The full view - Planning/Forecasting/S&OP technology report - June 2013

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Manufacturing & Logistics IT spoke with a number of spokespeople from the supply chain planning vendor community about some of the key developments and innovations that are currently enhancing and broadening the planning, forecasting and S&OP landscape.

From a technology perspective, as well as from a process standpoint, planning-related activities and methodologies within the worlds of manufacturing, logistics and retail have done anything but freeze in time. Just some of the many key talking points over the past few months and years have included the interest in Software as a Service (SaaS)/Cloud computing, the concept of Big Data, the influence of mobile applications and the demand for more sophisticated graphical interfaces. Mike Novels, chairman & managing director of the Preactor Group, believes many of these trends have been driven by the increasing sophistication in Apps designed for smartphones and tablet platforms. "Users want a similar level of sophistication in the applications they use in their company," he said.

So let's survey some of the current discussion points in more detail, looking first at some of the key developments from a process standpoint. Here, Patrizia Calvia, product marketing manager at TXT e-solutions, highlights 3 main innovation streams:

  • "The Integration of strategic and financial planning with more classical supply chain planning processes: More than ever, the physical and financial supply chains need to be tightly connected. Key processes such as Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) and supporting technologies are fast evolving to include financial planning, trade-off evaluations and risk management best practices. This can make a big difference to the company's bottom line, for instance, by making sure financial targets are met by knowing early on what will be the most profitable scenarios.
  • "The ability to extend planning solutions to actively support decision-making through sophisticated Scenario Based Planning capabilities. What-if/risk scenarios and assumption management capabilities are strong innovation areas. Different functions explore and compare different planning options, easily visualise impacts on other levels including the financial realm (financial 'what-if'), and ultimately 'socialise' those scenarios to find consensus.
  • "The convergence of analytical and planning capabilities. The ability to concurrently plan and analyse the process through correlated KPIs helps the timely identification of possible issues; enables fact-based decision-making and ultimately to have a clear understanding of the cause and effects at all levels, including impact on financial metrics and the P&L."

Karin Bursa, vice president of Logility, is seeing two main themes that are driving big supply chain benefits: S&OP and multi-echelon inventory optimisation (MEIO). "Far too often S&OP initiatives are still driven with spreadsheets," she said, "and companies are realising they cannot obtain the full benefits of S&OP until they turn to advanced solutions to enable a closed loop, iterative process that will instil greater accountability across the organisation." Bursa added that, at the same time, she sees tremendous opportunity to leverage more effective inventory optimisation techniques instead of the simple rules such as days of supply that many companies use today. "The benefits of MEIO are quickly being achieved by mid-sized and Fortune 500 companies as they identify ways to more profitably balance cost and service," she continued.

Bursa also observes that, today, companies have the opportunity to replace inventory with information. "In order to compete it is not just a matter of reducing costs, you must provide superior service that will drive future business," she remarked. "The key is the ability to improve service while managing costs with more precision. Supply chain solutions, such as Logility Voyager Solutions, excel at this." Additionally, Bursa perceives that supply chains are growing increasingly more complex – number of SKUs, global reach, increasing customer expectations – and the processes of the past cannot keep up with this change.

David Williamson, country manager UK and Ireland at Transporeon, observes that one of the key current talking points within the transportation planning space is track & trace. "For a transportation management company it's almost like a badge of honour to say it has track & trace capability, but the question has to be asked how do they, and retailers, really benefit from this?" he said. "Most retailers rely on a multitude of suppliers, all with their own systems. So the challenge at the moment is how to overcome this complexity." The best solutions, according to Williamson, are Cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) interfaces that are able to take in and provide information from a multitude of suppliers. He also points out that with a SaaS interface the user doesn't have to commit to upfront capital expenditure. "You're only paying for what you need, so it has a massive benefit from a cost perspective too," he said.

Barry Drummond, sales director of FuturMaster UK, believes the changes within the planning space are primarily technology-led. "Many customers now require significantly more analytics," he said. "However it's not just about being able to do analysis on sales or on financials that happened last month, it's more about having the right data available to make effective business decisions today. Customers want to be able to drive those analytics on a more real-time basis. Therefore there are more conversations about analytics shifting to that level rather than pulling data out of a warehouse where it's being aggregated up on a monthly or weekly basis rather than a daily or minute-by-minute basis."

