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Is the planner dead? Long live the planner!

10 Sep 2018
The true core of each company’s operation is the supply chain. Not only does it interconnect all activities within the organization, it also links the business to its suppliers and customers. Therefore, it requires the best decision-making at all times - streamlining goods flows is no mean feat, neither is flexibly allocating assets and resources. What you need is access to the data of all the supply chain’s stages and components, as well as end-to-end transparency. This way, planners can make well-informed decisions.

In this rapidly evolving digital era, it is widely believed that self-regulating mechanisms and algorithms will soon take over such planning positions. Several opinion makers (e.g. The death of supply chain management) have suggested that this will mark the end of the supply chain planning position. Are they right?

The planner’s days are over

In the near future, machines and algorithms will indeed take over many of today’s supply chain planning positions.

First, process automation and robotics will take over and automate labor-intensive, repetitive tasks such as ordering, invoicing, and inventory management. Also, blockchains will simplify and safeguard all transactional tasks currently associated with the supply chain planning position.

Moreover, tracking sensors on machines, intelligent cameras, robots, and self-driving vehicles will produce all conceivable data on volumes, productivity, disruptions, bottlenecks, and shortfalls 24/7. Such undisputed data, in turn, will fuel digital control towers in which every step of the supply chain is constantly monitored. Here, potential issues are flagged as they arise, and corrective action is taken, preventing the problem from occurring. The data will also bring forth new techniques for predictive analytics and Artificial Intelligence, thereby forecasting problems, calculating their effects, identifying new trends, and designing new solutions. The objective of all this is, of course, to improve customer performance, increase asset utilization, manage volatility, and optimize costs.

These rapid changes demonstrate why many believe that all supply chain planning positions will be fully automated in the not-so-distant future, replacing humans altogether while doing a better job.

Celebrate the planner

The trend is clear, but the question remains: How will it impact planners’ daily work? In my opinion, the answer is twofold: we need to reskill planners and further embrace the supply chain as the core part of a company’s strategy.

Repetitive tasks and analyses are being automated. That is why supply chain executives need to level up and shift their focus to interpreting the outcomes of analyses. They should ask the right questions and design new solutions. Operating at the intersection of technology and operations, the supply chain planner of the future is both a specialized employee proficient in advanced analysis techniques and a business partner who understands the company dynamics. Unfortunately, this skillset is currently not readily available in most organizations. Therefore, the biggest challenges consist of adjusting recruitment and training programs and creating a working environment in which such experts can flourish. They should be able to stimulate each other in continual learning loops, so they can keep improving their capabilities and performance. This requires a redefining of roles and responsibilities. Also, structures and management styles will need to change.

The foundation of this new supply chain position lies in the company’s strategy, which should include supply chain requirements. Business and operations priorities must form one smooth-running machine, and decisions need to support the company’s overall vision. Preconditions for this are clear guidelines on the direction to be taken, coming from top management layers.

If your company is working on this upward shift in supply chain planning capability today, it will likely become tomorrow’s winner!

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