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Traditional vs. Operational Supply Chain Business Intelligence Needs in SAP Environments

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With today’s ever increasing clock-speed of business, there should be little question that the overall planning, execution and synchronization of supply chain operational processes and resources has become far more complex and demanding.   Yet, it is becoming more essential.

Industry market change is constant, customers are more-demanding and risk or disruption is a constant threat. These past two months alone, we have called reader attention to the severe typhoon that impacted Taiwan and coastal China, the sudden de-value of China’s currency and the significant warehouse explosions occurred in Tianjin China. Global equity markets continue to react to deep concerns about China’s economic growth and export economy.

Supply chain business and operational intelligence is not solely about business reporting, but increasingly focused on the ongoing performance, uncovering hidden risk factors and synchronizing performance of the entire supply chain.

Supply chain teams thus require intelligence capabilities appropriately configured and tuned for analysis of root causes of bottlenecks or supply and demand shortfalls.

Traditional Business Intelligence (BI) technology has evolved from a termed vertical design principle that allows users the ability to compare plans with actual results. The architectural approach stemmed tapping centralized data warehouses, where business software applications feed their data and information.

However, the success and uptake of these traditional BI approaches has been frustrating since more than often, effective use or specialized intelligence needs require the direct assistance of IT. The ability to leverage hidden intelligence is often constrained because of the resource limitations of IT, or the complexity of the centralized information warehouse.

Newer, horizontal approaches anchored in data discovery and more de-centralized business process or predictive analytics concentration such as supply chain and product management have since made their presence in technology markets. The design principle of this approach is root cause analysis, to tap important data and information existing in specific applications such as supply chain planning, operational execution, fulfillment and product management applications. Their premise is to identify bottlenecks and provide early warning to operational process outliers and exceptions.

As one can imagine the fundamental determinant of termed horizontal BI user uptake and adoption rests with user friendliness and empowerment. It is about empowering business users to support more informed decision-making predicated on operational intelligence and appropriate business process context.

Major ERP vendors are caught in the middle of this changing paradigm. As an example, older version of SAP ERP supported information architecture that fed operational data and information to SAP Business Warehouse (BW), where either SAP or external BI applications tapped that data for general business reporting needs. The flexibility to hone-in on specific root cause and supply chain operational business process needs was limited to the innovation and resources of IT or system integrators. Such requirements often came with a high cost in terms of resources and time-to-value.

Responding to the compelling market changes outlined above where users require more user-friendly, self-service operational BI tools, SAP continues to evolve its overall approach to accommodate such needs. And there lies a growing tide of confusion. The stated migration from Business Objects BI, Crystal Reports, and now SAP Lumira has both IT and business functional teams confused as to which strategy to employ. Least we mention the other elephant in the room, that being SAP HANA, and its foundational relationship to leveraging data and information across the entire SAP landscape.

In the light of this product strategy confusion, innovative best-of-breed players have gained additional attention and deployments.

In a prior posting, we called Supply Chain Matters reader attention to Every Angle Software, which provides a self-service and operationally focused business intelligence tool designed to leverage information within SAP R3, SAP ECC, and SAP Business Suite environments. What impressed this author about Every Angle was not only its ability to add in-process logic and sophisticated calculations that adapt to an SAP operations management configuration, but customer testimonials testifying to the end-user friendliness of the software itself. The software comes with built-in adapters for SAP, includes hundreds of pre-configured templates and built-in, configurable business rules, and accommodates access by end-user device of choice including mobile devices. The software can be deployed for either on premise, cloud, or outsourced hosted needs.

Functional supply chain teams have a lot on their plate right now with little patience nor tolerance for having their IT teams figure out the long-term BI product strategy, architecture and functionality of a large ERP provider such as SAP. That is why many continue to opt towards filling-in such technology needs with experienced best-of-breed specialists.

