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Route to Market & Supply Chain Blog

FMCG Planning - A short history of technology advancement

Posted by Dave Jordan on Tue, Jun 25, 2024

Plan, Plan and Plan Again!

All major companies run some sort of ERP to support their business whether they are FMCG, pharma, brewing or indeed anyone who “makes stuff” for Joe Public to buy.  Many blue-chips have invested in big name software packages while others may have chosen a cheap and cheerful locally built product. The big name offering is not always the most user-friendly solution but then the made-to-measure option also has drawbacks, usually support and lack of flexibility. Anyway, getting to the planning point….....

Dark Ages

A discussion this week on supply chain planning and scheduling had me thinking about how planning used to be done, Yes, ok go on, cue Mary Hopkin singing Those Were The Days – all the young things reading this should look her up on YouTube. Before type-writers the planning process must have been largely verbal with some lowly paid scribe scratching away with a quill on parchment taking down orders from sales people.

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Manual accumulation would follow until a demand for raw and packaging materials was derived. After typing on corporate headed paper and receiving the company stamp the various orders would be sealed in envelopes and posted, often across the globe. What sort of lead time would that process have offered? What on earth happened if there was to be a change or there was an error in the typing or – just a faint possibility – the sales department got the forecast just a little bit wrong?

Tippy-Tappy Planning

Typewriters will have improved the process a little but the reliance on snail-mail would be the norm until the possibility of the Telex popped up. This was still heavily reliant on manual intervention and of course the planning process itself remained rudimentary and paper based but at least it was faster.

Communications eased with the arrival of the fax machine. At least now the lead time between order issue and receipt could be a matter of minutes and changes could be made without waiting for the post person to plod up the driveway. Different departments could exchange information as long as a telephone line was available. Still, the task of finding and collating data would remain in the relative dark ages despite the arrival of tablet-sized Sinclair calculators.


The computer arrives and provides a massive step forward. Now there was a bit of IT to support the planning and scheduling number crunching process and make the order process far slicker.  Software to take account of history, market activities and launches facilitated business forecasting – not necessarily with more accuracy, however.

Move ahead only a few more years and we have suppliers, producers and customers fully integrated with common IT, processes and data. Collaborative planning gets partners proactively working together for a common goal rather than being defensive and protective of their individual silos. Producers can see when a consumer buys their product, at what time, in which store and at what price – they probably know their names via the loyalty card scheme too! Sales people know when shelves are emptying or empty and can send orders in real time from hand-held devices.

Perpetual Planning

Now we get bang up to date and we have always-on planning supported by expensive IT and associated consultants! In theory, any significant change in consumer-take off should be rapidly communicated back up the producer supply chain and adjustments made to MRP, manufacturing and scheduling et al. Should being the operative word.

This summer, most of the UK will hold BBQs to watch England not win the European Championship again and into a group of suppliers there trickles a change in demand for burgers, ketchup and charcoal. etc. This sounds brilliant but the one concern I have is that machines start eroding the basic planning skills of humans. When the IT fails (it will) how do you keep operations going if the artificial brain is having a bit of a nightmare?

To Infinity and Beyond....

Technological innovation has brought planning a long way since the 1800’s and there is undoubtedly more to come and I wonder what is next.  So, while you tap away in your ERP spare a thought for how planning was carried out in times when a PC was a London Bobby, having a Wii in your living room was impolite and unacceptable and an iPad was still just a simple typing error. Start singing Mary, Those were the days my friend........

Tags: Dave Jordan, ERP/SAP, S&OP, Forecasting & Demand Planning, Integrated Business Planning

Tags: Supply Chain, IT, Production Planning, Planning

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