Keith Noble, CEO
Planning has always been a critical cog in the clockwork of supply chain management. However, over the years, the changing customer behaviours, the constant pressure to reduce costs, improve supply chain efficiency, and enhance revenue margins, have complicated supply chain planning for manufacturing organisations. With a lack of clear visibility into their supply chains due to manual operational approaches and poor planning tools, they find it hard to collect much needed insights. Add to that,supply chain networks are becoming ever more complex with many organisations turning to outsourcing and delocalisation, with increased distances between production and consumer locations.As an antidote to this problem, organisations began investing in tech-driven solutions to plan their pre, during, and post-manufacturing operations with precision and accuracy. The deployment of various tech-driven solutions for different processes further hindered effective planning because it required data consolidation from disparate siloed systems. In such a scenario, emerging technologies such as machine learning (ML) and big data analytics have found important application in supply chain planning, owing to their ability to detect discrepancies among large datasets and offer actionable insights on how to enhance operational efficiencies.
Despite a surge in ML and data analytics-powered solutions, organisations are still struggling to make the most of their investments because the insights offered by these products are too complex for individuals with non-technical backgrounds, which pull them back while solving the operational challenges in their department. Against this backdrop, the need of the hour is a dynamic solution that can take the algorithmic complexity out of the insights and provide value-based information for process enhancement in a simple and straightforward manner.
Enter sofco, a UK-based software company that provides integrated end-to-end supply planning software solutions that covers key operational processes, including demand planning, trade promotions planning, production, procurement, distribution, and inventory planning, among others. “Our suite is built around the idea of simplifying the understanding of tech-driven insights to facilitate faster decision-making and enable end-to-end visibility of the entire supply chain,” says Keith Noble, CEO of sofco.
Combining Innovation and Expertise
Since its inception in 2018, sofco has been focused on serving consumer goods and manufacturing industries. Prior to 2018, the sofco team worked together for 14 years as part of the TXT Group and, today, the company has grown to become the go-to partner for leading global organisations, including household brands as well as core industrial manufacturing firms. From a workforce perspective, sofco has a team of experienced applications and technical consultants, solutions architects, and account managers that collectively bring their deep supply chain know-how to help develop product strategies and ensure a smooth and professional implementation. In fact, the team has 20 years of experience in the deployment of planning products with a specialised focus on supply chain and manufacturing, making them the perfect ensemble to develop solutions that drive a better understanding of ML-based algorithms and overall decision-making.
An End-to-End Planning Portfolio
All sofco products are built to manage multiple planning levels and horizons and fit in a range of different business environments. Therefore, the company’s demand planning, supply planning, and scheduling products are all multi-language and multi-currency. sofco’s demand planning product combines historical data with algorithms that enable future intelligence, and collaboration to produce both volume and financial forecasts. As a result, the system can effectively manage supply chain forecasts through introduction, growth, maturity, and decline by applying appropriate techniques at each stage. sofco Demand Planning also supports special events such as trade promotions and other marketing endeavours to further strengthen the overall forecasting process. At the heart of its success in the field are the demand planning solution’s ML algorithms that find patterns and relationships that conventional models cannot, thereby enhancing the forecasting accuracy to an industry-high.
Noble further elaborates on his company’s webinars that are specially designed to launch the next-gen of their end-to-end planning portfolio, which incorporates the latest technologies, cutting edge user experiences, functionality and Machine Learning, developed in collaboration with our customers. The goal of these webinars is to help customers, analysts, and other interested parties understand the existing and new functionalities such as exceptions explorer, new finite planning algorithm with logic explorer, among others. All of this is in the context of a new web-based, multi-device user interface and back end SQL Server architecture, which can be deployed in different cloud based, hosted or on premise options as required.
A One-Stop-Shop Solution for Supply Planning
Our suite is built around the idea of simplifying the understanding of tech-driven ML insights to facilitate faster decision-making and enable end-to-end visibility of the entire supply chain
More recently, sofco has been combining the comprehensive industry experience of its team with impeccable technology innovation to develop a new integrated cloud-based planning and supply chain visibility solution. With this new product, sofco aims to strengthen operational analytics and drive more accurate ‘What If’ scenario-based forecasting and planning. “For instance, if our solution creates a manufacturing plan dictating that a client has to produce x products every day, it will also explain why it made that decision and suggest alternative plans based on different situations that might occur within the timeline,” explains Noble.
The upcoming product will collect master data from ERP systems, dynamic data such as inventory balances, purchase orders, goods receipts, and more. The planning tool will develop the best plan based on the user’s needs and suggest comparative plans based on historical data. “We look back at plans over previous weeks, months and years, and understand what decisions you’ve made, and based on that, we can capture that data, learn from it, and suggest new plans that ensure better operations,” states Noble.
A Future Roadmap to Global Success
With the launch of the first next-gen planning tool, sofco aims to expand its footprint outside of Europe and into newer markets in North America and Asia. Additionally, the company intends to grow its team with highly competent technology and supply chain experts, as well as distribution and innovation partners across the globe. Noble also mentions his plan to embrace the increase in cloud adoption with the cloud-first nature of its portfolio that leverages Microsoft, Google and Amazon cloud ecosystems. “Our expertise allows us understand the prevalent challenges in the industry and with the impeccable innovation of our portfolio, our goal is to become a leading player in the realm of planning and forecasting,” concludes Noble.
Also, sofco’s supply chain planning solution calculates a feasible distribution, production, purchase, and inventory plan based on forecasts from demand plan and real demand to gain accurate future predictions and minimise inefficiencies in resource allocation. Furthermore, sofco Supply Planning takes into account constraints such as lead times, lot sizing, distribution capacity, production capacity, labour requirements, materials availability, shelf life and inventory targets to facilitate impeccable supply at all times. The solution also boasts priority rules and notifies users concerning the service level, inventory, and capacity violations in cases where constraints cannot be overcome. sofco leverages ML in its supply planning offering to improve the accuracy of data consolidation and enhance the overall feasibility of the plan. “By capturing data such as actual lead time, actual throughput rates, etc. ML can dynamically analyse, suggest, and make changes that would be difficult and time-consuming for users to perform otherwise,” adds Noble.
Furthermore, sofco Supply Planning’s algorithm logic explorer helps the user understanding the steps the system took before generating the plan. For example, why the plan has selected a specific production line? Why one product is prioritised over another? And so on. The final feasible plan can be output to sofco scheduling, which works at the lowest level of detail and in hours/minutes with a Gantt Chart user interface. The scheduling solution gathers data from production orders and sequences them based on due dates, available capacity, sequencing rules, and availability of materials from previous operations. The objective of the schedule is to meet all due dates to optimise production time by reducing changeover time to a minimum. Similar to sofco’s other applications, the ML logic here works with more detailed and real data in relation to production rates and actual changeover times, thus further optimising the plan.
Supporting the Deployments Worldwide
Apart from its product portfolio, sofco also offers robust services to strengthen the use of its products and support clients in the overall management of their planning processes. Under this suite of services, the company provides a dedicated cloud platform that offers sofco’s products in a remote environment, which can be deployed either on a public or private cloud of the user’s choice. With a basic monthly contract, sofco’s clients also get to leverage the company’s managed service that provides enhanced ETL monitoring, and high priority response times. Lastly, sofco has developed a Collaborative Forecaster, which enables customers to boost their communication with remote workers and develop forecasts in a familiar and secure environment. sofco also has experienced industry consultants and specialists to support clients’ deployments worldwide.