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Given that accounts receivable (A/R) are essentially zero interest loans extended to customers, one might be forgiven for considering credit sales a necessary evil. Maybe one day crypto-currencies like Bitcoin will replace all other forms of payment, but in the meantime many companies have a ton of cash tied up in receivables. So how evil is your A/R?


According to a recent D&B study on payment practices in the US, only 53% of companies paid their suppliers within the due date.  The remaining 47% were late with 38% of companies paying within 30 days of the due date and the remaining 9% paying over 30 days late. Interestingly, larger companies are the worst offenders with only 10% paying within the due date.


How long does it take your company to turn credit sales into cash?  According to NAW’s Institute for Distributor Excellence, the typical distributor’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) is 46 days. As one of three measures required to compute a company’s cash conversion cycle, DSO is key in evaluating financial health.


Let’s review how DSO is calculated with an example using a monthly timeframe.  Company XYZ made $10.5 million in credit sales in January. At month end, their A/R balance is $12 million. There are 31 days in January, so Company XYZ’s DSO for January is a little over 35 days: 31*( $12,000,000 / $10,500,000 ) = 35.43


A more precise calculation of DSO would involve using the average accounts receivable in January rather than the balance at month end. If your company experiences seasonal business cycles, I recommend a yearly timeframe. As an alternative, trend the DSO by month {period} and compare the DSO of any given month to the same month of the prior year.


Assuming that collection policies are in line with industry norms, if your company’s DSO is higher than industry average then finding the underlying causes may surface performance improvement opportunities beyond collection activities. Supposing that product quality is not an issue, all business processes falling under the order-to-cash cycle need to be examined.


Evil A/R is a threat to cash flow! Fortunately you don’t need superpowers to tackle this villain.


Holding inventory is a way of life. Everybody carries inventory of some kind. In my home, the central supply location is the kitchen. In supply chain speak, my kitchen is a multi-bin facility designed to optimize labour and storage. I also have a separate supply location for specialty items which require refrigeration. This would be the products that fall into the dairy and meat category. Some items are critical. Running out of sugar is one thing but a coffee shortage will definitely disrupt operations.


Running out of coffee, however terrifying for my family, does not compare to the effect of inventory shortages on productivity and ultimately patient outcome in a healthcare scenario. Hospitals must play it safe by holding inventory to carry them thru probable spikes in usage. I use the word probable quite deliberately because probabilities play a big part in determining how much to invest in safety stock.


Variations in demand history provide an indication of the safety stock needed to maintain a desired service level. Another factor is variations in lead time. Planners use tools to assess the likelihood of a stock-out based on these statistics and set safety stock thresholds accordingly. Mathematically speaking, planners look at the extent to which an event, in this case a stock-out, is likely to occur.


Service levels represent the desired probability of a stock-out. A 95% service level translates into a 5% risk of completely depleting safety stock within an order cycle. Why not shoot for a 98% or 99% service level? Well, it comes down to money. Doesn’t it always? The difference in monies invested is substantial. As the service level increases so does the service factor used to compute safety stock. For example, an increase in service level from 95% to 97.5% will double the necessary safety stock. Retailers typically target between 90% and 95% service levels. In the end, individual organizations must determine what is economically viable for their circumstances.


My family’s coffee supply is managed using a simple 2-bin system. I keep two containers of coffee in my cupboard, when the first one is empty I open the second one and replenish the empty one. A simple, yet extremely effective method of supply for my morning cup of joe!

The fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better.
Barry Schwartz, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less”


I find it fascinating that today, in our personal lives or in business, we need so many things that we did not have before. I personally never thought I needed that much, but when I look back at when I started my career, I realize that today compared to then, I do.


Lately, with the advances that have been made around internet shopping, it gets even worse. I have never been a big shopper, but now I find myself buying all kinds of neat things that I (most of the time) really don’t need. Why is that?

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There is a famous anecdote about Volvo car dealers heavily discounting green models because consumers preferred other colors. Volvo’s manufacturing plant, seeing the resulting spike in demand for green models, perceived it as consumer interest and upped the production. That’s right…even more green cars! Ouch!!


It’s a sad story that’s often repeated, and a story that begins with a demand-shaping strategy to offload unwanted inventory. It’s a prime example of how a dealer’s {read distributor’s} behavior can create confusion and lead to unnecessary increases in a manufacturer’s inventory holdings and, by extension, the stock of its suppliers, too.  

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“No one ever achieved greatness by playing it safe.”


This quote is attributed to Harry J. Gray, an iconic business manager and philanthropist who, through acquisition, assembled one of America’s largest manufacturing corporations. During his career, he received numerous recognitions and honors and was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame. My guess is that Mr. Gray was an expert at risk assessment and containment.


Wikipedia defines risk as a consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty. Given that uncertainty is a fact of life in business, risk management is not only unavoidable but essential. In the context of inventory management, the most common risk strategy against stock-outs is to purchase extra inventory as safety stock.

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A lot of focus has been placed on advanced and predictive analytics, and rightfully so. I have written many posts and have spoken publically on the merits of advanced analytics for several years now.


What I find disorienting and misleading are marketers harping on how important it is to adopt advanced analytics right now. The thing that they just don’t get (or maybe they don’t want to get?) is that an organization will need to transcend a series of analytical maturity levels before they can truly capitalize on the benefits of advanced and predictive analytics.

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Good relationships are good for business. Building a relationship with a vendor takes time. It’s not uncommon for a buyer to work with the same rep for many years. They become friends, share stories and have a routine. That’s all good, right? Turns out the answer may be “not so much”.


Would a vendor take advantage of a friendly relationship? Probably not, but when was the last time you actually reviewed a vendor’s performance? Is your vendor still bringing good value? Are you challenging the status quo?

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Previously in this series I wrote that the principles of agile software development are more important than the development process (see Agile Software Development: It’s not a process). Consequently there isn’t just one correct way to do software development – the approach must be based on a careful examination of the needs of each project.

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Source: MIT Sloan Management Review

In my last post, I introduced the longitudinal study that MIT Sloan Management Review has been conducting over the past five years. From 2010 to 2012 they indicated that 67% of those surveyed believed that analytics gave their organizations a competitive edge. In 2013, that figure stabilized at 66% revealing the so called ‘Moneyball Effect’ where leaders lost their competitive edge that they once enjoyed because followers matured and made analytics core competencies. In 2014, that trend continued, falling to 61%.


But why?

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When supply chain professionals plan for future demand, their thoughts gravitate to meeting customer service levels while minimizing the amount of capital tied up in inventory.  Demand planning is about having the right product in the right place at the right time … right? Four occurrences of the same word would cause my old English teacher to shudder at this excessive use of a word in a single sentence. However, let us return to the important business of meeting consumer demand without incurring the cost of excess inventory.

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