If your team is experiencing such an operational BI challenge, you may want to check-out Every Angle Software.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: Every Angle Software is one of other sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog.

Moving Beyond Key Performance Indicators


In our prior Supply Chain Matters posting we called attention to the evolving attraction for leveraging predictive analytics in supply chain decision-making practices which has added to the continued pent-up demand for data scientists. We highlighted a guest contribution indicating that big data and more predictive analytics capabilities can be non-effective if not preceded by a rigorous review in determining if current key performance indicators (KPI’s) and business metrics are actually capturing the true drivers of business outcomes.

During SAP’s recent 2015 Sapphire and ASUG conference, SAP co-founder and Supervisory Board Chairmen Hasso Plattner’s conference keynote touched upon this very aspect, which warrants repeating. He touched upon the notion of the boardroom of the future, not being occupied by reviewing historically based KPI’s but rather “fact-based management.” Hasso described this as a “massive change on how companies manage information” and further, “we cannot hide data anymore”.

That last statement may well resonate with our readers since too often, KPI’s are selected to measure can-do performance areas tied to individual organizational, team and personal bonuses that do not necessarily link to an overall business outcome required for products, processes, margins and/or risks. They are too- often, anchored in past performance coupled to a consensus of what can be comfortably accomplished vs. what should be expected given the industry and business environment.  Concerning or bad news can be hidden until it is too late for the business to overcome the effects.

In his keynote, Hasso addressed such a change as “moving from dashboards to active boards.” That is an important and far different metaphor.

It implies continuous and changing analysis grounded in overall outcomes and assumes that business events will indeed be constantly changing and that performance metrics should set both a target and a constant moving analysis of potential outcomes based on various business and product scenarios. Such a moving analysis assumes that organizations and teams can be fluid and flexible, responding to market opportunities, threats or risks in a more proactive and collective manner and in the context of best desired outcomes. It further implies that management is very actively engaged in understanding how the end-to-end supply chain is contributing or detracting from desired and/or expected outcomes. Bonuses and performance are tied to best enterprise outcomes vs. individual outcomes.

Such a change does not occur overnight and will take time to evolve. As noted in a previous commentary, executives need to be granted the broadest end-to-end supply chain leadership and accountability with certain mandates to address existing value-chain challenges and to improve business outcomes. Supporting staff with data science skills, while critical, are not the primary skill need.  Knowledge of the business, the end-to-end supply chain, and organizational change management needs to be coupled to data science skills.

In the meantime, we advise supply chain leaders to indeed recruit talent with data science skills, and then rotate these new superstars among various supply chain functional and geographic assignments.  Challenge them with local problems and with introducing positive overall change. Insure active mentorship and sponsorship with the end goal being a select group of business analysts that can take on the most difficult challenges while garnering the respect of others.

Bob Ferrari

Intrigo Systems Cited by Gartner as a Cool Vendor

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About a year ago, Supply Chain Matters provided our readers a perspective on specialized SAP focused systems integrator firm Intrigo Systems, and how that firm was helping to accelerate value for existing SAP APO customers. We experienced quite a lot of reader interest and uptake on our commentary. In the specific area of broader SAP APO adoption and business value, Intrigo has been deploying its Optek tool suite for SAP APO planning needs since 2009.  The suite consists of modules designed to place the planner more in control of the process while making SAP APO functionally more effective.

At the recent Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, we managed to catch-up with Intrigo CEO Padman Ramunkutty, a colorful and well known recognized SAP APO expert. In full disclosure, this Editor has known Padman for many years and I value his perspectives on supply chain planning and software technology trends.  In fact, during a networking break at the conference, we managed to simultaneously speak with not only Padman, but also Sanjiv Sidhu, past founder of the former i2 Technologies, and now Chairmen and Co-founder of 09 Solutions. Indeed, two icons of supply chain planning with enormous perspectives of how planning software has progressed.

