In the world of enterprise resource planning and business software, demand planning tools are software programs that effectively forecast customer demand. This powerful capability allows businesses to plan better for future inventory and production. Demand planning is a common part of supply chain management and execution software systems that are aimed at enhancing how companies serve their customer bases.
In some ways, demand planning is similar to other forms of demand management. One of the key differences is that while other types of demand and supply chain processes control short-term management of customer demand, demand planning is most commonly a long-term feature. It helps decision-makers contemplate the demand that may occur in the future, not the demand that is currently happening at a given time. This helps businesses prepare for upcoming demand by having enough stock on hand. This can lead to an increase in sales, since they’ll be able to meet the demand. To that end, tools for demand planning often involve predictive analytics, or the use of current information to forecast what may happen in the future.
Demand planning is often a particular feature of a greater package for supply chain management and control. Demand planning is considered a part of supply chain management because the raw supplies that come in to company locations are kept to produce the products to deliver to customers when demand occurs. Demand planning can help, because it gives the company a better understanding of what will be ordered in the future.
Some experts describe demand planning as a “multi-step operational supply chain management process” that creates reliable forecasts for company use. Some of the steps of the process involve the aggregation of data for statistical forecasting, processes of confirmation with customers, and the ongoing examination of data to make sure it‘s accurate and gain insights for the long-term.
Examples of Demand Planning
Many software vendors offer demand planning features within their inventory management packages that show, at a glance, the statistical forecast for demand.
Infor is a big name in ERP that offers “high-level applications” for demand planning. This is in addition to a whole host of other supply chain management tools, many of which are aimed at short-term order fulfillment and tracking.
Other companies with demand forecasting and demand planning features include Infoplus and Slingshot, as well as a Microsoft Dynamics offering that includes a demand planning component.
Many of these tools present the demand planning information through a visual dashboard which makes it more digestible. Various bar and chart graphs show the forecasted demand and when it’s likely to occur. Companies can take significant advantage of this form of business intelligence by using demand forecasting and planning to generate better ROI and better product life cycles.
Generally, modern demand planning tools gather key information from inventory trackers and other sources and produce useful intelligence on demand forecasts. Algorithms help project forecasts from raw data. In some cases, machine learning components built into these programs can more effectively project what kind of demand is likely to occur based on past history.
The Role of Demand Planning and Forecasting Software
When we talk about forecast accuracy, it’s almost always a reference to predictive analytics and, more recently, Big Data and business intelligence. In other words, to make demand planning happen, you need powerful software with the ability to process huge volumes of information. Inventory and resource forecasts aren’t plucked out of the sky — they’re extracted from your data.
These insights are created when supply chain operators tell software solutions what to remove and isolate from reports, reviews, metrics, and surveys. They are then turned into actionable statements. For instance, if there’s a ‘peak’ buying period for your demographic, demand planning and forecasting software can analyze thousands of reports in order to identify it.
According to some experts, demand planning is best seen as a “multi-step operational supply chain process,” as it enables the supply chain to develop, even if it precludes it. Plus, it involves the aggregation of data for statistical forecasting (and recurrent review, so that it’s always up to date).
The Right Way to Integrate Demand Planning Software
Despite its importance in the supply chain, demand planning software continues to be misunderstood by many businesses. Industry research has revealed substantial gaps between system prominence and general levels of satisfaction. This is the case even though demand planning tools tend to be a big concern and warrant a large investment.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers continue to labor under the illusion that an ‘almost’ match is a good enough option. They fixate on the most expensive products, rather than looking for software with a solid data model fit. The real focus should be on tracking demand streams and drivers so that the technology provides the right kind of support for the operation.
To guarantee a great fit, take your time when shopping and consider the value of features like top down and bottoms up forecasting, causality, seasonality, and forecast value added analyses. Prioritize scalability, because your needs will change. It’s important to invest in a system that facilitates continuous improvement and effectively manages bias and errors.
How to Start Your Investment in Demand Planning
Knowledge is power when it comes to choosing software solutions. Therefore, it’s a good idea to do your own research and read up on the most popular providers. It should be noted that popular doesn’t always equate to quality. There are plenty of smaller, less talked about products that deliver brilliant results.
However, searching among the most well-known vendors is a great place to start. They got that status for a reason, so it’s logical to assume that they’ll deliver high performance. SAP, INFOR, Blue Ridge Global, and Epicor are just a few “best of breed” solutions. Don’t forget that demand planning software is usually provided as a part of a wider supply chain management system.
