Education supplies provider Connect Education & Care’s (Connect E&C) was facing significant challenges after acquiring wholesaler “The Consortium”. Suddenly a multi-site distribution business, Connect E&C’s planning system was no longer fit for purpose. Business plans couldn’t translate into operational plans. Product, demand, inventory, supply and capacity planning were all reactive.
The demand planning team was working hard, but was constrained by an unwieldy spreadsheet-based system. The core ERP system wasn’t generating planning data and the team couldn’t develop a statistical forecast with re-order points and safety stocks. Three demand planners would trawl through massive spreadsheets of 15,000 rows and 132 columns to try to work out what actions to take first.
Connect’s E&C’s planning was complicated by the nature of the education sector. Demand is exceptionally seasonal with major peaks at the start and end of each school term and little or no activity in between. Also, several thousand of the 16,000 active SKUs in the annual catalogue either change or are superseded every year. Connect E&C couldn’t relate new items to the old ones they had superseded, so it was impossible to forecast future trends based on historical demand.
The company also had no way to assess trade-offs between inventory and customer service levels. This was resulting in both service-compromising stock-outs and costly overstocks. The problem came into sharp relief after the company started sourcing a growing amount of supply from Asia. Though unit costs were lower, longer lead times and reduced supply chain agility were threatening service levels.
The company knew they had to make some changes – and fast. They recruited Adam Henry as Head of Supply Chain Planning and commenced a search for a best-of-breed planning tool that would enable a supply chain transformation.
According to Adam, “Despite the heroic effort our planning team was putting in, they were flying blind. We had grown very fast – both organically and through acquisition – and our systems were no longer able to keep up with the demands in this very competitive and complex environment. We had to fix this quickly and get it right.”
After evaluating several familiar options, Connect E&C selected ToolsGroup’s SO99+ software for its proven ability to handle long-tail product portfolios and extreme demand volatility. They also wanted SO99+ for its ability to generate a statistical forecast that could be further refined by taking a large number of market intelligence factors - new product and market forecasts, promotions and end-of-life information. Finally, it was easy enough to learn and use so that its planners didn’t need extensive training or new technical skills.
Connect E&C’s ToolsGroup implementation kicked off and went live in only three months. Today SO99+ underpins all the company’s business planning activities, generating truly bottom-up item-level forecasts that can be aggregated and aligned to top-level plans.
SO99+’s ability to manage Connect E&C’s complexity has dramatically improved planning effectiveness. Its ability to forecast at the order-line and location level made it much easier for them to set the optimal inventory mix in its two new warehouse locations. Many benefits also came from fixing a host of fundamental master data management problems during the testing phase. Specific KPI improvements include:
Connect Education and Care are part of the Connect Group Plc. They serve 30,000 customers with 40,000 products across the education, healthcare, early years and office and community industries. They provide these through a catalogue and online and are one of the top three companies in their sector.