Using spreadsheets for ad hoc data integration is the bane of modern business. Spreadsheets have their uses as a temporary workaround, but integrating them into routine business processes has many drawbacks. They lock people into unproductive manual processes, slowing down data transmission, while errors easily occur and often go unnoticed. Yet in many organizations they remain an integral part of critical business operations such as operations and supply chain planning, where data is spread across many disparate applications without a unified data store.
That was the case five years ago at Extreme Networks, a digital networking equipment maker and software provider headquartered in San Jose, Calif., which posted revenues of $1 billion in the last his last exercise. Guy Currin, manager of the company’s RapidResponse platform, explained how he removed several spreadsheets from his supply chain planning during a talk at the Big Ideas in Supply Chain conference, which was hosted in Ottawa last week by Kinaxis, the maker of supply chain RapidResponse. planning software. Speaking of the time before the company adopted the Kinaxis solution, he recalls:
Excel was our integration tool. We had a lot of great tools. Behind the scenes, we had Oracle, we had Salesforce, we had some of the E2open products. But none of this has been integrated. If we wanted to be able to integrate that, we had to pull data from one system, manipulate it on the spreadsheet, load it into another system. As a result, there was not a single example of truth. We had no place where you could look at any given moment and see what the whole picture looked like.
So we had to do a lot of manual work or workarounds. As my boss calls it, we had to rely heavily on human putty – if you had a gap, just throw people at it and use it to fiddle with more spreadsheets or do the things they needed to do. We’ve always made it work. We have always done our business at the end of the quarter. We always made it happen one way or another. But it was extremely difficult to do.
Scaling with Kinaxis
The critical moment came in early 2017 when Extreme Networks had to digest the acquisition of Brocade and an Avaya business unit, doubling volumes. The supply chain team recognized that their current processes and technologies could not scale to accommodate this expansion. They started looking for a solution that could replace this spreadsheet-based integration. At the time, Avaya was already a Kinaxis customer and it seemed to work well. The decision was therefore made to adopt the Kinaxis software at Extreme Networks at the same time as the completion of the two acquisitions, alongside the establishment of a data warehouse that would bring all the data together without the aid of spreadsheets.
The supply chain organization also established its first Center of Excellence in preparation for implementation in early 2018, where Currin joined the team. The goal was to bring all the data together to enable effective planning in the RapidResponse tool. He explains:
We were going to let Oracle and Kinaxis be the center of the supply chain universe. It gave us the connectivity we needed for these other great tools we had, but they just weren’t interconnected. So Kinaxis was going to be the thing that brought it all together. Real-time data was going to be one of the biggest benefits of this, we were going to be able to see everything, then we would know what the real moment of truth was, what the instance of truth was, at that moment.
Several different systems each feed data into a central data warehouse in the new setup. Oracle is the transaction recording system. There is a 3PL whose system manages the supply chain, as well as Salesforce as the sales recording system. There are two E2open tools – Zyme to extract data from distributors, while Clari analyzes Salesforce data in the data warehouse to calculate the probability that a Salesforce order will crystallize. A Talend system then pulls all the data from the data warehouse for analysis in the Kinaxis platform. An important new feature of the implementation is a connection to the Oracle system, through which Kinaxis provides promise dates to customers. At the same time, it sends Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) triggers back to vendors so they can pull inventory and ship it to Extreme’s warehouses at the right time.
After successfully completing the implementation, work continued to expand the capabilities of the system. Currin comments:
It’s not just one and done. You don’t implement, which is what we did in 2018, and then you’re done, because our users just have a lot of great ideas – or there’s a lot of disruption that’s out there – that drives us to continue to do development on the platform.
The good thing about the Kinaxis platform is that it’s very easy to build things on it without affecting the core functionality of the system. And, as new software releases come in, we’re able to integrate those new releases and all those enhancements that we keep making.
An example of such disruption is that, shortly after implementation, the US government introduced tariffs on equipment from China that was sold in the United States. This meant adding a new capability to the system that would identify where items came from and ensure that, where possible, inventory from China was sold outside of the US, while US orders were fulfilled from outside. other suppliers.
Critical Component Tracking
As the system evolves, two new features have been added, each of which allows even more worksheets to be removed. One is critical component tracking, which improves visibility of delivery times for critical components that OEMs use in the SKUs that Extreme Networks provides to its customers. The experience of supply chain disruption during the pandemic illustrated the importance of having this level of supply chain visibility. Currin clarifies:
We are not a manufacturer. We buy and sell at the SKU level. But these components are at a lower level than that. So our initial RapidResponse implementation wasn’t down to component levels – we didn’t need it. But here we are now with critical components, as a result of COVID, which forces us to better plan these components, or at least be aware of these components. We couldn’t see the impact on our revenue if any of these items didn’t materialize and weren’t delivered on time. We had a very laborious Excel-based manual process that allowed us to track this. We were able to remove the request for RapidResponse at the SKU level, but we were unsure how these components were affected by this.
For example, there are 180 critical components in the bill of materials (BOM) used by a manufacturer that affect 400 SKUs. These critical component BOMs are now tracked in Kinaxis, allowing for more insightful planning at the SKU level. He adds:
Normal RapidResponse processing now allows us to see this impact at the component level and what it does at the higher SKU level. We can play all sorts of scenarios with this – and if this one doesn’t happen, what’s it going to do to us? It turned out to be very effective. So we replaced those manual spreadsheets, we automatically calculated the data in RapidResponse, just using the basic functionality to do it. The ability to perform simulations is fair, I can’t stress enough how important this is in RapidResponse.
The other new feature reserves inventory for pipeline opportunities. Although there was opportunity visibility in RapidResponse, it was only a referral resource rather than something that could be scheduled – the system could only schedule confirmed sales orders. This meant that when it was important to reserve inventory for important opportunities, it was done manually. Currine explains:
We reserved this inventory manually when we bought it. We manage it on a Smartsheet. When the inventory arrived, we had to put it aside in a reserve slot. We were constantly adjusting this, as inventory came in, supply came in, opportunities turned into real orders…
We needed to be able to weed out those Smartsheets that we were trying to track all that information on at the time. We wanted to be able to eliminate that manual inventory that we had to set aside and reserve.
The new functionality means that a scheduler can set up a separate scenario in RapidResponse, where selected opportunities can be assigned as sales orders. The planner can then see the impact of these opportunities on confirmed orders. Currin concludes:
It works very well. No more manual Smartsheet, no manual inventory reservations and prioritized inventories based on the right orders or opportunities, as we wanted.
It’s good to see even more spreadsheets bite the dust. These workarounds are the consequence of previous generations of IT, when the priority was to introduce automation into specific functions, without thinking too much about how data and processes would be linked in the enterprise. Today, the priorities have changed and this automation can no longer work in isolation. This story at Extreme Networks is just one example of the new wave of investment taking place right now to connect data and enable more integrated processes across the enterprise.