Achieving a Single Version of the Truth
How many times does this happen in your company? You go to a meeting about sales performance, and Marketing says they think sales are up 3.5%, but the merchants disagree and say sales are up 6.3%. The specific numbers in this example aren’t important; the point is that the two figures aren’t even close. That’s the reality in most companies today.
Or, say management has tasked you with developing a report and you try and go back to prior results, maybe from a season or two ago. How many different versions of the sales, purchase and inventory plans are there? Which ones are the actual and which were prior versions?
Some readers might say we could do a better job of controlling and eliminating versions of plans—which is certainly true, and something every company should work toward. Or you may say if we use only one enterprise system we can eliminate this dilemma. But that isn’t really the solution; such systems aren’t viable for most companies, and anyway, there are multiple data elements that are all valid for whatever processing system is being used. There isn’t a “single version of the truth”—one official set of figures for sales, inventory, plan, history, etc.
Take for example a product’s inventory. You can find sales plans on a user-derived Access system or Excel spreadsheets. A product’s inventory on hand in units and dollars occurs on your order management system. A separate best-of-breed warehouse management system will also include the same product on hand, but needs to be synched up daily. The finance system will also carry the total company inventory in dollars—probably not updated real time, but daily or weekly. You may also have a specialized standalone forecasting and inventory management system, to project inventory by promotion or catalog campaign.
Additionally, because the major transaction systems require a high degree of training, management does not use them as the source for their information. Management has to go to extremes to get what they need, either by requesting that department managers pull data or by using business analysts to come up with reporting. Because these are manual efforts using sources not originally geared to management’s needs, they are delay-riddled, error prone processes. And they still don’t deliver a “single version of the truth.”
You get the picture. There simply isn’t a “single version of the truth” for the major data elements used in many businesses. For management to have confidence in the integrity of the data they’re getting, I think the time has come to advocate and budget for projects that resolve these problems. Such problems are not new, and I believe they inhibit the effective management and growth of direct businesses.
Here is a hierarchy of solutions you should consider:
- Extract data from major transaction processing systems into Excel or other reports
- Access databases, and business analysts using OLAP tools
- Data warehouse products
- Business intelligence systems with dashboards and analytics
As the New Year approaches, it’s time to advocate with management for solutions to this problem. Especially in this economy, knowing exactly where you stand is essential. You can only control expenses and inventory and know which products and promotions are working—and which aren’t—if you have accurate data on which everybody across the company can agree. In our experience, companies that used business intelligence systems to overcome such information problems have been successful in getting a positive ROI from these types of systems within 12 to 18 months. And in today’s business environment, that’s a “single version of the truth” on which all companies can agree.
Brian Barry is senior consultant with F. Curtis Barry & Company, a multichannel operations and fulfillment consulting firm with expertise in multichannel systems, warehouse, call center, inventory, and benchmarking; Learn more online at: http://www.fcbco.com.F. Curtis Barry & Company is a national consulting firm for catalog, e-commerce, and retail businesses offering clients expertise in order management systems, warehouse management systems; warehousing and distribution; inventory management and forecasting solutions; and operational benchmarking for all business channels.
Please contact Jeff Barry to discuss your upcoming projects at email@example.com or 804-457-4028.