As we've discussed before in this space, retailers are facing growing pressure from the rise of a smarter consumer. To keep up, a retailer has to do business in a smarter way. At IBM, we are calling this Smarter Commerce.
One area where retailers have invested is in the ability to deal with customers seamlessly across multiple channels. That is, a customer must have the same experience whether shopping in your store or on your website and should be able to move between the two with ease. IBM's Sterling Order Management is one way that retailers make this happen. Sterling Order Management allows you to orchestrate cross channel selling and order fulfillment. That is, it allows you to order on-line and pick up in the store.
With this increase in flexibility, it creates the need for additional inventory optimization capability at the store. For example, besides the foot traffic, a store also needs to have the inventory for customers who order on-line and pick up in the stores. Since this can potentially lead to additional sales when the customer is in the store, this may create the need for more inventory (and hopefully more sales).
In addition, some retailers are looking to ship on-line orders from the store. The idea is that you can allocate orders to the appropriate store and then ship it to customers the next day using standard ground service. And, the second benefit is that is could be beneficial to have this extra inventory in the stores. That is, if the store has an uptick in demand, the store will be in a better position to capture the extra sale. Of course, these benefits must be traded-off against the cost of fulfilling in the stores, and the stores must have the space for this.
To make this work is to pick the stores where you will ship on-line orders (you might not want to pick every store) and then put in place a good inventory optimization strategy. These stores will need extra inventory buffers to handle the increase in volume. The distribution centers that support these stores will need a new inventory strategy. And, the retailer will need to review the inventory strategy on a more regular basis. Click here for an article on the importance of a good inventory optimization strategy.
As an added benefit, as your inventory strategy is fed into Order Management, you can build smarter rules for how to replenish when you are out of stock at one location. You don't want to take inventory from a secondary location today, only to run of inventory at that location tomorrow.
The commentary discusses how inventory optimization is critical business process that allows a firm to reduce out of stocks, late shipments (and penalties), reduce expediting, and reduce inventory (and free up cash).
The Supply Chain Digest's editorial staff recently wrote an editorial on the "Out of Stock" problem faced by Consumer Goods companies. They noted:
fact, inventory levels in consumer goods manufacturers stayed flat
throughout most of the 2000s, and out-of-stock levels at the shelf have
also been resistant to improvement. A well-publicized 2007 study by Dr. Thomas Gruen of the University of Colorado and Dr. Daniel Corsten
of the IE Business School Madrid, based on funding from Procter &
Gamble, estimated that manufacturers lose something close to $100
billion in sales annually due to out-of-stocks at the shelf.
Solving the out-of-stock challenge can
therefore pay big financial dividends - especially for the companies
that can reach new levels of in-stock performance first, before
The editorial discusses areas where IBM is helping firms solve this problem by better optimizing inventory.
"In fact, according to Remzi Ural, a supply chain lead
in IBM's global consumer packaged goods practice, one beverage company
IBM recently worked with was able to increase its sales by 12.3 million
cases by significantly reducing its out of stocks, in this case
throughout its distribution network that served local stores "
This was based on a videocast we did with SCDigest.
Joseph Shaw from Ahold USA and Alex Scott from IBM will speak at the 2011 Material Handling and Logistics Conference. The conference is Sept 18-21 in Park City Utah.
Ahold is an international retailing group based in the Netherlands. Ahold had revenues of 29.5B Euros in 2010. Ahold USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ahold. Ahold USA operates Stop & Shop, Giant, and Giant Martin's stores as well as the on-line grocer Peapods.
The title of the talk is "Beyond the Traditional Network Analysis."
"So you are challenged with managing a large portfolio of products and a
complex set of vendors, customers and distribution locations. How do
you make sense of this all and streamline your supply chain? This
session takes you beyond the pin-on-a-map network analysis and examines
factors such as sourcing strategies, inventory optimization, route
planning and more. We will also review a grocery case study that
involved the analysis of sourcing effectiveness, evaluation of DC
investment opportunities, and relocation of legacy facilities to get the
most out of their supply chain network.
Click here for the link to the conference tracks and a full bio of each speaker. This talk is in Track 3, Session 2 at 10:15 AM on Monday.
Consumer Products companies (and others) face pressure to reduce costs, have customers demanding better availability, and have an ever-expanding global supply chain. In this environment, managing inventory is difficult. However, by optimizing inventory by determining the best buffers, the location of the push/pull boundaries, and the correct amount of inventory and safety stock at each location for each SKU.
To address these needs, IBM has pulled together a solution to help firms optimize inventory on an on-going basis. This solution pulls together IBM's optimization technology (IBM ILOG Inventory and Product Flow Analyst), our expertise in inventory optimization, our expertise in integration to ERP systems, and other capabilities such as SPSS's predictive analytics. Click here for a paper on this solution.
The benefits of inventory optimization can be significant:
Studies suggest that reducing inventory can increase share price.
Smarter inventory analytics is about using your investment in inventory wisely. This means optimizing your inventory-- setting the right inventory levels for each SKU at each location, optimally positioning and buffering inventory in the supply chain, setting the correct service levels, and determining the correct flow paths.
With optimized inventory you can:
Free up cash and create more liquidity
Drive up sales through better availability
Reduce expediting costs
To reap the benefits of inventory optimization, it is not just about the optimization technology. You need to integrate into your ERP system for on-going updates and build the capability into your processes.
If you are interested in more details, contact us for a white paper on how to achieve better performance with your inventory.
