The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

There’s a stale old joke: “There are two types of people – those who believe there are two types of people, and those who don’t.” We can modify that joke: “There are two types of people – those who know there are three types of supply chain analytics, and those who haven’t yet read this blog.”

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three.

Descriptive Analytics

Descriptive Analytics are the stuff of dashboards. They tell you “what’s happenin’ now.” Included in this category are such summary numbers as dollars currently invested in inventory, current customer service level and fill rate, and average supplier lead times. These statistics are useful for keeping track of your operations, especially when you track changes in them from month to month. You will rely on them every day. They require accurate corporate databases, processed statistically.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive Analytics most commonly manifest as forecasts of demand, often broken down by product and location and sometimes also by customer. These statistics provide early warning so you can gear up production, staffing and raw material procurement to satisfy demand. They also provide predictions of the effect of changes in operating policies, e.g., what happens if we increase our order quantity for Product X from 20 to 25 units? You might rely on Predictive Analytics periodically, perhaps weekly or monthly, when you look up from what’s happening now to see what will happen next. Predictive Analytics uses Descriptive Analytics as a foundation but adds more capability. Predictive Analytics for demand forecasting requires advanced statistical processing to detect and estimate such features of product demand as trend, seasonality and regime change.  Predictive Analytics for inventory management uses forecasts of demand as inputs into models of the operation of inventory policies, which in turn provide estimates of key performance metrics such as service levels, fill rates, and operating costs.

Prescriptive Analytics

Prescriptive Analytics are not about what is happening now, or what will happen next, but about what you should do next, i.e., they recommend decisions aimed at maximizing inventory system performance. You might rely on Prescriptive Analytics to best posture your entire inventory policy. Prescriptive Analytics uses Predictive Analytics as a foundation then adds optimization capability. For instance, Prescriptive Analytics software can automatically work out the best choices for future values of Min’s and Max’s for thousands of inventory items. Here, “best” might mean the values of Min and Max for each item that minimize operating cost (the sum of holding, ordering, and shortage costs) while maintaining a 90% floor on item fill rate.

Example

The figure below shows how supply chain analytics can help the inventory manager. The columns show three predicted Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s): service level, inventory investment, and operating costs (holding costs + ordering costs + shortage costs).

 Figure 1: The three types of analytics used to evaluate planning scenarios

The rows show four alternative inventory policies, expressed as scenarios. The “Live” scenario reports on the values of the KPI’s on July 1, 2018. The “99% All” scenario changes the current policy by raising the service level of all items to 99%. The “75 floor/99 ceiling” scenario raises service levels that are too low up to 75% and lowers very high (i.e., expensive) service levels down to 95%. The “Optimization” scenario prescribes item specific service levels that minimizes total operating costs.

The “Live 07-01-2018” scenario is an example of Descriptive Analytics. It shows the current baseline performance. The software then allows the user to try out changes in inventory policy by creating new “What If” scenarios that might then be converted to named scenarios for further consideration. The next two scenarios are examples of Predictive Analytics. They both assess the consequences of their recommended inventory control policies, i.e., recommended values of Min and Max for all items. The “Optimization” scenario is an example of Prescriptive Analytics because it recommends a best compromise policy.

Consider how the three alternative scenarios compare to the baseline “Live” scenario. The “99% All” scenario raises the item availability metrics, increasing service level from 88% to 99%. However, doing so increases the total inventory investment from $3 million to about $4 million. In contrast, the “75 floor/99 ceiling” scenario increases both service level and reduces the cash tied up in inventory by about $300,000. Finally, the “Optimization” scenario achieves an 80% service level, a reduction from the current 88%, but it cuts more than $2 million from the inventory value and reduces operating costs by more than $400,000 annually. From here, managers could try further options, such as giving back some of the $2 million savings to achieve a higher average service level.

Summary

Modern software packages for inventory planning and inventory optimization should offer three kinds of supply chain analytics: Descriptive, Predictive, and Prescriptive. Their combination lets inventory managers track their operations (Descriptive), forecast where their operations will be in the future (Predictive), and optimize their inventory policies in response in anticipation of future conditions (Prescriptive).

