DEALING WITH INACCURATE FORECASTS
Written by Todd Taylor, a partner at OPS Rules Management Consultants
"The funny thing about forecasts is.…they are never accurate,” explained a very experienced operations executive during a recent meeting. A veteran in our industry with 30+ years in supply chain and manufacturing operations; this executive works at a very senior level in an operations leadership position for one of the leading technology companies in the world. This man claims that that he has “blunted his sword” trying to improve forecasts, but in the end….”forecasts are always wrong”.
We all know that forecasts are never accurate. We also understand the “bullwhip effect” and what happens in traditional value chains the further a company is from the end consumer.
Unless there is complete transparency to end-user demand, forecasts become more and more inaccurate the further from the end user we are in the value chain.
So, why do we put so much time and effort into improving forecasts? It’s probably because inaccurate forecasts lead to lost sales or inflated inventory, which in turn cost our companies lost revenue or unnecessary costs.
Should we continue to “blunt our swords” on improving forecasting? What options are available to ensure we have the right product available for our customers to buy - without burgeoning inventory costs?
In other words, how do we plan for this certain uncertainty? A few ideas and strategies come to mind:
1. Focus on the customer: You never go wrong here. Maintain an optimal network design centered on your customer and how they want to receive and consume your product. Segment your supply chain based upon this understanding and a clear picture of your unique value proposition.
2. Define the right push-pull boundary and strategy. Optimize your inventory allocation process based upon an understanding of your demand certainty. If you have stable demand for some products, a push strategy can be employed. But where demand is uncertain, a pull strategy will need to dominate your policy.
3. Share information. No matter where you sit in the value chain, costs rise when there is a lack of visibility to demand shared along the value chain. Encourage information sharing amongst your trading partners and be a catalyst and good example of information sharing.
4. Manage your product portfolio. This entails honestly and accurately evaluating the costs associated with the products in your portfolio. Most companies do not take a comprehensive approach to reducing the complexity of their portfolio. Complexity management is much more than a one-time, revenue and activity-based costing exercise. It is not only a thorough evaluation of the products in your portfolio, but also a joint agreement with product development, product management, marketing, ops and finance on the criteria and guidelines for new product introduction (NPI) and the refinement of the product management process and metrics to ensure the company adheres to these decisions. It’s certainly not an easy task, but well worth the effort.
The benefits associated with segmenting your supply chain to match your customers and your value proposition and channels, defining the right push-pull mix, sharing information across the value chain and managing the complexity in your product portfolio are enormous. For most manufacturing companies, 80 percent of profits come from 20 percent of products. The same may be true for the cost side of the equation….20 percent of products may account for 80 percent of the variable costs in the supply chain.
So don’t become overly-frustrated and concerned with inaccurate forecasts. Simply manage the uncertainty by focusing what you can control. Start with the 4 ideas mentioned above.
For more information about segmenting your supply chain, click here.
NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience
Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.
The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.
A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach
“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.
“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.
But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?
“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.
Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes
So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry.
“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality.
“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”
Evolving Procurement Models
From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view.
“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.
“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”
“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”
But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?
“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.
These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.
On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.
Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”
He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”
As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”