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Articulating Supply Chain Needs in the Language of the C-Suite

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Q1 economic data provides some important signposts for industry supply chain teams, especially in their increasing needs to boost agility and responsiveness to overall supply chain capabilities. By our lens, the data reflects that supply chain leaders must more than ever, be able to translate needs and requirements in the language of the C-suite and in the notions of desired business outcomes.  Boardroom 300x200 Articulating Supply Chain Needs in the Language of the C Suite

We have often admired Oracle CEO Mark Hurd’s ability to demonstrate how to effectively communicate in the language of the C-Suite. That includes his observations that in a global economic environment where economies grow 2-3 percent on average, and where investors expect or demand far higher returns, something must give. He describes CEO priorities as concurrently managing for growth as well as cost savings.  Companies must take market-share from competitors or out-innovate the competition in products, added services or business capabilities, or risk the peril of being out-innovated by an industry disruptor. Hurd then provides meaningful evidence of how Cloud-based technology and applications can address the needs of top-line growth with lower overall costs.

Latest Data

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported (Paid subscription required) that in the first quarter of 2017, the largest U.S. companies have been booking their strongest quarterly profits in five years, mostly from keeping a lid on spending for new projects, plants, and headcount. According to the WSJ, data on capital expenditures suggest that companies remain somewhat cautious on large expenditures. The report observes: “Profits at S&P 500 companies jumped an estimated 13.9 percent in the first quarter, growing nearly twice as fast as revenue.” While there is some notable industry exception such as declining growth and profitability for food and consumer staples providers, business leaders have been generally pleasing investors with attractive returns while being rather stingy on investments other than stock buybacks and added dividends.
As noted in a prior blog commentary, data related to U.S. GDP growth in and PMI activity in the first quarter adds some uncertainties for businesses. The report indicates that some businesses have reluctantly increased select hiring because of overt needs to increase overall productivity as top line revenues grow in environments that are generally lean in their ability to support added business needs.

Turning to hiring, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate in the United States dropped to a ten-year low of 4.4 percent while hourly earnings are up a mere 2.5 percent, on average, from a year earlier. Likewise, our view of various global PMI indices among key global regions such as the Eurozone and Asia indicate that manufacturing and supply chain employment is on the rise, albeit a gradual rise.

Thus, the job market is tightening, particularly for skills that are in high demand such as automated manufacturing and analytics based supply-chain decision-making. Supply chain leaders are fully aware of existing cross-functional talent need shortfalls and that challenge is likely to increase in the coming months.

Our sense is that the U.S. economy, and perhaps certain Eurozone economies are once again reaching a tight job market where in-demand people skills will be even more difficult to acquire without boosting compensation and benefits. Skilled employees will quickly understand their added worth in a tightened labor market. For emerging and mid-market manufacturers and services providers who must always operate on lean budgets, the people impacts will be more magnified.

 

Existing Realities

Industry supply chains are literally caught in the middle of these forces.

Pressures to meet the needs of digital process transformation and the online Omni-channel environment remain unabated. The quest for added supply chain cost savings continues across many industry sectors. Those pressures are passed along to suppliers and services providers across multiple tiers of the supply chain with the result that agility or responsiveness to new business opportunities or for product and process innovation are hampered across the product value chain.

In many cases, legacy processes and backbone systems have not changed since the era of client-server computing and point-to-point integration of transactions and data. The result has been more augmented processes and added spreadsheets to support needs for quicker decision-making demanded by the business. IT is now under enormous pressure to reduce infrastructure and data integration costs, because of these same business forces. Supply chain teams are likewise losing resources that were supporting the various patchwork processes.

Something must give and we believe many supply chain leaders know it.

 

Communicating the Language of C-Suite

Communicating in the language of the C-Suite implies advocating plans for the supply chain to support business priorities and desired outcomes, including supporting top-line revenue growth while continuing to reduce costs and improve productivity and timely decision-making.

The forces of digital transformation are twofold. First, transformation leads to meeting changing customer needs and expectations as well as added areas to support top-line revenue growth. Second, digital transformation provides supply chains the ability to leverage advanced Cloud-based computing and technologies that avoid needs for major legacy system upgrades that risk major business disruption. Cloud adoption places the burden of any added or changed IT infrastructure, data security and systems growth needs on the Cloud services provider.  The result can be a more predictable recurring operational cost line on the budget with the ability to leverage needs for digital transformation along with needs to support required people productivity needs.