 

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

1. The setup will be straightforward.

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively.  Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions. It will take time to get all stakeholders involved: sales, marketing, procurement, operations, and maintenance/technicians (for spare parts inventory).  Who owns the forecast? What will your items’ forecast hierarchy look like?  Where will the most business knowledge come from?  Is there a consensus process that will use the business knowledge to customize the forecasts to your particular situation? Does everyone understand the statistical methods?   Is there agreement on the underlying values that balance holding, ordering and (especially) shortage costs? Are you prepared to make choices along the crucial tradeoff curve relating inventory costs to customer service levels?  How do you plan on measuring forecasting accuracy/error? Does management understand the concept of “forecast value add” whereby you track the error with each version of the forecast (statistical error vs. sales forecast error vs. consensus error).  Without this context and agreed upon participation from key stake holders, the system will still be implemented but used in silo

2. All I need is historical demand data, and then I can start forecasting.

Almost.  Getting good data isn’t easy.  Are your demand history data complete and correct? Are your supplier data (e.g., lead times) also complete and correct? Have you recognized the special needs of new and end-of-life items? Sure, IT could export a file of aggregated demand data (weekly or monthly), but how do you know it is correct?  When orders and shipments are booked, they fall under a variety of different transactions codes.  You have to be able to know how to compose your demand signal.  Orders or shipments? Include or exclude returns? What about warehouse transfers?  What about returns that occur many periods after initial shipment?  How will my ERP interpret the forecast?  But wait…we are using a solution with an ERP connector that promises data will flow back and forth seamlessly.  An ERP connector will certainly cover the transfer of historical data and forecast results between systems but it won’t improve bad data quality.  You also have to make sure the ERP connector has the flexibility of determining how to compose your demand history.  For example, if it is hard coded to pull certain transactions types that you may not want or require different transactions it doesn’t include, you’ll need customizations.  There is also the problem of product supersession and/or location changes – i.e., Product A gets phased out and becomes Product B, or now Product A ships from a different warehouse.   Sounds simple, but if this happens often across thousands of items then it must be accounted for as part of an automatic forecasting process.  Otherwise, your users are required to manually manage this constant updating. Then you lose economies of scale. More “data wrangling” means more hassle, more errors, and missed decision deadlines. Less frequent updates can mean less accurate forecasts, which leads to excess inventory for some items and insufficient inventory for others

3. If we get a better forecast, we’ll have the right inventory, reduce stockouts, and increase service.

The demand forecast is one component of a larger process.  If you have another department that applies incorrect buffers (too much or too little safety stock), then a lot of the benefit of a more accurate forecast goes out the window.  You have to look holistically at forecasting within the context of inventory management. You can’t get maximum benefit (and in some cases, any benefit) unless you account for all components including buffer levels such as safety stock and reorder points, ordering rules, and managing supplier/internal lead times. It is not uncommon for buyers to implement rules of thumb inventory policies such as ordering early or inflating the forecast to reduce the risk of running out.  The opposite behavior where an order signal triggered by the forecast is deferred to a later date to prevent an order from being placed “too early” is equally prevalent.  This type of behavior is based on a pain avoidance response that occurs within companies that have an ad-hoc inventory planning process that doesn’t holistically connect the forecast to inventory strategy.  

4. The more forecasting models the better.

 This is true in some cases. In an ironic twist, the more models to choose from sometimes means you’ll have a greater chance of picking the wrong one.  This occurs even when there is an automated system selecting the right method.  This is because most automated forecasting systems still make the mistake of selecting methods based on best fit to past demand. This backward-looking approach usually results in poor performance when looking forward in time; this can be tested by waiting a bit and then comparing forecasted versus actual demand (or, if you don’t want to wait, by hiding some of the recent data and forecasting it, in which case the actuals are already in hand). In principle, having more models might be useful, but what is important is understanding the approach for model selection.  Furthermore, most forecasting models produce a single-number forecast (“Demand for Product A will be 17 units next month”) without any indication of the forecast uncertainty or margin of error. Without knowing the margin of error, you cannot appreciate and rationally manage forecast risk.

