Daily Demand Scenarios

In this Videoblog, we will explain how time series forecasting has emerged as a pivotal tool, particularly at the daily level, which Smart Software has been pioneering since its inception over forty years ago. The evolution of business practices from annual to more refined temporal increments like monthly and now daily data analysis illustrates a significant shift in operational strategies.

Initially, during the 1980s, the usual practice of using annual data for forecasting and the introduction of monthly data was considered innovative. This period marked the beginning of a trend toward increasing the resolution of data analysis, enabling businesses to capture and react to faster shifts in market dynamics. As we progressed into the 2000s, the norm of monthly data analysis was well-established, but the ‘cool kids’—innovators at the edge of business analytics—began experimenting with weekly data. This shift was driven by the need to synchronize business operations with increasingly volatile market conditions and consumer behaviors that demanded more rapid responses than monthly cycles could provide. Today, in the 2020s, while monthly data analysis remains common, the frontier has shifted again, this time towards daily data analysis, with some pioneers even venturing into hourly analytics.

The real power of daily data analysis lies in its ability to provide a detailed view of business operations, capturing daily fluctuations that might be overlooked by monthly or weekly data.  However, the complexities of daily data necessitate advanced analytical approaches to extract meaningful insights. At this level, understanding demand requires grappling with concepts like intermittency, seasonality, trend, and volatility. Intermittency, or the occurrence of zero-demand days, becomes more pronounced at a daily granularity and demands specialized forecasting techniques like Croston’s method for accurate predictions. Seasonality at a daily level can reveal multiple patterns—such as increased sales on weekends or holidays—that monthly data would mask. Trends can be observed as short-term increases or decreases in demand, demanding agile adjustment strategies. Finally, volatility at the daily level is accentuated, showing more significant swings in demand than seen in monthly or weekly analyses, which can affect inventory management strategies and the need for buffer stock. This level of complexity underscores the need for sophisticated analytical tools and expertise in daily data analysis.

In conclusion, the evolution from less frequent to daily time series forecasting marks a substantial shift in how businesses approach data analysis. This transition not only reflects the accelerating pace of business but also highlights the requirement for tools that can handle increased data granularity. Smart Software’s dedication to refining its analytical capabilities to manage daily data highlights the industry’s broader move towards more dynamic, responsive, and data-driven decision-making. This shift is not merely about keeping pace with time but about leveraging detailed insights to forge competitive advantages in an ever-changing business environment.

 

Constructive Play with Digital Twins

Those of you who track hot topics will be familiar with the term “digital twin.” Those who have been too busy with work may want to read on and catch up.

What is a digital twin?

While there are several definitions of digital twin, here’s one that works well:

A digital twin is a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system, or environment that looks like and behaves identically to its real-world counterpart. A digital twin ingests data and replicates processes so you can predict possible performance outcomes and issues that the real-world product might undergo. [Source: Unity.com]. For additional background, you might go to Mckinsey.com.

What is the difference between a digital twin (hereafter DT) and a model? Primarily, a DT gets connected to real-time data to maintain the model as an up-to-the-minute representation of the system you are working with.

Our current products might be called “slow-motion DT’s” because they are usually used with non-real-time data (though not stale data, since it is updated overnight) and applied to problems like planning the next quarter’s raw material buys or setting inventory parameters for a month or longer.

Are people using digital twins in my industry?

My impression is that the penetration of DT’s may be highest in the aerospace and nuclear industries. Most of our customers are elsewhere: in manufacturing, distribution, and public utilities such as transportation and power. Soon we’ll be offering new products that come closer to the strict definition of a DT that is connected intimately to the system it represents.

DT Preview

Most users of Smart Inventory Optimization (SIO) run the application periodically, typically monthly. SIO analyzes current demand for inventory items and recent supplier lead times, converting these into demand and supply scenarios, respectively. Then users either interactively (for individual items) or automatically (at scale) set inventory control parameters that will provide the long-term average performance they want, balancing the competing goals of minimizing inventory while guaranteeing a sufficient level of item availability.

