The Mariner Blog
Posted: Dec 3, 2013Supply Chain
Although beverage distributor fleets can be very diverse, there are some constants, one of which is their trucks usually return to base every 24 hours. Returning home each night offers even more choices in what is a very complicated decision matrix when you are deciding what vehicles to dispose of and what to replace them with. Fueling at your base makes alternative fuels a part of your ROI calculations and perhaps the only CO2 you will be distributing is in a keg or bottle and not via a tailpipe.
CNG (compressed natural gas), LNG (Liquid Natural gas), PHEV, LPG (liquid propane gas) are typical options, but it isn’t just about fuel futures and carbon footprints, because now your ROI must include the capital costs of adding alternative fuel gizmos to the fleet and the investment in fueling stations. Those are all new variables apart from the old familiar ones of capital cost, resale value, driver attitudes (yes they do have them), maintenance costs, repair costs, service tech attitudes (yes they do have attitudes too). Beverage distributors have consumer attitudes and reputations within their communities to uphold and those too should to be included.
Once you consider the details behind the broad brush categories described above there are numerous options and decisions each with its own ROI, e.g. steel or carbon fiber tanks? The generic models already available may meet your needs, or simplify the ‘what if’ scenarios as you converge on TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and the CTA (cost to attain) fuel savings. This is when a decision management system can be jolly helpful.
You could capture the decision process in Excel, but then try explaining it to someone who wasn’t involved. Far better to use a decision management system where your thoughts can be articulated with English-like sentences, or described in decision trees, or truth tables that all connect with each other. Not only can those thought processes be captured and tested for a one-time fuel strategy, they can be recycled for every subsequent vehicle replacement decision. Linked to your fleet-accounting and route planning system, your decision management system can constantly look out for the tipping point and suggest a replacement vehicle.
And once you have made the move you can track the new versus the old to ensure route performance is not impaired and those savings you were promised are actually being delivered.
Posted: Nov 19, 2013Executive, Manufacturing
One of our clients is a manufacturing company that uses innovation and technology to effectively lead and compete globally in the automotive industry. Recently, Mariner helped them leverage data to support decisions made in their sales proposal process.
Their industry is unique in that educated buyers have sophisticated processes that help them understand specifications and expected costs for components that will be produced 18 months, or more, in the future. Because of specifications and should-cost analysis, their customers expect very competitive proposals from suppliers.
Leveraging data for competitive proposals
Our customer wanted to leverage data, both from their systems and from industry sources, to analyze their competitive proposals. They also wanted to reduce the risks associated with costs and quantity changes over time. Mariner worked with our client to develop a technology solution that would help them rapidly make decisions about commitments for delivery of future products. The application:
- Configures historical data
- Compares it with most recent costs and bills of materials
- Analyzes market data about expectations for their customer’s future global industry sales
- Provides a “current thinking” analysis for sales and finance to use when preparing proposals and negotiating orders
Current thinking analytics reduce manual efforts, so proposals that once took several weeks, now take only a few hours.
“Million dollar” difference
The objective of this technology solution is to help their sales and finance departments better forecast expected profit margins for orders beyond the current year. The sales leaders expect that this sales intelligence system will make a “million dollar” difference and enable them to compete more aggressively.
Posted: Nov 7, 2013Cloud, Events, Executive, New Technology
The world’s brightest minds in Decision Management convened at Decision Camp in San Jose a few days ago. Charles Forgy, the inventor of the Rete algorithm, Neil Raden, James Taylor and a host of other big name speakers were in attendance.
Carole-Ann Matignon, the CEO of Sparkling Logic, spoke about “Big Data vs. Big Knowledge.” During one of the interactive sessions, an audience member asked her an interesting question. “Why hasn’t Decision Management taken off like analytics and BI?”
Carole-Ann gave a thoughtful response providing some historical context of Expert Systems, Rules Engines and how things have evolved over the years. She went on to say, “After a bleak winter, it’s summer again for Decision Management . The market is no longer asking why use Decision
Shash presenting at Decision Camp
Management – like they were 5 years ago. Now it’s more about comparing vendor offerings and selecting the best match.”