In our software, we offer automated time series selection that chooses from dozens of proven techniques on the basis of estimated future performance, not fit to past data.  We also go beyond single-number forecasting using probabilistic methods to generate thousands of forecast scenarios to assess forecast uncertainty.  We’ve found that this approach is considerably more accurate for certain types of data than the traditional tournament selection.  So, in these situations the number of models we’d recommend using is “One!”  Does that it make inferior?  Of course not.  Take the time to fine-tune your models in order to see what works best for your business.

5. With the right software, anybody can do the job well.

Would that it were so. However, after our involvement in decades of implementations, it is clear that not everybody should be at the demand planning keyboard. The job doesn’t need a super-hero, but certain traits make for success:

  • Having a company-wide perspective. So many problems in demand planning stem from stove-piped thinking. A proper planning process surfaces the need for all stakeholders’ involvement, so a user unable to think beyond his or her previous fiefdom can be a liability.
  • Being innumerate. A user who is not comfortable with numbers will struggle.
  • Appreciating randomness. This is similar to innumeracy but goes beyond. Most of the friction in demand planning and inventory optimization derives from randomness: in product demand, in supplier lead time, etc. Without a good feel for how randomness causes trouble, a user will often be puzzled at how poorly his or her decisions turn out.
  • Being incurious. Top-flight software encourages users to game out “what if?” scenarios to see how to tweak automatically computed solutions to get even better results. If the user never gets into a “what if?” mentality, they will under perform. Furthermore, playing with alternative scenarios is one of the best ways to build an instinctive feel for the randomness in the system.

Conclusion

The five reasons outlined here show why implementing a forecasting, demand planning, or inventory optimization system isn’t as simple as turning on the software, firing up an ERP integration, and getting some user training on how to operate the software.  You are implementing a new process for planning your business and determining stocking policy.  Per an Institute of Business Forecasting (IBF) blog, implementations of demand planning and forecasting software routinely take 600 + hours of time including internal time and professional services from your software vendor.  The effort is well worth it.  The blog also references an IBF study that shows that a 1% reduction in under-forecast error at a $50 Million company yields a savings as much as $1.52M (the benefits of a 1% reduction in over-forecast error were $1.28M)!

 

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company.

“Regime change” has a third meaning that is relevant to your profession as a demand planner or inventory manager. To researchers in economics and finance, regime change means sudden shifts in the very character of a time series of random observations. The random time series in question here is the sequence of daily (or weekly or monthly) demand counts for your products and inventory items.

Most forecasting software uses statistical algorithms to process historical demand. It may add additional steps, such as incorporating field intelligence from sales people, but everything starts with the demand history of whatever item you must manage.

The question raised by regime change is, which data do you use? The simple answer is “All of it”, because that leads to the most accurate forecasts — but only if your data world is stable. If your data world is turbulent, then using all the data means you are basing forecasts on bye-gone conditions. In turn, inputting obsolete data into your forecasting algorithms inevitably leads to reduced forecast accuracy.

Note that dealing with regime change is not the same as dealing with outliers. Outliers are usually one-off exceptions caused by transient events, such as a kink in your supply chain caused by a huge blizzard choking off all transit paths. In contrast, regime change persists over a longer period and is therefore capable of doing more damage to your forecasts. Here’s an analogy: Outliers are about weather, and regime change is about climate.

The most drastic forms of regime change are existential. Figure 1 shows an example of an existential change: There was no demand at all for a long time, then suddenly there was demand. If you had no demand for an item because it didn’t exist but you retain zero demand values in your database, and then the item goes live and you do have sales, the transition from nothing to something is an extreme regime change. Including all those zero demand values from before “Day One” is sure to bias statistical forecasts down below where they should be. The same thing happens if you kill off a product but keep recording zero demand: Including all those recent zeros degrades your demand forecasts.