Smart Supply Planner (SSP) operates in a more immediate way to react to contingencies. Any day could bring an anomalous order that spikes up demand, such as when a new customer places a surprising initial stocking order. Or a key supplier could experience a problem at its factory and be forced to delay shipment of your planned replenishment orders. In the long run, these contingencies average out and justify the recommendations coming out of SIO. However, SSP will give you a way to react in the short run to seize opportunities or dodge bullets.

At its core, SSP operates like SIO in that it is scenario driven. The differences are that it uses short planning horizons and uses real-time initial conditions as the basis for its simulations of inventory system performance. Then it will provide real-time recommendations for interventions that offset the disruption caused by the contingencies. These would include cancelling or expediting replenishment orders.

Summary

Digital twins let you try out plans “in silico” before you implement them in the factory or warehouse. At their core are mathematical models of your operation but connected to real-time data. They provide a “digital sandbox” in which you can try out ideas and get immediate predictions of how well they will work. Much more than a spreadsheet, DT’s will soon be the key tool in your inventory planning toolbox.

 

Direct to the Brain of the Boss – Inventory Analytics and Reporting

I’ll start with a confession: I’m an algorithm guy. My heart lives in the “engine room” of our software, where lightning-fast calculations zip back and forth across the AWS cloud, generating demand and supply scenarios used to guide important decisions about demand forecasting and inventory management.

But I recognize that the target of all that beautiful, furious calculation is the brain of the boss, the person responsible for making sure that customer demand is satisfied in the most efficient and profitable way. So, this blog is about Smart Operational Analytics (SOA), which creates reports for management. Or, as they are called in the military, sit-reps.

All the calculations guided by the planners using our software ultimately get distilled into the SOA reports for management. The reports focus on five areas: inventory analysis, inventory performance, inventory trending, supplier performance, and demand anomalies.

Inventory Analysis

These reports keep tabs on current inventory levels and identify areas that need improvement. The focus is on current inventory counts and their status (on hand, in transit, in quarantine), inventory turns, and excesses vs shortages.

Inventory Performance

These reports track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as Fill Rates, Service Levels, and inventory Costs. The analytic calculations elsewhere in the software guide you toward achieving your KPI targets by calculating Key Performance Predictions (KPPs) based on recommended settings for, e.g., reorder points and order quantities. But sometimes surprises occur, or operating policies are not executed as recommended, so there will always be some slippage between KPPs and KPIs.

Inventory Trending

Knowing where things stand today is important, but seeing where things are trending is also valuable. These reports reveal trends in item demand, stockout events, average days on hand, average time to ship, and more.

Supplier Performance

Your company cannot perform at its best if your suppliers are dragging you down. These reports monitor supplier performance in terms of the accuracy and promptness of filling replenishment orders. Where you have multiple suppliers for the same item, they let you compare them.

Demand Anomalies

Your entire inventory system is demand driven, and all inventory control parameters are computed after modeling item demand. So if something odd is happening on the demand side, you must be vigilant and prepare to recalculate things like mins and maxes for items that are starting to act in odd ways.

Summary

The end point for all the massive calculations in our software is the dashboard showing management what’s going on, what’s next, and where to focus attention. Smart Inventory Analytics is the part of our software ecosystem aimed at your company’s C-Suite.

 Smart Reporting Studio Inventory Management Supply Software

Figure 1: Some sample reports in graphical form

 

How Are We Doing? KPI’s and KPP’s

Dealing with the day-to-day of inventory management can keep you busy. There’s the usual rhythm of ordering, receiving, forecasting and planning, and moving things around in the warehouse. Then there are the frenetic times – shortages, expedites, last-minute calls to find new suppliers.

All this activity works against taking a moment to see how you’re doing. But you know you have to get your head up now and then to see where you’re heading. For that, your inventory software should show you metrics – and not just one, but a full set of metrics or KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators.

Multiple Metrics

Depending on your role in your organization, different metrics will have different salience. If you are on the finance side of the house, inventory investment may be top of mind: how much cash is tied up in inventory? If you’re on the sales side, item availability may be top of mind: what’s the chance that I can say “yes” to an order? If you’re responsible for replenishment, how many PO’s will your people have to cut in the next quarter?