The IMF recently increased its forecast of global growth to 3.5 percent citing building momentum for the Eurozone, China, and the United States. If that occurs, businesses will be under the gun to again boost shareholder returns, take maximum advantage of added growth opportunities while continuing to boost productivity and cost savings.

Now is the time to advocate supply chain process, technology and people needs in the vernacular of the C-Suite. It requires a twofold agenda for helping the business to increase revenue and customer growth while better controlling costs and worker productivity. It is also about enabling smarter, more informed, and timely decision-making prediacted on anticipating market and customer needs.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


Q1 Economic Data Again Echoes Challenges in Integrated Business Planning

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For multi-industry sales and operations planning (S&OP) teams, keeping an eye on the global economy and on individual global regions has been an important consideration in efforts to meet business planning goals and achieve proper supply chain alignment. Yet, global and individual region economic and supply chain indices often reflect a differing collection of trending and forecasting.

Entering the year, there was little doubt that 2017 would provide a multitude of uncertainties related to both global economies and geo-political developments that could impact economies. In its World Economic Outlook published in October 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cited a subdued outlook for 2017 with political tensions and policy uncertainties prevalent. The October WTO forecast called for anticipated global growth rate of 3.4 percent in 2017.

Last week’s Spring meeting of world finance chiefs in Washington brought forward a more optimistic outlook. The IMF has raised its forecast for global growth to 3.5 percent, the first time this agency has elevated its original forecast in the past six years. The agency cited a stronger reported growth rate in China in Q1 along with improving economies in Europe and Japan. The IMF chief economist indicated to the Financial Times that the world economy was firing on all engines, albeit not very strongly. Another former IMF chief economist indicated to the FT that the low-growth legacies of the 2008 financial crisis have literally reached an end.

That data alone would obviously fuel optimistic perspectives for integrated business planning.

However, during the past few days, GDP growth and PMI indices point to varying sign points.The U.S. Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy literally stumbled in Q1, as manifested by a 0.7 percent annual growth rate in the January through March period. That figure reflected the slowest pace of expansion in almost three years. According to various commentaries, American consumers sharply cut-back on spending despite consumer optimism being at an all-time high. A drawback in inventories had a significant negative effect on growth in the quarter. Yet, economists and the Commerce Department remain optimistic since other data points to increased business investment and stronger growth in the months to come. The new Trump Administration has put forth a U.S. GDP growth target of 3.5 to 4 percent for the year.

Meanwhile, a review of major global and regional PMI indices indicates that:

  • Global manufacturing and PMI activity reflected by the P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI index slipped to a three-month low for April. This recognized benchmark of global supply chain activity registered a value of 52.7 at the close of 2016. The April value was reported as 52.8.
  • The ISM Report on Business PMI (United States) decreased 2.4 percentage points in April, while the accompanying New Orders index decreased 7 percentage points in April.
  • Eurozone manufacturing expanded at the fastest pace in six years during April.
  • China’s General Manufacturing PMI reflected that the country’s manufacturers started Q2 with a further slowdown in production and new business growth momentum.

The above data points, by our lens, are a reinforcement of what integrated business planning processes must now deal with on a continuous basis. There are now multitudes of different data and information points that must be synthesized, weighted, and factored with more emphasis on the weighting of regional or country-specific product demand sensing. General forecasts based on historic data are no longer sufficient. Planning is now a continuous process with continual input at a much more granular level.

Some current examples of the implications can be observed in the consumer packaged goods and automotive industry sectors.

Market data from Nielson indicates that volume sales for packaged food products in the U.S. fell 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017. Noted in one of our prior blog postings, many branded CPG food producers continue to deal with challenges of low growth and permanent changes in consumer buying. For the automotive industry, a multi-year period of robust sales growth in North America is showing signs of more subdued growth. Producers such as Ford Motor, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors reported April monthly sales declines, including popular selling truck and SUV models. According to data from WardsAuto.com, U.S. auto dealers are now languished with a 72-day supply of unsold new vehicles. A report by The Wall Street Journal indicates that GM has nearly one million vehicles sitting on dealer lots. Additional manufacturing cutbacks are now being considered even though the late Spring and Summer are traditional periods of higher volume sales.

Our prediction for 2016, and again for 2017 is that resiliency, adaptability, and risk mitigation are very important competencies since the pace of business and of economic data are in constant flux. It is much more important for teams to be able to constantly sense market demand and look-ahead to what is occurring in specific regions.