In principle, careful record keeping should eliminate these problems. You should record only meaningful zero values. If you have a new item, start recording when it goes live. If you no longer have any demand for an item and expect none, purge it from your database, or at least forecast zero demand.

Unfortunately, there is a difference between principle and practice. We see many instances in which the data records for both new and dormant items are not properly kept, with “fake zeros” confounded with “real zeros”. This problem is not necessarily the result of incompetence: Usually, it is a byproduct of the scale of the problem, with too few people trying to keep track of too many items.

These existential regime changes are relatively easy to deal with compared to more subtle forms, which appear to afflict more items. Figure 2 shows two examples of regime changes in a pattern of ongoing sales. There are any number of factors that can change the demand for an item: salesforce performance, marketing and advertising efforts, competitor and supplier actions, new customers arising or old customers disappearing, etc. If demand for an item has been chugging along at a steady 1 unit per day but suddenly doubles (or vice versa), that’s a regime change. In the new world order, demand is 2 units/day and forecasts should reflect that. Instead, statistical forecasting algorithms will forecast too little demand if fed all the data, including that from before the regime change.

How do you protect yourself from regime change? The answer is the same for the cruelest dictator or the most innocent demand planner: Intelligence. And because threats are many, the intelligence is best automated. Modern software systems have the capability to screen tens of thousands of items for signs of regime change. Then the software can call your attention to the problematic items and prompt you to designate which recent data to use in calculations. Or the software can automatically detect and correct for regime change, working quickly at a scale that would easily defeat any busy person working “by hand”.

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.

Don’t Become a Victim of Your Forecast Models

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

Quants and Financial Meltdowns

I spend much of my time developing new quantitative methods for statistical forecasting, demand forecasting and inventory optimization. For me, this is an engaging way to contribute to society. But I know that the most prudent way to do algorithm development is to stand a little to the side and cast a skeptical eye on my own work.

The need for this skepticism was highlighted for me recently as I read Scott Patterson’s book The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It (Crown Publishing, 2010). This book reviewed the “quants” whose complex financial models were largely responsible for the financial meltdown in 2007. As I read along and thought “What was wrong with these guys?” I began to wonder if we supply chain quants were guilty of some of the same sins.

Models versus Instincts

Generally, the supply chain field has lagged behind finance in terms of the use of statistical models. My university colleagues and I are chipping away at that, but we have a long way to go. Some supply chains are quite technically sophisticated, but many, perhaps more, are essentially managed as much by gut instinct as by the numbers. Is this avoidance of analytics safer than relying on models?

What makes gut instinct dangerous is that it is so amorphous. Everyone who works long in a job develops instincts, but longevity is not the same as wisdom. It is possible to learn all the wrong lessons over a long career. It is also possible to miss the chance to learn the right lessons because certain informative scenarios may never arise in one person’s career. It is also possible to have good days and bad days; even gurus can mess up. Gut instinct is also anti-productive, since all decisions have to pass through that one gut, which becomes an enterprise chokepoint. And Golden Guts eventually reach their Golden Years and take their Golden Watch and go off into a Golden Sunset; at that point, whatever expertise had been present has walked out the door.

In contrast, models have certain advantages. Relative to gut instinct, models are:

  • Explicit: The theory of the supply chain operation is exposed for all to see.
  • Adaptive: Because the theory is visible, it can be reviewed, critiqued, tested against data, and evolved.
  • Consistent: Models may be more or less true, but they are not subject to day-to-day variability.
  • Comprehensive: At least potentially, models can accumulate a wide range of empirical experience, including scenarios never encountered during any one person’s career.
  • Instructive: Models are collections of relationships among variables. If the model’s “guts” are made visible, users can learn about those relationships.

Model Error

Nevertheless, despite all their virtues, models can also be wrong. In fact, that is a given. A constructive way to live with this is encoded in the famous aphorism by Dr. George Box, one of the best modelers of the last half century: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.”

