has happened, what is happening, where and when but not precisely why an event happened or what will happen.

Subtle differences perhaps but to up your game you need to hunker down with Supply Chain Analytics to gain a full unexpurgated understanding of how changes you make today will impact the future and more importantly, how you can change that future.

Yes, you can.

Image courtesy of Enchange at Enchange.com

Tags: Customer service, FMCG, CEO, Inventory Management & Stock Control, Supply Chain Analytics, IT

UK NHS Supply Chain: bed-busting benefits of patient SKUs

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, Jun 29, 2016

Some time ago I looked at the often dreadful customer service offered by FMCG and Telecoms companies in CEE. Of course, this avoidable malaise is not restricted to that part of the world. After being in UK for a few weeks I have experienced really poor service from organisations you would think had top notch, high performing supply chains.

The Royal Mail and all those “black and white cat” types will be the subject of a later blog but first in line for critique is the National Health Service.

The NHS in the UK is a precious gem and really is the envy of most other countries where credit cards have to be produced before you hear the Marigold’s snap on. The NHS is supported by a seriously complex, unpredictable and volatile supply chain. On this occasion supply chain certainly includes the provision of medical supplies, equipment, foods to multiple locations around a hospital site. (I am tempted to bang on about the quality food or to be more exact, the amount of wasted food as most of what I see is not going to win any awards.)

My bone of contention with NHS service is about beds, the availability of which is a constant battle which is seemingly never won. Operations are regularly postponed when there are no beds available for post-op recuperation. Yes, some beds are certainly blocked by long term patient residents but my observations suggest there are actually many beds woefully under utilised. To alleviate the problem, I am certainly not suggesting bed sharing which does occur elsewhere. (I have personally seen a single bed with 4 occupants at the same time in a certain country.)

While it is important patients are treated with the utmost dignity and with the best care in the world I think NHS bed availability would be improved if patients were considered as SKU’s on a supermarket shelf. Just take the emotion away for a moment and consider how this might work.

Each bed is shelf in a shop and the optimum situation is to see all these shelf locations full and more importantly, replenished as soon as stock (patients) moves off the shelves (beds). As with transferring stock from the Lidl back of store to gondola ends, this should not be rocket science. And quite right too as long as decisions are made in the optimum sequence and information is in full flow.

Admittedly based on my massive sample of 1 hospital, I see the following sequence of activities:

  1. NHS_SUPPLY_CHAIN_BED_PLANNING.jpg1. Patient gets ready to leave and sits in a chair waiting for discharge.
  2. 2. Nothing happens at the bed.
  3. 3. A patient leaves the bed and is discharged.
  4. 4. Nothing happens at the bed.
  5. 5. The bed is stripped and all cups, jugs etc. are removed.
  6. 6. Nothing happens at the bed.
  7. 7. Bed and surrounding area are cleaned and the bed re-made.
  8. 8. Nothing happens at the bed.
  9. 9. Eventually, a new patient arrives to fill the bed but this can be several hours and often overnight, after the vacancy was first identified.

Just a little bit of basic demand and supply forecasting plus timely information transfer would see a far higher utilisation of available bed space and over the period of a year, noticeably shorter waiting times.

Ok, so I know little about the intricacies of the NHS and maybe other hospitals are slicker in their bed allocation but I feel it is a huge opportunity. A change in mindset and a willingness to learn from other supply chains could prove invaluable. I did offer my services to look at this acute bed shortage problem and was welcomed as long as I had previous experience of working within the NHS…….

Isn’t that the problem? If you are not open to new ideas and innovative solutions, you will get nowhere while the NHS wastes money on incestuous internal studies and reviews. Remember Einstein, who probably did have good knowledge of rocket science; “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Image courtesy of Suriya Kankliang at freedigitalphotos.net

 

Tags: SKU, FMCG, Dave Jordan, Forecasting & Demand Planning, IT, Information