Daily Archives: April 1, 2010

It Doesn’t Matter How Strategic The IT Vendor Is …

It matters how strategic the solution they offer is! I shouldn’t have to point this out, but after encountering a recent article in Intelligent Enterprise on the 10 most strategic IT vendors which basically just tooted the horn of the usual suspects (IBM, SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, HP, Teradata, VMWare, and EMC), I feel that I have to because most of their primary offerings — namely operating systems, hardware, networking products, and virtualization software — are not strategic to your business at all! Even relational databases and ERPs on their own are not strategic anymore. Everyone and their dog has a database these days, and ERP is open source software now (think Compiere). You can even get a professionally managed solution with unlimited records in the cloud for as little as €99 a month from providers like Erply.

And just because no one ever got fired for buying IBM, it doesn’t mean it was the right decision. The value isn’t in the name, it’s in the solution that is being delivered and the returns you are able to generate. If SAP or Oracle was everything you need, why would Ariba, BravoSolution, CombineNet, DecideWare, Emptoris, FieldGlass, Global Data Mining, Hiperos, Iasta, JDA, and hundreds of other companies have successful businesses when they all have solution offerings that are fundamentally based on the analysis of transactional data stored in relational databases? Because the “strategic” is in the advanced analysis that the big-name vendors offering old-school solutions don’t have yet!

So don’t get suckered by the name or the market size. What’s important is what the solution can do for you and whether or not the vendor is financially stable and will be around to support you on it. If the ROI is there and the vendor’s not going anywhere, you go for it. Simple as that!

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Algorhythm: Still Pounding Out the Optimization Rhythm on the Tabla (Part II)

In Part I, we re-introduced you to Algorhythm, purveyors of a supply chain optimization rhythm solution platform out of Pune. In the day before yesterday’s post, we discussed their new Inventory Planning Module, inventrhythm, and indicated how it allows you to take your entire distribution network design into account, which is necessary if you truly want to minimize your inventory costs. Then we told you that if you were truly serious about getting the most bang for you inventory dollar, you had to go beyond inventory and also consider your underlying distribution network design, as it ultimately dictates how much your inventory is going to cost you. Just like a bad product design will lock in expensive commodity and engineering costs before it is sourced, a bad network design will mandate higher safety stocks and sub-optimal transportation methods, which will in turn lead to higher carrying and transportation costs. Thus, to truly optimize your inventory, you also have to simultaneously optimize your distribution network to the extent that you are able to do so.

With Algorhythm’s new Strategic Distribution Network Optimizer, which seamlessly integrates their netrhythm supply chain network design module with their new inventrhythm multi-echelon inventory optimization solution, you can simultaneously optimize your facility location, transportation methods, and inventory levels to achieve your end-customer service levels while minimizing your overall inventory-related supply chain costs.

Algorhythm’s netrhythm solution allows you to define the warehouses that are available to you at each level of your network (and to define the warehouses that must be used, or must not be used, in the solution) in addition to source factors and end customer locations; the transportation methods available; the transportation providers available (as well as any that must be used, or must be used, and minimum or maximum business levels); fixed, minimum and/or maximum lot sizes; available lanes, forecasted demand; target inventory levels; and network constraints (with respect to linkages, warehouses, product mix, mode, etc.) and produces a lowest cost distribution network design subject to your constraints that will achieve your target service levels at each location. In other words, it’s a very powerful network design model that lets you take all of the relevant components in your physical network.

But the integrated solution is even more powerful. In addition to the many layers of your distribution network, transportation modes, and logistics providers, you can specify detailed service targets by location, SKU, and period. You don’t have to use average demand levels — you can take into account your detailed forecasts by month, week, and even day. You can model all of your inventory related costs at different demand levels; segment inventory by SKU subgroup, group, and category; and analyze by cluster and channel. You can look at your various cycle times, load factors, and flow options and do so with respect to all of your network and inventory constraints (such as capacity and existing agreements) and cost components (fixed and variable). For example, you can take into account fixed truckload and variable less than truckload rates from a third party and compare that with fixed and variable costs of operating your own fleet (lease, maintenance, etc.). And when you’re done, you get the network design that minimizes your inventory levels and associated costs while ensuring that your service levels are met. The reports detail what inventory levels are needed where, when, and the replenishment cycles as well as what providers move the product, when, using what modes, and at what load factor. It’s a complete supply chain plan. Furthermore, it’s easy to work with because all the reports can be output to Excel — which allows you to drill and pivot to your heart’s content until you see the data in a form that’s most convenient for you to internalize. (And while spreadsheets are not supply chain solutions — especially where optimization and analysis is concerned, they are good for report manipulation, and everyone is already comfortable with them.)

And the results are beyond what you would get with either tool on its own because not only does your distribution network dictate your inventory costs, but changes in inventory requirements over time will dictate your network costs. (If a warehouse becomes unnecessary because customer locations move and new lanes open up, that’s a considerable fixed cost that is unnecessary.) It’s a viscous cycle, and unless you look at both in unison on a regular basis, you’re missing cost reduction opportunities. Consider the case study of a major (FM)CG company in India that typically maintained about 115 tonnes of inventory in its network in an attempt to meet service levels. Not only did every tonne of inventory, depending on the SKUs in question, represent anywhere between roughly ten thousand and a few million dollars of working capital tied up in inventory, but every tonne represented additional inventory costs that chipped away at margin and profit. When Algorhythm applied their basic SKU inventory model, they were able to present the CG company with a solution that trimmed 25 tonnes of inventory out of the system without affecting service levels. (In fact, the average service level was increased!) When they moved to a multi-echelon inventory model, which balanced inventory not just at each level, but across levels (and allowed inter-level shipments as well), they were able to trim an additional 26 tonnes of inventory. But when they applied the full Strategic Distribution Network Optimization model, they were able to shave an additional 5 million tonnes. In the end, they more than halved the required amount of inventory to meet the service levels, and halved the network related costs. That’s a very considerable chunk of change that went straight to the bottom line!

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