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Accurate forecasting is vital for supply chains in the COVID-19 era and beyond

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Accurate forecasting is vital for supply chains in the COVID-19 era and beyond 1

By Andrew Butt, co-founder and CEO of Enable,  a modern, cloud-based software solution for B2B rebate management.

All companies have to know how to prepare for an uncertain future – from shifts in the market and consumer behavior to the possibility of reduced revenue or increased overhead, it’s often necessary to adapt to changing circumstances as quickly as possible. This is particularly true when companies are attempting to navigate the economic consequences of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. If a company doesn’t have robust forecasting tools, it will continually be forced to respond to new developments and crises in a reactive instead of proactive way.

Forecasting is especially important for the management of rebate contracts, which are typically negotiated on the basis of last year’s performance and expected growth. This presents a significant problem for companies that aren’t capable of accurately predicting supply and demand or how other shifts in economic conditions will affect their business. This problem is even more serious in the COVID-19 era, which has thrown existing projections about consumer spending patterns and the state of the economy into disarray.

COVID-19 has been a stark reminder that rigorous forecasting is vital for negotiating rebates, facilitating alignment between manufacturers and distributors, and planning for the future in many other ways. However, despite the existence of increasingly powerful and accessible digital forecasting resources, many companies are still relying on antiquated methods to anticipate and prepare for the future.

The forecasting status quo isn’t working for many companies

Consumer behavior drives supply chains – when distributors submit an order to manufacturers, they do so based upon predictions about what volume of products and materials they need to satisfy demand. This is why it’s striking that, according to survey data from EY, only 20 percent of consumer products companies are “confident they can rapidly align their supply chain activity with changes in demand.”

At a time when 94 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies are experiencing supply chain disruptions due to the economic consequences of COVID-19, the ability to identify which adjustments are necessary to avoid costly inefficiencies and missed opportunities is paramount. However, too many companies are trying to make predictions with a limited set of tools. They’re using simple linear extrapolations which don’t take into account seasonality and other fluctuations (much less the effects of a crisis like COVID-19); many of their forecasting efforts are manual, which means they’re subject to human error (they also use up valuable human capital); and they’re not updated with the latest industry data or other relevant information.

But all these problems are solvable. Companies have never had more access to digital platforms that can help them collect and analyze the data necessary to generate detailed forecasts and align their production and distribution processes with the market.

Why forecasting is necessary for rebate negotiations

When a merchant or other distributor purchases products from a supplier, it’s important to determine which goods will be required in which locations and quantities. Rebates are retrospective payments that help buyers and sellers align their transactions with each others’ objectives – i.e., if a buyer purchases the seller’s target quantity, the seller can provide additional rebate as a bonus. This incentivizes continued trading with a partner and ensures that neither party is wasting resources.

Andrew Butt

Andrew Butt

While this may sound like a simple concept, rebate negotiation and management can actually be quite complex. For example, some rebates are based on year-to-year revenue growth, in which certain forms of purchases are eligible and others aren’t. Other rebates are contingent on an array of other elements, such as product-specific incentives and the maintenance of certain margins, promotions, etc. In these cases, forecasting is essential to account for many different variables over time, which will allow buyers and sellers to sign agreements underpinned by accurate pricing calculations.

When rebate forecasting is systematized and data-driven, the chances of a dispute are much lower. And if a dispute does arise, there’s an audit trail that allows companies to resolve it more quickly and fairly. The ability to predict which rebate structures and pricing make the most sense doesn’t just strengthen relationships between suppliers and distributors – it increases margins and cash flow, allows companies to allocate human capital more productively, and ultimately leads to stronger and more sustainable growth.

Accurate forecasting in the COVID-19 era

As economies around the world saw massive contractions amid COVID-19, supply and demand across many industries and sectors swung wildly. An analysis from the U.S. Federal Reserve pointed out that the “massive lockdown of the economy represents a large negative demand shock” while “supply chains in a number of industries have been affected not only internationally, with international trade in general greatly reduced, but also domestically, resulting in price increases for many goods and services.”