If you have little experience with demand planning and forecasting software, opt for a product with a simple interface. You’ll find that a lot of solutions use basic dashboard interfaces to collate graphs, charts, and diagrams. They clearly indicate forecasted demands and when they are most likely to occur. This will reduce your learning curve with the system, leading to faster use business-wide.
From a general perspective, modern demand planning tools extract key insights from inventory trackers and other metrics. With the use of complex algorithms, they convert raw data into actionable forecasts. If you have the right tools, you can incorporate machine learning functions and increase the accuracy of predictions by analyzing historical information.
The Top Demand Planning Software Vendors
To help you get started and find a suitable software solution, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite demand planning tools. As mentioned, many of these systems are included as a part of a bigger supply chain management product. SAP APO, for example, provides forecasting algorithms in combination with other supply chain functions from the same vendor.
Forecast Server, from Vanguard Software
Known throughout the industry as a best-of-breed software company, Vanguard Software combines advanced analytics with a market leading user interface to help companies develop their plans and forecasts while optimizing the S&OP process. This includes Demand Planning, Supply Planning, Inventory Optimization and Sales Forecasting. As a best-of-breed solution, Vanguard is constantly improving it’s platform to provide the most accurate forecasts on the market. The system allows users to create unlimited “what-if” plans at the click of a button, in addition to sharing those plans for collaboration and feedback. This improved communication and transparency is a critical component to the Vanguard platform.
Another reason that Vanguard Software is known as best-of-breed in the market is its use of advanced analytics, which includes, but isn’t limited to: time series forecasting, machine learning, AI, Monte-Carlo simulation and Stochastic Optimization. Now business users can leverage the benefits of these complex technical disciplines without being experts. Further, Vanguard Software is the only platform that supports grid computing for extremely high volume applications.
In the era of cloud delivery models, uptime and reliability have become more important than ever. Vanguard is the only provider of a real-time mesh network cloud delivery model. This guarantees almost zero downtime for end users. And with clients around the world, having a system with that kind of reliability is paramount. Vanguard’s global clients also enjoy a user interface that supports over 100 languages.
But of course, no matter what features a piece of software has, it’s not worth it if it doesn’t positively impact your business. Vanguard clients see substantial impacts following implementation. The cost savings through automation and improved business outcomes from predictive and prescriptive analytics in the Vanguard platform lead to a positive ROI in less than 12 months.
Oracle Demantra, from Oracle
Our second selection is Oracle Demantra, a demand management and supply chain tool created by Oracle. It’s designed to support and facilitate automated forecast processes by tracking demand alongside factors like inventory counts, supply limitations, client commitments, and more. With Demantra, it’s easy to take back control of your day-to-day planning routines.
There are three key components of this system. They are (1) Demand Management, (2) Real-Time Sales and Operations Planning, and (3) Predictive Trade Planning. The first, Demand Management, enables you to shape and refine new products based on the successes and failures of previous products.
With Real-Time Sales and Operations, you can build the foundation for a fully responsive sales system with the ability to drive best practices. Finally, Predictive Trade Planning offers a detailed sales and account planning domain that can be accessed and managed from one user-friendly interface.
Oracle Demantra promises reliable automated predictions, real-team visibility, increased customer satisfaction, and greater synergy throughout every supply chain process. The vendor is known for its commitment to providing complex tools, in easy-to-use formats. It wants users to respond quickly, learn how to minimize operational risks, and broaden their perspectives.
INFOR Demand Planning, from INFOR
INFOR is happy to let its forecasting software make some big promises. For example, it describes its Demand Planning system as a fast track to the clearest, sharpest view of customer demand, and the best way to turn analytics into a solid business foundation. It claims the software can help manufacturers move beyond basic short term predictions.
Like Oracle Demantra, it’s split into three powerful modules. They can be activated individually or assimilated to create a full supply chain system. The modules are (1) Replenishment Planner, (2) Inventory Planner, and (3) Demand Planner. Together, they offer a unified version of supply chain “truths,” so that you can make changes based on a comprehensive view.
The Demand Planner is designed to deliver precise “self-learning” predictions, with the aim of supporting demand tracking and forecasts. The Replenishment Planner is a great way to organize stock and distribution actions right the way across the supply chain. Finally, the Inventory Planner streamlines stock at distribution hubs to ensure numbers are adequate.
With more than 25 years of supply chain management experience, INFOR is a good choice if you’re looking for support. The provider has an excellent customer service team that’s happy to guide you through the integration process. INFOR Demand Planning aims to construct responsive and synchronized replenishment plans for all types of the supply chain.
