The non-technical overview
Even though Quantitative Supply Chain initiatives can be carried out on any platform with a programming language, from here on we’re going to be basing our reflections on the platform we have at hand, that is to say Lokad, which is built around the programming language Envision.
Lokad is a platform designed for the execution of Quantitative Supply Chain initiatives. This platform is built around a domain-specific programming language (DSL) named Envision. Excel, Business Intelligence or even APS (Advance Planning Systems) do not fully address many of the specific challenges found in supply chain. Envision, on the other hand, will let you succeed where these tools would have failed you otherwise. Modern supply chain is a game of numbers: every angle of your business needs to be fine-tuned in order for you to remain competitive. Envision is your quantitative fine-tuning tool for supply chain. It allows you to get precise insights for your business and to act on them.
Thinking like Excel but scaling for supply chain
Excel is the most widely used tool in supply chain. At Lokad, we acknowledge that Excel has many great qualities: it is simple, expressive, visual, and most importantly, Excel lets you stay on top of your data all the time. Excel acquired the world-wide success it deserves. With Envision, we have worked very hard to preserve all these excellent qualities found in Excel.
However, as far supply chain is concerned, Excel is not the pinnacle of analytics either. The greatest strength of Excel is also its greatest weakness: the calculation logic and the data become systematically entangled, and this creates never-ending problems as soon as the sheets begin growing in size. Yet, large Excel sheets are usually unavoidable in supply chain, where hundreds or even thousands of products are typically found within the same company.
Unfortunately, this logic+data entanglement issue cannot be fixed within Excel, because the “fix” would go against what makes Excel such a great tool in the first place. As a result, at Lokad, we decided to design Envision, a technology that would preserve the valuable properties of Excel as far as supply chain is concerned, but would also support scaling up to hundreds of millions of orders or SKUs if that’s what is required.
Not just observing data but acting on it
Business Intelligence (BI) solutions are frequently sold as the next stage of business analytics after Excel. However, based on Lokad’s years of experience, we have come to the conclusion that, as far as supply chain is concerned, Business Intelligence nearly always fails to materialize the expected benefits. The problem does not lie in the quality of the Business Intelligence tools: the BI market is mature and there are some excellent solutions out there. Rather, the difficulty lies in the fact that observing data for the sake of “getting insights” is terribly costly for businesses where thousands of products and thousands of clients are involved.
In supply chain, BI tools fail to scale not because they cannot process all the data available – unlike Excel, good BI tools can process very large amounts of data – but because, while producing millions of numbers every day is cheap, as we said previously: producing only ten relevant numbers every day that are worth being read and acted upon is extremely difficult. Despite all its flaws, Excel comes with this “get things done” attitude, while BI does not.
For Envision, we absolutely wanted to preserve this “get things done” perspective. Thus, Envision is geared towards prioritized action lists such as:
- List the top 10 items at 2.5% gross margin to drive competitors nuts
- Generate the quantities required to exactly fill the next container to be ordered
- List the top 10 items that need to be liquidated to unclutter the warehouse
- List the top 5 items that are constantly being returned by customers, driving the staff mad
The exact scope of Envision is really up to what you decide to be your business’ top priorities.
Your business can’t dodge “programmability”
Envision is a programming language. For most people who happen to not be software developers, this probably feels “very” technical; and most business executives, even in the largest of companies, wonder if their team will be capable of becoming productive which such an advanced tool. Our experience tells us that supply chain is irremediably complex. We have witnessed some vendors promising tools so simple that even “a 9-year old child could use them”, and ultimately getting results aligned with what an actual “9-year old child” would have delivered.
Supply chain involves thousands of products, and frequently, a lot more. Every price, every stock level, every assortment needs to be adjusted constantly. There is no hope of achieving this with a satisfying level of productivity without automating all these mundane tasks. Yet automation alone is not sufficient: it has to be smart automation that is deeply aligned with your specific business drivers. The “programmable” part is the one that makes it possible to achieve this alignment.
Designed for collaboration
Teamwork is all about achieving superior results with the help of a team, compared to what would have otherwise been achieved, had everyone been working on their own without collaborating with each other. In supply chain, teamwork is crucial, and Envision embraces this insight. Envision is collaborative by design, because, unlike, say, an Excel sheet, two people can share the exactly same dashboard online at the same time. We have even taken this concept a notch further.
While our technology is accessible in self-service mode, Lokad is here to deliver hands-on assistance based on our significant experience in optimizing supply chains of all sizes, in nearly all market segments and on most continents. Thus, not only can you use the collaborative Envision technology within your company, but you can also get direct expert guidance from our staff as well.