It’s extremely difficult to negotiate and manage rebates amid this economic uncertainty, which makes it much likelier that anticipated rebate thresholds (and the attendant pricing tiers) won’t be met. This could lead to a lack of motivation from buyers, which would result in lost profits all around. For some product categories, however, the recovery will be surprisingly fast, which means sales will quickly outpace their thresholds and pricing tiers (thereby eliminating the incentive to make rebate deals in the first place).

To address these issues, suppliers and distributors should renegotiate their rebate agreements after considering several potential scenarios for the next few months (and for 2021 more broadly). This is where technology comes in – digital rebate management platforms don’t just provide the ability to compare multiple forecasts, but they also make the process of renegotiation (and adherence to the terms of a new deal) more streamlined.

COVID-19 has demonstrated how important it is for supply chains to become as data-driven and flexible as possible, and forecasting is an integral part of that process. We’ll never know exactly what the future holds, but we can come closer to predicting it than ever before.

Business

Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line?

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Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line? 2

By Mark E. Brouker, Captain, United States Navy, founder of Brouker Leadership Solutions

Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line? We hear of the leader’s ability to influence others in powerful ways in politics, academia, sports, among other areas. However, in business, profitability is where the rubber meets the road.  How impactful is the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism in creating a healthy bottom line?

One of the truly remarkable and rewarding tours of duty I had during my Navy career was with a small group of highly motivated doctors and pharmacists from all three services – Army, Navy, and Air Force. These professionals were all hand-picked to join a newly-formed team which was directed to reduce the escalating cost of prescription medications provided for all Department of Defense (DoD) active duty (Army, Navy and Air Force) and family members. Our task was made more challenging because we were to reduce costs without decreasing quality of care. At that time, there were over eight million men, women, and children eligible for prescription medications throughout DoD. The annual cost was over five billion dollars and climbing fast.

Our boss, Dan, was a brilliant, hard-working, and extremely passionate leader who was highly respected by all. Dan cared for us and we cared for him. We were a tight group. We treated each other as family. Dan’s passion was contagious, and he quickly established a culture of caring, hard work and trust. We were poised for success. Because I was senior to other members of the team, Dan selected me to be his deputy.

The idea of creating a small team to bend the cost curve for the entire DoD pharmacy benefit was novel – it had never been tried before. While the team shared a genuine passion for this noble and ambitious undertaking, early wins were few and far between.

After the 6-month honeymoon period ended, enthusiasm was slowly replaced with frustration.  Every morning we’d meet with Dan to share the progress or, more accurately, lack of progress with our respective projects. It was slow and insidious at first, but sarcasm, frustration and pessimism crept into the meetings. A few of the more vocal naysayers would spew their negative venom and Dan and I would make meager attempts to mitigate the damage, or in times of weakness simply join in. These meetings frequently went much longer than scheduled, drained everyone of energy, and were generally recognized to be a waste of time. In short, neither Dan nor I led these meetings. We attended them. One could feel the energy, passion and trust dissipate like air leaking from a balloon.

Mark E. Brouker

Mark E. Brouker

It was clear that Dan and I needed to change our attitudes. We candidly discussed the culture of pessimism that we were creating and, more importantly, how it was sucking trust and the creative juices from the team. Over a handshake, we agreed to help each other curb our negativity and celebrate small victories that were indeed happening. We’d address the challenges, but not mire in them. We agreed to not let anyone hijack the meeting with their negativity.

We were more careful in the words we chose – we rid ourselves of cynical remarks. We were careful with our body language. No scowling or worried looks. Above all, we focused on staying positive. We’d invest a few minutes before meetings to reflect on past successes, however minor, and mention them at the beginning of the meeting. We’d then address the challenges, and close each meeting with a reminder, once again, of past successes.