APO, from SAP
If it’s a big reputation you’re looking for, they don’t come more impressive than SAP. Currently, the vendor is the number one provider of business application solutions and the third most popular software company on the planet. As part of its wildly successful supply chain management system, it offers Advanced Planning and Optimizer modules.
APO brings together a number of optimization tools, with the aim of increasing visibility while providing accurate forecasting. APO is made up of eight applications: demand planning, detailed scheduling, transportation scheduling, network design, supply network planning, production planning, global availability, and supply chain collaboration.
The Demand Planning component analyzes current and historical data to gain a detailed picture of market interest in your products. With the help of dynamic macro processes and statistical forecasting, it uses causal factors to determine how many products you can sell as long as you buy the right materials.
The thing to remember about APO is that it’s constantly strategizing. It’s able to conduct self-directed and pre-configured tests on forecasting models so that the parameters used to make predictions are always relevant and reliable. Plus, with the innovative “Cockpit” interface, you can access every major supply chain component from a basic three tiered screen.
Epicor Demand Management, from Epicor
The Epicor Demand Management module has been shaped to fit a changing world. Lead times are getting shorter, and orders are commonly becoming smaller and more frequent. In light of this, businesses must learn how to adapt to evolving markets and customers with increasingly complex needs. That’s why Epicor uses electronic data interchange (EDI) to shrink procurement lead times.
The result is faster, more accurate responses when it comes to production. With Epicor Demand Management, you can create contracts that tie sales orders and releases together. This is a great way to build customized schedules and incorporate automation features that allow for predefined periodicities and individualized shipping requests.
This means that, like SAP’s APO system, the software is capable of adapting to change over time. For instance, when advanced EDI is active, digital demand changes are automatically appraised before approval and engagement. For businesses working in fast moving markets like retail and motoring, this efficient flow of data is very valuable.
Epicor is committed to supporting supply chains of all sizes. The system incorporates a multi-site management design in order to cater to large businesses with multiple offices, warehouses, and distribution hubs. By taking control of supply and demand in real time, you can make sure that everything happening on the ground is worthwhile.
Voyager Demand Planning, from Logility
Logility promises to help businesses reach unprecedented levels of accuracy when it comes to forecasting. With its Voyager demand planning and forecasting software, you can combine next level scheduling with real-time inventory management. If integrated correctly, it has the ability to reduce cycle times, enhance service levels, and eliminate operational waste.
Voyager Demand Planning makes room for greater visibility, not just at ground level but for shareholders, affiliates, and customers, too. The software processes and extracts insights from syndicated industry data, consumption records, demand signals, and requests from partners and your target audience. You get to benefit from a true-to-life account of your sales setup.
Best in class forecasting tools are used to produce stock, sales, and marketing predictions according to the parameters you establish. Automated model transfers ensure that every stage of production and distribution gets matched with the best possible forecasting system. Logility is keen to stress the impact of a smooth integration with your existing ERP and SCM solutions.
For instance, it claims its demand planning module has a demonstrable effect on profitability. It achieves this by ridding businesses of wasteful inventory and reducing stock carrying costs. If you choose Logility for your demand planning software, you stand to gain a comprehensive, dynamic, and flexible solution that’s capable of supporting your business in its entirety.
JDA Demand, from JDA
Just like Oracle, JDA has designed its demand management module to be a “one number” system. With a focus on real-time accuracy, optimization, and departmental customization, it helps businesses run leaner, without compromising on service or quality. Most importantly, it wants to show users that multiple objectives and priorities can work together.
This is important because forecast goals vary depending on the department at the helm. For example, operations executives are concerned with keeping costs down and avoiding unnecessary expenses. However, sales departments are committed to making deals and, usually, letting others worry about the cost.
JDA Demand can help you bring these oppositional objectives together by creating customizable optimal consensus forecasts. It utilizes historical data, point of sale records, marketing intelligence, capacity parameters, and new product introductions to build up viable demand predictions.
You have the chance to transform your business and implement dependable processes that can be activated at speed. You can integrate responsive “plan, do, check act” functions to encourage and support the perpetual fine tuning of supply and demand scenarios. With demand planning and forecasting software from JDA, you can be better than you imagined.
Rapid Response Demand Planning, from Kinaxis
The demand planning module from Kinaxis is only available via its S&OP solution. According to the vendor, the best way to squeeze maximum value out of the software is to combine it with their Aggregate Supply Planning tools. However, as a standalone module, Rapid Response Demand Planning works to construct unrestricted consensus demand forecasts.
