Category Archives: Supply Chain

Counting the Cost of Liquidity in the Euro Zone

Finance and Supply Chain execs need to collaborate on ways to release cash locked into supply chains

Alejandro Serrano – Feb 6, 2012 – CFO.com | US

The liquidity crisis in Europe has cast a spotlight on the need to bridge the divide between finance and supply chain management (SCM). More than ever, executives in these two key disciplines need to collaborate on ways to release some of the cash that is locked into supply chains.

Reducing inventory is probably the most obvious strategy for liberating these financial resources, particularly for companies that maintain high stock levels. In addition to tying up large sums of money in the products stored, inventory adds cost in others forms, such as insurance premiums, investments in storage facilities and related transportation budgets, and obsolescence costs.

Large companies in Europe have become very concerned about this cash-equivalent mountain, as it has become more difficult to meet their working capital requirements (WCR). But addressing the problem requires a concerted effort to understand the financial implications of SCM decisions.

When firms resolve to outsource production to low-cost manufacturing centers in countries such as China, for example, the move may enhance their profit and loss (P&L) statements. But the overall impact on the balance sheet could be much less favorable. The longer pipeline and corresponding increase in uncertainty require higher inventory volumes, which eats up precious cash reserves.

Transferring production to remote suppliers also is likely to involve larger lot sizes. These vendors often need to sell big batches of product to make the business profitable. Again, this consumes the buyer’s WCR when it purchases 1,000 units even though the enterprise only needs, say, 30 units. Sourcing domestically might be a better option because it is easier to work with local producers to reduce lot sizes.

Stock-keeping unit (SKU) proliferation is another supply chain issue that can have far-reaching financial implications, and a number of multinational companies are striving to rationalize their product assortments. In positive economic times, the inventory holding and ordering costs associated with multiple SKUs tend to be underestimated.

In April 2012, sports apparel company Adidas announced plans to cut its 46,897 SKUs by 25%. Other successful companies have followed a similar path. Apple’s iPhone offers only 10 SKUs worldwide for the product’s color and memory variants, for example. Compare this to Nokia, which sells 37 different models in Germany alone. Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona boasted a net profit of more than 19% at its 1,500 supermarkets in 2011. The retailer has about 4,000 SKUs per store compared to a typical U.S. supermarket, which sells around 40,000 SKUs.

Assorted Products
The product-assortment issue is a good illustration of how the lack of a holistic view of the supply chain can rob a company of working capital. Often, the marketing department believes that introducing more SKUs delivers more buying opportunities and hence boosts sales. But the marketers may fail to consider how the wider product selection both decentralizes and increases inventory, and has an adverse effect on the company’s balance sheet. Many senior executives also suffer from this myopic view of operations.

Extending payment periods or shifting inventory to suppliers are tactics that many financial departments adopt in a tight economy. Again, understanding how such actions ripple through the supply chain – working capital is more expensive for small suppliers so their performance declines, for instance – may not be a high priority.

SCM leaders are just as culpable. They might take an outsourcing decision without giving much thought to how such a move constrains WCR. Basic financial concepts, such as “WCR equals cash plus receivables plus inventories minus payables,” need to be an integral part of the SCM decision-making process. Supply chain professionals should appreciate that inventory levels directly affect financial risk.

Firms that understand the impact of SCM decisions on their financial statements can capture huge competitive advantage. That holds true in any commercial environment, but especially in one where there is a scarcity of working capital.

Alejandro Serrano (aserrano@zlc.edu.es) is a professor of supply chain management at the Zaragoza Logistics Center, Zaragoza, Spain. He teaches “Finance for Supply Chain Management” as part of ZLC’s masters and executive education programs. This article will be published in the MIT Supply Chain and Logistics Excellence Network newsletter, “Supply Chain Frontiers.”
www.zlc.edu.es

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The challenge of invisibility

Why Supply Chain innovation is unlikely to be appreciated

Alejandro Serrano – . Jun 2012 | Spain

When faced with the question “What is the name of the most innovative company in the world?”, people will most likely answer “Apple, of course”. The answer seems undeniable, and there are good reasons for that: iPhone, iPad, and iWhatever are synonyms of great innovative products these days.

