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Posted 29 July 2020 by
Cédric Van Helleputte
BU Lead Planning

Digital supply chain planning: Finding synergy between process, people, data, technology, and tools

We are in the middle of an APO replacement wave, where many companies have either already implemented an Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) tool, are in the process of doing so or have a placeholder on their roadmap. Yes, supply chain planning is hot and digital supply chain planning is even hotter. This last one is, however, often only linked with the implementation of an APS tool, but there are many other aspects to consider when you want to board the digital planning train. Ready to jump on?

Process: Next-generation planning processes

The world is changing. In the upcoming years, we will see a transition from planners supported by machines to machines planning guided by people. This requires us to think about how our planning processes are evolving. How do you find the right balance between the speed of automation and the right level of verification by people? The pitfall of all this computing power is that our planners lose touch with how the system arrives at a plan and what goes into the decisions being made. Traditionally, the planning process has been time-consuming, with planners making their plans manually with little support from systems. With the help of APS tools, planning can become more exception-based, giving planners valuable time back to do value-adding work. Complex solvers running on improved data quality and functionality that lets us collaborate easily will allow us to make faster and better-informed decisions. Depending on supply chain complexity, we might also see the boundaries between current planning processes blur, with planning tools supporting a longer planning horizon at a granular level.

People: Digital-ready people and organizations

With these next-generation planning processes at your doorstep, it is important that you start investing in the skill set of your people to enable them to support this transition. Today, we often see planners spending a lot of time reworking, refining and adjusting the plan. They are number-crunching and finding root causes of why totals do not match a reference point, fixing master data issues and trying to make sense of what they see. They are fighting many battles of process inefficiencies and dissatisfying tools trying to keep the light on.

With the support of new planning tools, you will see their roles shifting to understanding how the newly recalculated parameters influence the plan, including risks and opportunities to share insights into the resilience of your supply chain. The actual pace of new technologies and tools will require planners to keep up with innovation and foster a growth mindset.

As we are moving away from just creating plans and moving toward driving customer value, it requires planners to be able to collaborate x-functionally. Interactions will not be restricted to their closest business partners, but further integration of planning processes will require them to collaborate with suppliers, distributors and customers. In the era of digital planning, planners should be able to find the right stakeholders and be able to speak the same language by having a commercial understanding and comprehending the end-to-end network.

Data: Master data factories

Many system implementations in the past have failed due to underestimating the importance of data. Often when the users report back that a certain planning solution is not working, it is not the functionality that has been built that is incorrect; it is data that is incorrect or incomplete. We still hadn’t found the right way to consider master data as sexy–hence, we created our own data factory methodology. With the ambition to plan with the lights out instead of on, your data factory becomes critical.

At Bluecrux, we believe that data is crucial for successful implementations, and we advise our customers to create their very own data factory, linking your data governance and strategy to your business drivers and goals. Setting up the right governance and supporting organization and data management processes with clear KPIs will ensure that your factory creates data in full and on time.

Tools: Digital planning tools

Decision-making in supply chain planning requires three things:

1. Having right, trustworthy data to base your decision on.

2. Cross-functional collaboration in the decisions being made.

3. Having the right tool to support, document and inform on the decision making.

As you venture on your digital planning journey and mature your planning processes, it can be helpful to look at the decisions that you make in each step of the process and categorize those decisions. The Cynefin framework developed by Dave Snowden in 1999 when he was working for IBM can be a useful starting point and a different way of looking at your planning processes. This framework distinguished decisions in a chaotic, complex, complicated and simple space, each domain requiring a different decision approach which in turn can help you identify what is required from a digital planning solution.

For example, responding to delayed orders might be categorized in the simple space. The way to tackle the decision-making process is clear; cause-and-effect relationships are known by everyone, and there are rules in place to deal with those. These are typical candidates for decision automation with the support of a planning tool. Decisions you make in your S&OP process, like supply capacity constraints, might require expertise to find the best solution, which would put them in a complicated space, and scenario management capabilities could be key to facilitating the decision-making process.

Technology: Technology stack strategy

What we typically see with our customers is a move toward a single APS solution that covers all their planning needs. But there are companies that take a different approach to tool selection. They are the ones who opt for selecting best-of-breed solutions, selecting software solutions that specifically cater to their demand planning, detailed scheduling or tactical planning needs. The advantage of a single solution is that you typically get a highly integrated solution that seamlessly connects the different planning layers and offers options to easily collaborate on the creation of upstream and downstream plans. The downside of single solutions is that there are very few solutions that offer great functionality across all planning processes and horizons.

The future: Finding that sweet spot

The future for most companies will likely see the implementation of an APS evolve to be part of an ecosystem to further mature supply chain capabilities. It will be important to start finding that sweet spot where automating planning decisions make sense and where new technologies as part of your technology stack can help drive insights. Advanced AI or machine learning capabilities can help contextualize and visualize data supporting the decision-making process.

In the end, it all starts with understanding which tools are the best fit to fulfill your purposes, and as integration between systems is becoming less of a hurdle, more focus can be put on best-of-breed applications and the core of functionality rather than ease of integration.

Having jumped on the digital planning train, we can all agree now that the digital planning journey is more than just selecting and implementing an APS tool. It’s all about the synergy. So, are you ready to jump on?

Get in touch and see how we can support you in this journey.