Frustration and pessimism were slowly replaced with enthusiasm and optimism. Wins starting coming. More wins followed. Within 2 years, our small team was saving DoD over $100 million annually with no reduction in quality. Our small team was recognized within the industry as a center of excellence. Our success was nothing less than stunning.

How did this happen? It turns out that Dan’s and my behaviors had a much more profound impact on our team members than we could have ever imagined. In fact, studies have shown that the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism directly impacts their team members level of enthusiasm and optimism. Why is this the case? A study by Gallup found that employees who are supervised by highly enthusiastic leaders are 59 percent more likely to be enthusiastic than those supervised by unenthusiastic leaders.[1] In other words, the leader’s behaviors, in this case optimism and enthusiasm, are contagious. Further, studies have indeed shown that businesses led by enthusiastic and optimistic leaders were significantly more profitable than those led by apathetic and pessimistic leaders. [2] [3]

Can a leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism really impact the bottom line? Unquestionably the answer is yes. The leader’s ability to influence in politics, academia, sports and yes, profitability in business, is profound. Those businesses led by leaders who understand, respect, and embrace the strong correlation between the leader’s level of enthusiasm and optimism as it relates to performance and profits – and most importantly practice these behaviors – are at a distinct competitive advantage.

Be a great leader – lead with enthusiasm and optimism.

Mark E. Brouker, Captain, United States Navy (retired), Pharm.D., MBA, FACHE, BCPS, is founder of Brouker Leadership Solutions, and author of Lessons From The Navy: How To Earn Trust, Lead Teams, And Achieve Organizational Excellence. For more information visit http://www.broukerleadershipsolutions.com/.

[1] Gallup, “State of the American Workplace, 2017.” Accessed February 12,2020.

[2] Michael Bush, A Great Place to Work for All (Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2018), 26

[3] Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1999), 40

 

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JPMorgan to launch UK consumer bank within months

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JPMorgan to launch UK consumer bank within months 3

LONDON (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co will launch a digital consumer bank in Britain under its Chase brand within months, the U.S. banking giant said on Wednesday.

The bank said the new business had already recruited 400 people and would offer a range of products, including current accounts.

The UK venture will be led by Sanoke Viswanathan, who has been named chief executive. Viswanathan was previously chief administrative officer for JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank.

The digital bank will be headquartered in London’s Canary Wharf financial district, with customers supported from a new call centre in Edinburgh.

Reports about a likely tilt by JPMorgan at the UK consumer market have been circulating for around a year, but the bank had publicly disclosed few details.

“The UK has a vibrant and highly competitive consumer banking marketplace, which is why we’ve designed the bank from scratch to specifically meet the needs of customers here,” said Gordon Smith, CEO of consumer and community banking for JPMorgan.

(Reporting by Iain Withers; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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European regulator clears Boeing 737 MAX airliner for return to service

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European regulator clears Boeing 737 MAX airliner for return to service 4

(Reuters) – Boeing Co’s modified 737 MAX airliner is safe to return to service in Europe, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said on Wednesday, lifting a 22-month flight ban after two crashes of the jet which caused 346 deaths.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said it had “every confidence” that the plane was safe following an independent European review of changes ranging from cockpit software to maintenance checks and pilot training.

“Let me be quite clear that this journey does not end here,” Ky said in a statement.

“We have every confidence that the aircraft is safe, which is the precondition for giving our approval. But we will continue to monitor 737 MAX operations closely as the aircraft resumes service.”

Regulators around the world grounded the MAX in March 2019, after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet five months after one flown by Indonesia’s Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea. A total of 346 passengers and crew members were killed in the two crashes.

The United States lifted its ban in November, followed by Brazil and Canada. China, which was first to ban the plane after the second crash, and which represents a quarter of MAX sales, has not said when it will act.

Relatives of some crash victims have strongly criticised the move the clear Boeing’s best-selling airplane.

EASA represents 31 mainly EU nations, excluding Britain which formally left the bloc this month. Britain is expected to issue its own separate approval on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Rachit Vats; editing by Jason Neely)

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