However, there is a bias there; when people think about innovation, the first idea that comes to mind is product innovation. However, a company can gain a huge competitive advantage trough process or supply chain innovation. I am referring to notorious cases of companies who have completely redefined the way of doing business in their industries. Some examples include Benetton, which changed the sequence of operations by delaying the time where pieces of garment were dyed (postponement), or Barilla, one of the first firms to adopt VMI (Vendor managed inventory) by managing its customers’ inventory so as to reduce order variability amplification. These changes had a large impact on the bottom line and gave these firms a clear competitive advantage in front of their competitors.

The good thing about process innovation is that it may be hard for competitors to copy: there is no “product reverse engineering” to be performed. Competitors can and will try to emulate, but success is not by any means guaranteed. Think for instance about the well-known Toyota Production System (TPS). It has been around for about 40 years and still firms are trying to adopt it with bittersweet results. Why? It is simply that most of the changes cannot be seen, they are embedded in firms’ DNA, as pointed out by Spear and Bowen*, and followers just copy the visible part of it, such as Kanban systems in the case of TPS. A more recent example is Inditex, whose flagship Zara defined a new paradigm in a mature industry by betting on speed rather than cost. With more than 5,500 stores around the world, Inditex’s founder Amancio Ortega, is today the richest man in Europe, right before Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, another visionary who also completely changed the rules of his industry.

This may not be the case for firms launching innovative products: Samsung’s Galaxy  Tab is closely following Apple’s iPad and even introducing features which go beyond what the Apple product offers. It is true that patents help sometimes, but the fact remains that a burden of expensive legal work is usually triggered as soon as competitors start copying or including almost identical products in their portfolios. The legal battle triggered when Windows 95 was launched by Microsoft or the generic drug business in India may be good examples of this.

All in all, supply chain innovation is likely not to be appreciated as much as product innovation, but its impact on the financials and the value of firms may be larger and last longer. Also, given the relatively small efforts exerted so far on supply chain innovation, there must be indeed great opportunities available to explore, low hanging fruit to be taken by those smart people who are able to identify those opportunities.

(*) Spear, Steven and H. Kent Bowen. Decoding the DNA of Toyota. Harvard Business Review

 To learn more about Supply Chain www.zlc.edu.es

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To centralize or not to centralize, that is the question

How much safety stock to hold? A ubiquitous question in supply chain network design

Alejandro Serrano –  Apr 2012 | Spain

When a firm designs from scratch its distribution network, a repetitive question arises sooner or later: should we have a centralized or a decentralized network? In a pure centralized network, a large, central distribution center (CDC) contains all the finished-good inventory of the company. In a pure decentralized setting, inventory for each SKU is splitted among several smaller regional distribution centers (RDC).

One of the key questions mangers usually struggle with when deciding about centralizing inventories or not is how many units of each SKU should be held in each case. It is a relevant question, because holding inventory usually entails significant holding costs, both financial and material.

Let us learn the basics of how to answer that question by means of a very simple example: Assume that the demand of a typical product in the portfolio in a stable market is normally distributed, with mean 400 units/period and standard deviation 80 units/period. The market is divided into four identical regions with independent demand. The firm service level target is 95%, thus in the (assumed current) CDC there should be 532 units to maximize expected profit:

(If it is not clear to you why this formula is used, please bear with me; it will be explained in a subsequent post)

Now consider that your company is planning to change its distribution strategy from centralized to decentralized, and so you consider having  four identical RDCs, one per region. The average demand in any region will be 1/4 of total demand, or 400 / 4 = 100 units. The regional variance will be 1/4 of total variance (assuming demand independence across regions), thus the standard deviation in any region will be

The quantity per RDC is

The total inventory is 166 x 4 = 633 units. The safety stock needed, i.e., the amount of inventory to hold above the average demand is 532 – 400 = 131.5 units in the centralized case and 633 – 400 = 263 units in the decentralized case. Interestingly, the latter quantity is exactly two times the former. It is not a coincidence that 2 is the squared root of 4. In fact, when switching from 1 to n DCs, overall safety stock is multiplied by √n. For instance, had we considered 9 RDCs, total inventory to hold would have been 400 + 3 x 131.5 = 795 units.