Drummond also points out that many FuturMaster customers now want to build scenarios in terms of the demand plan; for example, analysis based around what the impact on sales might be if it turns out to be a hot, cold or wet Easter period and what the difference between these scenarios might be. "This need requires a responsive planning system that can turn around these types of scenarios within minutes and hours, and not relying on spreadsheets that look at weekly buckets within the context on each of these scenarios," he said.

Richard House, managing director of FuturMaster UK, considers that the ability to make better use of things such as EPoS data from large numbers of stores is increasing. Also, he observes that S&0P has moved into Integrated Business Planning (IBP). "It's all about presenting information in ways that can pull out the key messages for decision-makers quicker and easier," he said. "The capability of modern supply chain planning & forecasting software is increasingly able to do this within a single tool rather than spread the information across a series of spreadsheets. And in the consumer goods space, there is a shift towards the more accurately managing the efficiency and profitability of promotional activity. This is driven partly by the economy, but also by the changing nature of the retailers and their demands for more promotions to be run in store. This is putting more pressure on manufacturers that supply the major retailers because when you run a promotion it changes the dynamics of the whole sales & operations process; everything from sales and finance to production planning and supply. Again, this is where IBP can prove very effective."

Danny Halim, vice president, industry strategy, at JDA Software Group, believes there are two main areas of development currently taking place. "First, there's a lot of investment being made by companies of all sizes around strategic alignment or Integrated Business Planning (IBP), which is an evolution of S&OP," he said. "JDA sponsors several workshops in the UK and across Europe where we are seeing that even many the larger more sophisticated companies are still missing that strategic alignment and don't fully realise that it's not just about sales consensus or driving towards operational efficiency – with today's world of ever more complex supply chain planning it's much bigger than that."

Halim added that many companies are still using lots of different types of software for their planning and forecasting tasks, which means they are often relying on a lot of approximations. "This may be fine if these companies are in the right niche of the industry in terms of providing the best products for specific industries," he remarked, "but the question I would put to them is how sustainable is that going to be with all those disconnects in place? So I think IBP needs to be carefully considered." The next development Halim is seeing is one that is emerging as an effective extension of IBP; supply chain segmentation. "But this concept is really much more than just further development of IBP," he stressed, "it's also about being able to serve specific customers' expectations as efficiently as possible while also optimising your profit margins. Without the right structures to operate this segment supply chain it is difficult to determine how best to improve these service levels and your own bottom line."

Arjen Heeres, chief operations officer at Quintiq, observes a number of developments, such as added functionality. "What we see as a growing market trend, and what Quintiq provides to its customers, is a move from single solutions such as scheduling or capacity planning solutions to more integrated systems – what we call a platform," he said. "Here, the different business operations are collected; these could be different operations in the supply chain, or different functional operations such as sales, finance and production. So there is more integration, which means more and more business control is being provided to the user."

Heeres added that, today, it is not just about generating the best schedule – which remains an important concern – it is also more about managing a company's different operations. For example, a company might operate five factories with different logistics flows, supplying to different goods. It may have two or three big customers that the company needs to connect with, so it would need more full business control. "The company needs to know, for instance, what the consequences would be if something unforeseen happened somewhere within the whole supply chain, and know how to react to that in order to ensure the whole chain is quickly optimised again," he said.

Bill Harrison, president of Demand Solutions, reflects that supply chain planning is not a new discipline, but for forward-thinking organisations there is always the opportunity for innovation and performance differentiation. "We firmly believe that organisations can differentiate themselves to their customers and their stakeholders by improving their supply chain performance compared to their peers," he said, adding that two of the areas that Demand Solutions is in frequent discussions today with our customers are Social Supply Chain and Integrated Business Intelligence. "We believe there is an opportunity to leverage something we refer to as the Social Supply Chain to create a disruptive impact on the performance and efficiency of the supply chain," said Harrison. "The technology exists today to create networked interaction among all the key participants needed to investigate, evaluate and resolve issues within the supply chain – in real time. Companies no longer have to rely on email but can create interactive social environments for conducting business. Implementing a Social Supply Chain will result in improved decision making in a shorter period of time. Demand Solutions is a leader in this area, and has integrated Social capabilities into its DSX product suite."