In our conversation, Padman reminded this Editor that in addition to our Supply Chain Matters recognition of Optek’s value over a year ago, Gartner has recently recognized Intrigo as a “Cool Vendor” in Supply Chain Planning for 2015, specifically citing Optek as an extension for SAP APO as an means for leveraging value for existing investments.  In a March 31 Gartner report, key findings included the following: “Supply chain leaders need to find ways of leveraging their existing investments in their quest to improve supply chain performance.”

Thus, we are pleased that Gartner has now also recognized Intrigo Systems as a “Cool Vendor”.

Bob Ferrari

SAP to Trim Additional 2200 Jobs

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Business media is reporting that SAP is about to undertake this providers second round of headcount restructuring. The current cutbacks are reported to involve upwards of 2200 positions following similar restructuring last year.

A published Bloomberg report cites SAP’s personnel chief as indicating that the total number of jobs affected will amount to about 3 percent of SAP’s worldwide workforce of 74,000. However, SAP spokespersons are quick to point out that the job cuts are more to do with internal business changes rather than cost savings. The Bloomberg report cites Ralf Herzog, the chairman of SAP’s works councils, as indicating: “that groups received information Thursday afternoon about “a very high level” of job cuts. Since the program is “apparently voluntary,” SAP “seems to have learned from its experience” with last year’s job action.”

In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal pointed to SAP’s ongoing transition to being more of a cloud services provider as prompting workforce changes, namely less emphasis on installation and update of software. That article indicates that SAP staff deemed redundant will either be trained in new responsibilities and those unwilling or unable to make the change being asked to leave or in the case of European based employees, offered early retirement or other compensation.

As Supply Chain Matters and others continue to point out, the effects of cloud computing adoption and rapidly changing market realities are indeed real for existing enterprise software providers and they are attempting to adjust their business models to deal with such realities. We have heard undertones of similar job cuts emanating from other enterprise software providers as well.

A Commentary Regarding E2open’s SAP Ring Fence Strategy

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In early January, Supply Chain Matters shared our impressions of independent blogger Vinnie Mirchandani’s new book, SAP Nation-a runaway software economy. The book provides a ten year perspective on SAP, summarizing conversations, observations and case studies among the ecosystem that makes up the “SAP Nation”, including customers, partners, market observers and others. The book quantifies an astounding $1 trillion ecosystem beholden to SAP’s success. The book further describes why other cloud-based competitors have been able to gain attraction among the existing SAP customer base because of the building business pressures and frustrations over elongated development timelines, burdensome software and ongoing support costs. The consequence is described as a ring fence of applications that more and more, are surrounding SAP applications. Since its publication, this author has recommended this book to many of our clients.

After the book’s publishing, Vinnie’s Deal Architect blog has featured added content and responses that have been generated from the book, particularly the described “ring fence” strategy that customers have undertaken. One of the most recent postings features highlights of an interview with E2open’s Chief Marketing Officer, Michael Schmitt.  The commentary describes current E2open customers such as Avnet, Avon, Hewlett Packard, L’Oreal and Shell, specifically how they are exercising various ring fence strategies.

This author has likewise observed such strategies and has spoken to some of these companies and other regarding their technology augmentation strategies.

Vinnie’s summary observation: “Individually, you could dismiss them (SAP backbone customers) as small cracks in the frozen tundra, but there are many such cracks if you use a wide angle lens.”

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: E2open, Inc. is one of other current sponsors of the Supply Chain Matters blog.



Supporting the Journey Toward Integrated Business Planning in an SAP Environment

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In previous Supply Chain Matters commentaries addressing supply chain teams utilizing SAP as their technology backbone, we have observed that utilization of SAP’s supply chain focused applications can serve as both a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes from the structural rigor for integrating enterprise-wide transactional, operational execution and master data with supply and demand planning.  This rigor is sometimes cited as a curse; since today’s highly dynamic business processes are expected to respond to ever increasing levels of network-wide complexity and changing business models.