The takeaway is that S&OP and respective supply chain planning teams are tasked to insure bimodal business plan performance which implies growing the top revenue line, insuring business margins are fulfilled, and that proper contingencies for the business and for the supply chain are always in-play, regardless of the constant ebbs and flows of the global economy.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


Market Education Series- The Future of Supply Chain Planning

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This Supply Chain Matters blog commentary is the first in a new market education series, The Future of Supply Chain Planning, developed in collaboration with our sponsor, KinaxisPlanning 1A shutterstock 562747135 250 Market Education Series  The Future of Supply Chain Planning

In this series, we are going to explore what are changing needs in supply chain planning and customer fulfillment, including business, process, technology, and other dimensions. Specifically, we will address what is commonly being referred to as concurrent supply chain planning, and why it is becoming a more important capability to support today’s multi-industry supply chain business environments that are increasingly becoming more dynamic, complex, and dependent on continuous changes in business and consequently supply chain resource requirements.

We begin our series with the posing of a generic baseline definition of what we describe as concurrent supply chain planning:

A continuous approach to planning directed at supporting both short and longer-term supply chain resource and customer fulfillment decision-making needs, that incorporates timely planning and supply chain execution information as the context of such decision-making.   It includes the ability to plan and execute continuously, monitor, and respond to ongoing business events, and the ability to incorporate the knowledge or context of multiple expert teams or stakeholder participants in the process, including the sales and operations planning (S&OP) process.

It is a transition from a linear, sequentially managed time-phased process of planning and decision-making to that of a concurrent process of capabilities anchored in more prescriptive and predictive data analysis, what-if scenario, or simulation-based planning techniques. It is a form of continuous planning and supply chain execution response capability anchored in today’s more advanced technology capabilities, broad-based analytics, and a singular data model approach that can support needs for broader social and collaborative-based interaction and decision-making.

 

Why Now? Why a Different Capability?

To answer this question, we need to look back a moment to the past 10-15 years of supply chain planning processes.

Planning methodologies prescribed by supply chain academic and professional organizations called for forms of sequential, time-phased operational decision-making processes that were predicated on pre-planned planning events and pre-scheduled decision-making milestones.  The primary reasons for adherence to a sequential process were the data and process constraints inherent in overall supply chain planning, principally large amounts of data extracted from multiple systems or spreadsheets. Processing and categorizing planning data literally took hours, days, and in earlier periods, weeks to accomplish.

As we all know, the process included the development of unconstrained and constrained product forecasts or demand plans, followed by matching demand to a supply plan to identify resource shortfalls.  For many manufacturers, the process often involved generating an MPS or MRP process within the resident ERP system that reflected supply chain planning recommendations, and this was the most complex step of all since data was translated to the individual item-level context. The reality of a separate advanced planning (APS) and ERP system added to the sequential process imperatives as well as inherent data accuracy and latency problems along the way.

The process was one of plan, then execute, often took weeks to cycle through with the value of the data and information losing important context during the full cycle. Once more, unplanned events or supply chain disruptions that occurred somewhere in the process would often prompt the need to re-initiate the cycle, which is often difficult to perform and caused a delay responding to the disruptions.

In many respects, S&OP processes evolved under similar pre-scheduled decision-making constructs to orchestrate either short-term operational or longer-term tactical and strategic decisions that involved executive-level participants.

As Kinaxis often points-out, gone are the days when planning happens in isolation, it now requires involvement from multiple internal and external teams and requires both planning and other important elements of information.

The clock speed of business has dramatically increased, and line-of-business and supply chain teams can no longer rely on a sequential, time-phased process of planning and decision-making.  Decisions are becoming continuous and must be predicated on a singular data model of streaming information related to product demand, supply, capacity, risk factors and other needs.

As we continue this market education series, we will explore in greater depth, the process, people, advanced technology, and other considerations that make concurrent supply chain planning more a more viable alternative in today’s industry supply chain environments.  Our series will include authored content from this author hosted on both the Supply Chain Matters and the Kinaxis 21st Century blogs along with interviews with others reflecting on today’s supply chain decision support expectations and they relate to the future of supply chain planning.

Stay tuned

Bob Ferrari


Describing an Exponential Organizational and Supply Chain Capability

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In February, this supply chain industry analyst attended the Oracle Modern Supply Chain Experience Conference held in San Jose California.  Through Supply Chain Matters, I have shared several prior observations and takeaways from this conference. We noted the extraordinary attendance, upwards of 2800 attendees at a supply chain management information technology focused conference. We further highlighted the momentum of Cloud-based technology deployments in the many different business process areas that today come under the umbrella of supply chain management along with the building interest levels surrounding Internet of Things (IoT) technology being applied to future supply chain management processes.