Hugh Williams, managing director of Hughenden Consulting, makes the point that within manufacturing there are three critical elements – processes, systems and people – that work together to execute an effective planning regime. He adds that, while sourcing the right IT systems plays a key role, as does planning process optimisation, one thing that sometimes receives less attention is the part people need to play. "Without people fully understanding why changes have been made to the company's operational process, why new IT systems or functionality have been brought in, and how to operate them efficiently, then the company isn't going to get the best value from its investment in change management. After all, it's the people who need to put new processes into action, and use the new software systems. And this is all a very relevant debate within the world of planning." Williams also considers that these key elements of processes, systems and people should revolve around not just individual IT systems, but also concentrate on important overarching business and operational concepts, such as S&OP, which sets out to improve overall efficiencies for a company from both a sales/business and an operational perspective.

Martin Woodward, managing director of ToolsGroup UK, points out that, for a lot of people ToolsGroup talks to, forecast accuracy is still top of the list; things such as what can be done to improve their statistical forecast and how causal events could be incorporated into the equation. "Because forecasting comes at the beginning of the planning process it is sometimes seen as the root of all evil for everything that happens subsequently," he said. "But I think what is needed is more real-world information fed into their forecasting; such as point of sales data from the end customer. In this way, the forecast is likely to be more accurate, which, in turn, will ensure the planning process can run more smoothly."

Woodward also observes that modern solutions are enabling more players to take part in the planning process. "Because of increasing planning and forecasting complexities, we are seeing more system-enabled people; more people in contact with each other, with better planning visibility," he said. "However, the scope of the planning operation and the cycle time of the planning itself has increased, so there's a critical point at which if you spend too much time planning by the time you've concluded your plan the window of opportunity for executing it and benefiting from it has gone."

Big Data

From a highly sophisticated data gathering and control perspective, the theme of Big Data has been receiving a lot of press lately. And, according to Calvia, Big Data is certainly impacting the world of planning applications in the same way it is having a positive effect elsewhere in the business environment. "Enterprises are becoming more and more information intensive," she said. "The need is not only to deal with high volumes, but with a large variety of unstructured information, such as those deriving from social networks. Opportunities come from the ability to sense, understand and translate all this into valuable information for new product introduction, assortment and portfolio management decisions. A possible scenario is, for example, one where comments from social communities help identify how new products are perceived and which ideas work best, so that this information can be brought back into the process to refine the re-forecasting plan in-season. This is certainly placing increased emphasis on analytics, such as sentiment and behavioural ones."

Product promotions are a big focus in the world of planning and forecasting, observes Woodward, and this is an area where Big Data can play a constructive part: "With promotions there is really only a limited amount about past demand history that dictates what's going to happen in the future," he said. "So if you have a promotion at a certain point in time and you're looking for a sales uplift it's an indicator but not a great indicator of what's going to happen during the next planned period of promotion. There's a lot of things that need to be taken into account and the science until now has looked at multi-regression analysis as the best way of collecting data around all the things that are happening. But this has been limited by the ability to collect that data and process it quickly and accurately. However, with Big Data companies are better able to analyse unstructured data and look for significant correlations, which can help determine likely sales patterns."

Drummond also references the benefits Big Data affords to product promotions activity. "More people now want to be able to do cross-functional analysis just as quickly as more traditional modes of analysis," he said. "They want to understand, for example, what the impact of advertising will be when they run a promotion versus when they don't run a promotion. So they are linking up both marketing and planning information and doing detailed analysis between the two. They are also looking at financial-related information. When they run a promotion they want to know what the impact will be on trade spend, where it's being used most efficiently, where it's getting the biggest returns etc. So they are looking at bigger datasets across different functions and then performing analysis on this data."

Novels maintains that the use of BI tools to analyse Big Data is becoming more common; adding that Preactor has a standard application to convert scheduling data into data cubes for use by BI tools. Bursa points out that, today, companies can collect an enormous amount of data through an ever-growing number of channels. "The abundance of demand signals, point-of-sale, for example, can be highly useful if a company has the capability to utilise this information," she said. "Big Data is only good data if it can be transformed into meaningful information and leveraged to improve forecast accuracy and supply planning. One of the primary hurdles for companies is the ability to make the leap from raw data to useable information. We find many companies are still saddled by legacy systems which limit the number of demand signals that can be considered. More still rely on static and cumbersome spreadsheets which cannot provide a complete picture or tell you how demand is changing."

