This article is an excerpt from the report Agile Demand-Supply Alignment — Part Two: Evaluating ASDA Solutions.
A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.
In the previous Part 2F, we discussed the role of implementation, services, pricing, ROI, and TCO when evaluating a solution. Here we provide some thoughts on discovering, shortlisting, and selecting an ADSA solution.
Evaluating Potential Solutions
Discovering Potential Solutions
There are many different ADSA-related solution providers in the market and there are different ways to discover potential solution providers for whatever problem(s) an organization is trying to solve. Google searching is a good place to start as most solution providers want to be found. They invest in search engine optimization to try and get near the top of the list for searches using common phrases and concepts related to their solution. Another source of potential solutions is analyst reports. Analyst firms frequently provide market reports1 for different solution spaces. Part Three of this report series describes eight very different ADSA solution providers. There are also enterprise software comparison websites2 that can provide lists and superficial comparisons of solutions in different categories. These sites vary widely in their quality and completeness. Finally, talking to peers to find out what solutions they know about or are using is often helpful.
Shortlisting Potential Solutions
There are a few questions or ‘filters’ that can be used to quickly narrow down the list of candidate solutions. These include the functional footprint, industry focus, and other factors to consider about the solution.
Functional Scope — Best-of-breed vs. End-to-end
Looking at the functional footprint and industry focus of the solutions first will quickly narrow the field. It is important to look beyond the immediate functional needs and consider the needs of an integrated solution that ties together all the functions needed for an end-to-end view. You may be looking for a transportation management or sourcing and procurement solution today, but in the long run, an end-to-end, cross-function, multi-enterprise approach is needed to achieve true agile demand-supply alignment, enabling delivery of higher quality and service levels at lower landed cost. This does not mean abandoning the immediate needs, but rather seeking a solution that can meet both the immediate functional needs while also providing a longer-term platform for growth and end-to-end capabilities.
Closely related to the functional scope is the industry focus of the solution. While there are some ADSA solutions that are horizontal in focus, i.e., they serve most industries almost equally well, most ADSA solutions have functionality and processes that are best suited or specifically designed for specific industries. For example, two of the providers we looked at have functionality specifically designed to provide CPG brands with better visibility into their retailer customers’ POS data. Some solutions focus on apparel and footwear retail, providing industry-specific capabilities such as multiple product hierarchies and WSSI planning capabilities. Others offer grocery retailer solutions that provide cold chain, fresh food management, intraday forecasting and deliveries (for deli and bakery), and other grocery-specific functionality. Using industry focus as a filter should help narrow the field considerably, eliminating many providers from consideration.
Besides functional and industry focus, there are other filters that can be used to further narrow the list. One key factor is what size company the solution provider serves. Almost no solution providers sell to all size companies; rather they will target small, medium, or large enterprises. Some solution providers will span small to medium or medium to large firms. Others have one set of solutions for small companies and a different set of solutions for large companies.
Another consideration is how mature the solution is. Solutions that have been around for a decade or more have the advantage of being battle-hardened and usually have richer and more mature feature sets, as they have had a long time to develop and hone the functionality, driven by customer needs. Solutions that are newer may not be as functionally rich, but they have the advantage of being built on newer technology foundations, with more modern user interfaces. Older solutions have often been updated to run on newer platforms and/or more modern UIs, but nevertheless they usually are carrying some level of ‘baggage’ from their heritage.
Another key factor is how well the vision or direction of the solution provider aligns with the buying company’s vision and direction. For example, if a company is trying to digitalize, and is striving for a more autonomous supply chain capability, it would be important to find out how the solution provider supports that vision, both in the current product and on their roadmap.
The framework provided in Part One of this series and illustrated again at the beginning of this report in Figure 1 – Elements of Agile Demand-Supply Alignment, can be used to assess solutions as well. A buyer could ask what capabilities a solution provider has for 1) becoming aware of supply disruptions or demand deviations from plan, 2) gathering necessary information together to understand the situation, 3) prioritizing the issues, 4) considering different options to solve the issues and selecting the best course of action, 5) executing the selected course-correcting action and, 6) monitoring to ensure the actions have been properly executed and the desired outcomes achieved.
Selecting a Solution
Requesting a Demo
Once a shortlist of potential solutions has been developed, there are several actions a buyer can take to help them select the best solution for their unique situation. With ADSA solutions, it is important to ask for a demo of the specific types of problems the buyer is trying to solve. Seeing what information is brought together; how information about the network, disruptions, and demand-supply imbalances is visualized; how those issues are prioritized; how what-if analysis is done; how the platform optimizes and recommends solutions, and how the outcomes of different courses of action are compared. Seeing these in action makes a huge difference in understanding how effective ADSA solutions are in managing complex networks with large numbers of demand-supply imbalances occurring every day. Ideally, a demo using the buyer’s real data is preferred, otherwise a demo should be requested that simulates a company of similar size and complexity, solving issues similar to the buyer’s issues. A demo of other capabilities, beyond the ones the buyer is seeking, can illuminate other potential benefits and uses of the platform.
When viewing a demo, it is important to find out what dependencies are required to achieve the functionality being shown. For example, what data is needed and what kind of integration efforts are required. If the demo shows capabilities that require data from the buyer’s current enterprise systems that are not currently available or that will be expensive to integrate, then it is important to know that ahead of time, rather than being disappointed later. It is important to know what can be done within the constraints of the buyer’s currently available systems and data, as well as the cost of any integrations needed to achieve what is being shown in the demo. Similarly, it is important to understand exactly which applications need to be licensed to get all of the functionality being shown.
Due Diligence, Increasing the Chances of Success
If the solution provider has a network of preconnected trading partners, it is useful to find out which of the buyer’s trading partners and service providers (e.g., 3PLs, carriers, etc.) are already on the platform and what is the cost, effort, and timeframe for onboarding those trading partners who are not on the platform. How much training is typically needed and how is that delivered? Questions about the architecture and the other questions outlined throughout this document should help buyers make an informed decision. By having a clear vision and articulating what solution the buyer is looking for, and doing the proper due diligence, the chances of a successful ADSA implementation are greatly increased.
1 For example, ChainLink Research has a two-part report called Supply Chain Networks Revealed which describes how Supply Chain Application Networks work and compares at a high level four different solutions. We also have part three of this series, Agile Demand-Supply Alignment — Part Three: ADSA Solution Assessments, which evaluates eight different ADSA solutions in depth. Gartner has reports and reviews on Multienterprise Supply Chain Business Networks, Nucleus Research released its Control Tower Technology Value Matrix, and Grand View Research published a Control Towers Market Report. — Return to article text above
2 Such as Technology Evaluation Centers SCM Shortlist, Capterra’s Supply Chain Management Software listings, and G2’s peer-to-peer reviews in Supply Chain & Logistics. — Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.