A Check on Forecast Automation with the Attention Index

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

forecasting and inventory optimization

A new metric we call the “Attention Index” will help forecasters identify situations where “data behaving badly” can distort automatic statistical forecasts (see adjacent poem). It quickly identifies those items most likely to require forecast overrides—providing a more efficient way to put business experience and other human intelligence to work maximizing the accuracy of forecasts. How does it work?

Classical forecasting methods, such as the various flavors of exponential smoothing and moving averages, insist on a leap of faith. They require that we trust present conditions to persist into the future. If present conditions do persist, then it is sensible to use these extrapolative methods—methods which quantify the current level, trend, seasonality and “noise” of a time series and project them into the future.

But if they do not persist, extrapolative methods can get us into trouble. What had been going up might suddenly be going down. What used to be centered around one level might suddenly jump to another. Or something really odd might happen that is entirely out of pattern. In these surprising circumstances, forecast accuracy deteriorates, inventory calculations go wrong and general unhappiness ensues.

One way to cope with this problem is to rely on more complex forecasting models that account for external factors that drive the variable being forecasted. For instance, sales promotions attempt to disrupt buying patterns and move them in a positive direction, so including promotion activity in the forecasting process can improve sales forecasting. Sometimes macroeconomic indicators, such as housing starts or inflation rates, can be used to improve forecast accuracy. But more complex models require more data and more expertise, and they may not be useful for some problems—such as managing parts or subsystems, rather than finished goods.

If one is stuck using simple extrapolative methods, it is useful to have a way to flag items that will be difficult to forecast. This is the Attention Index. As the name suggests, items to be forecast with a high Attention Index require special handling—at least a review, and usually some sort of forecast adjustment.

 

 

The Attention Index detects three types of problems:

An outlier in the demand history of an item.
An abrupt change in the level of an item.
An abrupt change in the trend of an item.
Using software like SmartForecasts™, the forecaster can deal with an outlier by replacing it with a more typical value.

An abrupt change in level or trend can be dealt with by omitting, from the forecasting calculations, all data from before the “rupture” in the demand pattern—assuming that the item has switched into a new regime that renders the older data irrelevant.

While no index is perfect, the Attention Index does a good job of focusing attention on the most problematic demand histories. This is demonstrated in the two figures below, which were produced with data from the M3 Competition, well known in the forecasting world. Figure 1 shows the 20 items (out of the contest’s 3,003) with the highest Attention Index scores; all of these have grotesque outliers and ruptures. Figure 2 shows the 20 items with the lowest Attention Index scores; most (but not all) of the items with low scores have relatively benign patterns.

If you have thousands of items to forecast, the new Attention Index will be very useful for focusing your attention on those items most likely to be problematic.

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. […]