Availability Metrics

Let’s circle back to item availability. How do you put a number on that? The two most used availability metrics are “service level” and “fill rate.” What’s the difference? It’s the difference between saying “We had an earthquake yesterday” and saying, “We had an earthquake yesterday, and it was a 6.4 on the Richter scale.” Service level records the frequency of stockouts no matter their size; fill rate reflects their severity. The two can seem to point in opposite directions, which causes some confusion. You can have a good service level, say 90%, but have an embarrassing fill rate, say 50%. Or vice versa. What makes them different is the distribution of demand sizes. For instance, if the distribution is very skewed, so most demands are small but some are huge, you might get the 90%/50% split mentioned above. If your focus is on how often you have to backorder, service level is more relevant. If your worry is how big an overnight expedite can get, the fill rate is more relevant.

One Graph to Rule them All

A graph of on-hand inventory can provide the basis for calculating multiple KPI’s. Consider Figure 1, which plots on-hand each day for a year. This plot has information needed to calculate multiple metrics: inventory investment, service level, fill rate, reorder rate and other metrics.

Key performace indicators and paramenters for inventory management

Inventory investment: The average height of the graph when above zero, when multiplied by unit cost of the inventory item, gives quarterly dollar value.

Service level: The fraction of inventory cycles that end above zero is the service level. Inventory cycles are marked by the up movements occasioned by the arrival of replenishment orders.

Fill rate: The amount by which inventory drops below zero and how long it stays there combine to determine fill rate.

In this case, the average number of units on hand was 10.74, the service level was 54%, and the fill rate was 91%.

 

KPI’s and KPP’s

In the over forty years since we founded Smart Software, I have never seen a customer produce a plot like Figure 1.  Those who are further along in their development do produce and pay attention to reports listing their KPI’s in tabular form, but they don’t look at such a graph. Nevertheless, that graph has value for developing insight into the random rhythms of inventory as it rises and falls.

Where it is especially useful is prospectively. Given market volatility, key variables like supplier lead times, average demand, and demand variability all shift over time. This implies that key control parameters like reorder points and order quantities must adjust to these shifts. For instance, if a supplier says they’ll have to increase their average lead time by 2 days, this will impact your metrics negatively, and you may need to increase your reorder point to compensate. But increase it by how much?

Here is where modern inventory software comes in. It will let you propose an adjustment and then see how things will play out. Plots like Figure 1 let you see and get a feel for the new regime. And the plots can be analyzed to compute KPP’s – Key Performance Predictions.

KPP’s help take the guesswork out of adjustments. You can simulate what will happen to your KPI’s if you change them in response to changes in your operating environment – and how bad things will get if you make no changes.

 

 

 

 

Confused about AI and Machine Learning?

Are you confused about what is AI and what is machine learning? Are you unsure why knowing more will help you with your job in inventory planning? Don’t despair. You’ll be ok, and we’ll show you how some of whatever-it-is can be useful.

What is and what isn’t

What is AI and how does it differ from ML? Well, what does anybody do these days when they want to know something? They Google it. And when they do, the confusion starts.

One source says that the neural net methodology called deep learning is a subset of machine learning, which is a subset of AI. But another source says that deep learning is already a part of AI because it sort of mimics the way the human mind works, while machine learning doesn’t try to do that.

One source says there are two types of machine learning: supervised and unsupervised. Another says there are four: supervised, unsupervised, semi-supervised and reinforcement.

Some say reinforcement learning is machine learning; others call it AI.

Some of us traditionalists call a lot of it “statistics”, though not all of it is.

In the naming of methods, there is a lot of room for both emotion and salesmanship. If a software vendor thinks you want to hear the phrase “AI”, they may well say it for you just to make you happy.

Better to focus on what comes out at the end

You can avoid some confusing hype if you focus on the end result you get from some analytic technology, regardless of its label. There are several analytical tasks that are relevant to inventory planners and demand planners. These include clustering, anomaly detection, regime change detection, and regression analysis. All four methods are usually, but not always, classified as machine learning methods. But their algorithms can come straight out of classical statistics.

Clustering

Clustering means grouping together things that are similar and distancing them from things that are dissimilar. Sometimes clustering is easy: to separate your customers geographically, simply sort them by state or sales region. When the problem is not so dead obvious, you can use data and clustering algorithms to get the job done automatically even when dealing with massive datasets.

