Almost every company begins their planning journey with some sort of Microsoft Excel-based solution. Excel is perfect for building a process from the ground up, because it is readily accessible, easy to use, and allows changes to be made quickly and easily.

Unfortunately, the same virtues that make Excel a great starting system cause issues in the long term. Pushing around a large number of discrete spreadsheets requires manual effort, and this manual effort will simply prevent your process from growing past a certain point.

Whether you are using homegrown spreadsheets or ForecastX, you will eventually run into these limitations. This is where an enterprise planning system of record, like John Galt’s Atlas Planning, will become necessary for your business.

The following describes some of the issues that you may encounter in building an end-to-end planning process with Excel. If you are struggling with these issues, you are well-advised to look at a full-fledged enterprise planning system, like Atlas Planning.

Collecting collaborative opinions

Collaboration is possible with Excel, but only with manual effort. To collect collaborative opinions, there are essentially two options. The simplest option is to simply collect feedback verbally or by email, but this requires manual effort on the planner’s part to integrate the feedback into a final plan.

A second option is to email spreadsheet templates to the various collaborative partners. This may assist in integrating the feedback, but introduces opportunities for disconnects and manual error as the planner is required to pull multiple spreadsheets together. ForecastX can help with this process by automatically generating templates for feedback and offering tools to combine the opinions into a single master report, but this is still no substitute for a fully integrated plan.

Excel sheets are also not easily able to present data from any required hierarchy or unit of measure perspective. For instance, if sales is interested in making changes by customer in revenue, it is hard to translate this point of view to a supply chain view by item and in units. This requires different departments to make compromises in their point of view, and ultimately can limit the participation or usefulness of the plan.

A full enterprise planning system like Atlas Planning will be able to collect feedback from all users in a collaborative planning process, from their perspective. This means that the sales and supply chain groups mentioned above will both be able to see the plan from their point of view, and any changes will be brought together in real time. Best of all, there are no spreadsheets to pass around, so manual effort and human error are eliminated.

Tracking and measuring assumptions

In addition to the basic challenges in producing a collaborative report, Excel will make it difficult to track the reasoning behind the forecasts. For instance, it is very difficult to track notes – Excel offers an insert comment feature that can be used to substitute for this, but these comments are very difficult to combine into a digestible format. A full planning tool will offer a robust note system, like the Notes Manager in Atlas Planning.

Tracking accuracy will be a challenge as well. ForecastX offers some ability to track the accuracy of the final forecast over time by saving snapshots of the final result, but this is limited to a single forecast opinion over three periods, and must be run manually. Atlas Planning automatically stores snapshots of all forecast opinions for as many periods as desired, and reports on these automatically using a range of metrics. Between the notes management and the Forecast Value Add reporting possible in Atlas, it is relatively simple to identify the causes of error and eliminate them.

Managing process workflow

Excel offers no tools for notifying users of their responsibilities in the planning process, or of sending alerts when these responsibilities are not met. This means that planners are often responsible for enforcing this feedback, requiring even more manual effort. An enterprise planning system like Atlas Planning will be able to structure each user’s responsibilities, offer easy access to the exact view needed for each process step, and send email and other notifications for completed or overdue tasks.

Management by exception

Excel-based processes often require that users review each line of data manually. This leads to wasted effort and can prevent planning teams from resolving issues that might have been visible in an enterprise planning tool. ForecastX offers the ability to identify items where the statistical forecast is not working, but doesn’t give visibility into issues like data with massive trend, or changes from the prior month’s plan. Atlas Planning includes a full Exception Manager that allows these issues to be identified and delivers users directly to the items that need review, reducing manual effort and enhancing focus.

 Integrating demand and supply

When trying to integrate demand forecasts with supply plans, there is often complex translation logic required to understand how current period shipments and open orders impact the supply required. This often requires planning groups to make compromises – for instance, manually adjusting the forecast to account for customer orders that come in early or late, or forecasting in weekly time periods to accommodate inventory planning when monthly time periods offer more stability. This can only be resolved in Excel by manually building multiple layers of logic with potential breakdowns at each stage. A full planning tool can perform this translation automatically, and offer additional helpful logic such as the Consumption model in Atlas Planning.

 End-to-end supply chain planning

In Excel, it is extremely difficult to model the connections between different tiers of supply – for instance, it is difficult to perform the many-to-one translation needed to understand how finished goods requirements from multiple warehouses impacts component demand at a single site. A best-case scenario for performing this analysis in Excel involves numerous spreadsheets with fragile and error-prone connections between them.

ERP systems offer a potential solution to this problem, but are often too rigid to allow for the type of analysis and adjustment needed for full S&OP – they must run the process at full complexity, and often require additional analysis to be conducted in Excel to identify opportunities for inventory reduction. An integrated planning tool like Atlas Planning will model the full end-to-end supply chain more quickly, and enable what-if analysis on alternate demand and supply scenarios.

Additional Resources

Since its founding in 1996, John Galt Solutions has built a proven track record of providing affordable, automated forecasting and inventory management services for consumer-driven supply chains. We have an unmatched ability to configure tailored solutions for customers, regardless of size or business challenge, that save both time and money by compressing implementation periods and delivering intelligent information that positively impact your bottom line.

Visit our John Galt's website for more information.