Advanced inventory analytics are critical for distributors that want to remain competitive and efficient. Knowing this, many distributors pursue developing sophisticated analytics programs and are eager to get the ball rolling on results. But too many of them get stuck right at the point of launch. This common scenario is either due to other initiatives taking priority or poor implementation planning. 

Any new technology initiative requires thoughtful implementation planning, including training, change management, metrics, etc. You can’t just flip a switch and expect the cogs to start turning.  

What happens if you short-change implementation planning? 

Let’s take a real example of a distributor that got stuck before implementation. This distributor prepared and developed an analytics strategy focusing on inventory and customer analytics. The distributor’s goal was to optimize inventory and pricing using inventory and customer stratification. The project team conducted pilot analyses at several locations across four months. Purchasing managers and sales leaders strategized with their teams and got them on board. Everything was set to go. 

Then, when it was time to pitch to management and determine the next steps, everything came to a halt. Challenges related to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) transition took precedence, delaying the analytics project. 

When management launched the analytics project 18 months later, the initiative lost momentum with employees. The distributor struggled to re-engage resources to repeat the pilot analyses.  

But worst of all? The project team had identified significant opportunities they had to forgo during that “lost” 18-month period. An earlier implementation could have helped with customer retention and slow-moving inventory during the recession. 

How do you maintain momentum on your inventory analytics project?   

To keep your project in motion, you must plan the implementation phase as thoroughly as any other. But what does it mean to “plan” implementation? It means shoring up four critical areas, so they’re adequately addressed and activated for the transition: people, process, technology and metrics.  

These components are linked, so it’s essential to view them holistically and ensure alignment. A flaw or misstep in one will affect another. Therefore, to successfully implement a profitable inventory strategy, distributors must understand each implementation area and how they intertwine. 

Get your PEOPLE ready and excited. 

Management and employees have different perspectives, expectations and understandings of the process. Make sure you address both perspectives in your planning to minimize implementation gaps. Implementation of best practices that align both views for optimal performance include: 

  • Change management 
  • Commitment from top management and other leaders 
  • Employee education 
  • Focusing on culture

Plan and document PROCESS ownership and changes.  

The process component requires following best practices and establishing accountability ahead of implementation. This involves assigning identified process owners to establish accountability. That process owner will develop process parameters, such as: 

  • Methodology 
  • Level of detail 
  • What is occurring in intervals (Periodicity) 
  • Interactions with other business processes 

Know and prepare for TECHNOLOGY changes. 

Many best practice implementations stall because the IT team’s role isn’t clarified, technology requirements aren’t fully addressed, and there are issues with data availability. To avoid interruptions down the road, teams should discuss the following items well before implementation: 

  • Data requirements 
  • Definitions 
  • Assumptions 
  • Result formats (how people will use the results) 
  • System integration capabilities (how effectively disparate systems talk to each other across functions)  

Identify the METRICS to measure change. 

It’s easy to compile information from input data, but the power lies in how well teams develop and apply the resulting insights. Metrics should focus on optimizing strategic benchmarks rather than functional benchmarks. They should also meet other criteria, such as: 

  • Simplicity 
  • Control 
  • Measurability  
  • Alignment (between processes and shareholder value) 

Keep your inventory analytics program in “drive.” 

If you go through the trouble of gathering inventory analytics, you must also plan to use that information efficiently to implement positive change. If you do not, then all you are doing is work for the sake of work, not work for the sake of change and better business. 

Before collecting your data, ensure that you outline and specify all four implementation components (people, process, technology, and metrics). Then when the data is available and you are ready to change and grow your organization, a proper implementation plan will capture opportunities that would otherwise be lost. 

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