There was one keynote that I initially did not share in prior conference highlights, principally because I needed time to absorb the many compelling messages that were delivered. The title was Exponential Organizations and the presenter was Yuri van Geest, Co-Founder of Singularity University. Yuri Exponential Organizations sized 207x300 Describing an Exponential Organizational and Supply Chain Capabilityhas a background in organizational design and is noted as a keen observer of exponential technologies and trends.  He is a co-author of the book- Exponential Organizations- Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it).

The keynote opened with van Geest recounting the dizzying exponential developments that have occurred in artificial intelligence, alternative energy, biotechnology and medicine, robotics, additive manufacturing, sensors, and drones. His primary message was that most of these exponential technology developments will eventually impact supply chains and the organizations and people that makeup this community. His takeaway message was that the best vision of the future is happening at the peripherals of such technology development.

My initial presumption was that many of the conference attendees would have a difficult time absorbing the stark nature of the messages or would dismiss this talk as that of a technology genius speaking far above an ability to absorb the real implications.  Frankly, the conference organizers should have allowed additional time to accommodate all the content as well as to allow for further audience interaction.

Since the conference, I have had the opportunity to read the book and revisit my notes from the keynote. My goal in this blog is help distill what I perceive to be some other key takeaway messages related to future supply chain management organizational purpose, design, and work activities, at least from my perspective after having time to really absorb the content.

Geest did a suberb job of translating today’s far more exponential technology trends to what he viewed as direct impacts on industry supply chains. As an example, he stated that over the next ten years, the exponential developments in 3D printing capabilities will foster the ability to print nearly everything in materials including molecular assembly. The implication is the ability for products to be produced within primary areas of consumption, with the model of contract manufacturing being one of virtual capabilities to receive electronic design information and print on-demand products. A further implication is a more localized supply chain or regional network.

The notions of machine learning or cognitive acquired deep learning technology capabilities will at some point in the future lead to autonomous supply chain planning and customer fulfillment, where algorithms and physical sensing manage supply chain needs. While on the subject of planning, the book declares traditional five-year planning as obsolete, and that in exponential organizations, there should never be more than a one-year planning cycle supplemented by continuous just-in-time learning and events.

Regarding the physical, Geest further spoke to the compelling impacts that IoT focused developments would have on supply chains.  In the book, there is a passage that is worth sharing:

In the same way that today we can no longer handle the complexities of air traffic control or supply chain management without algorithms, almost all the business insights and decisions of tomorrow will be data-driven.”

Obviously, the messages are profound and perhaps threatening to many. None the less, van Geest’s message is that we cannot ignore compelling events and individually, people need to be trained and prepared with new individual and team-based skills.

To better understand the implications, I turned back to book to ascertain what were described as the key competencies of the future Chief Operating Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer and either Chief Data or Chief Innovation Officers.

Here are just a few excerpts to ponder:

  • Digital based production and the unbundling of production steps will free the company to focus on its core competencies (customer relationships, R&D, design, and marketing)
  • The notion of a recycled materials supply chain where production materials recycled and reused multiple times.
  • Internet of Things sensors used to monitor the entire supply chain.
  • The need for long-distance transport to drop over time due to the rise of localized production and a closed-loop material supply chain.
  • Universal Cloud access to social technologies, data, and services, independent of physical location.
  • Data management systems that use methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies to transform raw data into meaningful and useful business information, available to all teams.
  • The need for Big Data security practices.
  • The hiring of employees based on overall potential, not just past record of accomplishment, and on the premise of who can ask the right questions.
  • New notions of peer-based and continuous learning.
  • Reputation measured by contributions in communities and work teams.

 

The book addresses the obvious question regarding the impact on future jobs. The premise is that the democratization of technology will allow individuals and teams to follow their passions and create new economic opportunities and businesses, far different than work being performed today.

These are heady messages, and will cause some pause or skeptics. We applaud Oracle’s supply chain management  conference organizers for hosting such a thought-provoking presentation.

From our lens, there is no denying that the exponential changes occurring in technology and business will eventually impact how supply chains are manifested and managed. The question is in what time frames.

The other obvious question, will teams and individuals be prepared?

