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Companies that have survived decades of change have done so by flipping the script on long-established business tenets, and ripping up the rule book to adapt to new business realities. However, the maxim “the more things change, the more they stay the same” still rings true for many businesses that have neglected to gauge how legacy supply chains are faring in the midst of all this change.

Regardless of industry sector, it’s almost too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos of routine business operations, particularly if company results are reasonably successful with few customer complaints and acceptable financial returns. This operating model of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” ignores inevitable internal and external shifts in supply and demand. Instead of just coasting along, if we want to remain truly competitive, we should be taking stock of our supply chain planning processes and performing our due diligence to ensure we’re always equipped to proactively support change. Below are some of the more common fluctuating variables within supply chain planning that should be considered and addressed on a periodic basis.

Use S&OP To Determine Important Customers and Products

Demand management is much larger than simply forecasting—over time, customers and products come and go, and a customer that’s critical today may not be so important tomorrow. Our focus on products at time-of-launch becomes much different as they move toward end-of-life. But how does an organization define “importance”?  A robust S&OP process is the answer. Much of its value lies in its support of corporate objectives and financial goals, especially when an organization is challenged with identifying the characteristics or attributes that make a given product or customer segment important, for any number of qualitative or quantitative reasons.

Priorities change, so develop a process that can proactively identify and manage that change.

S&OP helps organizations stay on task with the larger challenge—periodic reevaluations of customer and product importance—to ensure these rankings still support the organization’s current strategic goals. It’s good to remember that strategic goals are longer term in nature, not to be confused with the near-term, tactical day-to-day issues and necessary course corrections. S&OP programs give enterprises the ability to play the long game, and regularly adjust customer and product priorities based on a strategic view, which is a critical advantage in successfully supporting an organization’s corporate objectives and financial goals. Priorities change, so develop a process that can proactively identify and manage that change.

Monitor Changes In The Market & Be Prepared

Customers both new and old can have very high expectations of service and delivery, conjuring up sometimes challenging requirements in today’s demanding marketplace. The reality is that we can’t plan for every customer request that comes our way. Still, it’s important to continue monitoring these requests to determine which of them are necessary or worthy of consideration in the future. For example, working with a group that was two years into a multi-year journey of global process change, e-commerce—not considered relevant at the start of this engagement—emerged as a challenge. The impact to demand planning, inventory management, distribution, and order fulfillment was quite significant. When considering evolving market requirements, understanding the relationships and integration challenges to your end-to-end processes will minimize the impact these changes will have on future implementations.

Actively Promote Knowledge Development In Your Company

Some people within organizations have short tenures, while others stay for a long time. For these long-time individuals, it’s human nature to become personally invested in an established role within a business. This isn’t a bad thing when key functions are being performed and the organization is doing well.

The upside: that these hard workers within the organization gain a solid understanding of the business.

The downside: they often lose touch with the outside world, without access to crucial insights regarding what similar companies are doing.

Best practices are relative to their applicability within an organization, so it’s important to look outside of one’s own experiences to grow knowledge and apply these new insights to improve processes within one’s own organization. Continuing education and networking are two ways to gain new proficiencies, and global organizations like the Institute of Business Forecasting and Planning is an excellent resource. Promoting your staff development through various training sessions, certification courses, and global conferences helps expand your company’s vision toward a broader view of what the rest of the world is doing. Leverage this new knowledge to improve your own processes.

Technology is an enabler, certainly, but only as a tool to accomplish the solution, not the solution itself.

Keep Technology Current But Let S&OP Process Drive Proper Governance

Many organizations jump on the technology bandwagon, convinced it will provide the solution for all their problems. Technology is an enabler, certainly, but only as a tool to accomplish the solution, not the solution itself. These systems depend on instruction—in the form of process rules which originate from the various organizational owners—to help businesses make appropriate decisions. A solid S&OP program rides to the rescue, again, by instilling proper cadence and governance before new or enhanced technology is considered to improve speed and accuracy. Technology advancements are being introduced every year, so there’s no shortage of software vendors that can support S&OP and Supply Chain planning processes. Enterprises typically don’t switch to new technology frequently, but developing awareness of what’s available can better support a longer-term strategic plan for continuous improvement.

Achieve ROI Faster by Engaging Experts

When was the last time you looked beyond the four walls of your own organization, or the processes that manage it?  What are other companies doing in your industry sector? Are you aware of new trends and practices that have come and gone over the years? These are valid questions organizations should consider when evaluating their own supply chains. Today, toolsets like block chain, AI, RPA, and predictive data analytics hold promise, and many organizations are incorporating them into their own processes. A company’s reluctance to engage with outside experts based on perceived ROI concerns is a missed opportunity to quickly tap into external knowledge and insights surrounding latest trends and best practices.

A commitment to review, re-evaluate, and evolve is critical to long term success.

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion, can be applied to Supply Chain and S&OP Planning processes, which require periodic outside forces and effort to maintain continuous improvement.  Taking stock of your supply chain, demand management, and S&OP processes with expert guidance to achieve awareness outside of your own organization will help your organization thrive and grow. A commitment to review, re-evaluate, and evolve is critical to long term success.  Companies that neglect this can be left behind.