Of course there may be more involved scenarios (e.g. constraints or demand correlations across regions) that modify the optimal solution. However, keeping in mind this simple square-root formula as a rule of thumb for safety stock will help make back-of-the envelope calculations when quick business decisions have to be made.

To know more about Supply Chain www.zlc.edu.es

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When too much is as bad as too little

Why your firm should not aim at achieving 99% service level for all products (most likely)

Alejandro Serrano – . Mar 2012 | Spain

Last week I attended a nice talk given by the head of logistics of an e-commerce retailer. His firm holds roughly 10,000 SKUs and serves daily demand to end users from a central distribution center. A characteristic of the industry in which this firm operates is that orders should be satisfied in less than 24 hours. Since suppliers’ lead-times are on the weeks or even months (some are based in Asia), the firm is forced to hold large amounts of inventory to cope with uncertain demand.

The firm has a customer service level goal as high as 99% for all products. This figure, 99%, may be judged as appropriate by some people, but rises at least two questions: 1) why 99% and not, for instance, 90% or 99.9%, and 2) why 99% for all 10,000 products.

The answer to the first question might have to do with the fact that achieving 100% service level is virtually impossible. Therefore (put yourself in the CEO’s shoes,) if you want to provide your customers with an excellent service level, a feasible, close-enough-to-100%, easy-to-remember, and popular figure is 99%. And why not, you want to keep that figure high for all 10,000 SKUs in your warehouse.

Picture: directindustry.com

A key point that is missed here is the fact that service level that maximizes expected profit should at least depend on the price and the cost of each particular item. In fact, inventory theory (or common sense) says that one should increase service level until the marginal benefit of adding an additional unit be exactly as high as the marginal cost of adding that additional unit. Note why this makes sense: given the cost of an specific item, if its market price goes up, the firm should increase the service level for that item. Why? a higher price implies a higher unit margin, and you want to capture that additional margin with higher probability, thus inventory should go up. Likewise, if given a price, the cost of an item increases, service level should be reduced to avoid a higher probability of holding too much inventory (as measured in moneys,) which is mainly driven by obsolescence, insurance, spoilage, and financial costs.

There are other factors that have an impact on service level above and beyond price and cost, such as the so-called salvage cost or goodwill cost. But as a conclusion,  and without entering into details on how to compute optimal service levels, it should be apparent that 1) There is an optimal service level that depends on the margin of the product, which may be below or above 99%; and 2) service level should be computed for each SKU, or type of SKUs, thus defining it for all items in a firm does not make by and large much economic sense.

 To know more about Supply Chain www.zlc.edu.es

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Conocimiento y experiencias logísticas innovadoras

Sesión organizada por el IAF y las Cámaras de comercio en Zaragoza

Alejandro Serrano – Mar 2012 | España

“Conocimiento y Experiencias logísticas innovadoras”

El 19 de marzo participo en esta sesión para hablar de la “Supply Chain and Finance Initiative“, puesta en marcha desde el Zaragoza Logistics Center. Haré una breve introducción de qué es ZLC y en qué consiste esta iniciativa. Después ilustraré con un ejemplo cómo cambia el comportamiento de un comprador cuando tiene que preocuparse por el impacto de sus decisiones no sólo en la cuenta de resultados, sino también en el balance de la empresa.

Más información e inscripciones en este enlace.


