It’s been a busy week and I forgot to charge my Fitbit. It has become a habit to make sure that I am getting all my steps in and not just meeting, but exceeding my daily and weekly fitness goals. What does this have to do with supply chain planning? As it turns out, plenty. And I will get to that shortly.
It all began last summer. Our parent company, Dassault Systèmes, places great emphasis on the health and wellbeing of its 14,000+ employees. As one of its many programs, it initiated the “2015 Going the Distance Challenge” here in North America. We were to form teams for a friendly competition to track the miles we walked or the time we worked out. Quintiq colleagues, always eager to embrace a challenge, immediately formed several teams. I formed one consisting of a number of participants from our marketing department, so naturally, we were under more pressure than others to come up with a good name. And thus, Friends with Fitbits was born. I purchased my first fitness tracker, set my goals, and the competition began.
When I formed our team, I had the foresight to include one of the founders of our company – Victor Allis, an avid runner and marathon participant with a keen competitive drive. Victor could be visiting customers in three different continents in one week and was still able to challenge us to keep up with his miles. We exercised, we had fun, we supported each other. We took the stairs instead of the elevator. We parked farther from the building to increase the number of steps we took. We tracked our distance and talked about it on a daily basis. I checked my steps throughout the day to make sure I was on track to meet my goals. It became a habit. It was the ongoing and immediate feedback of the fitness tracker on my wrist that helped to change my behavior.
In supply chain planning, we are driven by metrics. We focus on reducing miles driven, making a delivery in hours instead of days, minimizing inventories, or increasing the utilization of our workforce. We have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that we are always trying to achieve and our industry succeeds or fails by the numbers. We appreciate the motivation and performance-enhancing aspects of direct and immediate feedback in our personal lives like the fitness tracker on my wrist, so why should we expect any less from our planning in our supply chain?
Using manual spreadsheets or even a supply chain planning system that generates reports based only on what took place in the past is a rearview mirror approach. It doesn’t allow planners to see the impact of real-time decisions. Planners should come to expect immediate feedback. They should be able to plan a trip, or a production run, or a service call, and see the KPIs immediately. Even better, they should be able to rely on the system to do the bulk of the planning while they focus on fixing problems or managing event disruptions. With the advent of the Internet of Things, the complexity of planning is growing exponentially, but so are the value and benefits of that newfound visibility across the supply chain.
What would make my fitness tracker even better? What if my tracker knew that I had been on a conference call for two hours and was falling behind in meeting my fitness goals for the day? What if it had access to my calendar and knew my schedule? If it knew from my GPS data that, when given the opportunity, I would often walk around the block outside our building? If it knew that we were going to have good weather and the walk would take me approximately 15 minutes and 1700 steps? If my fitness tracker knew all these things, it would then recommend that a brisk walk around the block would be the best course of action to achieve my goals and increase my overall productivity.
Well, fitness trackers can’t quite do all this yet, but we should certainly expect this from our supply chain planning system. The system should provide the opportunity to look forward and offer predictive analytic guidance about what likely could take place, as well as prescriptive guidance on what actions would be best to take. The system should be able to constantly take in new information and, in some cases, optimize continuously to create plans that take into account everything that’s happening at any given point in time. For example, can I schedule that new order that just came in for same-day delivery? Can I leverage the pricing analytics capabilities in the system to offer my customer dynamically-driven pricing based on the existing routes in the system at that very moment?
By the end of the “2015 Going the Distance Challenge,” our Friends with Fitbits team finished respectably in the top category, but were bested by the Holey Walkamolies and the 7 Deadly Shins. For many of us, however, we started habits that we’re still keeping up today, long after the competition ended. For me, I am still 10 pounds lighter and still counting my steps. And I am looking forward to the day when my fitness tracker has a camera with a notification that will say: “Do not go back for that second piece of pie ― not unless you plan to be walking two more miles instead of watching House of Cards tonight.”