We pen this commentary from Scottsdale Arizona and our attendance at Kinexions 13, the annual customer event sponsored by Kinaxis, Inc.  This is our second live commentary and readers can review our initial commentary by clicking on this link.

In our summary commentary from last year’s Kinexions, we noted one of the consistent and somewhat unique themes that we have consistently and objectively observed at past Kinexions, namely customer’s open articulation of their enthusiasm concerning the value that Kinaxis RapidResponse software has provided in their business and decision-making processes, coupled with the ongoing existence of a positive partnership with a software vendor, one that consistently demonstrates responsiveness to their needs.  Trust me in the statement that while many software and services vendors consistently attempt to achieve this state in a customer focused event, it is something that cannot be consistently scripted or orchestrated.  It has to be organic and living.

This year, as in previous year’s that presence of customer’s articulation of value continues.  Both in the invited session for analysts and industry influencers, and on the conference main stage, customer’s describe how Kinaxis technology has delivered on its purpose and how the vendor itself remains responsive to their individual needs.

In the on-stage keynote session from First Solar, Shellie Molina, Vice President Global Supply Chain, Shannon Rawlins, Director, Sales and Operations Planning, and Mark Zeni, AE Fulfillment, each articulated both the unique industry and supply chain business challenges that were encountered. In the specific case of First Solar, it was the radically changing business environment in alternative energy that required the company to be highly responsive to a rapidly changing dynamic of market and customer demand.  In 2006, the company’s solar panels were on a steep growth projector, but the magic carpet ride changed rather quickly thereafter. The history of involvement with Kinaxis RapidResponse began in the termed glory days of huge industry demand that later culminated in industry-wide consolidation and a highly re-focused First Solar. Shellie Molina described the prior state as no one really concerned with state of inventory, but highly concerned and focused in the latter stage.  She knew in her gut that the supply chain team had to be ready and responsive to that need, and needed the right tools to be able to navigate lots of change. Shannon Rawlins described how S&OP planners had developed great Excel spreadsheet models and skills, while struggling with the need to keep up with changing data requirements for these spreadsheets. She described the challenge as: “Moving on to the business of planning vs. honing Excel skills.”  Mark Zinney who manages First Solar’s new Solar Systems business described how the revised business model led to the need to link the First Solar supply chain to multiple solar field installation projects, and how the new RapidResponse project management turned out to be the best option. Each of the presenter’s described bedhow Kinaxis remained responsive to their individual needs and work with the team through these various iterations.  As Molina described, even though it has been a challenging journey of business change, they knew that RapidResponse was the right technology to help support their supply chain decision support needs.

Jim White, Vice President Operations, Applied Materials described the case study of RapidResponse utilization at the Varian Semiconductor business unit.  Applied Materials and its associated business units support capital and production equipment needs for today’s highly dynamic and changing semiconductor industry. The industry landscape was described as narrowing margins, changing industry dynamics and constant need for product innovation. “Speed is what matters and you differentiate on time-to-market and customer service.  Growth is mandatory.” In case of many of Applied’s products, customer requested lead times were shorter than actual design and production lead times, requiring the need for accurate and responsive planning processes. This business also tends to be highly cyclical in nature, driven by either customer production innovation or investment budgeting cycles. The Varian Semiconductor case study involved a concentrated make-to-order planning process involving complex bills of material. The challenge was described as constantly syncing with the “technology nodes” of customers and not getting locked out of a technology investment cycle.  Kinaxis RapidResponse is utilized to plan engineering phase in and phase out cycling, to focus on specific needs for supplier collaboration and prioritization modeling for constrained parts. White admitted that he was initially a skeptic to the described benefits, it sounded too good.  He and his CFO were won over . Now every Wednesday, Jim and the Varian senior management team conducts a weekly operations review to target key customer delivery objectives. Scenarios developed in Kinaxis RapidResponse are reviewed and evaluated and decisions are made based on identified options.

In the invited influencer session, three other Kinaxis customers articulated their individual experiences. The themes were similar:

  • Constantly changing business and supply chain environments requiring more responsive and more predictive planning
  • A realization that the majority of today’s supply chain information exists outside of an organization’s backbone or legacy systems.
  • Either frustration with attempting to implement an existing ERP based planning application, or current gaps in required planning capabilities needed.
  • Seeking a trusted partnership with a technology vendor and insuring that the vendor is responsive to ongoing needs.
  • The critical need to insure user acceptance and adoption of any tool selected, and that the system actually does what it is supposed to do.

To be fair, advanced technology and vendor relationships, even those related to Kinaxis do tend to have challenges, and behind the scenes, there are such challenges.  From our view, it’s the relationship that matters and those relationships continue to be communicated in positive tones.

For its part, Kinaxis must continue to adapt to a rapidly changing and consolidating technology market.  In our next commentary, we will share some observations in that area.

Bob Ferrari

Full Disclosure: Kinaxis is one of other designated sponsors of Supply Chain Matters