It’s been 30 years since sales & operations planning (S&OP) changed the face of manufacturing. In that time, its scope has widened and its usage increased, leading to a shift towards sales, inventory, and operations planning (SIOP). Even businesses outside of manufacturing have started subscribing to its advanced planning and forecasting capabilities.
Still, the world of SIOP can be a confusing landscape of math and analytics for the uninitiated. Belgium-based firm Solventure, an implementation partner for leading SIOP software Arkieva, has taken a relatively novel approach to letting more people know about the subject, by hosting seminars and free webinars that anyone can attend.
“There’s still a lot to be learned about S&OP,” says Christophe Jouret, SIOP Consultant at Solventure. “Sometimes people think their company is different, that what works for one won’t work for another. By bringing different companies together to discuss these issues, they realize all these parallels, that what works for one company can work for another.”
S&OP theory is usually the main topic at these seminars and webinars, but even if the complex mathematics behind it can be hard to grasp for some participants, Christophe says the benefits can come from business owners and executives simply getting to talk to their peers.
“They learn both from us and from their fellow participants,” he explains. “It’s not just the participants who learn, either. We also get to hear about real issues, real problems and real bottlenecks from the participants, which can help us come up with better solutions.”
Bringing SIOP to Manufacturing
Before joining Solventure in 2014, Christophe spent three years working as a manufacturing engineer. He came on board as a consultant when the company started experiencing a growth spurt. Solventure’s Managing Director, Bram Desmet, had been one of his professors at university and a number of his former classmates were already working at the firm.
With Solventure focusing exclusively on providing service to companies with a global manufacturing presence, those three years he spent as a manufacturing engineer have definitely come in handy for Christophe. His passion for cleaning up the supply chain as efficiently as possible shines through when I ask him about Solventure’s services.
“Companies come to us because they want to implement S&OP,” he explains with gusto. “These are companies that are selling and manufacturing globally and they have to align their sales with their operations. They have to anticipate or have an overview of what the demand will be worldwide and then adjust their supply accordingly.
“For example, let’s say you make microchips for mobile phones. A major phone maker wants to use your chips in their next big release, so you then have to decide whether you’re going to fulfill orders through your plant in Mexico or to ship them from one of your plants in Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Asia.
“You have to anticipate in time because let’s say you go with your Mexico plant. You still have to increase that plant’s manufacturing capacity. Instead of working one shift, the plant’s manufacturing team may have to work three shifts, for example.
“Or if you decide to ship the product from Europe, you need to calculate the shipping costs. Is the deal big enough to shoulder the costs of shipping? You have to run multiple scenarios to see which one is the most advantageous.
“We help with the whole process. We help with the analytics, as well, and since we also have forecasting algorithms, we do the mathematics behind it. We have the software, but you can’t just buy it off the shelf. It has to be configured and customized according to the needs of the customer. We take care of the entire SIOP package, basically.”
Transparency and Project Management with WORKetc
Much of Solventure’s service is built around configuring and implementing the supply chain management software Arkieva. Interestingly enough, Christophe says it probably wouldn’t have found WORKetc if it wasn’t for Arkieva.
“The people who made Arkieva also use WORKetc,” he confides, “and it was thanks to them that we learned about it.”
According to Christophe, there are two ways in which Solventure uses WORKetc. The first is as their primary CRM and project management software. The initial configuration and implementation of Arkieva usually take a couple of months, with subsequent monthly meetings that can lead to additional configurations.
“We typically want to have a Gantt chart so we can set milestones and quickly see the different stages in the project,” he explains. “It helps tie us to a strict deadline for when the customer wants to go live with the tool. We also work on big projects with multiple consultants, so it helps us do the planning and project management for the software configuration phase.”
The second way comes into play once the initial Arkieva implementation is live.
“We typically follow an iterative approach when implementing the software,” Christophe tells me. “We’ll build something and in a couple of months our clients start using it. Based on their experience, we shape the next steps in the configuration. We also provide a help desk as well for when there are issues, questions, or problems, so we have a support email address tied to WORKetc.”
The customer portal, in particular, has proven useful to Solventure during the months following an initial setup. It lets customers easily follow up on the status of their support tickets, plus it affords Solventure a high level of transparency for its projects.
“The way we use it, we typically rely on the description fields to give a concise summary,” says Christophe. “The tickets can get really long with a lot of back and forth between us and our clients, so we try to use the description as a concise summary of what has been done, what needs to be done, and what’s the current bottleneck in resolving it.”
No More Unwieldy Spreadsheets
Having client and project data in a single system has also been a boon for the company – especially since, as Christophe relates, the old way was too unwieldy and time-consuming.
“Before we would just maintain spreadsheets,” he recalls. “Making sure everyone was on the same version could be a chore. Making any changes to the spreadsheet was another big headache. You’d first have to make sure you had the latest version, and then all of your changes would have to be sent to everybody else. And the same with any changes others might make.
“It was unwieldy and we recognized that. Our Arkieva software does the same job. And, typically, companies use Excel as well for their sales and operations plan. Each plant would extract data from its ERP system, and then one person would collate and consolidate all of the different spreadsheets from the different plants and then send it out again.
“We’ve heard of companies having 400 different spreadsheets all having to be merged. This results in formulas and updates getting lost along the way. People end up not knowing where certain numbers come from. This helped us to recognize the benefits of using a good help desk system.”
An Iterative Approach
While doing preliminary research on Solventure, one thing jumped out at me on its website: “No Big Bang Implementations.” When I ask Christophe about that, he explains that a big bang implementation can be quite flawed, especially in fast-moving industries.
“You sometimes hear stories of companies wanting to implement huge software projects,” he says. “You know, in a lot of businesses, the business changes every couple of years. So it goes through a whole design process, how things will be, and by the time the software is ready, the whole business has already changed.
“Imagine. You do this big bang implementation and then end up paying a lot of money for a tool that is barely used and people are still stuck using spreadsheets instead of the new software package.
“There are too many variables to consider in a fast-moving business. You’re never going to have answers for all of your questions. When you’re doing things iteratively, that’s okay because the user also knows that what they thought they needed back then is different from what they require right now. They can put the focus differently.
“We’ve had cases where a company comes to us to talk about its requirements, ‘It’s this, this, and this.’ And so we start implementing and prioritizing together and when it’s time for implementation, it’s representatives are like, ‘Yeah, well, about this, forget about it.’ And then when they’re using it and they realize that this other thing is way more important, they ask us to focus on it instead. The previous thing, we put it aside, park it for some other day.
“It’s important to take small steps because it’s not just the software, it’s the process. It’s change management. It’s the minds of the people who have to use the software. By taking things in small steps, you create buy-in from the users as well. The users, they want it to be just so, and so we take small steps during the configuration so they can test, they can come back, they can validate.”
Christophe emphasizes that the iterative approach isn’t just for massive SIOP undertakings or for multinational companies. It can help anybody, in whatever business or industry.
“Whatever software implementation project you have in the works, take it in small incremental steps. It’ll save you a lot of headaches down the road.”