Tuesday, May 15, 2012: 08:58:34 PM

RETAIL Insight

Empowering Supply Chain Visibility

Sophisticated, yet simple-to-use analysis, is critical to ensure profitability, minimise expenses, and lock in loyalty. Ramendra Mandal elaborates.

Retailers and wholesalers serve customers with fragmented and discriminating spending habits. Expectations are high, with shoppers demanding transparency across product and relationship value chains. Within each function, decisions are made that impact the companyís ability to attract, satisfy and retain profitable customers. It is common for routine decision to not be supported with the same priority as corporate initiatives. Strategies on whether to consolidate channels or move to emerging markets can consume analytical resources, compelling associates to make decisions based on their ëgut feeling.

As the retail and wholesale industry continues to look for ways to improve efficiency, many players are leveraging Business Intelligence (BI) platforms to give  their workforce the capability to make decisions across the organisation, including environments where mobility and on-the-go access to decision-critical information is crucial. Putting the information in the hands of the people on the front lineóthose buying products, negotiating margins, determining timing for new product launches, managing inventory, creating offers and allocating labouróis key to enforcing a culture of fact-based decisions. But doing so  requires synchronising an enormous number of products and process steps across the connected value chain between suppliers, manufacturers, wholesale distributors, retailers and end-consumersóa difficult task for any organisation, especially one thatís growing at  breakneck speed.

To stay competitive, is important to know as much about each value chain partner, product, customer and channel as possible. Ideally, executives must be able to see and understand the associated changes and movements in raw materials, inventory and products, marketing campaigns, promotions, and any other dimension of activity that affects the supply chain. Today, a transition in supply chain management in interlocked industries such as consumer products, wholesale distribution and retail is helping managers arrive at decisions with a superior level of knowledge about each supply chain inter-dependency scenario.

Seeing the Supply Chain Landscape
Consumer products companies are in a race against competitors, retailers, and end-consumers to launch new brands while aggressively managing their current ones. The consolidation of pricing power in the hands of a few retailers has driven companies to launch waves of brand extensions to fortify their shelf space, while consumers have come to expect a profusion of choices at ever-lower prices. The recession, and the resulting draw-down of inventories in the face of reducing demand, put further pressure on companies to slash costs and shed unprofitable brands.

The result is a competitive landscape, more in flux than most industries. Giants are shedding non-core brands while extending winners; others are outsourcing the grind of launching products to private-label manufacturers; and some niche brands have gotten out of the business of making things completely, preferring to license their products instead.

What they all have in common is increasingly complex supply chains. As brands and products proliferate, are spun off, and reconsolidated, consumer products companies find themselves struggling to understand what they have, what they need, and where theyíre going. Doing so requires a tremendous amount of data, drawn from both external sources (suppliers, partners and customers) and internal services (marketers, procurement, production managers and supply chain groups). The ability to see all of the data surrounding a brand at a glance is a tall order, one only made harder by the proliferation of systems and processes designed to support it.

Before companies can profit from efficiencies of scale, they first need to consolidate these systems. It was with this in mind that they turned to big BI for help. however the challenges facing consumer product companies are indicative of how big BI is not up to the task of routing data across the modern enterprise. Consumer products companies still lack performance transparency and the decision making tools which are available only with real-time information processes to coordinate demand-driven manufacturing, distribution and supply networks.

Social Business Discovery: Enabling Demand-Driven Performance
Despite constantly changing consumer demands and product lifecycles, strong opportunities exist for innovative consumer products companies. One is to institutionalise the concept of closer collaboration between suppliers, manufacturers and retailers. Another is to exploit variances in global markets. Still another, is to implement market-specific pricing and promotion strategies to optimise trade fund management and maximise sales and margins.

