October 6, 2023

Scott McDonald

Issues Facing Supply Chain: Demand Planning & Forecasting

The need for sound demand planning and forecasting has never been more prevalent than in today’s climate. The last three years have thrown up numerous obstacles not only on a local scale but on a global scale as well.

With good demand planning and forecasting, businesses can reduce the amount of free cash flow tied up in excess inventories, resource plan accordingly leading to reduced labour costs and budget effectively knowing where sales will be generated and costs spent. The benefits span all departments and can serve a business greatly.

This article will discuss the key problems affecting demand planning and forecasting as well as the ways of achieving improvements and how Libra Europe can facilitate these changes.

Typical Issues

The last three years have been bumpy no matter what the supply chain sector. COVID trading has resulted in deteriorated sales history and false sales trends, as well as increased import costs for both finished goods and raw materials. Companies have become more reactive than proactive when it comes to adapting to these changes; adjusting processes to fit the current scenario leading to dis-jointed communication between silo-ed departments.

During the pandemic, companies were facing issues with keeping in stock as the well-documented haulage crisis affected deliveries in to warehouses, as well as the shortage on raw materials, whilst consumer demand varied erratically – finished goods stock shortages became a norm. To counter this, many reacted by increasing safety stocks and ordering more robustly, leaving them now with excess inventory due to what is called the bullwhip effect. In turn, excess stocks drive marketing and sales departments to react by pushing offers on products, leading to sales trends being established where none existed before.

Now, with the afore-listed issues, companies are faced with uncertainty with their demand planning and forecasting processes and systems. What process is correct, are all departments following the same point of truth, is the information received correct and how do we create the new norm?

Benefits of Effective Planning

There are several ways in which we can improve forecasting and demand planning but it is also important to understand what benefits we can get from doing this.

Transparency between departments is one of the base foundations for effective planning. There is a need for a business to understand where its sales are planned to be generated from, what budgets are in place, where promotions are being planned and when sales will spike as a result of historic trends where possible. As a result of these, specific areas can be targeted by the business leading to better decision-making during the forecasting and demand planning process; who are the key suppliers and where is new business coming from?

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a catalyst for continuous improvement. With the correct measures in place, forecasting decisions can be made to facilitate effective planning and vice versa. Reliable data that is driven by effective planning is key; poor planning increases KPI variation, thus further fogging decision-making. Material and enterprise resource planning (MRP & ERP) benefits enormously from having a solid set of KPIs. It allows us to see where inventory levels are high, what stock is slow moving and fast moving, where the stock is being held and the value of the inventory in each area. It also allows us to see what labor levels we need and where, in order for us to maximise efficiencies in each area of the business. With this information demand planning decisions can be made to reduce high value or slow moving stock, increase fast moving stock and free up cash flow to be invested in other parts of the business.

Possibly one of the most important factors is transparency between the business and supplier. Understanding supply chain constraints and lead times goes hand-in-hand with demand planning and forecasting successfully. Communication between both parties needs to be clear and open, with integration of systems beneficial where possible. Issues up and down the supply chain are laid bare and forecasting decisions can be made with this in mind to benefit both. Long-term forecasts can be made where reliable KPIs back-up sales information and suppliers are able to plan their own stocks and supply. This can be a lever for future price negotiations between both parties, reducing minimum order quantities where there is trust and commitment between supplier and consumer. Drop shipping is also becoming a more frequently used strategy in the e-commerce market and involves a high level of trust between supplier and consumer, however, the benefits are that stock holding is shifted to the supplier with warehouse and inventory costs reduced significantly.

How Libra Can Help

In current times, businesses are having to look inwards to find productivity and profit savings as supply chains continue to be significantly disrupted. A Libra Value Review allows clients to quickly identify the opportunities and where to focus effort for the greatest reward. Libra Change have over 20 years’ experience delivering business improvement projects and are experts in supporting the implementation of impactful and sustained change.

We have implemented new supplier agreements via increased communication that have benefited supplier and consumer. Validation and benchmarking of internal processes to Lyons Seafoods were completed with joint results plans developed between Supplier, Lyons and customer. This process delivered benefits in excess of £1m p.a. and allowed engagement of Lyons Seafoods stakeholders in the process to perform a detailed analysis on point of origin sources.

In-house process evaluation and improvement led to a suite of business processes and systems to underpin master data management and enhanced supplier data sharing to be created between Sainsbury’s and their suppliers. They were presented with a dashboard of their ‘worst performing products’ with the focus being on addressing the areas of greatest opportunity on a week to week basis. A SKU analysis tool was embedded in the B2B data sharing solution to allow suppliers to analyse product set-ups and other key drivers of underperformance leading to a more stable order profile to suppliers and profit improvements measured in excess of £50m p.a.

We adopt a structured approach to the value review using our PIPS philosophy, putting people at the heart of the methodology. With clearly defined processes, driven through management information and integrated systems, to ensure all possible opportunities are captured and maximised.

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