Futuristic electronic eye

Three fundamentals to realize integrated supply chain planning

When optimizing your supply chain, leaders must first address three priorities to realize integration and elasticity.

In brief

  • People – are they planning by collaborating across functions?
  • Processes – can you initiate improvements in them without a major overhaul?
  • Data and metrics – what are the inputs, and how exactly are you measuring progress?

Supply chain practitioners are dealing with significant disruptions: inflation and price increases from an uncertain economy, labor shortages and delays – plus the never-ending demand from consumers for faster, more reliable deliveries. The desire for better, more aligned planning to manage all of this may well be on the minds of many practitioners, but, it’s hard to realize that successfully when you’re in the trenches dealing with the pressures and daily challenges of what’s happening in the real world. 

As those pressures mount and we all look to optimize supply chains with new tools and technologies, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: it’s no longer practical or advisable to put off integrated supply chain planning. As you consider integration in your planning cycles, it’s essential to do two things. First, truly embrace the balance and handoff between Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) and Sales & Operations Execution (S&OE) as a key principle of integrated planning. Second, understand it’s time for a more seamless planning approach that leaps beyond short-term firefighting to put your business on a path for improved stability and long-term growth. Here are the priorities to tackle first:


1. People – are they planning by collaborating across functions? 


People are the secret, if not undervalued, key to integrated planning. As you plot a more unified planning approach, look at two things. First, how do you begin bringing together the teams of people (and skill sets across your organization) who will ultimately execute your plan? And second, what can you do to help upskill individuals to understand neighboring business functions so they can execute more collaboratively on an integrated business plan? Start by initiating planner assessments to identify skills gaps and training needs to help them better prepare for the rapid pace of modern supply chain operations.


And ask yourself this: is a plan even truly a plan if it’s done in a silo – or numerous siloes? Plans developed in departmental isolation are like standing in a dark room but proclaiming you have a clear vision of the path ahead. But plans built by aligning procurement, operations, supply chain, commercial and finance functions can help optimize inventory, focus on resource planning when supply challenges spike, and optimize routes and carriers to cut costs. And by bringing together customer service and fulfillment functions, it’s far easier to identify and plan strategies to meet those escalating consumer demands and protect business reputation.


2. Processes – can you initiate improvements without a major overhaul? 


Processes run on technology but in many supply chain operations that can mean legacy platforms and a patchwork of uncoordinated applications that may not speak well to each other. A full platform reset may not be in the immediate budget, but it’s possible to improve process outputs with intelligent tools. Advanced planning and utilizing an integrated business planning (IBP) tool should be a consideration. Advanced planning tools exploit the endless memory processing power of the cloud and can drive radical planning progress in key areas. The tool can effectively integrate enterprise resource planning (ERP) with customer relationship management (CRM) and financial planning platforms to help provide a more holistic business view and your progress against plan. IBP also offers essential scenario planning for a changing landscape, as well as tactical planning that uses historical data, market data, predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms to generate demand forecasts that will help your business plan and operate more effectively.


3. Data and metrics – what are the inputs, and how exactly are you measuring progress? 


Ever heard the expression “Garbage in, garbage out”? That’s an overly simplistic argument for the critical role of quality data across your organization. Whichever sophisticated planning tool you apply to your supply chain planning, consistent, high-quality data points are a must to create an accurate internal view of the business but also assess external market conditions. That means setting both standardized terms and definitions to guarantee data consistency, but also appropriate KPIs to measure and analyze the data and chart progress. Your business will need to establish data governance to put policies and practices into place managing standards, guidelines, and data security. And it will necessitate regular data quality assessments, standardized collation, and documentation tools, as well as lifecycle management to minimize the risk of data degradation and loss.


While all of this may sound like a heavy lift for any business battling short-term supply chain chaos as well as midterm threats, these steps will be essential for solving every stage of your supply chain pain points – and helping deliver on your integrated plan for success.


Uncertain economies and consumer demand make it no longer practical for supply chain leaders to put off integrated supply chain planning. It is essential to find a balance between planning and execution while creating a path for long-term growth.

About this article