10 Mar 2013

Planning Software - What should it be?

Planning Software – What should it be ???

Having worked with many software applications for planning – demand, supply, finance, and S&OP – I have experienced a sense of elation (seeing something work very nicely) and shock (seeing something that work so stupidly on something so obvious).  In a series of blog entries starting this week, I am planning to examine the important characteristics of planning software.

Broadly, we need to think about planning as an activity that involves both analytics and judgement.  Although partly this is a decision science oriented activity, ultimately a planning activity should involve the planner to make a decision, a judgement call.

In Operations Research, a planner may put together a detailed optimization problem – Decision Variable, Cost variables and various  Constraints and finally will pick the alternative that has satisfied the constraints and produced the maximum value for the decision variable or minimum value as the case may be.  Judgement may still come in when they want to alter different variables and constraints.

Although my focus is going to be predominantly on business forecasting – Demand Planning, Financial Planning and S&OP, I think we can use the same characteristics to evaluate many other areas as well.

There are many things that people use to evaluate software packages to see if they fit their business need.  In reality, the businesses are under-prepared in the evaluation activity and they let the software vendor’s marketing lead them forward.

What are the “many things” that people think about when evaluating software packages?

1.  Cost – Can we afford it?  Is it the cheapest among the contenders?

2.  user friendly – Is it more like Google (where the user types the question and gets the answer) or is it on the other extreme – where it takes an year to read the user manual and get trained?

3.  Clarity – Do I know the reason and the math behind the analytics?  Or is it a black box?

4.  Speed and Performance – Do I get responses quick or I wake up dreaming about the sand clock?

5.  content – Can it solve our business problem or is it just a typing tool?

6.  Reporting – Can I produce good reports from the software?

The usability is a key component of the evaluation matrix.  Both users and management would like the planning tool to be easily understood and to allow the planners to do the job right.  Ideally the software should work for you instead of your laboring over it to produce what you need to produce.

What are some of the key characteristics of a planning tool that makes it usable and valuable?

Let me get to the specifics of a forecasting and planning application now.

Feature 1:  Integration

How well should my planning tool integrate with the rest of the system landscape?

Integration should be part of the evaluation matrix although not necessarily the main requirement.  From an IT perspective, integration allows an easier implementation.  Many components come in pre-built to plug this into the enterprise system, so the re-work necessary to make data talk from one system to the other is minimal.

But integration is also important from another perspective – it should provide a seamless user interface.  The look and feel of the planning software is not very different from the rest of the system landscape.  Many gadgets that work with your enterprise system should continue to work with the planning software.

Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V refer to Copy and Paste in Windows OS.  They work pretty much every where with all applications installed and are compatible with Windows.

In SAP, the interface is seamless – APO and ECC work together.  Typing different T-codes will get you to different areas but the user may not even know that they are using different modules.

How valuable is the feature of integration?  Is it worth paying the price of usability and content?

We will talk about the second characteristic next week.


Mark Chockalingam

Chief Demand Planner

Demand Planning LLC

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