In that regard, I am a bit skeptical whether the rest of the country is keeping pace with Silicon Valley and the West Coast, but I agree that things have changed. It’s no longer winter. The trend towards business user empowerment has caused forward-looking customers to jump in. Mariner was invited to present a solution we are building for a local company. Carole-Ann blogged about it here. If you want additional details, please contact me on Twitter @DataCzar.
Posted: Nov 1, 2013Executive, New Technology
Nearly every problem faced by an organization is exceedingly complex. The ability to make consistently good decisions in an uncertain environment is one such problem. The whole area of Decision Support (better known as Business Intelligence or Analytics) exists to help make this problem easier. While Business Intelligence is a viable solution – it has proved insufficient in ensuring that decisions are actually improved.
This is roughly how most organizations deal with BI today:
Step 1: Give employees access to data and tools
Step 2: Provide modest training
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Profit!!!
Self-service BI tools like Tableau and Power Pivot have helped but not solved the problem. With the launch of Power BI from Microsoft – Self Service BI has been increasingly commoditized. The barrier to entry from a skills or licensing standpoint is at an all-time low. In theory, everybody can have access to the data and tools. But the problem persists.
Why aren’t we taking better decisions? There are many reasons.
Changes in human behavior and business process are needed, you say. Yes, of course.
More training perhaps? Sure.
But that doesn’t lighten the burden of actually making decisions. Each decision taken by a human extracts a toll. It’s called decision fatigue.
Wouldn’t it be great if humans could focus on the few, really important and strategic decisions and automate the rest? Well, it’s possible. I like to think of it as the final frontier for Business Intelligence. It’s an area called Decision Management.
Decision Management starts off where Decision Support stops. Both approaches work well with one another and should be thought of as complementary rather than competing forces. While Decision Support relies on humans to make decisions, Decision Management helps automate them – taking the human factor out of the equation.
Over the next few months we will share more about how you can benefit from Decision Management. If you happen to be in Silicon Valley next week – stop by the Decision Camp conference to watch yours truly present a solution that Mariner is building. IBM’s Watson and Skynet have been put on notice!
Posted: Oct 31, 2013Executive, Manufacturing
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a presentation given by Mark Stull, the CFO and VP of Corporate Development at Liberty Hardware Manufacturing Corporation, a Masco company. The presentation was entitled, “Functional Excellence to Strategic Business Partner: The Transformation Challenge for CFOs and their Teams.”
I’ve known Mark for about a year and have witnessed his visionary and consensus-building style first hand. I knew I was in for an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation. But what struck me most about Mark’s presentation, aside from the well-placed football analogies, was the story about his desire and ability to transform his role of controller into innovator.
Case in point, his favorite business book, Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work by Robert Austin, and Lee Devin has nothing to do with financial calculations and everything to do with a “research-based framework for engineering ingenuity and innovation.”
In his presentation, Mark talked about how their focus on the order fill rate is designed to “delight the customer,” and how, armed with the right information, they have developed a “should cost model,” telling their manufacturers how much an item should cost to produce and allowing them to design to cost.
In many of these areas, Mark and his Liberty team have become so successful, they are now offering these types of services to other companies in the Masco family.
Mark closed his presentation, recounting a conversation he had with his CEO, in which they identified the key characteristics of a transformative CFO:
- Has an in-depth knowledge of the business, including the value proposition and the inner workings of sales and marketing.
- Brings solutions to the table – not just reports.
- Sets a vision of what could be, by being aspirational and making the finance department a catalyst for competitive advantage.
- Has a balanced view of the business environment, including being optimistic and realistic and specific reasons why in each case.
- Articulates and understands that the financials are an outcome of running the business, not an end in themselves.
What key characteristics of a transformative CFO would you add to Mark’s list?
And if you’d like to see Mark’s presentation deck, just contact me and I’ll send it to you.