To Williams, Big Data is a reflection of just how complicated supply chains have become. "The whole map has changed in the sense that there are now more factories, more markets, more routes to market and more products," he remarked. "Because of this, the volume of data available is now enormous compared with what it used to be. But Big Data isn't purely about massive amounts of data, it's about prioritisation of data; focusing on the information that is of most value to your planning-related processes."

Halim observes that companies can now obtain huge amounts of data from different sources, even internally. However, he believes the key question is how do they rationalise all of this data and determine what is of true value and what isn't? "So they need a software platform that is able to optimise all of this information and actually make the most valuable data usable," he said. "Most of the Big Data in the market is related to consumer market trends, and the end goal for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers is to understand what specific individuals are buying, what they might want to buy if a particular type of product was in front of them, or what they have bought in the past. So, it's about using Big Data to put in place a localised execution plan, and a supply chain planning strategy that can support that localisation process."

Williamson remembered visiting a company that was expected to regularly produce 58 different KPI reports from different sources. He then explained to the company that the same level of information, if not more, could be provided by a Transporeon transportation management system in a single instance. "So, I think the point about the Big Data concept is that there is lots of data everywhere, so it's all about how you get hold of the most valuable data quickly and easily," he said. "This isn't a big concern for us because this process of providing the most important information happens automatically in our system."

For Heeres, Big Data in an important trend in the world of supply chain planning for a number of reasons. "There is a massive amount of data coming from many different sources. For example, there might be very large amounts of GPS coordinates coming from a company's 2000 or so truck drivers driving around the country. But what's important is being able to determine what the most critical information is for your planning operations, and be able to filter out the data that isn't so important. So Big Data is really about pulling out the right information from the massive amount of data available." Also, added Heeres, an organisation's collective workforce might execute thousands of tasks each day and the company might want to analyse the workforce's tasks and behavours in order to improve efficiencies. "Here, Big Data can be a valuable way of capturing trends and then being able to analyse them for business advantage," he said.

Harrison reflects that Demand Solutions customers have access to huge amounts of data. The challenge, he believes, is how to distil and act upon the insights that is held there. "Where things really start to get interesting is when the insights from our supply chain data repositories are shared and operated upon in a powerful Social network," he said.

Uptake of SaaS/Cloud

And, within the planning-related software space, has the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, and the Cloud concept in general, had any notable level of impact on the market so far? Drummond points out that FuturMaster is often asked to offer the option of a SaaS subscription-based alternative to the on-premise planning solutions model; however, the uptake has been rather low. "So, for the moment at least, it seems to be very much more about people wanting to know if SaaS is available as an option so that if they later decide to go down that avenue they can," he said.

House considers that a possible stumbling block to SaaS within the planning space is that most customers understandably want a solution that is very tailored and configured around their specific requirements. "Therefore, a Cloud-based model could be seen as being less effective," he said. "Even though our own architecture is Cloud-ready, the Cloud model isn't really what most customers want. Some users may be attracted to the subscription-based model where you manage the system for them in the Cloud, but there is still the question of customisation, and also some continuing concerns around security and reliability. They understandably want the systems to be completely risk-averse."

Novels comments that Preactor is not seeing substantial levels of interest in the SaaS/Cloud model. However, he believes it would be naïve to think end users will not demand a choice of 'on premise' or 'in the Cloud' in the future. "Increasingly, ERP companies are offering this and we are already seeing browser-based scheduling applications appearing in the market," he said, adding that, certainly, a hybrid model will be required in the future.

Williamson reflects that if you look at the European market there is large uptake for Transporeon's SaaS-based transportation planning interface solutions in the retail sectors in Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and others. However, he observes that there is considerably slower deployment in the UK. "But we are gaining traction in the UK as more and more companies open their minds to the concept," he said. "Then they will realise it has so many benefits for so little expenditure. More and more people are also recognising the benefits of linking everyone in the supply chain in real time and providing complete visibility through the use of a single modular integrated solution assessable in the Cloud," he said.

Heeres also observes limited uptake, but thinks it will have a greater impact over time. "I think uptake differs regarding what kind of market segment you're looking at," he added. "If you focus on very small companies with very standardised solutions, then I think the market is more open to SaaS because it is more logical to run it in the Cloud. Many of the larger companies have bigger projects and larger rollouts and they often have their own internal data centre servers. But many of these companies do ask us if we are Cloud-enabled and Cloud-ready; which we are. They want to know if we can support Cloud in the future. That's important to them."

