Supply chain leaders must find Innovative ways to drive consumer products revenue growth - Gartner

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Revenue growth for the consumer products (CP) industry continues to be challenging as CP supply chain leaders saw a decline in revenue growth over the last two years according to Gartner, Inc. The need to find revenue growth is driving CP organisations to rethink how they deliver value within their trading networks.

"Consumer products companies continue to face an uncertain global economy, with an expectation that demand volatility will continue to increase and revenue growth will continue to be challenging," said Steve Steutermann, research vice president at Gartner. "In this scenario, increasing revenue growth means finding new markets, increasing market share and improving on-shelf availability (OSA) of products sold. Supply chain leaders that can measure OSA and collaborate with retailers to improve shelf availability and manage inventories have an advantage versus those CP manufacturers that cannot use customer data to improve OSA."

Effectively using customer data requires making an investment in a demand signal repository (DSR) to harmonise and cleanse retailer data so that it is usable for data analytics. Data analytics using retailer consumption and inventory data today are examples of using "structured" data. While the term "downstream data" is most often connected to consumption and inventory data, unstructured data, like loyalty data, social sentiment, consumer perception attitudinal data, is starting to be used for targeting consumers, shaping demand and improving new product launch effectiveness.

The next-generation data analytics solutions will integrate both structured and unstructured data for real-time decision making and become more prescriptive rather than today's pattern-based technologies that address what's happening or has happened. Prescriptive analytics will address and model what can happen under a set of conditions. For example, being able to predict which stores in a retailer's chain will have an out-of-stock based on a promotional event in the future is a significant leap from where the industry is at today.

"It is important that organisations mature their downstream data capabilities to collaborate with customers. It will be the most mature and capable manufacturers that will benefit the most from the next generation of data analytics," said Mr Steutermann.

Manufacturers and retailers alike are placing focus on direct-to-consumer initiatives as a means to find revenue growth. For manufacturers, this means designing supply networks to fulfil direct-to consumer demand, reaching the digital-mobile consumer and making transactions seamless, while personalising the experience for the consumer. To support these initiatives, CP manufacturers will need to improve their demand management capabilities, their ability to respond to variable demand, and their order management and route-to-market capabilities in a cost structure that does not erode margins.

According to Gartner, continued demand volatility is increasing pressure to fulfil demand and causing companies to leverage integrated end-to-end network approaches.

In Gartner's 2014 Trends in Manufacturing survey of 258 companies, 87 per cent of respondents cited demand volatility as a medium to very large impediment to supply chain planning (SCP), outranking all other leading impediments cited, including demand and supply visibility, systems to convert data into insights and lack of talent.

"Critical to a consumer product company's future success is the ability to use customer data to improve the demand forecast, lower inventories, reduce cost and improve service. Supply chain leaders that are "downstream data capable" and can demonstrate their use of customer data to produce joint business outcomes are the same companies that are best positioned to collaborate with customers and benefit from collaborative platforms of engagement," said Mr Steutermann. "Collaborative platforms are initiatives that manufacturers and retailers work on together to achieve joint outcomes, including on-shelf availability improvements, shrink and waste reduction programs, inventory management and cost reduction initiatives."

Providing suppliers' visibility to demand and collaborating with them to orchestrate demand fulfilment play an increasingly important role in order management and perfect order performance with retailers. The CP industry should continue to mature and transform its supplier management capabilities from supplier segmentation initiatives and risk management to capabilities that include supplier collaboration to fulfil demand as well as scorecard supplier performance for continuous improvement.

Supply chain leaders are increasingly asked to deliver against business objectives requiring both improved capability and increased efficiency. In the 2014 Trends in Manufacturing survey, it was found that 55 per cent of CP companies are currently in the process of a redesign of their networks, and 23 per cent plan a redesign in the next 24 months. The three most cited reasons for transformation are cost reduction, improved agility and market acceptance of new products.

"The slow-growth global economy is placing greater pressure on supply chain executives. Increasingly, the supply chain is asked to find cost savings that can be reinvested for growth, and be a product and service "differentiator" to compete and win in categories the organisation does business in," said Mr Steutermann. "There is a growing realisation that to meet these objectives requires more than a step-level change in supply chain capabilities and is the primary driver in the significant level of transformation we are witnessing in CP."

Transformation requires leadership, a strategic vision, a road map of priorities and the ability to execute against the organisation's strategy. "Achieving top-tier status across every measure may simply mean adding unnecessary cost and complexity. What's important is to invest in people, process and technology improvements that are valued by customers," said Mr Steutermann. "Leaders make conscious trade-offs, with an understanding that it may be appropriate to have benchmarks that are at par with industry averages while, at the same time, having other measures that reflect best-in-class outcomes."

More detailed analysis is available in the report "Consumer Products Industry Supply Chain Outlook, 2014."

Additional details on the future direction of the supply chain industry at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference 2014 will also be held 10-11 September in London.

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