We encourage readers to share further thoughts and comments.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


Technology Addressing the Convergence of Internet of Things and Smart Manufacturing Deployments

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As a follow-up to Supply Chain Matters recent attendance and coverage of this year’s Oracle Modern Supply Chain Experience Conference, we wanted to specifically follow-up on some sessions that addressed Internet of Things (IoT) enablement of future smart manufacturing, supply chain and service management business processes.  Oracle MSCE banner Technology Addressing the Convergence of Internet of Things and Smart Manufacturing Deployments

Noted in many of our prior blog commentaries related to IoT deployment strategies, many businesses are starting to connect the dots relative to the existing wave of new advanced technologies that can literally allow connecting physical things with digitally focused applications, processes, and new business services. Included are the notions of what is commonly described as Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, enabled by more sophisticated sensors, additive manufacturing, new iterations of analytics and data management. The common objective is convergence- a convergence of operational technologies along with data management, business applications software and decision-support technologies working together in an integrated real-time manner.

When this author presents or speaks with supply chain management focused audiences, I often describe the objective as what I once termed as the “holy grail” of supply chain management, our ability to connect the physical and the digital, now coming much closer to reality.

In Oracle’s approach to supporting customer IoT transformation, multiple speakers emphasized the importance of the overall IT architecture strategies required in addressing the different needs at the physical layer (the machines), and the digital applications layer of applications and information needs. We cannot stress how important these strategies and approaches have been addressed in multiple conferences and discussions we have been involved in. The obvious most important consideration is the management of data at each level.

At the physical layer, data is purely operational in nature. We are talking about sensor readings, alarms, state conditions, fault detection and all sorts of other operational data. As emphasized in prior highlights of a recent MIT IoT focused conference, engineers are fully aware that much of this data can be spurious, perhaps upwards of 60 percent. On the other hand, the remaining data can point to important and insightful information when placed in context with other data. The Oracle presentations cited sample classes of questions related to the era of “Smart Manufacturing”:

Are there patterns of events that tend to cause or lead to actual equipment failures?

Is there a correlation between product failures in the field and the manufacturing process originally used to manufacture that product?

Can we predict the likelihood of a product defect and avoid costly downtime?

Many developers on the front lines of current IoT initiatives will readily tell you that the challenges related to filtering and capturing the correct physical data, whether structured, unstructured or time-series in-nature are hard, but not insurmountable. A current reality is that most physical or operational assets currently reside behind a data-protected firewall, for valid reasons. As we have noted in prior commentaries, developers cite consistent and secure data management standards as well as combinations of encryption technologies as the means to unlock data discovery across various layers. Oracle emphasizes the need for a robust and scalable technology foundation supported by an open standard, in-memory, Hadoop data lake approach that supports three distinct data types in a secure manner.

A further critical aspect often includes distinct data aggregation at both the physical and digital application layers, each aggregation providing added contextualization to overall intelligence and required decision-making. Managing all this data needs to further include a more cost effective approach, and that is where the advantages of Cloud-based deployment and storage strategies play an important consideration.

Some of our functional or IT readers who experienced prior IT data warehouse approaches can well relate to the frustrations for the ability of various functional users to mine or discover data on their own without the direct assistance of IT. We were pleased to observe that Oracle’s approach is anchored to presenting of data to differing personas or business roles, ranging from that of occasional or frequent business user or domain expert, to an actual data scientist.

The Oracle presenters cited a jam or jelly manufacturing process as an example of the goal of actionable manufacturing intelligence that was developed for a pilot customer:

What most everyone has today is an operational report of what has occurred, namely descriptive analytics. For example, 68 percent of batches of strawberry jam made in July, incurred a production yield of between 78-82 percent.

The goal is actionable intelligence supported by more prescriptive or predictive data and analytics. In the same example, the 68 percent of batches of 78-82 percent production yield:

  • Occurred during the second shift and involved a common operator
  • The sugar utilized came from specific identified lots from a specific supplier(s)
  • The mixer speed variation was in a certain range and ambient humidity reading but did encounter some discernable variations.

This added context of the data provides the intelligence as well as determinants to manage higher manufacturing yields or identify potential production issues in a timelier manner.  These are the notions of mining the data, that can be applied to many other supply chain related business processes or business model support needs, many of which can save substantial amounts and open many new opportunities for equipment services.

A final observation relates to current IoT approaches and pilot efforts perhaps being investigated. In the many technology and industry perspectives we have reviewed or encountered, it is important to stress that teams evaluate prospective IoT technology vendors not only on the specific technology approaches and capabilities they provide, but also on the partner ecosystem they recruit and support, along with actions to adapt and support an open standards approach for data security as well as data maintenance.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


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