In previous Supply Chain Matters commentaries, 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 often cited as the curse, since today’s highly dynamic supply chain business processes are expected to respond to ever increasing levels of network-wide complexity. Adding supplemental supply chain suppliers, partners or planning locations can cause planners to fall behind and become the critical stumbling block. The problem exists both in rather large as well as growing supply chain organizations.

In the specific case of SAP’s APO (Advanced Planning & Optimization), many SAP customers have deployed the Demand Planning application incorporated within SAP APO. It is probably the most widely deployed module, and for good reasons.  Many industry supply chains are focused on being far more product or service demand-driven, thus sensing and responding to various multi-channel demand is a critical process capability.

Highly experienced users of the various components of SAP APO are either often promoted to higher levels of broader supply-chain wide responsibility, or they jump to other organizations that are willing to compensate more for APO-specific skills. As less experienced supply chain planners step-in, productivity and planning effectiveness suffers because the new planners lack the experience to manage input data, master data synchronization, and planning optimization results. Planners revert to their more comfortable Microsoft Excel skills to massage planning data for the broader organization and APO begins to become an operational data store rather than a planning solution. These types of challenges will likely increase as SAP migrates many of its supply chain planning capabilities toward it cloud-based, S&OP Powered by HANA platform that has integrated business planning as its prime objective.

To specifically help industry supply chain organizations respond to these challenges, Supply Chain Matters has been raising awareness to a cadre of smaller but highly focused system integrators who have developed self-contained, capsulized service offerings that address very specific business problem needs, including those related to SAP APO.  Their focus remains targeted scope technology and services that can springboard and overcome business process or systems challenges on a far more timely basis.

One such firm is Bristlecone, a laser-focused services company primarily addressing supply chain deployment and time-to-value challenges. The firm’s client list spans a broad swath of industry supply chains including consumer products, chemical, energy, high-tech, industrial, and pharmaceutical. As our readers are well aware, each has its own unique supply chain planning process needs and requirements. Bristlecone has been populating its Bristlecone Online Store with a collection of fixed-cost, application accelerators developed from prior successful customer implementations.

To specifically address the challenges of SAP APO Demand Planning productivity, the firm has packaged a fixed-price service, best practices and enhanced productivity offering termed Demand PlanningNow™ that augments SAP APO with offline and online augmented capabilities. Demand PlanningNOW provides a flexible Microsoft Excel front-end interfacing directly with SAP APO Demand Planning as the back-end. According to Bristlecone, the service offering helps SAP APO teams by providing added flexibility and versatility for working with large data sets and multiple partners utilizing Microsoft  Excel as a more familiar user front end tool. The packaged tool further provides an offline mode that allows users to perform simulations prior to uploading data as well as tracking data changes, providing front-end data validation and user alerts to unaligned data. As an added plus, Demand PlanningNOW  can leverage SAP’s built-in security and does not require additional system security capability.

Bristlecone informed Supply Chain Matters that this productivity accelerator has been deployed with user training and software in less than 2 days at some customer sites, although the documentation quotes a conservative two weeks. In either case, Bristlecone’s Demand PlanningNow™ provides yet another example of a fixed scope, fixed-price technology accelerator application built on a niche supply chain planning SI firm’s acquired knowledge, best practices and technical expertise acquired from numerous implementations and supply chain team interactions.Your SAP focused supply chain planning organization may want to explore these available collections of application productivity accelerators from smaller but highly focused SAP systems integrators as an alternative to more expensive wider scope services.

Bob Ferrari

Disclosure: Bristlecone is a current client of the Ferrari Consulting and Research Group.