From Excel To Power Bi – My Demand Planning Journey

When it comes to the term “S&OP”, there is some uncertainty around how it all started. Some say it started with Oliver Wight in the early 1980’s, others say it was Richard Ling and Walter  Goddard in their book Orchestrating Success: Improve Control of the Business with Sales & Operations Planning. I’m not here to debate that because for me, it all started in 2007.

I remember the first S&OP presentation that I saw. It was as basic as you can imagine with Excel graphs copied and pasted into PowerPoint presentations. I am sure some of you are thinking to yourselves “we still do that”. You’re not alone. S&OP is a journey, not a destination and with every journey, it takes time.

Over the next few years, improvements were slow but gradual. We stayed with Excel and PowerPoint for quite some time. Different metrics came and went and unfortunately, so did some Demand Planners. The most important thing stayed constant, though – support from leadership. When you have buy-in from leadership and they truly understand the value behind S&OP, then resources such as personnel and systems start falling into place.

Remember, change is good. Change means stopping doing what’s not working, keeping doing what is working, and always making improvements.

With the support of leadership, we continued to upgrade our forecasting tools, we integrated our systems with both our promotion planning tool and a short term demand sensing tool. Things were starting to click, but we still needed improvement on the presentation side.

In 2019, Microsoft invited a few members from my company, mostly IT people, to their corporate offices in New York City. The point of the meeting was to introduce some of their tools that we weren’t taking advantage of: Yammer, Teams, and Power BI. Fortunately for me, someone couldn’t attend, so the invitation was passed along. So on a cold rainy day in the Fall, I took a short train ride with a coworker, spent the day in the city, and was immediately enamored with Power BI.

If you’re not familiar with Power BI, some say it’s closer to Excel than Microsoft Access but I like to think it’s the best of both worlds. Not only can it handle large amounts of data, like Access, using it’s query editor, but it’s a great tool that has interactive data visualization options that can help tell your S&OP story.

Power Bi was introduced into our S&OP process shortly after the trip.

When this happened, it brought energy back into the process. You could tell there was more excitement than there was in recent years. We were still showing similar data, but we were showing it using our shiny new toy.

We weren’t done yet.

We needed to keep up the momentum so it was time to partner with our friends from IT. We wanted to make the shift from static data to interactive data. We wanted our S&OP meetings to be able to answer questions on the fly. “What was case fill last year?”, “What caused that drop in forecast accuracy last month?”, “How does our inventory this quarter compare to inventory last quarter?”. The objective was to be able to answer these questions at any time.

Luckily, we had the right support. So, by partnering with IT, we were able to directly connect Power BI with data coming from our transactional system and just like that, magic. We had an interactive S&OP presentation. Don’t get me wrong; this took a lot of time and energy.

We now had one Power BI document that could be filtered on a specific Planner’s brands. Not only that, but we could filter our visualizations to show different time periods and we could begin to answer the questions that we previously had to follow up on.

One of the biggest improvements was time. There was no longer the need to make a dozen different PowerPoint presentations with Planners doing the same repetitive work. Instead they could use time more wisely; looking into forecast accuracy misses, explaining gaps to other forecasts, and laying out assumptions. We were working smarter, not harder.

And that is currently where we stand.

Over the last 15 years, I like to think we came a long way. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support and dedication from those involved.

The journey isn’t over. We are further along today than we were yesterday so let’s start thinking about tomorrow.

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