It’s appropriate that I’m reading Nucleus Research’s piece “Beyond Excel in Supply Chain Planning” on a Thursday. I’m having a throwback Thursday moment as it was back in 2013 I made the case for Excel in a blog post titled, “Hey software bullies, stop picking on Excel.” In my blog I observed that Excel was picking up the analytical gaps found in ERP systems. And as Seth Lippincott points out in the Nucleus Research piece, the flexibility and familiarity continue to drive the use of Excel. What’s different is that “Beyond Excel in Supply Chain Planning” adds a sense of urgency that was lacking in my throwback 2013 post. Since that time it seems the complexity and volatility of our supply chains is exponentially increasing. The need for speed, greater agility and end-to-end global visibility are no longer nice to haves if organizations want to compete and get their products to growing markets in time to profit. Along with the flexibility and familiarity mentioned as to why companies continue to plan their supply chains with Excel, price also remains a factor. However you get what you pay for. It’s easy to build an ROI for free spreadsheets. Unfortunately, if companies fail to address security, data integrity and timely response capabilities, the cost associated with slow processes, security breaches, excess inventories and missed revenue opportunities will leave planners feeling like they’re playing a round of golf and the only club they have in their bag is a putter. I used the golf analogy in my 2013 blog. If you want to make the right shots, you need the right clubs.
Mind the (Excel) gap
One critical gap in Excel that Seth pointed out is the lack of collaboration capabilities. Supply chain planning and response can no longer be siloed. A plan that is accurate and instills a high level of confidence requires input from all stakeholders including planners, executives as well as external partners, customers and suppliers. The lag time and inaccuracies of passing around a spreadsheet won’t cut it anymore. This is no longer confined to the fortune 500 companies. Mid and small market companies are facing the same complexity and volatility as their larger peers and will have the same challenges in addressing the Excel short comings when it comes to supply chain planning. Supply chain planning is also seeing emerging capabilities that will change planning processes and the role of the planner. Synchronized or concurrent planning is knocking down traditional siloed planning, or home to the Excel spreadsheet and giving rise to what some have called the network planner. Rather than a planner looking after one function, like demand or inventory planning, a planner could have the ability to plan end-to-end. AI and machine learning are bringing new demand sensing, inventory optimization and data integrity capabilities, just to name a few, to the planning arsenal. Voice recognition is not far behind either. Imagine a planner simply asking, “Hey supply chain Alexa, what’s my inventory position in the south east region.” It’s that kind of speed and agility planners will require as they continue to weave through the supply chain maze of complexity and volatility. If your planning strategy is to stick with Excel, leveraging emerging technologies will be as difficult as hitting a long drive with a putter. Regardless of the size of your company, market or revenues, if you have a supply chain and use Excel for planning you’ll need to bring a sense of urgency to addressing the Excel planning gaps.
Excel: It's just not for supply chain anymore
As Seth point out in his conclusion, “No organization is looking to get rid of Excel and spreadsheets entirely.” As much as I ranted on minimizing the use of Excel in supply chain planning in favor of more robust planning solutions I do agree with Seth. I still stand by my 2013 blog and say, “hey software bullies, stop picking on Excel.” Excel is a great tool. I still use it almost everyday, just not for supply chain planning. Check out “Beyond Excel in Supply Chain Planning” here and let us know what you think.