Bursa points to SaaS and the concept of the Cloud as something that is continuing to grow, with some industry analysts anticipating that it will become a US$3.3 billion market for supply chain over the next few years. "To meet our customers' needs we offer a choice of deployment options including SaaS, hosted or on-premise," she explains. "Every customer has unique challenges and for some a SaaS or hosted deployment is preferable, whereas others turn to on-premise implementations. It is not about one method cannibalising another...Logility offers the flexibility to deploy our software how our customers want it – SaaS, hosted or in-house. We also provide a variety of services and training to help customers be more successful."

Calvia observes that business volatility and the strong call for slashed lead times are driving uptake of the Cloud for planning applications. "Opportunities are in terms of stronger connectivity and new collaborative models (inside and outside the organisation with customers and suppliers), speed of deployment, reduced operating costs, as well as scalability," she said. "In processes such as forecasting, where a strong collaboration is needed across functions and geographies, the ability to physically distribute the application and to allow easy global access and visibility can have positive impacts on the responsiveness and quality of the process. Nevertheless I would not consider the Cloud model to be a 'threat' to on-premise. Planning processes are not standard ones. Solutions are typically sold and implemented in customer-specific ways."

Harrison believes SaaS is coming to the Supply Chain Planning market, but is not yet the dominant or driving force. "There are many potential drivers to SaaS, but it is not right for everyone," he believes. Harrison adds there are many different drivers to SaaS. "For example, some companies look to SaaS for an economic benefit, while others view SaaS as a technological decision," he said. "SaaS, however, is a valid option for some companies, but not all. For one thing, SaaS is not always less expensive on a 3-year or 5-year total cost of ownership basis. Additionally, there have been noteworthy issues with the security of data stored in the Cloud with some highly publicised security breaches. The Supply Chain Planning function works with very sensitive information – including customer lists, sales, pricing, etc. Not every company is comfortable moving this sensitive data to a SaaS environment. As a result, within the Supply Chain Planning space, we believe it likely that both SaaS and On Premise will continue to exist for many years."

Woodward reflects that five years or so ago the trend was very much that ToolsGroup customers purchased perpetual licences for on-site installation. "Since then this has almost completely changed to a SaaS model where, at least for the initial installation, nearly everything we do is provided as a service," he said, adding that the reason for this change is agility. "Companies can get set up very quickly, they can then access the services very quickly, and it doesn't dictate what where the final solution actually lies. So for the past few years, particularly over the past couple of years, we have focused mainly on getting people set up and running and using our Application as a Service. Then, we have sometimes migrated this back into their own data centre. So SaaS doesn't constrain you from doing some things on premise; it can be a hybrid very easily. Because of the agility and flexibility of the Cloud, SaaS is a very easy way for people to get started, to try the app out before they decide to make a more major investment."

Williams doesn't notice many end users having the SaaS versus on-premise discussion about the planning process. "We know there are a number of vendors who can provide S&OP solutions in the Cloud as well as continue to produce solutions for on-site installation," he said, adding that Hughenden Consulting also hears the debates about the advantages and disadvantages of both deployment models within the vendor and analyst communities. "Nevertheless, we don't often hear this talked about very much by customers. They may well be having these discussions directly with system suppliers, but because Hughenden Consulting is mainly concerned with change management related to people within the workplace, they may not see SaaS as a directly relevant topic to discuss with us."

Compared with the on-premise model, Halim believes the Cloud concept has a real influence and impact on many of the innovation strategies for many software solutions at the moment." He adds that it also has an impact on the way many users are determining their go-forward strategy in terms of IT infrastructure requirements. "But it's a change management issue, it's not just about the IT infrastructure but there are also a lot of organisational considerations to take into account," said Halim. "Many users are currently not ready to just move everything to the Cloud; particularly the more mission-critical company-sensitive information they rely on. And this could include planning functionality. So I think going forward companies will increasingly have a roadmap in place in terms of what applications they want to move to the Cloud and what they want to keep on premise."

The impact of mobility

And are modern mobility solutions, such as mobile computers and tablet PCs, having an impact or influence on planning-related systems? Novels believes that being able to update and view data in an APS application in graphical form and remotely using platforms such as smart phones and tablets will become the norm in the coming years. "We had this capability many years ago, but there was little take-up until phones became smarter and the tablet arrived," he added.

