Stop Wishing And Start Optimizing Supply Chain Performance

SAP Guest

by Chris Durkin

In manufacturing supply chains, inherent mismatches in speed, or cadence, can seriously impact agility and performance. While the pace of modern commerce offers businesses little hope, CPG_BIBif any, for balancing those mismatches, there is significant opportunity for improving performance. It lies in adjusting some pivotal business processes to compensate for the mismatches, keeping supply chains – especially demand-driven supply chains of consumer products companies – from taking performance hits. In fact, some specific, well-targeted adjustments hold the promise of performance optimization.

Traditions and transitions in supply chains

IDC research points out that the demand side of manufacturing supply chains have traditionally operated at a faster cadence than the supply side. Not necessarily a bad thing, and manufacturers have found ways (like inventory buffers) to compensate for these mismatches.

But for consumer product companies, demand volatility far exceeds supply volatility, so they experience the greatest cadence mismatch between the demand and supply sides of their supply chains. The mismatch is too substantial for approaches like inventory buffering to compensate – at least not well.

Compounding the issue is the steady transition in supply chain dynamics: The demand side of the consumer products supply chain is becoming even more demand driven. This is due, in no small part, to external pressures triggered by mobile, social connectivity, and e-commerce technologies – not to mention modern consumers who want yesterday what they purchase today.

Without some process adjustments, the resulting cadence mismatches within the supply chain could be great enough to deteriorate inventory quality, cause out of stocks, and reduce service levels.

The ultimate goal: A resilient supply chain

IDC defines a resilient supply chain as one capable of ensuring and preserving continuous, consistent product supply in order to meet product delivery and customer service obligations despite short- or long-term disruption. But if you’re a demand-driven consumer products company, how can you reach this state of supply chain perfection?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question. It would differ from company to company. It all depends on core principles of the business, the processes supporting those principles, and which processes lend themselves to the kinds of improvements that would compensate substantially for mismatches in supply chain cadences.

Adjustment possibilities

Business process adjustments that ultimately result in a resilient supply chain – one capable of responding quickly to market opportunities – can take many forms. The key lies in adjusting for longer-term supply requirements in a way that efficiently and cost-effectively satisfies the dynamics of near-term demand.

Based on real-world instances of cadence mismatches in supply chains, IDC research suggests some adjustments that demand-driven consumer products companies can make to eliminate those mismatches. These include:

  • Shortening supply lead time through a more balanced approach to global sourcing
  • Improving supply planning though adoption of modern, faster planning tools
  • Consuming new supply chain capabilities faster through the cloud

Evaluating current performance

Of course, before making adjustments, you’d want to evaluate current performance in some key areas to determine if cadence mismatches are taking a toll. IDC suggests evaluating:

  • Supply network agility: Does your company have long lead times, inflexible factories, and locked-down contracts with key suppliers?
  • Demand planning and forecast accuracy: Are forecast errors reflective of typical volatility or of actual flaws in your planning process? And can changes in demand be built quickly into a new view of the forecast?
  • Inventory management efficiency: Does your company have the right overall inventory level but the wrong things in the wrong places? Can you adapt your inventory quickly to meet changing business requirements?
  • Cost consensus: Are all areas of your business working from the same set of numbers? Or is lack of cost consensus across business functions interrupting product supply?

Answers to these questions might indicate that it’s time for some adjustments.

Tools for achieving resiliency

Tools that offer or enhance functionalities in some key areas can make achieving supply chain resiliency a more reachable goal. IDC research suggests looking at tools that support:

  • Demand sensing to improve forecasting by improving the downstream capture of consumer demand data
  • Sales and operations planning to align demand and supply plans with financial goals by giving all stakeholders in cost planning a unified view of demand, supply, and financial data
  • Inventory management and optimization to help ensure that goods are consistently available at the right time and right place
  • Cost visibility to gain a full view of costs that would also reflect benefits gained from shorter lead times achieved through proximity sourcing

And certainly, tools capable of leveraging newer functionalities – courtesy of social media, Big Data analytics, cloud computing, and mobile technologies – stand to bring even more options to the table.

For references highlighting the principles and suggestions offered here, check out the IDC infographic and whitepaper Clock Speed in the Consumer Product Supply Chain.



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13 Scary Statistics On Employee Engagement [INFOGRAPHIC]

Jacob Shriar

There is a serious problem with the way we work.

