Last week, Supply Chain Matters attended the annual two-day Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) Innovation Summit sponsored by IE Group, which was held in Boston. This commentary serves to summarize our impressions and takeaways from this year’s event. 

First and foremost, we extend congratulations to all of the presenters on making this conference meaningful for all attendees.

Many manufacturers and service providers are well into their S&OP journeys. We were very pleased to observe many of the Summit presenters describing the planning window of their S&OP processes as far more strategic, many indicating a 24 month planning window. We observed from the various speakers that S&OP teams are no longer fixated on a rigid “one number” process output plan that is not likely to happen but rather adopting the context that many businesses are under constant change.  A consensus of likely scenarios for the business to consider was described as a more meaningful approach for today’s S&OP sponsor and process participants.

For some of the presenters, various and ongoing merger, acquisition or organizational restructuring events tended to cause an interruption in S&OP momentum. Presenters representing Abbot Laboratories, Blackberry and Kraft Foods, among others, addressed how they addressed and overcame such challenges. Many cited S&OP as providing the constant for getting cross-functional teams focused on common business operating objectives as well as securing common leadership from new team participants. Other presenters described the S&OP process as uncovering other organizational or business planning challenges, which is to be expected. A number of presenter’s, such as Enterasys, described the objective of the S&OP process as one of continuous improvement.

Other cited common lessons learned included:

  • Clarification of the roles and expectations of the various team members, establishing communication and trust, and an overall rhythm for the process. This was mentioned by Novartis, Blackberry and others.
  • Spending appropriate time to clearly define hierarchy of tops-down and bottom-up data required to make the process meaningful mentioned by Bemis and Energizer, among others.
  • Gathering and analyzing required demand, supply, inventory and capacity information into each sequential step of the process was often cited.
  • Not becoming a prisoner to best practices, maintaining flexibility in the process, as well as focusing on management’s top pain points, and how the S&OP process can help address these pain points were cited by Solo Cup and others.
  • Demonstrating consistent performance, establishing a win-win for all participating functions and securing active sponsorship of senior management through process changes were mentioned by nearly all of the presenters.

 S&OP teams have now come to recognize the important role that advanced technology support can contribute to the process, especially in more timely gathering and analysis of supply chain wide data and information, along with their implications. While it is evident that many S&OP team members still cling to the use of spreadsheets as their preferred analysis and cross-team communication tool, we sensed a building acceptance to more advanced tools that can support more predictive capabilities but still offer user friendliness in their use. Software providers and Summit sponsors Infor and Steelwedge addressed some of the new areas of technology support being directed at S&OP processes.

At the conclusion of the Summit attendees certainly had their favored list of presentations.  For this author, those from Kraft Foods, Solo Cup and Abbot Laboratories were top of mind, and we will feature additional separate commentary regarding each.

This author enjoyed the opportunity to meet, network and chat with many of this year’s Summit participants and speakers, and thanks to all for collectively making this an enjoyable and meaningful event.

Bob Ferrari