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A. Jain - IBF

Taking a 7 hour flight from New York to Heathrow, and then dragging yourself down to Central London can be a brutal commute.  But, on this day, there were no strenuous travel plans that were going to distract me from my excitement for IBF’s first London Forecasting Meet-up, hosted by Accenture.  And I am pleased to say, it was a great success.  We had Attendees from companies such as Nokia, Dell, AstraZeneca, McCormick, Rolls-Royce, Argos, Vodafone, and more. I was thrilled to hear how McCormick built a successful demand planning team and process.  I was also very happy to hear how other well known global companies, both up and downstream, improve their operations through better forecasting and planning.

The goal of the IBF meet-up was to provide a networking opportunity for professionals that recognize the importance of forecasting & planning. This event was geared towards professionals who are eager to learn, but lack the professional development budget needed for IBF conferences regionally and abroad.  While the Forecasting Meet-up may not have included the 2-days of rich and structured knowledge that an IBF 2-day conference offers, it still provided an environment to share lessons learned, best practices, and to build a professional network with little or no investment.

The event kicked off with a short introduction from Erik Daren, Supply Chain Consultant at Accenture who welcomed everyone to their office on Fenchurch Street.  Actually, Erik was instrumental in making this event happen, which we at the IBF greatly appreciate.  Allow me to take a second to mention a few things about the offices since they were so kind as to offer them up for our Meet-up. Stepping though Accenture’s office made me feel as though I had actually jumped into a Delorean and arrived in the future. I doubt Accenture does factory tours, but, maybe you can sneak in as a pizza delivery person to check it out :).

Our featured speaker, Rachael Stafford who is the Business Integration Manager at McCormick UK shared with us her journey towards building a strong demand planning and forecasting team.   Rachel mentioned that some key challenges at McCormick were dealing with the company’s silo mentality as well as getting their internal customers and those who supply forecasting information to collaborate to achieve consensus.  She went on to say that, when attempting to achieve a cultural change in this environment, the common question was, “What’s in it for me?” So, Rachel thought, “Why not lunch? Her treat!”  And that is what she did.  Rachael meticulously scheduled lunch meetings with key people throughout the company. These lunches allowed her to reiterate her point, which was that working together is better for both of us, as well as holistically for the company too.  This enabled her to develop strong relationships in pursuit of “one number of the truth” as we say. Of course, all forecasters are often pressured to take down or raise their forecasts at any given time.  But, having key relationships that are less combative allows Rachel and her team to manage the game play that others in the company may create in order to achieve an objective forecast.

When it came time for Q&A there were so many people interested in Rachel’s experience that it almost seemed as though she was being cross examined. One attendee laughingly pointed this out to me later in the evening.  However throughout the “inquisition,” she handled herself beautifully showing her toughness, which is a prerequisite for today’s successful forecasting & demand planning professional.  Rachel will be the first one to point out that we’re not just number crunchers, but strong well rounded professionals.

Finally, we opened up the room for a round table discussion and a key topic of conversation was “Forecasting ownership in terms of where the function should reside and why?” Many companies have forecasting as part of the Supply Chain.  This is an interesting fact since it continues to validate IBF’s benchmarking research on where the forecasting function is finding a home internally.  The guys from Dell seemed to truly appreciate this discussion as expressed to me during the evening. They plan to explore the pros and cons of ownership upon returning to their office and credit the discussion at the meet-up for thinking this way.  As one of the attendees said, “Forecasting needs to be aligned where the major operational decisions are being made.”  It appeared as though the group concurred with this point.  For me, this reaffirmed my prior notion that there are times when forecasting should not be a truly independent function or department.  This is because you risk losing a connection with the business and could lose an opportunity to develop those important relationships.

One thing that bothered me during the discussions was someone had said that we must get the most out of our demand planners before they jump off to another area of the company?  I do think this is contrary to what’s happening with successful companies today. At many companies, Demand Planning and Forecasting is not an intermediary discipline before heading to another area of the company.  Many companies are actually creating hierarchies for demand planning all the way up to the Vice President of Demand Planning. This evolution continues to happen.  Plus, the salary levels are rising at an exponential rate, which will surely keep good demand planning professionals right where they are. IBF’s benchmarking reports prove this.

I must say, even after 2 hours had past, we still could have kept discussing and debating.  Thank goodness for the Accenture people who were mindful of the schedule and let us know it was time to wrap things up.  They were not sending us home though, they were kind enough to reserve space for us at the local bar for drinks.  Good times.

The next London/ UK Meet-up will be in the Fall of 2011.  Watch the IBF calendars for details. We hope to see you there!