Most employees are disengaged and not passionate about the work they do. This is costing companies a ton of money in lost productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. It’s also harmful to employees, because they’re more stressed out than ever.

The thing that bothers me the most about it, is that it’s all so easy to fix. I can’t figure out why managers aren’t more proactive about this. Besides the human element of caring for our employees, it’s costing them money, so they should care more about fixing it. Something as simple as saying thank you to your employees can have a huge effect on their engagement, not to mention it’s good for your level of happiness.

The infographic that we put together has some pretty shocking statistics in it, but there are a few common themes. Employees feel overworked, overwhelmed, and they don’t like what they do. Companies are noticing it, with 75% of them saying they can’t attract the right talent, and 83% of them feeling that their employer brand isn’t compelling. Companies that want to fix this need to be smart, and patient. This doesn’t happen overnight, but like I mentioned, it’s easy to do. Being patient might be the hardest thing for companies, and I understand how frustrating it can be not to see results right away, but it’s important that you invest in this, because the ROI of employee engagement is huge.

Here are 4 simple (and free) things you can do to get that passion back into employees. These are all based on research from Deloitte.

1.  Encourage side projects

Employees feel overworked and underappreciated, so as leaders, we need to stop overloading them to the point where they can’t handle the workload. Let them explore their own passions and interests, and work on side projects. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to be related to the company, but if you’re worried about them wasting time, you can set that boundary that it has to be related to the company. What this does, is give them autonomy, and let them improve on their skills (mastery), two of the biggest motivators for work.

Employees feel overworked and underappreciated, so as leaders, we need to stop overloading them to the point where they can’t handle the workload.

2.  Encourage workers to engage with customers

At Wistia, a video hosting company, they make everyone in the company do customer support during their onboarding, and they often rotate people into customer support. When I asked Chris, their CEO, why they do this, he mentioned to me that it’s so every single person in the company understands how their customers are using their product. What pains they’re having, what they like about it, it gets everyone on the same page. It keeps all employees in the loop, and can really motivate you to work when you’re talking directly with customers.

3.  Encourage workers to work cross-functionally

Both Apple and Google have created common areas in their offices, specifically and strategically located, so that different workers that don’t normally interact with each other can have a chance to chat.

This isn’t a coincidence. It’s meant for that collaborative learning, and building those relationships with your colleagues.

4.  Encourage networking in their industry

This is similar to number 2 on the list, but it’s important for employees to grow and learn more about what they do. It helps them build that passion for their industry. It’s important to go to networking events, and encourage your employees to participate in these things. Websites like Eventbrite or Meetup have lots of great resources, and most of the events on there are free.

13 Disturbing Facts About Employee Engagement [Infographic]

What do you do to increase employee engagement? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up here and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!

This infographic was crafted with love by Officevibe, the employee survey tool that helps companies improve their corporate wellness, and have a better organizational culture.


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Supply Chain Fraud: The Threat from Within

Lindsey LaManna

Supply chain fraud – whether perpetrated by suppliers, subcontractors, employees, or some combination of those – can take many forms. Among the most common are:

  • Falsified labor
  • Inflated bills or expense accounts
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Phantom vendor accounts or invoices
  • Bid rigging
  • Grey markets (counterfeit or knockoff products)
  • Failure to meet specifications (resulting in substandard or dangerous goods)
  • Unauthorized disbursements

LSAP_Smart Supply Chains_graphics_briefook inside

Perhaps the most damaging sources of supply chain fraud are internal, especially collusion between an employee and a supplier. Such partnerships help fraudsters evade independent checks and other controls, enabling them to steal larger amounts. The median loss from fraud committed
by a single thief was US$80,000, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

Costs increase along with the number of perpetrators involved. Fraud involving two thieves had a median loss of US$200,000; fraud involving three people had a median loss of US$355,000; and fraud with four or more had a median loss of more than US$500,000, according to ACFE.

Build a culture to fight fraud

The most effective method to fight internal supply chain theft is to create a culture dedicated to fighting it. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Make sure the board and C-level executives understand the critical nature of the supply chain and the risk of fraud throughout the procurement lifecycle.
  • Market the organization’s supply chain policies internally and among contractors.
  • Institute policies that prohibit conflicts of interest, and cross-check employee and supplier data to uncover potential conflicts.
  • Define the rules for accepting gifts from suppliers and insist that all gifts be documented.
  • Require two employees to sign off on any proposed changes to suppliers.
  • Watch for staff defections to suppliers, and pay close attention to any supplier that has recently poached an employee.

