Increasing supply chain operation visibility with basic tools (without big dollars)

  • December 06, 2023

Every person in every job and industry becomes caught in day-to-day business rhythms that are highly reactive. It’s natural to focus on today’s internal pressures and customer-centric demands. There are new challenges each day, and an overabundance of meetings consumes staff and competing directions dominate the workday. It’s hard to take a step back, evaluate tools and implement business processes that'll save time, increase data visibility and allow staff to use their day better.

Challenges in supply chain operations

The challenges are the same for supply chain operations practitioners. Resource-constrained teams have difficulty executing inefficient operational processes to support the business. They become burdened with the following:

a) Slow, highly manual operational tools,
b) Complex systems that lack integration,
c) Lost or hidden supply chain data, or
d) All of the above.

Often, there's more stress on an organization and more questions than answers. In manufacturing and production, those issues compound when an organization becomes highly reactive, resulting in the following:

  • Material shortages occur when you fail to capture and refresh supply or demand behavior, which is necessary to set accurate inventory targets by product family. Also, if an organization has inaccurate on-hand inventory level readings, shortages will happen. However, technology is available for the continuous capture of supply, demand and on-hand inventory data to refresh inventory policies.
  • Production stops when a production schedule is ready for communication to the production floor, but the raw material inventory data isn't fully visible. When the plan implies it's ready, but one of the materials is unavailable on the floor, the entire production process gets disrupted.
  • A lack of contingency plans can slow progress. We need to prepare for the unexpected. Even after setting accurate inventory targets and performing regular cycle counting, there are cases where the material is unavailable. Here’s where visibility into the "slushy" schedule can make the decision-making process easier. By cross-referencing inventory in raw material warehouses, in-transit inventory reports and slushy production schedules, you can automate and raise an alert to expedite a shipment or reschedule the production plan for later.

Tackling chaotic supply chain data with simple tools

Complex and expensive software packages can't solve every supply chain operation issue. Likewise, custom reporting developed for these tools can't solve every problem. So, what can? The answer is right in front of you (hint: it rhymes with “Rycroshoft Moffice.”) Did you get it?

Many supply chain professionals are surprised to learn that MS Office Professional tools are often your best bet for bridging the gap between disconnected systems and gaps in data reporting capabilities. Here are some examples where NTT DATA has built enhanced tools and reporting capabilities for common commercial products:

1. An MS-Access report.
We built an MS Access report for a client that integrated reports from several complementary systems. These include their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, manufacturing execution system (MES), warehouse management system (WMS) and production scheduling software systems. The report supplied reliable and real-time inventory balances. The report evaluated the available inventory at the manufacturing line, the warehouse and in transit to the warehouse and then subtracted the requirements from the upcoming production plan.

2. Excel facility capacity and sizing models.
Using Excel, we built multiple facility capacity and sizing models. The model integrated sales history, future forecasts, labor productivity and distinct customer requirements (omnichannel flow, value-added services (VAS) and so on) into a singular model. This dynamic tool gave the client visibility into how much space was required to allocate support for distribution/fulfillment activities.

3. Excel labor allocation model.
We built an Excel labor allocation model that forecasted labor requirements by functional area (inbound receipt, putaway, pick, pack, stage and ship). The model was based on productivity for each area, type of material handling equipment incorporated, activity levels during shifts and seasonality.

4. Excel slotting tool.
Continuing with the theme of Excel, we also built a slotting tool for a manufacturing company. The tool increased manufacturing capacity and minimized storage capacity and aligned raw material storage to the lines that consumed the material. Also, it created bundle sizes based on production plans and daily line volume.

Get back on track

There are many ways to build and automate SQL queries into reporting tools and dashboards with PowerBI or Tableau. When done correctly, you can unlock standardized capabilities that’ll drive performance improvements and enhance visibility, giving you the power to make the best operational decisions for your business.

Take a deep breath the next time you identify a critical gap that negatively affects your business operations. Then, pick up and brush off that MS textbook (or locate that fresh out-of-engineering school new hire) and start exploring the vast capabilities of MS Office* at your fingertips.

Learn more about NTT DATA’s Supply Chain Operations practice.

* The author doesn't include Word and PowerPoint in the equation of adding value for customer reporting. They're merely the tools by which consultants are over-compensated for their work.

Subscribe to our blog

Tim Brindley
Tim Brindley

Tim is Vice President of NTT DATA’s Supply Chain Operations practice. He has more than two decades of experience working in industry and as a consultant in both the public and private sectors. In his current role, Tim leads the design and implementation of operational solutions, particularly in the warehousing, distribution and manufacturing spaces across all major industry verticals.


Related Blog Posts