Given that more than 90% of the enterprises in the world use spreadsheets in one form or another, one may conclude that spreadsheets are the most desirable and successful enterprise software in the world! So, why would you want to spend so much money and effort to invest in planning software? The justifications to use spreadsheets are that they are simple, easy to manipulate and they “do the job!” There are a number of reasons, discussed below, that make spreadsheets inadequate for planning purposes. Mostly the fact that just an ad hoc plan can be far inferior to other more optimized plans; and in the absence of suitable systems and algorithms, one cannot tell one from the other. I am sure you have heard of the expression: good is the enemy of great! In the case of spreadsheets, it is merely the perception of good that is preventing companies to do something exceptional and distance themselves from their competition! It is amazing that companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars in people and equipment and then rely on a simple spreadsheet to run their business and make use of the resources that they have so heavily invested in. Every one percent improvement in a plan can translate into millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars in inventory savings and higher utilization of resources. In fact, it is more than just savings that need to be considered; it is more relevant to know that there are opportunities for increasing revenue and market share, by deploying adequate planning systems. More recently companies have been investing more heavily in supply chain execution systems such as warehouse management and logistics or even shop floor sequencing. The problem is that executing without a good plan results in a more efficient way of doing the wrong thing! What is the point of building and delivering the wrong goods to the wrong place in an “efficient” manner? Planning prevents making costly mistakes, it makes companies more responsive, it shows where to spend money before it is spent and it creates opportunities to expand market share by having the right product at the right place at the right time. A multinational CPG customer of Adexa with over 100 distribution centers reduced inventory by 33%, reduced material cost by 5% and improved delivery performance by deploying planning systems that enable optimization and improve the visibility of the entire supply chain. ROI for the project was over 2100% realized within half a month! The point is that before deploying Adexa, they were running a successful and profitable business but could not see the hidden potential of their supply chain and opportunities that could be exploited using a more sophisticated system.
There are many reasons that make spreadsheets less than ideal for planning purposes. Spreadsheets cannot account for the mix of products (different mix results in different capacity needs and different lead-times). They assume fixed lead-time whereas in reality lead-times are variable depending on the mix. In addition, they do not take into account availability and synchronization of material and capacity at the same time. Furthermore, there are myriads of other constraints such as tool availability, setup times, batching possibility, process, and product attributes etc. that all need to be accounted for that spreadsheets cannot model. Many users are fond of spreadsheets because they can manually manipulate the plan. The question is why is there a need for manual interaction? The answer lies in the fact that the plan that is being created is not accurate enough to execute therefore requires manual adjustments. The planning systems create an accurate and near-optimal plan such that little manual effort is needed. Finally, spreadsheets cannot perform incremental planning, dynamic allocation, and ATP/CTP, and the underlying models are static, deviating from reality the more they are used. As an example, one of our clients used to take up to two weeks to figure out delivery dates of orders to respond to its customers. It would take about a week of spreadsheet planning in their HQ in the US and another week with their subcontractors in Asia. After they started using Adexa’s planning engine, the commitment dates to their customers have been practically instantaneous and more importantly accurate and reliable.
With the recent innovations in processor speed of computers and advances in programming and Artificial Intelligence, we are now in a position to accurately predict inventory requirements at every level of the supply chain planning by considering the probability of usage of every part# from raw material to WIP to finished goods. This allows companies to keep the right amount and mix of inventory at different stages of a supply chain to maximize responsiveness at the lowest cost of inventory. Such disruptive technologies help to save tens of millions of dollars in inventory cost and improving responsiveness dramatically.
When it comes to efficiency, use of spreadsheets to perform planning function is probably as good and efficient as using a bicycle to travel from Los Angeles to New York City! It gets the job done but …