+1 617 489 2743
Select Page

# forecasting and inventory optimization

Most statistical forecasting works in one direct flow from past data to forecast. Forecasting with leading indicators works a different way. A leading indicator is a second variable that may influence the one being forecasted. Applying testable human knowledge about the predictive power in the relationship between these different sets of data will sometimes provide superior accuracy.

Most of the time, a forecast is based solely on the past history of the item being forecast. Let’s assume that the forecaster’s problem is to predict future unit sales of an important product. The process begins with gathering data on the product’s past sales. (Gregory Hartunian shares some practical advice on choosing the best available data in a previous post to the Smart Forecaster.) This data flows into forecasting software, which analyzes the sales record to measure the level of random variability and exploit any predictable aspects, such as trend or regular patterns of seasonal variability. The forecast is based entirely on the past behavior of the item being forecasted. Nothing that might have caused the wiggles and jiggles in the product’s sales graph is explicitly accounted for. This approach is fast, simple, self-contained and scalable, because software can zip through a huge number of forecasts automatically.

But sometimes the forecaster can do better, at the cost of more work. If the forecaster can peer through the fog of randomness and identify a second variable that influences the one being forecasted, a leading indicator, more accurate predictions are possible.

For example, suppose the product is window glass for houses. It may well be that increases or decreases in the number of construction permits for new houses will be reflected in corresponding increases or decreases in the number of sheets of glass ordered several months later. If the forecaster can distill this “lagged” or delayed relationship into an equation, that equation can be used to forecast glass sales several months hence using known values of the leading indicator. This equation is called a “regression equation” and has a form something like:

Sales of glass in 3 months = 210.9 + 26.7 × Number of housing starts this month.

Forecasting software can take the housing start and glass sales data and convert them into such a regression equation.

Graph displaying a relationship between example figures for time-shifted building permits and demand for glass
However, unlike automatic statistical forecasting based on a product’s past sales, forecasting with a leading indicator faces the same problem as the proverbial recipe for rabbit stew: “First catch a rabbit”. Here the forecaster’s subject matter expertise is critical to success. The forecaster must be able to nominate one or more candidates for the job of leading indicator. After this crucial step, based on the forecaster’s knowledge, experience and intuition, then software can be used to verify that there really is a predictive, time-delayed relationship between the candidate leading indicator and the variable to be forecasted.

This verification step is done using a “cross-correlation” analysis. The software essentially takes as input a sequence of values of the variable to be forecasted and another sequence of values of the supposed leading indicator. Then it slides the data from the forecast variable ahead by, successively, one, two, three, etc. time periods. At each slip in time (called a “lag”, because the leading indicator is lagging further and further behind the forecast variable), the software checks for a pattern of association between the two variables. If it finds a pattern that is too strong to be explained as a statistical accident, the forecaster’s hunch is confirmed.

Obviously, forecasting with leading indicators is more work than forecasting using only an item’s own past values. The forecaster has to identify a leading indicator, starting with a list suggested by the forecaster’s subject matter expertise. This is a “hand-crafting” process that is not suited to mass production of forecasts. But it can be a successful approach for a smaller number of important items that are worth the extra effort. The role of forecasting software, such as our SmartForecasts system, is to help the forecaster authenticate the leading indicator and then exploit it.

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.

Related Posts

## 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.

## Learning from Inventory Models

In this video blog, the spotlight is on a critical aspect of inventory management: the analysis and interpretation of inventory data. The focus is specifically on a dataset from a public transit agency detailing spare parts for buses.

## The Methods of Forecasting

Demand planning and statistical forecasting software play a pivotal role in effective business management by incorporating features that significantly enhance forecasting accuracy. One key aspect involves the utilization of smoothing-based or extrapolative models, enabling businesses to quickly make predictions based solely on historical data. This foundation rooted in past performance is crucial for understanding trends and patterns, especially in variables like sales or product demand. Forecasting software goes beyond mere data analysis by allowing the blending of professional judgment with statistical forecasts, recognizing that forecasting is not a one-size-fits-all process. This flexibility enables businesses to incorporate human insights and industry knowledge into the forecasting model, ensuring a more nuanced and accurate prediction.

#### Recent Posts

• 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
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
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. […]
• Learning from Inventory Models
In this video blog, the spotlight is on a critical aspect of inventory management: the analysis and interpretation of inventory data. The focus is specifically on a dataset from a public transit agency detailing spare parts for buses. […]
• The Methods of Forecasting
Demand planning and statistical forecasting software play a pivotal role in effective business management by incorporating features that significantly enhance forecasting accuracy. One key aspect involves the utilization of smoothing-based or extrapolative models, enabling businesses to quickly make predictions based solely on historical data. This foundation rooted in past performance is crucial for understanding trends and patterns, especially in variables like sales or product demand. Forecasting software goes beyond mere data analysis by allowing the blending of professional judgment with statistical forecasts, recognizing that forecasting is not a one-size-fits-all process. This flexibility enables businesses to incorporate human insights and industry knowledge into the forecasting model, ensuring a more nuanced and accurate prediction. […]

#### Inventory Optimization for Manufacturers, Distributors, and MRO

• Why MRO Businesses Need Add-on Service Parts Planning & Inventory Software
MRO organizations exist in a wide range of industries, including public transit, electrical utilities, wastewater, hydro power, aviation, and mining. To get their work done, MRO professionals use Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. These systems are designed to do a lot of jobs. Given their features, cost, and extensive implementation requirements, there is an assumption that EAM and ERP systems can do it all. In this post, we summarize the need for add-on software that addresses specialized analytics for inventory optimization, forecasting, and service parts planning. […]
• The Forecast Matters, but Maybe Not the Way You Think
True or false: The forecast doesn't matter to spare parts inventory management. At first glance, this statement seems obviously false. After all, forecasts are crucial for planning stock levels, right? It depends on what you mean by a “forecast”. If you mean an old-school single-number forecast (“demand for item CX218b will be 3 units next week and 6 units the week after”), then no. If you broaden the meaning of forecast to include a probability distribution taking account of uncertainties in both demand and supply, then yes. […]