For example, Figure 1 illustrates a cluster of “demand profiles”, which in this case divides all a customer’s items into nine clusters based on the shape of their cumulative demand curves. Cluster 1.1 in the top left contains items whose demand has been petering out, while Cluster 3.1 in the bottom left contains items whose demand has accelerated.  Clustering can also be done on suppliers. The choice of number of clusters is typically left to user judgement, but ML can guide that choice.  For example, a user might instruct the software to “break my parts into 4 clusters” but using ML may reveal that there are really 6 distinct clusters the user should analyze. 

 

Confused about AI and Machine Learning Inventory Planning

Figure 1: Clustering items based on the shapes of their cumulative demand

Anomaly Detection

Demand forecasting is traditionally done using time series extrapolation. For instance, simple exponential smoothing works to find the “middle” of the demand distribution at any time and project that level forward. However, if there has been a sudden, one-time jump up or down in demand in the recent past, that anomalous value can have a significant but unwelcome effect on the near-term forecast.  Just as serious for inventory planning, the anomaly can have an outsized effect on the estimate of demand variability, which goes directly to the calculation of safety stock requirements.

Planners may prefer to find and remove such anomalies (and maybe do offline follow-up to find out the reason for the weirdness). But nobody with a big job to do will want to visually scan thousands of demand plots to spot outliers, expunge them from the demand history, then recalculate everything. Human intelligence could do that, but human patience would soon fail. Anomaly detection algorithms could do the work automatically using relatively straightforward statistical methods. You could call this “artificial intelligence” if you wish.

Regime Change Detection

Regime change detection is like the big brother of anomaly detection. Regime change is a sustained, rather than temporary, shift in one or more aspects of the character of a time series. While anomaly detection usually focuses on sudden shifts in mean demand, regime change could involve shifts in other features of the demand, such as its volatility or its distributional shape.  

Figure 2 illustrates an extreme example of regime change. The bottom dropped out of demand for this item around day 120. Inventory control policies and demand forecasts based on the older data would be wildly off base at the end of the demand history.

Confused about AI and Machine Learning Demand Planning

Figure 2: An example of extreme regime change in an item with intermittent demand

Here too, statistical algorithms can be developed to solve this problem, and it would be fair play to call them “machine learning” or “artificial intelligence” if so motivated.  Using ML or AI to identify regime changes in demand history enables demand planning software to automatically use only the relevant history when forecasting instead of having to manually pick the amount of history to introduce to the model. 

Regression analysis

Regression analysis relates one variable to another through an equation. For example, sales of window frames in one month may be predicted from building permits issued a few months earlier. Regression analysis has been considered a part of statistics for over a century, but we can say it is “machine learning” since an algorithm works out the precise way to convert knowledge of one variable into a prediction of the value of another.

Summary

It is reasonable to be interested in what’s going on in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence. While the attention given to ChatGPT and its competitors is interesting, it is not relevant to the numerical side of demand planning or inventory management. The numerical aspects of ML and AI are potentially relevant, but you should try to see through the cloud of hype surrounding these methods and focus on what they can do.  If you can get the job done with classical statistical methods, you might just do that, then exercise your option to stick the ML label on anything that moves.

 

 

Call an Audible to Proactively Counter Supply Chain Noise

 

You know the situation: You work out the best way to manage each inventory item by computing the proper reorder points and replenishment targets, then average demand increases or decreases, or demand volatility changes, or suppliers’ lead times change, or your own costs change. Now your old policies (reorder points, safety stocks, Min/Max levels, etc.)  have been obsoleted – just when you think you’d got them right.   Leveraging advanced planning and inventory optimization software gives you the ability to proactively address ever-changing outside influences on your inventory and demand.  To do so, you’ll need to regularly recalibrate stocking parameters based on ever-changing demand and lead times.

Recently, some potential customers have expressed concern that by regularly modifying inventory control parameters they are introducing “noise” and adding complication to their operations. A visitor to our booth at last week’s Microsoft Dynamics User Group Conference commented:

“We don’t want to jerk around the operations by changing the policies too often and introducing noise into the system. That noise makes the system nervous and causes confusion among the buying team.”

