What makes a great supply chain solution partner?

Written by Alan Cheesbrough
I-Plan Founder and CEO A supply chain planning visionary, spearheading the I-Plan product evolution from original concept through current state and into the future. Always striving to harness new technologies and business thinking to enhance the art and science of creating opportunity from supply chain complexity and volatility, always driven by keeping it simple and making it beautiful.
24th March 2021

The world of Supply Chain Planning acronyms such as Integrated Business Planning (IBP), Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) and more recently Sales and Operations Execution (S&OE) can mean almost anything, depending on who is asking the question and of whom the question is being asked.  When the answer is coming from a software vendor, or a consultancy, seeking to sell a particular software vendors solution, the answer is usually “yes”, despite a lack of understanding of the real requirement.

The supply chain planning world does not have simple answers anymore, market uncertainty and volatility are high, and every business is unique.  A simple “yes” is not good enough and the misunderstandings involved not only lead to failed implementations but a longer time to wait for the tools the business needs to stay ahead of the competition.

The message is “don’t sign the business up to a lengthy business change program until you are sure”.  But sure about what?  It should be:

A. The team are people you want to work with – they will be your colleagues for the long term

B. They bring something new and valuable to the table, not the class of ‘consultants’ that borrow your watch and charge for telling you the time

C. The software they offer really does what the business needs without the need for compromise or to undertake lengthy, risk development to retain your USP

The way to do this is quite easy for the customer.  Run an internal brainstorming to create a list of the things that really matter in your vision.  Vote on them to prioritise the top 3 and with that list create a ‘proof of concept’ brief.  Then challenge your preferred partner to deliver a working solution against that brief in a short time. Four to six weeks should be enough, even for a really complex case.

If the A B C chemistry is right your vendor should be able to understand your needs, tell you what data is required and help you get it (without effort and data transformations on your side), build the solution and show you how it delivers against your vision.

Time to benefit is your main driver

Once you have concluded that transformation is needed to stay ahead then you need it now. The processes of defining requirements, selecting vendors, shortlisting, launching and ultimately completing the project can be long.

Challenge your chosen vendor to deliver a proof of concept with your data.  The time and money you spend will contribute directly to the ultimate project so if your choice was right then nothing is lost. If you find that the choice was wrong, you’ve lost a small amount of time, a small amount of money but have avoided mistakes that would massively increase your time to benefit.

Early delivery of benefits

Modern cloud solutions, an agile implementation approach and a collaborative project execution mindset allows real business benefits to be delivered early in the project lifecycle. With all of these things present we have seen working solutions in place by month three of an S&OP project start, quickly followed by multiple incremental advances.

Face the facts

At the start on your supply chain transformation journey, you don’t know everything so you can’t write a detailed specification. You need a reliable partner who has been on that journey before, who understands that you don’t have all of the answers and who brings expertise and the right software products to the party.

If your A B C challenge works out, you will have found that Partner.

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