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Supply Chain Management subversion: Is your business still living in Excel Hell?


Since the beginning of their existence, spreadsheets and the capabilities of programs such as Excel have been present in just about every business oriented organization on the face of the Earth.

In an article from 2010, it was found that approx. 81% of businesses use Excel spreadsheets (Forrester Research).

This percentage doesn’t really surprise me. The functionality of Excel spreadsheets is straightforward, one of the most common ways to try and keep document management organized, and widely used/comprehended by computer users. Whether it’s contacts, contracts, payroll, inventory, transportation, or supplier management, spreadsheets can definitely keep your workflow simple and organized.

With that being said, supply chain management is no place to be relying solely on the data compilation capabilities of spreadsheets. In particular, the storage of supplier data has moved beyond lists in excel, and the sharing of data through document management platforms. There is a plethora of supply chain management solutions that have that kind of functionality as a standard feature included in their softwares, work tools and/or application. Furthermore, the process of turning passive data from spreadsheets into active/comprehensive data is a complicated one.

While Excel still reigns supreme in many categories, as far as functionality and relevance for the task at hand, supply chain management has seen an influx of solutions built to replace supply chain management spreadsheets once and for all.

Is your company ready to stop working in Excel Hell?

Supplier Data Compilation

When storing supplier data, there are many moving parts that must be documented in a dynamic fashion.

Believe it or not, there is still a plethora of businesses that log and maintain all of their supplier information within spreadsheets. Hundreds upon thousands of columns and rows kept within various databases, shared amongst procurement teams, accessed when needed, and updated when seen fit.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that method… in 2000. But, it’s 2017.

Typically the storage of supplier data isn’t the most critical of data management, but when there is just one discrepancy in the data, the data set can be compromised. As supplier bases grow, there is more risk to manage in the process and higher needs for internal visibility. To put this into perspective, think about retail giants such as Walmart. Walmart, most likely, has tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of tier-one, two and three suppliers globally. If they relied on spreadsheets as a form of supplier data management in a supply chain of that size wouldn’t just be careless, it’d be crazy. “As a supply chain matures, spreadsheet-related risks such as scalability, integration, fragility, and siloing can have a significant impact on the business” (europeanbusinessreview.com 2014).

Your Data is Waiting…

Software solutions that store supply chain data have moved far beyond data compilation, storage and management. Today’s solutions have addressed the issue of supply chain scalability that cannot be addressed by using spreadsheets.

Globally functioning supply chains create means and opportunities for businesses to innovate and out-class their competition. The complexity of their networks requires extensive analytical analysis to find data correlations to drive optimization. The smoothness of a supply chain’s functionality is highly dependent on anticipating changes in the market and responses to those changes. For this reason, traditional data compilation and analysis, within spreadsheets, of supply chain data just ain’t cutting it anymore.

“Spreadsheets provide some capability for users to be creative and think through some ideas. For simple tasks, and for businesses with small SKU counts and low complexity, they might work to a degree. But they just don’t scale” (Chainlink Research).

Forecasting is crucial to create a meaning from supply chain data sets. There are of course methods for analyzing and forecasting supply chain risk and opportunity while using spreadsheets, but this would require hours of human analysis. This makes the data-reading and analysis prone to human error. Simply, there are more efficient methods on the market that can save time and manpower.

Sourcing managers shouldn’t be digging through excel files to find which supplier they should order their next shipment of raw materials from. Businesses need to have tools and solutions in place that can manage and activate data sets, turning data compilation into predictive analytics for the use of procurement professionals.

“The supply chain as a complex system cannot be effectively modeled in a spreadsheet.” — Lora Cecere, Founder, Supply Chain Insights

This notion of comprehensive data flips the traditional supply chain data paradigm on its head. SCM solutions are taking data compilation from being a tedious and passive action to being active and crucial for growth. The more data, the more forecasting and the more possibility for managing supply chain risks at scale.

These kinds of functionalities just do not exist within the realm of spreadsheet’s capabilities.

Start thinking like it’s 2017. Find SCM solutions that fit your supply chain needs.

Until next week.