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3 Ways to Get More from Today?s Advanced S&OP Systems

Fortify your company's strategies, business goals and targets.

Today's sales and operations planning (S&OP) systems handle terabytes of information and are able to integrate data from across a company and supply chain. Functions up and down a supply chain can see tailored views of data, processes and performance. Real-time information is leveraged with scenario planning and forecasting. Each company in the supply chain gets more advance notice of demand, can base production planning on actual orders and can use simulation and modeling to see how various actions are likely to affect outcomes. Ultimately, that means better decisions get made. Here are three ways you can optimize your relationship with advanced S&OP systems.

Collect the Right Data
Beginning to implement advanced S&OP systems is a big job. Selecting what data to integrate first will depend on a company's business goals. For example, one manufacturer wanted to increase cash flow, reduce inventory and increase inventory turns, and believed better production planning was needed. Their first focus was on getting an integrated real-time view of current order data, then integrating forecasts and planning across the company. Another company wanted to expand markets. They focused on access to sales and marketing data in order to analyze patterns in demand and market segments. Take some time to clearly identify what you'd like to accomplish, and then set about making it happen.

Develop New Skills
People with business analysis experience and predictive modeling skills are both in demand and hard to find. Companies will need to develop the capabilities of their employees--at all levels. One route is to use outside trainers. The downside is that they lack intimate knowledge of your business and will leave after delivering the training. Vendors like IBM and SAP offer webinars and classes to customers, but they limit their focus to their own products. Educational workshops and presentations are available at industry conferences, but this is hit-or-miss learning, not always tailored to a company's needs. Organizations like the Association for Operations Management (APICS) have developed certifications based on the industry's consensus; they may not keep up with rapid change, however, because of the time it takes to revise them. Universities and colleges have been quick to develop courses, masters degrees and certificates, and a great deal of training is available online too. A combination of learning will help to grow each employee's skills.

Increase Collaboration
When data and processes from disparate parts of the organization are integrated, expect some resistance. Someone is giving up ownership and control. It's a good idea to bring people who will be affected into cross-functional teams to plan process change. This begins to break down silos. Collaboration develops when management is committed to supplying long-term support. For successful change to take hold, the company must provide money, people and time.


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