While doing some research for an upcoming white paper, I came across a nice article from Nov 2009 from Dan Gilmore at the SupplyChainDigest, "The Real Value of (Less) Inventory." A key line from the article is:
reducing your level of inventories relative to sales and sales growth
can have a dramatic impact on a company’s share price."
The article quotes research and cases to back up this claim. This certainly fits with what our customers are telling us-- they are seeing significant inventory savings through inventory optimization.
The word "permanent" is a great choice of words. Inventory optimization technology, by itself, will not lead to a permanent reduction. As we noted in an earlier post, we have developed an inventory planning playbook to help firms make the right inventory decisions with the right cadence and considering important strategic factors.
The Dec 2010 issue of Inbound Logistics reported that McKesson Corporation is using "IBM's Supply Chain Sustainability Management Solution to aggregate supply chain, sales, and geographic data to create "what-if" scenarios that enable distribution network modeling, supply planning, inventory positioning, vehicle routing, and sustainability management."
When optimization and analytics are applied to a firm's supply chain, you can often see significant returns on your investment. When you make this capability part of an overall framework, like McKesson did, you create a repeatable process to continually drive improvements in your supply chain.
As previously noted, inventory optimization is a core capability for a firm that wants to perform at the highest possible level. Inventory is a lifeline of a firm. Having inventory in the right place allows you to meet demand and allows your business to operate smoothly. Done right, an inventory optimization processes can reduce inventory by 10-30% while improving service levels. For a large firm, this can translate in over $100M in inventory reduction. This is a one-time increase in cash flow as well as the on-going opportunity cost of this capital.
The technology to do this, provided by a tool like IBM ILOG Inventory and Product Flow Analyst, allows you determine the correct inventory strategies and levels. It does this based on data you are likely already collecting-- demand, demand forecast error, supplier lead times, supplier variability, order frequency, minimum order sizes, flows through the supply chain, and other factors. You have to get this piece right to get the buy-in of the people in the organization. When people see that the technology suggests strategies and inventory levels that allow customer demand to be met while maintaining service, they are more comfortable accepting the outputs.
But, to make the technology (and savings) stick within the organization, you need a strong process as well. We have found that it is important that the technology fit within the organization. This means that the inventory planners see information that is appropriate to them while the business analysts and managers may see a different view. When we implement an inventory optimization solution across the enterprise, we make sure the workflows are correct for each user, we make sure the solution fits within an overall larger closed loop planning cycle (which may span the year), we make sure the process is dynamic to allow you to adjust as the market changes, and we have even developed inventory optimization "playbooks" that help customers through the entire planning cycle.
IBM recently came out with its annual "Next Five in Five" report highlighting five innovation predictions for the next five years. One article that picked up the story pointed out:
IBM, the world's largest provider of computer services, is one of the
few big corporations investing in long-range research projects and
invested $5.8 billion in research and development last year, accounting
for 6.1% of revenue, according to the company's financials.
This investment in research helps benefit our supply chain clients. For example, IBM recently came out with a new study and white paper, "New Rules for a New Decade: A Vision for Smarter Supply Chain Management." SupplyChainDigest picked up the story and provides a nice summary in addition to the IBM material. The study found that supply chain visionaries have significantly better financial returns by more quickly predicting demand and optimizing and analyzing their supply chain to take advantage of this in closer to real-time. The chart below summarizes the key capabilities of different types of supply chain organization. Of course, there are significant advantages to getting your supply chain to the "Planners" level.
It is increasingly important to have the analytics
that enable better decision-making, says Douglass. But an area where
supply chain managers need to improve is scenario planning— assessing
different alternatives based on risks.
“It’s like having different playbooks with different response profiles for different contingencies,” Douglass explains.
Overall, IBM is investing heavily in supply chain thought leadership to help our clients run better supply chains.
Correctly positioning and buffering inventory can help you create a more flexible supply chain with lower costs.
In the military, it is common practice to pay suppliers on a "cost plus" basis. Effectively, this makes all the suppliers a "make to order" location. That is, the suppliers can only make product when there is a firm order. There is no mechanism for the supplier to make product in advance, sit on safety stock, and provide faster service.
Keeping helicopters flying is not trivial. They are made up of many parts and operated in tough conditions. Many of the key parts(drive shafts, sycn shafts, blades) require many sub-components and must be made with specialized materials in a high-precision manufacturing environment.
The supply chain for these key parts can be very long (measured in many months), and it is expensive to keep enough of these items around as spare parts.
With the current system, each key part had to either be stored in inventory as safety stock (waiting to be needed) or the the military had to wait for the supply chain to produce another (creating a backlog of demand and a helicopter that was grounded). Neither alternative was great.
A better solution is to optimize the placement of strategic buffers in this supply chain. The chart below on the left shows the existing supply chain. The yellow box on the right represents the customer (the military) and a key part. The gray boxes to the left represent all the steps in the supply chain needed to make this particular part. You can see the complexity of the supply chain. In the baseline, the entire buffer is held by military, represented by the red bar.
In the optimal case, the suppliers hold buffers. These buffers are seen by the red bars. The inventory optimization identifies where and how big these buffers should be. Now, the military can keep the helicopters flying with much less money tied up in working capital (or worse, with many helicopters not being able to fly).
Of course, implementing this solution is not trivial. Contracts with the suppliers have to be re-worked to allow them to create and maintain the safety stock buffers.