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What is the most fundamental challenge? For most S&OP professionals, the simple answer is to keep all stakeholders aligned. But typically the technology used doesn’t provide the right framework to keep everyone in sync. The growing pressure to include new internal and external stakeholders, who may have been overlooked in the past, can significantly alter this process. With more influencers, comes more input and subsequent data sets that have to be managed alongside relationships. It is the technology that supports these processes by streamlining access to the right data, in the right place, at the right time so that the S&OP efforts move smoothly and deliver the right results, which open up opportunities for innovation.
The key to S&OP innovation
What’s the key to S&OP innovation? Collaboration.
It has to be systematized, horizontally and vertically, internally and externally— to encompass all of the conversations and communications involved in S&OP. There must be a way to capture, track and audit every communication pathway, from conversations and meetings to emails and social media in one system or resource that’s widely used across the entire organization. It’s fair to say that S&OP traditionally focused on the numbers, while the process and the collaboration component didn’t get as much attention. But today, going beyond the numbers by combining diverse views is the key to success.
The success of a contemporary S&OP strategy is dependent upon strong communication. This is because S&OP integrates distinct elements of demand (promotions, sales, forecasts, etc.), financial objectives (budgets, cash flow, etc.), supply (production and sourcing schedules), product lifecycle assessments, and inventory planning and logistics requirements. To execute a successful S&OP strategy, there must be complex, seamless conversations between internal and external stakeholders across multiple, often conflicting, departments that span everything from strategy to execution, problem and potential, management and marketing, supply and demand, sales rep to CEO—regardless of role and location.
The possibilities of enterprise social networking
How can an organization overcome these three challenges? There is an innovative approach that offers compelling advantages that are almost impossible to achieve any other way. That approach is called enterprise social networking.
What is enterprise social networking? Similarly to consumer-facing social media tools, like Facebook and Twitter, these social resources foster connection and communication, regardless of geography, time and topic. They allow users to streamline data gathering and discovery, focus on shared interests, work together on projects, flag issues, communicate immediately or over time, and even provide a way to aggregate and track conversations over days, weeks and years.
Employees love social tools because they’re familiar. But most organizations don’t have a good way to implement social media built from the ground up for organizations that want to optimize S&OP.
Using a social collaboration platform can effectively accomplish these S&OP goals by creating a much broader line of communication throughout the enterprise. Social collaboration for the S&OP process can provide a singular line of communications for review alerts, tasks, workflows and exceptions. Just as you follow a person or a company on Facebook or Twitter, imagine following a sales order, promotion, customer, brand, production job, or facility or event.
Social S&OP in practice
The following example will demonstrate the practical application of social S&OP to achieve more efficient communication across the enterprise.
An account manager receives a call from a large customer about an unusually sized order. The account manager then updates the demand module of the S&OP system to enter an atypically large forecast, simultaneously posting a feed to say he had a call and that this demand is genuine. The post is not only visible to everyone who follows that customer, but also triggers event alerts based on exception rules in the S&OP system. This posting might also contain attachments, such as a graphical image of the screen shot of the demand analysis screen showing the impact of the new order.
The sales director, following the customer, sees the social post in his feed, as well as the event alert updating him on the unusual demand. The director then comments back on the good news and forwards the feed to the production manager who can approve the updated demand plan. The production manager sees the post from the sales director and drills into the supply plan to check on inventory levels and production. After ensuring that the plan takes this extra demand into account, he reviews and publishes the new supply plan, triggering a stock alert requesting levels of the product the customer is about to buy.
One of the subscribers to this supply plan is the depot manager who also gets the stock alert for the levels of inventory for the product in his depot. At a glance, he sees that for the product in question, there is discussion on a future large customer order and that he has inventory ready and waiting.
After checking to ensure the stock is not already allocated elsewhere, he adds a message to the news feed that the inventory is in place, ready for the customer, following the customer “tag” so that when the order arrives he will be alerted. That order and alert arrive and the depot manager then updates the social feed that the order has been sent to the customer. To close this loop, the account manager sees that the large order has been fulfilled and posts a note thanking everyone involved.
Through social S&OP, the different departments were able to solve a critical business issue in a matter of minutes instead of spending hours with calls, conversations, meetings, emails and other unstructured communications.
But there’s another advantage to social S&OP. All actions and interactions were transparent to all users and saved to the original purchase order, providing a clear audit trail. What previously may have been an impossible or lengthy task was solved quickly and efficiently through a social collaboration platform.
It’s clear that social business can quickly become the glue that pulls together the people and processes within a successful S&OP strategy. Take the social S&OP principle beyond the four walls of a single organization, and it can provide a rapid mechanism for communication with external suppliers, ensuring a cohesive collaboration platform throughout the supply chain.
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