The finance quants’ models were wrong by being oversimplified. They started with a quasi-religious belief in the efficiency of markets and developed statistical models that made certain assumptions that were more likely to be true of the physical world than the financial world. Among these were Normal distributions of changes in asset prices and independence of events across various corners of the market. They also assumed human rationality.

It should be a bit alarming that the Normal distribution and independence assumptions also underlie many of the models in supply chain software. In fact, there are alternative models of supply chain dynamics that do not require these simplifying assumptions, so this is an unnecessary risk being run by many, perhaps most, of the users of supply chain software.

But even with more robust and realistic model assumptions, there is no denying that model error is a constant risk. So, can you be victimized by your models? Of course you can.

Self-Protection: Look at the Data

Every supply chain professional who uses models, then, is subject to model risk. But unlike with decisions based on gut feel, decisions based on model calculations can be exposed and compared to real-world outcomes. Repeated checking is the best way to protect against model error, because it not only tests whether the model is realistic but also signals when it is time to update the model.

As noted above, a model is a set of functional relationships between key variables. Those relationships have parameters that tune the model to the current operating context. For instance, supply chain models often rely, in part, on estimates of demand volatility. Historical demand data are used to calculate numerical values for these parameters. If demand volatility changes, the model becomes obsolete and likely to produce inapt recommendations. Therefore, good practice demands frequent updates to model parameters.

Even when parameter values are current, there may still be trouble due to incorrect functional relationships. For example, consider the relationship between the mean and standard deviation of demand for spare parts. Generally speaking, the greater the average demand, the greater the demand volatility as measured by the standard deviation.

Now consider simplified “old school” models that describe spare part demand as a Poisson process. The Poisson process is widely useful and relatively simple, so it often shows up in Statistics 101 classes. Because of their relative simplicity, Poisson models are the white rats of supply chain analytics for spare parts, i.e., people do computer experiments and theory development based on the behavior of Poisson models of demand. For Poisson models, the standard deviation of demand equals the square root of the mean. However, when we look at our customers’ actual demand data, we discover that the actual relationship between the mean and standard deviation of demand is better described by a more general power-law relationship. Thus, the simple model may use accurate estimates of mean and standard deviation but still not accurately reflect their relationship. This in turn leads to incorrect recommendations about reorder points for spare parts. Checking real data is the best antidote to cavalier assumption-making.

What to Do Next

I do not sense that today’s supply chain models are on the brink of creating the kind of meltdown we saw in the start of the Great Recession. But those of us who are supply chain quants need to show more professional maturity than our financial colleagues. We need to not fall in love with our models, and we need to alert our customers to correct model hygiene.

So, model users, wash your hands frequently as we begin flu season, and wash your models thoroughly through hard data to be sure that the models you rely on are both up-to-date and grounded in reality. Both those steps will protect you from being victimized by your models and let you exploit their advantages over management by gut feel.

Appendix: Technical Tips

Supply chain analytics provide various types of outputs. In the realm of forecasting and demand planning, the obvious empirical check is to compare forecasts against the actual demand values that eventually reveal themselves. This same “forecast then check” approach can also be used in the generation of forecasts.  In the realm of inventory management, the models can build on forecasts to recommend policy choices, such as reorder points and order quantities or Min and Max values. There is a smart way to confirm the accuracy of recommendations of reorder points and Min’s.  See our blog The Right Forecast Accuracy Metric for Inventory Planning

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.

How to Tell You Don’t Really Have an Inventory Planning and Forecasting Policy

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

You can’t properly manage your inventory levels, let alone optimize them, if you don’t have a handle on exactly how demand forecasts and stocking parameters (such as Min/Max, safety stocks, and reorder points, and order quantities) are determined.

Many organizations cannot specify how policy inputs are calculated or identify situations calling for management overrides to the policy.   For example, many people can say they rely on a particular planning method such as Min/Max, reorder point, or forecast with safety stock, but they can’t say exactly how these planning inputs are calculated.  More fundamentally, they may not understand what would happen to their KPI’s if they were to change Min,Max, or Safety Stock. They may know that the forecast relies on “averages” or “history” or “sales input”, but specific details about how the final forecast is arrived at are unclear.