Today, Social Business Discovery platforms are enabling consumer products companies to quickly and affordably gain real-time visibility into retail conditions, consumer sentiment, supply and distribution networks, and internal processes, providing the agility needed to capitalise on todayís rapidly evolving business environment. Social Business Discovery is about business users drawing information from verified enterprise data systems as well as outside assets, capturing their thoughts in an organised fashion, and then sharing those thoughts through scaling and accelerating conversations that deliver real business value. It provides built-in tools for real-time dialogue, allows for shared insight, enables consensus building, and achieves greater speed to action. Participants are not just looking at one personís analysis; they can consider the data, drill into it, see where it came from, and raise additional points to consider. Social Business Discovery also provides accountability, easily answering the question, ìHow did you come to that conclusion?î The factors that went into a decision are captured and traceable, so lessons can really be learnt.

Five Characteristics of Social Business Discovery
Social Business Discovery can give consumer products companies a disruptive competitive edge. By capturing conversations that lead to insight, Social Business Discovery accelerates alignment and drives the most accurate, vetted decisions possible.

1. It transforms all your decisions: Social Business Discovery helps to capture and support the natural process by which decisions are made, supplementing it with the ability to ask questions that come up along the way. The decisions are collaborative and involve the right people and the right data.

2. Traditional BI provided answers to questions formed in advance. Business Discovery lets business users ask the questions one can think of. Social Business Discovery lets the right people ask and answer questions, and dynamically reach a decision that is more than the sum of its parts.

3. The key lies in capturing ideas and incorporating them into a workflow that leads to a quick, confident decision. In order to drive insights that deliver business value, data must be contextualised, relevant, and specific to the group charged with delivering that value.

4. Users freely manipulate data: Business people need to be able to search, visualise, remix and reassemble data on the fly. In order to make decisions, business users need to freely explore and interrogate data without any assistance from the IT department.

5. Sharing is real-time and secure: In order to support data-driven collaborative decisions, business people need to share data securely about a specific product, service, region or organisation. These analytics need to be locked down so that only those with rights to the data can view it and collaborate on it. The common practice of emailing a document around and waiting for responses from multiple stakeholders will become a thing of the past. Increasingly, sharing must happen in real-time.

6. Decision making is collaborative: Imagine if three people each asked a question of the same set of data. If each pursues the question individually, they might get three separate answers. But if the question is asked collaboratively, the answer may be different still. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

7. To support this kind of interrogation, business users need to capture decision assumptions and discussions with annotations and bookmarks and distribute them to a specific group of people, who can be notified if something changes. The capacity of social business discovery to flag and share custom pieces of information provides a much sharper view of information than traditional BI.

8. Decision making in real-time: To support effective decision making, multiple users need to be able to access a social business discovery app simultaneously, WebEx-style, and jointly ask questions of the data to gain insight.

9. Top decision makers arenít usually available at the same time, which hinders real-time collaboration. Software platforms must support both synchronous and asynchronous decision making. For example, one individual can comment on a decision and forward it to the next two people, who may be able to collaborate on that same document in real-time, pulling in relevant, up-to-date data as they do so.

Benefits of Social Business Discovery
Social Business Discovery helps consumer products organisations to solve problems faster and become smarter, giving the most relevant people access to the most useful data to solve problems quickly. Whether working in real-time or asynchronously, providing input on live data instead of static reports empowers people to work collaboratively toward solutions, faster.

Social Business Discovery means fewer calls to IT to set up prototypes, analysis sandboxes, or complex database integrations for speculative purposes. People are empowered to create solutions that are very close to ëthe real thingí on their own.

Social Business Discovery accelerates and enriches the decision making process. Silos that once existed for hierarchical, geographic or logistical reasons can be opened up, because organisations can now trust that everyone is literally on the same page. There is no quibbling over data, because everyone is looking at a single version of the truth. Even so, each person will have  unique insight to contribute. That means a greater chance of buy-in before decisions are set in stone.

With Social Business Discovery (SBD), business leaders have more confidence in their decisions because they have concrete, contextual data, along with the ability to quickly get alignment with relevant stakeholders. If a decision turns out to be incorrect, it is much easier to understand how you got from A to B, and to figure out how to go to C next time. This is because a complete anatomy of the decision making process and the data that drove it, is now available. With this real-time visibility into retail conditions, supply and distribution networks, and internal processes, SBD is providing consumer products companies the agility needed for their ever-changing business demands.

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