The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

forecasting and inventory optimization

A readable, well-organized textbook could be invaluable to “help corporate forecasters-in-training understand the basics of time series forecasting,” as Tom Willemain notes in the conclusion to this review, originally published in Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting. Principally written for an academic audience, the review also serves inexperienced demand planning professionals by pointing them to an in-depth resource.

This neat little book aims to “introduce the reader to quantitative forecasting of time series in a practical, hands-on fashion.” For a certain kind of reader, it will doubtless succeed, and do so in a stylish way.

The author, Dr. Galit Shmueli, is the SRITNE Chaired Professor of Data Analytics and Associate Professor of Statistics and Information Systems at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. She has authored or coauthored several other books on applied statistics and business analytics.

The book is meant to be a text for a “mini-semester” course for graduate or upper-level undergraduate students. I think it would be a stretch to believe there is enough technical material here to serve as the basis for a graduate course, but I could see it working well for undergraduates in industrial engineering or management who have had a prior statistics course (and therefore will indeed be able to “recall that a 95% prediction interval for normally distributed errors is…”).

There are end-of-chapter exercises of appropriate size and even setups for three real-world semester projects, so instructors could use the book as envisioned by the author. The book illustrates its points using XLMiner, an Excel add-in, and students can use the free demo version for almost all the exercises. Text datasets are available from the book’s web site, which also provides a free time series analysis “dashboard” application. The author notes that other software can be used in place of XLMiner and mentions Minitab, JMP, and Rob Hyndman’s forecast library in R.

While reading this book, I was delighted by its clarity. Having spent time recently correcting the technical prose of two otherwise good graduate students, I found the writing in this book to be a refreshing contrast, making technical concepts understandable.

Another virtue of this book is its selection of topics. The technical ones are reasonably standard (smoothing methods, regression using polynomial trends, and dummy variables) but also range a bit toward the more exotic (logistic regression, neural nets, a bit of ARIMA). More impressive is the inclusion of what might be called “meta-topics” relevant to forecasting: performance assessment, an overview of alternative technical approaches, and one on the forecasting process, from definition of goals to ways to gear reports differently for managerial and technical audiences. This is the kind of forecasting wisdom we find in Chris Chatfield’s book (2004), though presented rather less tartly and with less mathematical exposition. I typically recommend Chatfield’s introductory book for more technical readers interested in getting into time series; I would recommend Shmueli’s book for a more general audience.

No review is complete without quibbles. Here are a few—too few to undo my very positive view of this impressive little book:

• The text makes a good case for “well formatted and easily readable” charts (p. 179). But I found many of the screen shots to be poorly printed and difficult to see. The book is otherwise so visually pleasing that these defects seem very out of character. It uses luxurious amounts of white space and whimsical marginal art to great effect, producing a very “light” feel that must surely help comprehension.

• The author claims (p. 115) that smoothing methods (e.g., moving averages, exponential smoothing) cannot be fully automated because “the user must specify smoothing constants.” Of course, this is not so, since there are several software packages that do this, and the text later contradicts itself on this point on page 127.

• The otherwise good discussion of autocorrelation misleads when it claims (p. 88) that negative lag-1 autocorrelation means that “high values are immediately followed by low values and vice versa.” Well, usually, but not always.

When I finished reading this book, I realized immediately that there is another target audience outside the classroom. My company often conducts training sessions on the use of our software, and these include some general background on forecasting methods and processes. If we could excise the material on XLMiner, and even if we couldn’t, this text would make a wonderful “leave behind” to help corporate forecasters-in-training understand the basics of time series forecasting. The book is so well written, well organized and well designed that it might even be read. We can certainly use it to help our new programmers understand the applications they are developing. And this book might even serve as guilty reading for a graduate student who wants to really “get” what’s going on in Box, Jenkins and Reinsel (2008).

Thomas Willemain, PhD, co-founded Smart Software and currently serves as Senior Vice President for Research. Dr. Willemain also serves as Professor Emeritus of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and as a member of the research staff at the Center for Computing Sciences, Institute for Defense Analyses.