Drummond reflects that we have now reached the point where we are online and connected almost all the time, and we can work in a more real-time collaborative way. For example, field-based people can visit customers and have conversations about what's actually happening more in real time. A customer service person or a key account manager can sit down with the customer and say 'let's have a look at this week's forecast', or 'let's have a look at stock versus what your forecast looks like', and actually make the changes in the system at that moment. This then goes into the whole supply chain planning process almost immediately, so things can happen quickly."

Williams believes the area of demand sensing is going to grow, and mobile solutions – such as smartphones, tablet PCs and other handheld devices – will increasingly become a facilitator of this in terms of providing real-time data wirelessly from customer sites and in the field back to ERP and planning systems in order for companies to better anticipate current demand. Bursa also has no doubt that supply chain mobility is an exciting opportunity that will keep the enterprise connected wherever key personnel might be. "They'll have access to key supply chain information on their phones and tablets with quick access to alerts, current status, customer analytics, order information, etc.," she said, adding that employees will also be able to update information, resolve issues and drill into more detail, all at their fingertips.

Williamson maintains that, from a mobility perspective, the key to real-time updates in the field is, of course, the driver. "If you link the drive in probably that is where you get the best visibility of the vehicle and the vehicle load," he said. "You can have GPS tracking etc. on an individual load, but what you really need is to be able to capture that type of information from multiple suppliers in multiple ways in the most efficient way possible. This can be a challenge if you and your partners rely on multiple systems." Williamson added that with Transporeon, companies can track a driver's smartphone on the transportation management system our system and have real-time visibility of that particular vehicle and its load. Companies can then start looking at ways of building in a route planner or calculator so they can see where the driver is and compare this with his intended destination, and then calculate time differences and address any potential delivery delays or other issues.

Woodward has seen that the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is changing the way people are accessing all kinds of applications. "Specifically within our domain, the accessibility of Point of Sale (POS) data – being able to feed that back through the supply chain – is enormously important," he said. "We recently finished an installation at Costa Coffee where, for us, one of the most exciting aspects of the project was that Costa can now sense demand every four minutes. The company now benefits from wireless connectivity which is able to feed sales information back to the head office; providing a continuous feed of information as to what people are purchasing."

Calvia believes mobility is unquestionably changing applications and how information is shared and consumed. She comments: "Planning processes can now be extended through mobile to new non-traditional users; productivity is kept high while on the move; and even more importantly, relevant data is made available for decision-making, wherever that might be. TXT has recently launched its TXTMobile platform which is a powerful example of how the frontiers of innovation can be extended to new processes and functionality. In Fashion & Retail, a sector which TXT already serves with an end-to-end planning solution, TXTMobile adds new important features including the ability to manage collection books while on the go, collect orders and access planning data right from the buying conference; support offsite meetings with suppliers and manage opportunities; not to mention conduct assortment planning in-store."

Heeres also believes mobile solutions are very important as an extension of the core planning functionality. He explains that a lot of Quintiq's work is concerned with planning optimisation. He maintains that knowing where people are and what tasks they are performing is critical, therefore smartphones or other handheld devices are invaluable in order for staff to relay automatic identification data to the back office, and to provide GPS coordinates so companies know where individuals are currently located at any one time. "The more real-time information you have from these devices the better you can plan and manage everyday tasks as well as disruptions etc.," he said.

Harrison considers that forecast collaboration is an important part of the supply chain process of many mature planning organisations. He adds that this collaborative effort can be either within the organisation, typically with the sales force, or between organisations. "In either case, offering access to the planning systems wherever the collaborator may be is important," said Harrison. Additionally, we have learned that it is desirable to deploy a very easy to use interface for the sales team, since planning is not their primary activity. So yes, mobile solutions are an important component of planning systems – so much so that Demand Solutions even offers an iPod APP to support its forecast collaboration."

Halim observes that retail is one area that is taking mobility very seriously because it is impacting on demand. "Some mobility applications are being used by their own staff – smartphones, scanners, RFID etc., but they also need to ensure that there are applications that help their customers to shop," he said. "They need to further improve their customers' in-store and online shopping experience." There is also the workflow aspect of mobility solutions to consider, says Halim. "JDA has an initiative we call customer engagement," he explained. "This empowers retail staff to make quicker decisions around, for example, discounting. It can also help them not to promise an order to consumers without waiting for a response from the manager or someone else with knowledge of the status of the supply chain."

