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Route to Market & Supply Chain Blog

Time for Action - Confused by FMCG data & information?

Posted by Dave Jordan on Wed, May 15, 2024

Who coined that irritating term “Big Data”? How did we get there without normal sized data, slightly larger data, large data and bordering on big data? People working in or associated with extended Supply Chains may seem obsessed by data yet data itself actually tells you nothing, absolutely nothing apart from the fact that something is being watched, measured or calculated.

Perhaps some FMCG companies should have a data limit as you do with mobile phone contracts. Once the business has reached a certain data level, no more is allowed and you just have to get on with running the business with what you know rather than analysing and re-analysing numbers.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Firstly, a couple of daily life irritations to prepare the ground. Until recently, if you needed to renew your UK passport  you had to have your identity confirmed by someone in a certain profession, e.g. doctor, teacher etc and be a person of 'good standing in their community'. (Strangely, MPs were automatically included in the 'good standing' category.)  The allowed list of professions also included Bank Officials which still baffles me after the way they have behaved over many years. Anyway, the signatory has to provide information confirming your identification and you get the passport. Information not data, gets the job done.

My bank writes to me – NB, sends me a physical paper 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 you know?” TINA (There Is No Alternative) as Margaret Thatcher would say, so you have to bite your tongue and provide the information. Not data.

Data Navigator?

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

I can see someone shouting at the screen “data is information isn’t it”? Well, no it is not and as the actor Sir Michael Caine insists he did not say, “not a lot of people know that”. People in all walks of life and business have a defective understanding of the differences and uses of data and information.

Post Airbus Score Search

Let us look at an example totally unconnected with Supply Chain. Due to some poor forward planning by the travel department, you find yourself at 36,000 feet for the duration of a vital end of season English Premier League relegation battle. On finally leaving the comfort of the Airbus 380 you ask the first airport employee you see about the big game. All they can tell you is that there were 4 goals scored. Ok, that is good to know but is it helpful? What does this short verbal exchange tell you?

Certainly, the match sounds like it was entertaining and not a nil nil bore draw but your overpaid, carefully coiffured,  wimpy Premier soccer idols needed a winning result. The data you have been given is deadly accurate but it does not tell you anything about the outcome of the contest. Was it 2-2, 3-1, 1-3 or even 4-0/0-4? You do not know, yet.

When you finally understand the final result was 3-1 in favour of your over-paid team you are obviously elated. You think about kissing the moustachioed guy at the security desk but back down just in time – that metal detector wand could cause some serious damage. Instead of being as sick as a parrot you are over the moon, y’know what I mean?

Information Creation

So what is the message here? You have converted the raw data from the airport guy into information and then into actions. In terms of actions this means you have wisely decided against kissing the Village People-like  security guard in order to head off to quaff several pints of celebratory foaming ale. When you only had the overall 4 goals piece of data you had no idea of the actual scoring outcome, how you needed to react and what you needed to do. In this case it was to find a pub but in your Supply Chain case it will be to take appropriate, performance enhancing actions.

The next time you are in an S&OP or similar meeting and somebody from Sales complains about a Customer Service level of 66% (or lower!) you need to ask for the valuable information behind that number. Then, and only then can you find out what went wrong and how to prevent or at least minimise, recurrence. Which client? Which sector? What volume? What was forecasted? What was promised? What was expected?

Help! I need somebody.

If you have any Supply Chain problems or opportunities you would like to discuss then please reach out to Enchange.com via telephone, email, or live chat.

Tags: FMCG, Dave Jordan, Performance Improvement, KPI, Supply Chain, S&OP

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