These forecasts make use of statistical models, but they apply several different perspectives and incorporate data from finance, marketing, and sales departments. All inputs are weighted and consistently attuned. Concurrent planning functions offer opportunities to unite demand objectives with supply chain and strategic capacity processes.
This makes it easier to perpetually track and tweak any parts of demand plans that carry risk or variance. If all of this isn’t enough to convince you, Kinaxis has a reputation for stress-free deployments. It builds all of its software solutions on best practices and standard process flows, so you’re guaranteed a quick and stress-free launch.
With a demand setup that’s based on collaboration, you can bring in recommendations from shareholders and team leaders from key departments. Together, you can work to control and minimize risk, as well as balance customer needs against the size, scope, and power of your supply chain. After all, the most successful demand plans welcome input from everybody.
SteelWedge, from E2open
In early 2017, software vendor E2open made the big decision to acquire demand planning company SteelWedge. The move was part of a bid to broaden its own S&OP functions by incorporating cloud-based planning solutions and services. Today, it continues to build on the legacy that SteelWedge created and has positioned itself as a rival to SAP’s APO system.
The SteelWedge PlanStreaming tools are designed to help businesses make the right choices when it comes to inventory, supplier networks, spending, and distribution. It’s a cloud-based module that offers an extra layer of scalability. The software provides recommendations based on time horizons, customers, business units, geographies, and more.
In regards to its rivalry with SAP, E2open points out that APO users are suffering from a lack of diversity and variance in their analytics. According to SteelWedge strategist Michael Keppler, they have to wait too long to devise test planning scenarios and load data. He promises to make cloud-based software an unbeatable solution.
SteelWedge leverages cloud technology, industry expertise, and sophisticated analytics to allow decision makers to collaborate on supply and demand processes. The overarching goal is to make more ‘first mover’ advantages accessible to businesses by providing the forecasting and planning tools needed to align all aspects of the supply chain.
Supply Chain Solutions, from Blue Ridge
If you’re looking for a solution that’s based on simplicity and ease of use, you might want to take a look at Blue Ridge. Its demand planning and forecasting modules are offered as part of the Cloud Supply Chain Solution. It leverages customer demand to produce dynamic predictions and enhance processes such as stock replenishment and allocation.
Blue Ridge is also great for identifying and phasing out surplus inventory, reducing logistics costs, and tackling many of the challenges associated with developing retail commerce channels. Ultimately, this demand planning and forecasting software is capable of evaluating every single transaction that travels through your supply chain.
It converts actionable insights into day-by-day, week-by-week windows on the business. With support from PrecisionPlanning technology, Blue Ridge skilfully transforms market interest into a carefully managed, fully optimized demand and supply chain plan. Furthermore, it’s shaped to fit the requirements of your company, rather than offering a cookie cutter model.
Blue Ridge is another good choice for businesses that want extra support. It offers a unique “Life Line” service that features supply chain consultants monitoring all internal activities. They’re responsible for reviewing your demand planning processes and identifying any potential problems. They can also mentor and guide your team as your new demand plans evolve.
Demand Planning and Forecasting, from GAINSystems
The demand planning and forecasting software from GAINSystems is able to produce reliable and unbiased demand pattern recognition functions. This allows it to manage and reduce working capital and inventory consistently. If implemented and used correctly, the demand planning module is also effective at increasing service quality and revenue.
The module takes in data from multiple sources, including business cycles, interest rates, and even the actions of rival companies. With these inputs and the error residual to them, inventory optimization is assured, as every data source is regularly reviewed. Algorithms, processes, and key performance indicators are at the heart of this system.
They’re manifested in things like algorithm tools for analyzing historical data, as well as statistical models for new product launches. There are processes and portals designed to convert raw, aggregate market insights into viable top or middle down strategies. KPIs can also be used to determine the efficacy of GAINS demand plans at an early stage.
By synchronizing planning across the whole business and supply chain, the Demand Planning and Forecasting software from GAINSystems slashes response times. It ensures that you’re always ready to meet the needs of your demographic. This system is highly regarded, and offers a comprehensive support service before, during, and after your integration.
The Final Word on Demand Planning and Forecasting
So, you’ve got a long list of possible options for when you decide to upgrade or replace your demand planning software. We recommend investing in a system with a broad range of functions, along with a simple interface and intuitive navigation. Ideally, you want the option to go deep and dig down into the intricacies of analytics.
However, you also want fundamental tasks to be efficient and uncomplicated. All of the vendors we selected are known for providing high-quality software activations. You can opt for a hands-off integration if you have some experience of forecasting solutions, but if you need support, your chosen provider can guide you through the process and help you combine multiple systems as well.