Tunnel vision: APICS attendees looked to solve specific problems

When Tom Adams looks at the 18 truckloads of products returned to the Techtronic Industries of Hong Kong (TTI-HK) facility in Pickens, S.C., on an average day, he doesn’t just see defective power tools. He sees information—and the chance to save the company money. Adams shared this story with attendees of the APICS conference, held this week in Denver, where the overwhelming theme was finding the right technology solutions for specific business problems.

By Sidney Hill, Jr., executive editor October 25, 2007

When Tom Adams looks at the 18 truckloads of products returned to the Techtronic Industries of Hong Kong (TTI-HK) facility in Pickens, S.C., on an average day, he doesn’t just see defective power tools. He sees information—and the chance to save the company money.“Those tools talk,” says Adams, data quality engineer at TTI-HK. “They tell us why people brought them back. That’s information we need to know.”Adams shared this story with attendeesFor TTI-HK, the right solution turned out to be the Cognos Business Intelligence (BI) platform.Ten people at the TTI-HK Pickens facility are responsible for disassembling returned items and determining what caused them to fail. Previously, that failure data was loaded into an Excel spreadsheet, where TTI-HK tried, without much success, to use it as a catalyst for improving product designs.With the Cognos BI platform, that data can be transformed into standard reports that uncover trend information that can be easily shared across the enterprise—between engineers in North America and production personnel, some of them subcontractors, in Asia. That enables changes to product designs and manufacturing processes being implemented much faster, lowering the rate of returns for a given product.“In addition to saving money, we’re delivering better products to our customers,” Adams says.Paul Hoy, global manufacturing industry director for Cognos, says TTI-HK is just one of many manufacturers Executive solutions Cognos unveiled one such solution—called a Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) Executive Review Blueprint—at the APICS event. Hoy says this solution extends the basic S&OP Blueprint that Cognos released last year. Both solutions use elements of the Cognos 8 BI platform and Cognos 8 Planning, another performance management solution, to help companies combine data from various functional areas—typically, sales, finance, and manufacturing—to generate a cohesive plan for makingHoy says the Executive Review Blueprint allows companies to make S&OP a more strategic endeavor by giving upper management a view into the process, along with the ability to run scenarios that reveal how changes in the supply chain, such as sudden inventory shortages or spikes in demand, might impact profits. Supply Chain Consultants (SCC), a longtime supplier of demand and production planning applications, also touted an upcoming executive-level S&OP solution at APICS. This solution, which has yet to be named, is slated to be embedded inside SCC’s Zemeter supply chain management suite early next year.“Few executives really pay attention to the S&OP process,” Sujit Singh COO of SCC said in explaining the company’s reason for developing this solution. “This solution will give them a graphical interface with five screens providing specific information about S&OP.” SYSPRO , a supplier of ERP software targeting midsize manufacturers, also is taking the idea of meeting manufacturers’ specific needs seriously. Joey Benadretti, president of SYSPRO USA, says an analysis of the company’s customer base led it to adopt a new philosophy known as Pragmavision. Vertical focus “It’s a combination of pragmatic and visionary,” Benadretti explained. “It reflects exactly who our customers are, and what they’re asking for. They are not the early adopters of technology, but they are not laggards either. They want technology that can take their business to the next level, but they want that technology to be proven, and they want to purchase it from a vendor with a proven track record.”Benadretti said this realization heavily influenced recent changes to the SYSPRO ERP suite, which now contains specific functionality for key vertical industries, such as food processing, medical equipment, and electronics, in addition to features like embedded EDI, capabilities for managing promotions, and functionality for product traceability and digital signatures. Lawson Software , making its first appearance at APICS since acquiringcquired from Intentia were well received by customers. Smart Software , a specialist in demand planning applications, actually received an APICS award for work it did in solving a customer problem. The customer, Perdue Pharma Canada, based in Pickering, Ontario, wanted to upgrade its Smart Software application to improve sales and inventory planning. It immediately recognized a potential problem related to security requirements the Canadian government requires all pharmaceutical companies to meet.Specifically, any interface built to pass data into a pharmaceutical company’s systems must be certified by the Canadian government, which can be a long and expensive process. To avoid that scenario, Smart Software worked with Perdue Pharma to build an intermediate database that could accept information from the Smart Software forecasting package and then pass it onto the Perdue Pharma system without altering the data.“This projectrd “icing on the cake for a project that was a true partnership with a valued customer.”If the sentiment prevalent at APICS holds, more vendors will have to forge strong partnerships with customers—regardless of whether they ultimately win awards.