Leave a Comment

Related Posts

Top Five Tips for New Demand Planners and Forecasters

Top Five Tips for New Demand Planners and Forecasters

Good forecasting can make a big difference to your company’s performance, whether you are forecasting to support sales, marketing, production, inventory, or finance. This blog is aimed primarily at those fortunate individuals who are about to start this adventure. Welcome to the field!

Recent Posts

  • Epicor Prophet 21 with Forecasting Inventory PlanningExtend Epicor Prophet 21 with Smart IP&O’s Forecasting & Dynamic Reorder Point Planning
    Smart Inventory Planning & Optimization (Smart IP&O) can help with inventory ordering functionality in Epicor P21, reduce inventory, minimize stockouts and restore your organization’s trust by providing robust predictive analytics, consensus-based forecasting, and what-if scenario planning. […]
  • Supply Chain Math large-scale decision-making analyticsSupply Chain Math: Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gunfight
    Math and the supply chain go hand and hand. As supply chains grow, increasing complexity will drive companies to look for ways to manage large-scale decision-making. Math is a fact of life for anyone in inventory management and demand forecasting who is hoping to remain competitive in the modern world. Read our article to learn more. […]
  • Mature bearded mechanic in uniform examining the machine and repairing it in factoryService Parts Planning: Planning for consumable parts vs. Repairable Parts
    When deciding on the right stocking parameters for spare and replacement parts, it is important to distinguish between consumable and repairable servoce parts. These differences are often overlooked by inventory planning software and can result in incorrect estimates of what to stock. Different approaches are required when planning for consumables vs. repairable service parts. […]
  • Four Common Mistakes when Planning Replenishment TargetsFour Common Mistakes when Planning Replenishment Targets
    How often do you recalibrate your stocking policies? Why? Learn how to avoid key mistakes when planning replenishment targets by automating the process, recalibrating parts, using targeting forecasting methods, and reviewing exceptions. […]
  • Smart Software is pleased to introduce our series of webinars, offered exclusively for Epicor Users.Extend Epicor Kinetic’s Forecasting & Min/Max Planning with Smart IP&O
    Epicor Kinetic can manage replenishment by suggesting what to order and when via reorder point-based inventory policies. The problem is that the ERP system requires that the user either manually specify these reorder points, or use a rudimentary “rule of thumb” approach based on daily averages. In this article, we will review the inventory ordering functionality in Epicor Kinetic, explain its limitations, and summarize how to reduce inventory, and minimize stockouts by providing the robust predictive functionality that is missing in Epicor. […]

    Inventory Optimization for Manufacturers, Distributors, and MRO

    • Blanket Orders Smart Software Demand and Inventory Planning HDBlanket Orders
      Our customers are great teachers who have always helped us bridge the gap between textbook theory and practical application. A prime example happened over twenty years ago, when we were introduced to the phenomenon of intermittent demand, which is common among spare parts but rare among the finished goods managed by our original customers working in sales and marketing. This revelation soon led to our preeminent position as vendors of software for managing inventories of spare parts. Our latest bit of schooling concerns “blanket orders.” […]
    • Hand placing pieces to build an arrowProbabilistic Forecasting for Intermittent Demand
      The New Forecasting Technology derives from Probabilistic Forecasting, a statistical method that accurately forecasts both average product demand per period and customer service level inventory requirements. […]
    • Engineering to Order at Kratos Space – Making Parts Availability a Strategic Advantage
      The Kratos Space group within National Security technology innovator Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., produces COTS s software and component products for space communications - Making Parts Availability a Strategic Advantage […]
    • wooden-figures-of-people-and-a-magnet-team-management-warehouse inventoryManaging the Inventory of Promoted Items
      In a previous post, I discussed one of the thornier problems demand planners sometimes face: working with product demand data characterized by what statisticians call skewness—a situation that can necessitate costly inventory investments. This sort of problematic data is found in several different scenarios. In at least one, the combination of intermittent demand and very effective sales promotions, the problem lends itself to an effective solution. […]