It is a challenge to forecast, allocate and coordinate resources across a globally dispersed manufacturing organization. It is even more challenging when the work spans functional groups or separate divisions making different products. These kind of activities typically fall into categories such as Demand Management, Forecasting, and Resource Allocation. However, the common objective is to simply get all stakeholders working off the same page and collaborating in their forecasting, estimating, and supporting activities. The value of doing it well can be extraordinary. In this article, I’ll look at two customers with different needs that leveraged CorasWorks on SharePoint to get the job done. They cover two of the primary classes of resources where we need to forecast demand: people and material (others being capital, equipment, and facilities). The solutions are relatively simple, however, leveraging collaboration they drive a new level of global effectiveness.
The General Challenge
Almost by definition, a global organization has a need for coordination and collaboration to forecast demand and allocation of resources. However, we have lots of barriers to success. In many situations, organizations reach for two classes of tools. If the problem is “deep” they tend to leverage their ERP system and build or buy an app. If the problem or opportunity is not as deep, the tool of choice is usually a bunch of spreadsheets. However, there are a class of problems where what people really need is a simple way to work together off the same page. They need an app that is visible, accessible to all stakeholders (even across divisions), easy to use, provides for collaborative work, and has a specific feature set that addresses the needs. For such an app, the ERP approach can be too heavy and restrictive and the spreadsheet approach is usually a mess.
The Right Solution for Global, Purposeful Collaboration
When you need people to work together globally to coordinate and collaborate on demand forecasting, using CorasWorks on SharePoint, gives you an effective solution. SharePoint provides the collaborative platform. CorasWorks provides the application.
Lets see how it works by looking at two specific customer scenarios…
People Forecasting and Resource Allocation for Electronics Product Development
A global electronics manufacturer of 20,000 people has a global division that creates graphics products. They have a rolling planning process with a five year horizon where new products/product revisions are submitted, approved, and planned. They wanted a way to forecast the demand and coordinate the people (FTE’s) allocation across many different component functional groups.
They had tried a number of different approaches to the problem. They first tried spreadsheets which was a mess. Then, they tried their ERP which was far too heavy. Then, they tried MS Project Server, which was too inflexible to meet the needs. With CorasWorks they found a just right solution.
The application lives in their private cloud. People submit their projects which go through an approval process. Then, each of the component functional groups enters estimates of FTE’s on a monthly basis to allocate to the projects. At any time a functional manager can update their estimates which may impact the overall plan. Each functional manager is able to manage their estimates across projects. Each product manager is able to see the estimates across functions and across other products.
The solution now provides all of global engineering with a single view of the project demand, the planning, and the resource commitments at a high level over the next five years. The stakeholders get a full top down view that is consistent. The level of detail is enough to coordinate the commitments from each of the groups. Then, each group leverages their internal systems to take it to a lower level of detail to manage specific projects and resource utilization. When they need to make a change, that change is reflected back up at the global level.
Forecasting Steel Consumption for Automotive Component Supplier
Now, for the flip side – we are looking at a scenario for demand management for commodity materials. A 15,000 person $2B revenue, global supplier of automotive components wanted an effective way to forecast their demand and track their steel availability and consumption. Steel is the primary material used in their products. It is used across all of their main divisions and in plants in more than 15 countries. Each division can track their purchases using their financial system. However, given the financial impact of steel prices and supply/consumption they wanted a way to globally collaborate across divisions.
The solution was an application created using CorasWorks running on SharePoint. Given the scale of the solution, it is a SQL Server database application, but, the front end is CorasWorks on SharePoint, thus, providing the global collaborative framework. The application tracks forecast needs of steel by type and grade. It tracks purchases including currency management. It tracks and organizes the information by plant and supplier.
This application is elegantly simple to serve the needs of a mission critical process. It is global, cross-division, cross-plant in scope. It puts all of the information at the fingertips of the users and the buyers allowing for the optimal efficiencies on purchases and consumption in the 100’s of millions of dollars per year.
Global Collaboration with a Purpose
At the heart of these applications is collaboration. It is about people across functions (graphics products) and divisions/plants (steel) working together to get the best results. Each application only has a few hundred users but they have a lot of user interaction in a many-to-many, collaborative environment. The apps provide a virtual place for many people to see and interact with many others – people they probably didn’t know. And, note that the applications are for very specific purposes based upon hard data vs. soft collaborative activity.
The two customer scenarios above are very different applications for Demand Management. One is about people allocation in complex projects. The other is for commodity material purchases. Yet, they are both about forecasting, estimating and tracking across a globally distributed manufacturing organization. Simply put, they make it far easier for a distributed group of people to get a global job done.