Vlerick Business School recently issued a research paper – which you can download here – describing the future of planning and planners. The interviews conducted for the research took place before COVID-19, though it’s striking that many of the themes and conclusions sync up very well with today’s primary challenges. For example, the need for a more agile response to change, the need to predict and shape demand in an autonomous closed-loop process, and the common target of increasing supply chain resilience.
The future looks bright for anyone involved in supply chain planning. Not only will they have access to systems that run in a much more integrated way. These systems will also bring significant steps in further automating repetitive tasks while giving the planner full control.
I like this paper because it raises substantial arguments and a call to action to solution providers, the industry and consulting firms. It will require the power of many to continuously drive supply chain management improvements through planning technology and talent.
I particularly appreciate the balanced approach of this research paper. It not only discusses how the traditional cascade of planning activities will become disrupted. It also talks deeply about the human aspect of this future vision. In the end, technology is not the goal but the means. The means to actually help planners do their jobs in a good way. And that is what most of the research paper is about. Let me share some insights.
Now what does that mean exactly? Today, many companies work with centralized systems, facing the costly challenge of interconnecting those systems and facilitating the exchange of information between them. There are two ways to overcome that challenge. We can move to one overarching system that contains it all (tried and failed with ERP). Alternatively, we can look for efficient ways to connect and exchange information between those separate systems. The research paper mentions here that experts are not aligned. But, in my opinion, it’s not about one or many and it’s not about building open or closed systems. We need to build integrated systems that can cover any type of planning challenge within that one, single system. This enables us to use all the intelligence available, going across demand, supply, operational and strategic. Next to that, we need to build systems that allow for seamless, and low-cost interaction with other systems within the supply chain such as manufacturing execution systems.
We all know the saying ‘garbage in – garbage out’ but what are we doing with it? Over the past few years, plenty of companies have invested a significant amount of manpower to improve and maintain data. However, the return on investment has been limited. Technology for sure was a limiting factor, but in many cases the data wasn’t used to its full potential due to resistance to change. Just think about how hard it is to implement an ABC-classification. So what’s changed? Well for starters, recent advances in AI and ML have created a new appetite for investment in comprehensive solutions based on big data techniques processing huge amounts of data in a smart way. In addition, data-driven analysis provides organizations with a better insight into the amount of bias that’s going into their planning flows.
I really love this one, because the paper portrays the planner of the future as someone providing ‘managerial support to optimize the profitability of the plant’. This touches at the very essence of the planning mission: ensure optimal material flows, but at the same time ensure all enterprise assets are being used in the best way possible to fulfilling the market needs. This ‘managerial support’ will only materialize when the planner is able to deliver insights, and not just a plan.
I hope you enjoy reading the paper as much as I did. For me, this research is a message of optimism and opportunity. Hope you feel the same. Happy to hear your thoughts.
Fully immersed in supply chain for more than 20 years, Jan has wide-ranging expertise and the leadership smarts to inspire talented and effective teams. Currently heading up product development and marketing teams at OMP, Jan has a personal ambition to challenge supply chain status quo and bring innovation, technology, and people together for critical industries like consumer goods, life sciences, metals, packaging, and chemicals.