ZIFFPAGE TITLEQuicker, Smarter Decisions

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2005-11-08 Print this article Print

Midway through a $350 million plan to improve forecasts and lower inventories, Air Products found it needed more—an additional system to improve forecasts and lower inventories.

Quicker, Smarter Decisions

The entire sales and planning process took about one month to complete before Steelwedge. By augmenting SAP with Steelwedge, Air Products hopes to shave as much as 15 days off the cycle, allowing planners to make more timely and better-informed decisions.

"We've been able to distill information into a format that can be easily presented in the meeting and drill down into more details as questions arise," says Terry Kurek, business systems manager in the electronics specialty unit. "We've been able to cut meeting time by 25% to 50%."

In a recent example, Kurek says the software was used to justify the purchase of a new fleet of returnable cylinders. Many of the gases manufactured by Air Products are sent to customers in cylinders, and these cylinders require a lead time of several months to produce.

By comparing the cost of the cylinders against the demand forecast, the planners justified the purchase during the demand planning meeting—exactly the kind of scenario the software was designed to solve. Before Steelwedge, planners would have performed this analysis by dumping information from SAP into spreadsheets and poring over the data, a process that required days, not minutes.

This is the same argument many supply chain executives are putting before senior management, according to Colin Snow, vice president of research at Ventana Research in San Mateo, Calif. Ventana specializes in supply chain, sales and operations management. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars installing Oracle or SAP, many supply chain managers are facing the dilemma of having to ask for more money for something their CEOs thought was already fixed.

"It's the No. 1 problem we're hearing about," Snow says. "Getting executive buy-in is very difficult."

The answer, according to Reekie, may lie in explaining how the software packages will benefit one another, not in harping on the failings of SAP or Oracle.

"The tool [Steelwedge] itself doesn't give you a penny in direct benefit," Reekie says. "The value comes from being able to intelligently access the data in our SAP system to make much better and more timely decisions."

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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