This view is grounded in yesterday’s paradigms.  While you should generally not change an immediate production run, ignoring near-term changes to the policies that drive future production planning and order replenishment will wreak havoc on your operations.   Like it or not, the noise is already there in the form of extreme demand and supply chain variability.  Fixing replenishment parameters, updating them infrequently, or only reviewing at the time of order means that your Supply Chain Operations will only be able to react to problems rather than proactively identify them and take corrective action.

Modifying the policies with near-term recalibrations is adapting to a fluid situation rather than being captive to it.  We can look to this past weekend’s NFL games for a simple analogy. Imagine the quarterback of your favorite team consistently refusing to call an audible (change the play just before the ball is snapped) after seeing the defensive formation.  This would result in lots of missed opportunities, inefficiency, and stalled drives that could cost the team a victory.  What would you want your quarterback to do?

Demand, lead times, costs, and business priorities often change, and as these last 18 months have proved they often change considerably.  As a Supply Chain leader, you have a choice:  keep parameters fixed resulting in lots of knee-jerk expedites and order cancellations, or proactively modify inventory control parameters.  Calling the audible by recalibrating your policies as demand and supply signals change is the right move.

Here is an example. Suppose you are managing a critical item by controlling its reorder point (ROP) at 25 units and its order quantity (OQ) at 48. You may feel like a rock of stability by holding on to those two numbers, but by doing so you may be letting other numbers fluctuate dramatically.  Specifically, your future service levels, fill rates, and operating costs could all be resetting out of sight while you fixate on holding onto yesterday’s ROP and OQ.  When the policy was originally determined, demand was stable and lead times were predictable, yielding service levels of 99% on an important item.   But now demand is increasing and lead times are longer.  Are you really going to expect the same outcome (99% service level) using the same sets of inputs now that demand and lead times are so different?  Of course not.  Suppose you knew that given the recent changes in demand and lead time, in order to achieve the same service level target of 99%, you had to increase the ROP to 35 units.  If you were to keep the ROP at 25 units your service level would fall to 92%.  Is it better to know this in advance or to be forced to react when you are facing stockouts?

What inventory optimization and planning software does is make visible the connections between performance metrics like service rate and control parameters like ROP and ROQ. The invisible becomes visible, allowing you to make reasoned adjustments that keep your metrics where you need them to be by adjusting the control levers available for your use.  Using probabilistic forecasting methods will enable you to generate Key Performance Predictions (KPPs) of performance and costs while identifying near-term corrective actions such as targeted stock movements that help avoid problems and take advantage of opportunities. Not doing so puts your supply chain planning in a straightjacket, much like the quarterback who refuses to audible.

Admittedly, a constantly-changing business environment requires constant vigilance and occasional reaction. But the right inventory optimization and demand forecasting software can recompute your control parameters at scale with a few mouse clicks and clue your ERP system how to keep everything on course despite the constant turbulence.  The noise is already in your system in the form of demand and supply variability.  Will you proactively audible or stick to an older plan and cross your fingers that things will work out fine?

 

 

Leave a Comment
Related Posts
Overcoming Uncertainty with Service and Inventory Optimization Technology

Overcoming Uncertainty with Service and Inventory Optimization Technology

In this blog, we will discuss today’s fast-paced and unpredictable market and the constant challenges businesses face in managing their inventory and service levels efficiently. The main subject of this discussion, rooted in the concept of “Probabilistic Inventory Optimization,” focuses on how modern technology can be leveraged to achieve optimal service and inventory targets amidst uncertainty. This approach not only addresses traditional inventory management issues but also offers a strategic edge in navigating the complexities of demand fluctuations and supply chain disruptions.

Daily Demand Scenarios

Daily Demand Scenarios

In this Videoblog, we will explain how time series forecasting has emerged as a pivotal tool, particularly at the daily level, which Smart Software has been pioneering since its inception over forty years ago. The evolution of business practices from annual to more refined temporal increments like monthly and now daily data analysis illustrates a significant shift in operational strategies.

The Cost of Spreadsheet Planning

The Cost of Spreadsheet Planning

Companies that depend on spreadsheets for demand planning, forecasting, and inventory management are often constrained by the spreadsheet’s inherent limitations. This post examines the drawbacks of traditional inventory management approaches caused by spreadsheets and their associated costs, contrasting these with the significant benefits gained from embracing state-of-the-art planning technologies.