About Lindsey LaManna

Lindsey LaManna is Social and Reporting Manager for the Digitalist Magazine by SAP Global Marketing. Follow @LindseyLaManna on Twitter, on LinkedIn or Google+.


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Zhena’s Gypsy Tea Brews Sustainable Growth On Cloud ERP

David Trites

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting a podcast with Paula Muesse, COO and CFO of Zhena’s Gypsy Tea, a small, organic, fair-trade tea company based in California, and Ursula Ringham from SAP. We talked about some of the business challenges Zhena’s faces and how the company’s ERP solution helped spur growth and digital transformation.

Small but complex business

~ERP helped Zhena’s sustain growthZhena’s has grown from one person (Zhena Muzyka) selling hand-packed tea from a cart, into a thriving small business that puts quality, sustainability, and fair trade first. And although the company is small its business is complex.

For starters, tea isn’t grown in the United States, so Zhena’s has to maintain and import inventory from multiple warehouses around the world. Some of their tea blends have up to 14 ingredients, and each one has a different lead time. That makes demand-planning difficult. In addition, the FDA and US Customs require designated ingredients be traced and treated a certain way to comply with regulations.

Being organic and fair trade also makes things more complicated. Zhena’s has to pass an annual organic compliance audit for all products and processing facilities. And all products need to be traceable back to the farms where the tea was grown and picked to ensure the workers (mostly women) are paid fair wages.

Sustainable growth

Prior to implementing its new ERP system, Zhena’s was using a mix of tools like QuickBooks, Excel, and paper to manage the business. But to sustain growth and ensure future success, the company had to make some changes. Zhena’s needed an integrated software solution that could handle all facets of the business. It needed a tool that could help with cost control and profitability analysis and facilitate complex reporting and regulatory requirements.

The SAP Business ByDesign solution was the perfect choice. The cloud-based ERP solution reduced both business and IT costs, simplified processes from demand planning to accounting, and enabled mobile access and real-time reporting.

Check out the podcast to hear more about how Zhena’s successfully transformed its business by moving to SAP Business ByDesign.

 This article originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Building a successful company is hard work. SAP’s affordable solutions for small and midsize companies are designed to make it easier. Simple to install and use, SAP SME Solutions help you automate and integrate your business processes to give real-time, actionable insights. So you can make decisions on the spot. Find out how Run Simple can work for you. Visit


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Ambient Intelligence: What's Next for The Internet of Things?

Dan Wellers

Imagine that your home security system lets you know when your kids get home from school. As they’re grabbing an afternoon snack, your kitchen takes inventory and sends a shopping list to your local supermarket. There, robots prepare the goods and pack them for home delivery into an autonomous vehicle – or a drone. Meanwhile, your smart watch, connected to a system that senses and analyzes real-time health indicators, alerts you to a suggested dinner menu it just created based on your family’s nutritional needs and ingredients available in your pantry. If you signal your approval, it offers to warm the oven before you get home from work.

This scenario isn’t as futuristic as you might think. In fact, what Gartner calls “the device mesh” is the logical evolution of the Internet of Things. All around us and always on, it will be both ubiquitous and subtle — ambient intelligence.

We’ll do truly different things, instead of just doing things differently. Today’s processes and problems are only a small subset of the many, many scenarios possible when practically everything is instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.

We’re also going to need to come up with new ways of interacting with the technology and the infrastructure that supports it. Instead of typing on a keyboard or swiping a touchscreen, we’ll be surrounded by various interfaces that capture input automatically, almost incidentally. It will be a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we think of “computing,” and possibly whether we think about computing at all.

The Internet of not-things

The foundation will be a digital infrastructure that responds to its surroundings and the people in it, whether that means ubiquitous communications, ubiquitous entertainment, or ubiquitous opportunities for commerce. This infrastructure will be so seamless that rather than interacting with discrete objects, people will simply interact with their environment through deliberate voice and gesture — or cues like respiration and body temperature that will trigger the environment to respond.

Once such an infrastructure is in place, the possibilities for innovation explode. The power of Moore’s Law is now amplified by Metcalfe’s Law, which says that a network’s value is equal to the square of the number of participants in it. All these Internet-connected “things” — the sensors, devices, actuators, drones, vehicles, products, etc.  — will be able to react automatically, seeing, analyzing, and combining to create value in as yet unimaginable ways.  The individual “things” themselves will meld into a background of ambient connectedness and responsiveness.

