This Editor was recently alerted to a blog posting penned by Anders Remneback appearing on The Innovators Solution blog hosted by supply chain planning software provider ToolsGroup. We are bringing this to the attention of our Supply Chain Matters readers because of its timeliness to the increasing complexity involved in planning an Omni-channel focused supply chain.

This posting, What’s wrong with ABC inventory classification?, explains why traditional ABC inventory planning process methodology, which is anchored in an operational or logistics planning perspective lacks a connection to customer fulfillment or sales and marketing needs. In this context, the author helps the reader to differentiate what is often termed to be “inventory management” vs. “inventory optimization.”

Inventory optimization techniques allow the flexibility in the use of what is termed “service classes” which in essence are customer fulfillment service needs. Inventory optimization techniques in essence, calculate “stock-to- service” curves, optimizing individual service and safety stock levels to an SKU location. As noted by the author:

The inventory optimization software automatically calculates a service level for every SKU-Location that aggregates to the total service level target for the overall service class, achieving “service level optimization“.”

This argument is especially pertinent to producers of consumer focused goods which are increasingly being planned for Omni-channel fulfillment. As we have pointed out to readers, online Omni-channel needs are driving a new wave of SKU (item level) proliferation explosion because of the needs of various fulfillment channels. Trying to plan such landscapes with traditional ABC inventory management techniques is sub-optimal and inefficient in terms of overall inventory management.  This is especially pertinent for retailers attempting to fulfill customer needs from a centralized inventory management approach, one that balances inventory needs for both traditional brick-and-mortar retail as well as online channel needs.

Once more, with today’s increasing advancements and cost efficiencies in in-memory and database streaming technologies, multi-echelon inventory optimization technology can be far more affordable from certain software vendors and is increasingly being integrated into supply chain planning application suites.

A final observation to share is the following. Many supply chain organizations that adopted supply chain planning software in the past opted to deploy heuristics vs. full optimization techniques. At the time, the reasons were perhaps justified in terms of supply chain profile, overall size of planning data to be managed along with technology skills adaptability at the time. Many organizations felt that heuristics based planning techniques would be more supportive of more response based planning processes, those which adopt a continuous net-change planning approach.

This author is of the view that such practices should be re-examined, especially in the light of multi-echelon inventory optimization vs. generalized inventory management and replenishment. The new world of Omni-channel fulfillment brings its own set of customer fulfillment service goal attainment, overall inventory investment and gross margin goals for any line-of-business. Generalized planning without the use of targeted optimization coupled with more predictive analytics simply will not suffice in Omni-channel fulfillment.

Bob Ferrari