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Integrated Demand Planning at VF Corp.

An integrated setting for managing demand, supply and inventory involves working with people as much as with technology and information, says Todd Gallant of VF Corp. He explains how the Timberland division of VF is improving collaboration and communication among its associates up and down the supply chain.

Retailer Timberland strives to achieve an integrated supply chain environment, says Gallant, senior director of operations. "Our goal is to have our people understand not just their own role and functional area but to also think about the next piece up or down the supply chain and how those workers are getting information handed to them and how they need to hand it off to the next person," he says. "We are all about process and the main tool we have is our people, so the more interactive and assertive our people are the better we are going to be at demand planning and at supply chain management."

Since collaboration plays a large role in creating an integrated setting, Timberland focuses on the skill sets necessary to work well on a collaborative team, Gallant says. "You really need to step back and look closely at people and what makes them tick to understand if they are right for an integrated setting. If we see someone who is a good planner but is still trying to figure out how to collaborate with his peers, we make sure he gets more specific experience or training to address that."

Getting the right people in the right position is always a work in process, Gallant says. "You might think that you can just point out the benefits of an integrated setting to people and they will just embrace it, but it takes some time to guide them through and help them really understand what it means to collaborate and to anticipate what is going on upstream and downstream," he says.

Supply chains did not evolve in a way that supports this kind of integrated thinking, he says. "The world most of us grew up in was built around functional silos and people who were trained to be really good demand planners or supply planners. Then along came all these tools aimed at end-to-end business processes -but you can't just streamline your processes without also getting your people to come along."

Timberland also is working to embed integrated thinking into its sales and operations planning process, Gallant says. "I think we are about half way there in terms of having S&OP be more about integrating the business model," he says. "There are holdout groups, but we just have to slowly and methodically chip away and show them the agenda and get them to buy in. I am confident that eventually we will succeed."

A more integrated and collaborative setting has both hard and soft benefits, Gallant says. "In this environment workers become much better business people and managers with the skills to take the business forward," he says. "As far as hard benefits, when you have an organization that is linked and working together across demand and supply and inventory, you avoid costly problems like excess inventory."

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