The path is clearly marked

Think of the trends we’ve seen emerge in recent years:

  • Sensors and actuators, including implantables and wearables, that let us capture more data and impressions from more objects in more places, and that affect the environment around them.
  • Ubiquitous computing and hyperconnectivity, which exponentially increase the flow of data between people and devices and among devices themselves.
  • Nanotechnology and nanomaterials, which let us build ever more complex devices at microscopic scale.
  • Artificial intelligence, in which algorithms become increasingly capable of making decisions based on past performance and desired results.
  • Vision as an interface to participate in and control augmented and virtual reality
  • Blockchain technology, which makes all kinds of digital transactions secure, verifiable, and potentially automatic.

As these emerging technologies become more powerful and sophisticated, they will increasingly overlap. For example, the distinctions between drones, autonomous vehicles, and robotics are already blurring. This convergence, which multiplies the strengths of each technology, makes ambient intelligence not just desirable but inevitable.

Early signposts on the way

We’re edging into the territory of ambient intelligence today. Increasingly complex sensors, systems architectures, and software can gather, store, manage, and analyze vastly more data in far less time with much greater sophistication.

Home automation is accelerating, allowing people to program lighting, air conditioning, audio and video, security systems, appliances, and other complex devices and then let them run more or less independently. Drones, robots, and autonomous vehicles can gather, generate, and navigate by data from locations human beings can’t or don’t access. Entire urban areas like Barcelona and Singapore are aiming to become “smart cities,” with initiatives already underway to automate the management of services like parking, trash collection, and traffic lights.

Our homes, vehicles, and communities may not be entirely self-maintaining yet, but it’s possible to set parameters within which significant systems operate more or less on their own. Eventually, these systems will become proficient enough at pattern matching that they’ll be able to learn from each other. That’s when we’ll hit the knee of the exponential growth curve.

Where are we heading?

Experts predict that, by 2022, 1 trillion networked sensors will be embedded in the world around us, with up to 45 trillion in 20 years. With this many sources of data for all manner of purposes, systems will be able to arrive at fast, accurate decisions about nearly everything. And they’ll be able to act on those things at the slightest prompting, or with little to no action on your part at all.

Ambient intelligence could transform cities through dynamic routing and signage for both drivers and pedestrians. It could manage mass transit for optimal efficiency based on real-time conditions. It could monitor environmental conditions and mitigate potential hotspots proactively, predict the need for government services and make sure those services are delivered efficiently, spot opportunities to streamline the supply chain and put them into effect automatically.

Nanotechnology in your clothing could send environmental data to your smart phone, or charge it from electricity generated as you walk. But why carry a phone when any glass surface, from your bathroom mirror to your kitchen window, could become an interactive interface for checking your calendar, answering email, watching videos, and anything else we do today on our phones and tablets? For that matter, why carry a phone when ambient connectivity will let us simply speak to each other across a distance without devices?

How to get there

In Tech Trends 2015, Deloitte Consulting outlines four capabilities required for ambient computing:

  1. Integrating information flow between varying types of devices from a wide range of global manufacturers with proprietary data and technologies
  2. Performing analytics and management of the physical objects and low-level events to detect signals and predict impact
  3. Orchestrating those signals and objects to fulfill complex events or end-to-end business processes
  4. Securing and monitoring the entire system of devices, connectivity, and information exchange

These technical challenges are daunting, but doable.

Of course, businesses and governments need to consider the ramifications of systems that can sense, reason, act, and interact for us. We need to solve the trust and security issues inherent in a future world where we’re constantly surrounded by connectivity and information. We need to consider what happens when tasks currently performed by humans can be automated into near invisibility. And we need to think about what it means to be human when ambient intelligence can satisfy our wants and needs before we express them, or before we even know that we have them.

There are incredible upsides to such a future, but there are also drawbacks. Let’s make sure we go there with our eyes wide open, and plan for the outcomes we want.

Download the Executive Brief: Enveloped by Ambient Intelligence

Ambient Intelligence thumb

To learn more about how exponential technology will affect business and life, see The Digitalist’s Digital Futures.


About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers leads Digital Futures for SAP Marketing Strategy.

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