In June 2014, we called reader attention to SAP’s strategic intent to transition its supply chain technology, specifically the need for businesses to transform their supply chains to demand networks – which implies deeper, more agile support capabilities for integrated business planning (IBP). With this shift, SAP is acknowledging that many industries must transform to be more product demand-centric and that demand drives supply chain response. In essence, SAP’s intends to enhance and deploy a broader next-generation supply chain platform, described as a “many to many” supply chain control tower platform, underpinned by IBP and response orchestration. The implication of this strategy change is perhaps the obvious admission that SAP APO, as it was originally designed and modified these past 15 years, will need to be significantly augmented by other technologies.

The conundrum implied with this strategy shift is that the sheer scope of this transition will take many more years, a journey involving incremental phase-ins.  The reality is that while SAP transforms its supply chain support, business requirements are constantly changing and require a more immediate timetable.

That is why there are increasing signs that the SAP community has begun to evaluate other alternatives for surrounding SAP APO with augmented, cloud-based and other planning and decision-making capabilities that can enable business needs in a much shorter timetable. Two of these needs are augmenting demand sensing capabilities and enhancing supply chain planner productivity. In this commentary, we briefly explore each of these needs.

There is little question that the new era of online, omni-channel or multi-channel customer fulfillment has driven far more product options, shorter product lifecycles, added SKU’s and demand streams. With the clock speed of business far more volatile, traditional methods of historical based forecasting lack the ability to sense continual changes in product demand.  Quarterly or monthly planning cycles can no longer keep-up.  SAP APO was originally developed to support a top-down approach to planning and forecasting, often implemented at high-level, aggregated product family level planning. When such high level SAP APO forecasts are subsequently split to item-location levels for inventory resource requirements, crucial item-level product demand information can often be masked.  This problem takes on even more significance for supply chains with complex channels, large-scale distribution, or more frequent new product introduction cycles. Today’s business needs further require supply chain segmentation strategies where supply chains key-in on customer product demand and service needs, allowing the supply chain to respond to individual SKU or point-of-sale demand shifts.

All of this implies a more predictive, stochastic based product demand modeling approach that senses individual item-level demand changes at the item, location or channel level.  Also, continued pressure on cost control and overall inventory increasingly requires seamless integration with multi-echelon inventory optimization methods to optimize inventory in various demand trends and/or scenarios.

These advanced demand sensing and modeling techniques are now offered by certain best-of-breed supply chain planning providers. The good news for the SAP APO community is that many providers, as well as specialized systems integrator firms, recognize the need for a co-existence strategy, where planning applications with more advanced demand sensing and predictive capabilities augment existing planning processes. Rather than rip and replace, these providers support a surround and augment strategy. For added perspectives on the above, The Innovator’s Solution blog features two commentaries, Supply Chain Innovation: Living with SAP APO and Improving Demand Forecasting and Planning with Machine Learning. Both provide added perspectives and specific examples.

The second challenge is increasing supply chain planner productivity.  With the product complexities and rapid clock speed of business noted above, planners need to allocate more time to managing true demand and supply exceptions vs. constantly chasing planning errors and false positives. This problem has added significance for the SAP APO community, since experienced planners remain in high demand because of their system and business knowledge, and attract higher compensation. Planners need augmented tools and capabilities to not only provide more responsive planning and predictability, but to provide greater levels of supply chain business intelligence to sales and operations and overall business planning processes. Thus, augmented planning technology that can provide capabilities such as machine learning, rules-based business modeling, and advanced monitoring and exceptions dashboards predicated on a singular data model.

Supply chain management teams with SAP as their backbone have added options in their journey toward more demand-driven, integrated business planning.  These options include both SAP as well as best-of-breed augmentation, depending on line-of-business and supply chain business outcome needs.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: ToolsGroup is a current client of Supply Chain Matters parent, the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC.

© 2015 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog.  All rights reserved.

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