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Do not call it Logistics if you mean Supply Chain

The messy shift from Logistics to Supply Chain Management

Alejandro Serrano – . Feb 2012 | Spain

The word Logistics, initially borrowed from a military context, has had to do with the ability to move materials and personnel in an efficient way from one place to another. In a business context, according to the APICS dictionary, its meaning has changed to include additional activities, such as procurement and production. Sure enough, in this context, Logistics is defined as

“The art and science of obtaining, producing, and distributing material and product in the proper place and in proper quantities.” (APICS dictionary on line, accessed in Feb 2012)

However, the CSCMP dictionary does not include production activities, but specifically mentions storage and refers also to services and information:

“The process of planning, implementing, and controlling procedures for the […] transportation and storage of goods, including services, and related information from the point of origin to the point of consumption […] This definition includes inbound, outbound, internal, and external movements.” (CSCMP. Terms and Glossary. Feb 2010)

which is closer to its original meaning, i.e., “just” transportation and storage. it seems that, as the realm of the discipline was increasing an attempt was done to adjust the word logistics to the broader context of application, what explains the broader scope of logistics according to APICS.

Enter Supply Chain

In the early eighties, logistics was not enough to refer to all the increasing types of activities performed by  “logistics” managers, and a new term was coined: “Supply Chain Management”. A strategic flavor was added and the scope was enlarged both longitudinally (from “end to end,” or E2E) and transversely (not only material flows, but also information and cash was considered.) The two aforementioned dictionaries agree on this scope, except for the CSCMP dictionary, which does not mention cash.

“The global network used to deliver products and services from raw materials to end customers through an engineered flow of information, physical distribution, and cash.” (APICS dictionary on line, accessed in Feb 2012)

“The material and informational interchanges in the logistical process stretching from acquisition of raw materials to delivery of finished products to the end user. All vendors, service providers and customers are links in the supply chain.” (CSCMP. Terms and Glossary. Feb 2010)

Since then, the two terms have coexisted, but the evolution of the word Logistics towards Supply Chain (as it can be seen in the definition of Logistics according to APICS) still creates a lot of confusion in industry and academia. In my opinion, the relationship between the two could be defined as follows: “Logistics is the portion of Supply Chain that is concerned with the activities of transportation and storage of parts,” which is line with the CSCMP definition.

Supply Chain, however, is concerned not only with transportation and storage, but with many other key processes, such as demand forecasting, planning, purchasing, collaboration (contracts), outsourcing, facility location (network design), or inventory management (how much and where to hold inventory.)

To learn more about Supply Chain www.zlc.edu.es

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Un estudiante de ZLC vence en el Vestas Winnovation Challenge

Casi la mitad de los estudiantes finalistas en Supply Chain eran estudiantes del Zaragoza Logistics Center

Alejandro Serrano – Feb 2012 | España

Un total de 27 participantes de las mejores escuelas del mundo participaron el pasado fin de semana en el  Vestas Winnovation Challenge en Dinamarca. En este encuentro, Vivek Radhakrishnan, estudiante del máster internacional de supply chain en el Zaragoza Logistics Center, obtuvo el premio en la categoría de supply chain. Por segunda vez consecutiva los estudiantes de este programa logran llegar a la final del Vestas Winnovation Challenge en esta categoría.

Además del ganador, otros estudiantes del mismo programa, Kristin Bautista, Sergio Tovar y Andrés Vadillo (en la foto), también llegaron a la final de esta competición internacional organizada por Vestas. El mérito es enorme, dados la variedad y el nivel de las universidades presentes en la competición.

Foto: Andrés Vadillo

Este éxito no sino el síntoma de que se están haciendo muy bien las cosas en este programa máster: selección muy cuidada y exigente de estudiantes de cuatro continentes, adaptación de contenidos a la demanda de las empresas multinacionales que buscan profesionales altamente cualificados en supply chain y profesores de primer nivel venidos de todo el mundo.

El resultado es que las empresas se disputan a los estudiantes incluso antes de terminar el programa. El año pasado el 100% de los estudiantes del programa (unos 25 en media de 5 años a esta parte) tenían al menos una oferta 3 meses después de la graduación. El salario medio de los trabajos aceptados subió hasta 99.000$. Un éxito mayor si cabe que la obtención del galardón de Vestas este año.

Ver más información del programa máster ZLOG en supply chain aquí: http://mastersupplychain.edu.es/

Ver la noticia en la página de Vestas aquí: http://www.vestas.com/winnovation


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