Planning ahead

What might be the next key developments in the planning-related software solutions space over the next year or two? Halim anticipates continued enhancement of the segmented supply chain concept. "This will continue to look at how to better strategise and measure different supply chain segments within the context of a single supply chain," he said. "It will also continue to look at how to eventually tune the segments; maybe in terms of different inventory policies or different logistics routes etc. The aim is to do this in an agile manner without the need for big IT projects to reconfigure each of the segments."

Novels observes that the market for APS tools is expanding in existing markets, while, for companies such as Preactor, there remain new markets to penetrate. " If we look at the penetration of Preactor in the UK, for example, based on the number of sites compared to Manufacturing GDP then we can see huge opportunities in continental Europe, North America and Asia in the coming years," he said. "In my opinion the constraint to a successful penetration of those markets is the dearth in the availability of well-trained APS system implementers around the world."

Halim also sees greater update and development of planning and supply chain workflows within mobility, which will further empower planners and sales personnel, and even managers and board-level executives to access and share information in a more seamless, real-time manner within the four walls or in the field. Additionally, Halim believes another area of ongoing development will be the logistics control tower concept. He explains that there are transportation management, warehouse management and manufacturing execution solutions. But, from a planning standpoint, the question is how do users best combine all of this information; how do they connect transportation, warehousing etc. and then loop it back all the way to integrated business planning, monitor it and be able to respond quickly to change? "So this is all about creating better, more agile response," said Halim, who added that the future will also see an ongoing focus on continuous improvement, which will include delivering solutions better, faster and more efficiently in the Cloud.

Williamson points out that Cloud-based SaaS transportation planning solutions are in their infancy in terms of adoption in the UK; while the continent has seen considerably greater uptake. However, he believes there will be a considerable increase in deployment within the UK in the near future.  "Once more people come to realise the benefits in being able to track real-time information from the driver, and manage multiple suppliers through our kind of SaaS-based interface, then the popularity of this type of transportation planning model will increase substantially in the UK," he said.

For Bursa, the ability to better manage new product introductions is a key area of focus in the supply chain world. "The pace of new product introductions continues to quicken, and companies need to accurately forecast demand, clearly understand the impact on production and distribution and optimise inventory investments," she said. Another area of continued investment highlighted by Bursa is performance management and supply chain analytics. "As end-users become increasingly mobile we are going to see the need for more powerful and actionable analytics to be available regardless of where one is," she remarked.

House believes collaboration in conjunction with mobile technology is going to continue to be a key area of development. He also anticipates increased awareness of Big Data demand sensing, and how companies can read signals from consumers and integrate these into their more short-term forecast. He points out that there is a lot of scope for improving planning and forecasting performance in that area; for example, around promotional activity. "The aim is to respond as quickly as possible to what you expect the impact of the promotional activity to be," he said.

Harrison sees ongoing development in the direction of Social Supply Chain Management and Social Sales & Operations Planning, while Calvia believes Cloud, mobile and the strategic use of Big Data will continue to drive research and development. She adds that, from a process point of view, what is driving innovation is a management approach which is ever more 'value-driven'.

In Heeres' view, there will be further evolution in terms of more power in optimisation, as well as more mobility development and more uptake of SaaS and Cloud. He also anticipates more integration, providing fuller business control; having a system in place that provides support throughout all functions, as well as looking ahead and making decisions on how to run the business. Heeres points out that this is essentially IBP, which Gartner talks about. "I don't think you could call this a revolution; it's more an evolution – continuing to develop the positive changes that have occurred over the past few years," he said.

What Williams currently sees happening, and therefore believes will continue to develop, is the awareness by top-level management of change management based on the idea of supply chain transformation. "And, as mentioned earlier, a large part of the 'processes, systems, people' piece will need to focus more on people to a greater degree," he said.

Woodward sees the continuing opportunities around Big Data to be huge. He also foresees the continuing expansion of the S&OP process to reach further into IBP. "I don't really see it as just supply & demand balancing; I see it more in terms of its planning, and the more players and dimensions you can get into that planning process," he said, "and the more you can model the behaviour of the business and project it going forward, the more effective it will be. Woodward adds that the key word is agility. "So it's about being fast, but not necessarily being big. It's about the ability to respond quickly and effectively to demand."

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