Often enough, a company’s inventory planning and forecasting logic was developed by a former employee or vanished consultant and entombed in a spreadsheet.  It otherwise may rely on outdated ERP functionality or ERP customization by an IT organization that incorrectly assumed that ERP software can and should do everything. (Read this great and, as they say, “funny because it’s true,” blog by Shaun Snapp about ERP Centric Strategies.)  The policy may not have been properly documented, and no one currently on the job can improve it or use it to best advantage.

This unhappy situation leads to another, in which buyers and inventory planners flat out ignore the output from the ERP system, forcing reliance on Microsoft Excel to determine order schedules.  Ad hoc methods are developed that impede cohesive responses to operational issues and aren’t visible to the rest of the organization (unless you want your CFO to learn the complex and finicky spreadsheet).  These methods often rely on rules of thumb, averaging techniques, or textbook statistics without a full understanding of their shortcomings or applicability.  And even when documented, most companies often discover that actual ordering strays from the documented policy.  One company we consulted for had on hand inventory levels that were routinely 2 x’s the Max quantity!  In other words, there isn’t really a policy at all.

In summary, many current inventory and demand forecast “systems” were developed out of distrust for the previous system’s suggestions but don’t actually improve KPI’s.  They also force the organization to rely on a few employees to manage demand forecasting, daily ordering, and inventory replenishment.

And when there is a problem, it is impossible for the executive team to unwind how you got there, because there are too many moving parts.  For example, was the excess stock the fault of an inaccurate demand forecast that relied on an averaging method that didn’t account for a declining demand?  Or was it due to an outdated lead time setting that was higher than it should’ve been?  Or was it due to a forecast override a planner made to account for an order that just never happened?  And who gave the feedback to make that override?  A customer? Salesperson?

Do you have any of these problems?  If so, you are wasting hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each year in unnecessary shortage costs, holding costs, and ordering costs.  What would you be able to do with that extra cash?  Imagine the impact that this would have on your business.

In our next blog, we’ll review specific questions you can ask to uncover what’s really happening at your company, detail the typical answers provided when a forecasting/inventory planning policy doesn’t really exist, explain how to interpret these answers, and offer some clear advice on what to do about it.

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.

The 3 levels of forecasting: Point forecasts, Interval forecasts, Probability forecasts
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The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning, forecasting and inventory optimization

Most demand forecasts are partial or incomplete: They provide only one single number: the most likely value of future demand. This is called a point forecast. Usually, the point forecast estimates the average value of future demand.  Interval forecasts provide an estimate of the possible future range of demand (i.e. demand has a 90% chance of being between 50 – 100 units).  Probabilistic forecasts take it a step further and provide additional information.  Knowing more is always better than knowing less and the probabilistic forecast provides that extra information so crucial for inventory management. This video blog by Dr. Thomas Willemain explains each type of forecast and the advantages of probabilistic forecasting.

 

Watch Now

 

 

Point forecast (green) shows what is most likely to happen.  The Interval Forecast shows the range (blue) of possibilities.

 

Probability Forecast shows the probability of each value occurring

 

 

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Related Posts

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The 3 Types of Supply Chain Analytics

The three types of supply chain analytics are “descriptive”, “predictive”, and “prescriptive.” Each plays a different role in helping you manage your inventory. Modern supply chain software lets you exploit all three helping you to reduce inventory costs, improve on time delivery and service levels, while running a more efficient supply chain.

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

The Top 5 Myths about Demand Planning Implementations

We just need to feed our demand histories into our new statistical methods, and we can start planning more effectively. Not quite: it’s about the technology and the process. You are investing in a new business process to develop forecasts for driving business strategy and inventory planning decisions.

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

Protect your Demand Planning Process from Regime Change

No, not that kind of regime change: Nothing here about cruise missiles and stealth bombers. And no, we’re not talking about the other kind of regime change that hits closer to home: Shuffling the C-Suite at your company. In this blog, we discuss the relevance of regime change on time series data used for demand planning and forecasting.