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Demand Planning and Sales Forecasting Services
UK based Forecast Solutions provides specialist training and consulting services in order to improve methods and processes for demand planning and sales forecasting. We support companies across a broad range of industry sectors including food and drink, consumer electronics, other household and consumer products, pharmaceuticals and health care, building products and automotive.
Expertise covers both short term demand forecasting and medium range forecasting as needed for sales and operations planning. We are expert in time series forecasting methods such as exponential smoothing and also undertake causal analysis to create pricing models and to investigate the effects on demand of factors such as unseasonal weather and weather sensitivity.
With any forecasting method it is often true that finding the best method for dealing with seasonality is a major factor in maximising forecast accuracy. Also, dealing with the effect of promotions in the best way is vital for many businesses, particularly for FMCG. We are well equipped to advise on these subjects.
In terms of software we help companies make best use of existing software or can help choose a new solution if such is needed. A forecasting system can be provided in Excel or we can facilitate a software selection process. If internal resource is limited we can provide an outsourced sales forecasting service.
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Demand Planning Training
Demand planning training is a major part of the Forecast Solutions offering. The aim is to provide demand planning courses and workshops that are practical and non-academic, but sufficiently detailed to impart a detailed understanding of the most important demand planning methods. Demand planning training explores the typical role and activities of the demand planner. Different approaches to demand forecasting are explored, including subjective methods, causal analysis and time series forecasting. Effective methods for dealing with the crucial matters of seasonality, promotions and new products are discussed.
The most popular demand planning training course is the two day Demand Planning and Forecasting Workshop. This also includes a comprehensive guide to forecast accuracy measurement and covers the growing use of EPOS data, stock policy, safety stock and the management of abnormal demand. Demand planning training courses are independent of any particular forecasting software except in the sense that Excel is used in a number of worked examples, leaving delegates with a set of working templates for the most useful methods.
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Forecasting in Excel or other software
When the number of products and accounts to be forecast is relatively small we may be able to provide a forecasting solution in Excel. In doing so we make use of our expert knowledge of forecasting techniques and partner when necessary with Excel and VBA experts to provide a user-friendly front end. Forecasting in Excel has the advantage that the system can be closely tailored to the specific needs of the business and can include certain useful features not usually found in proprietary solutions. We have established methods to provide a two-level solution, for example SKU x Account and total SKU, and to support promotional planning. The total SKU forecast can be collected and put to use for stock replenishment planning.
If the scale or complexity of the forecasting task means that specialist forecasting software is desirable, Forecast Solutions can help in a number of ways. We can work with you to define the forecasting methods and system capabilities that are needed and draw up a software specification. Then we can help in a software selection process to facilitate your company's choice of the most suitable solution.
Causal Analysis including Pricing Models
Demand is often affected by causal factors such as price relationships, unseasonal weather or economic indicators such as GDP. It can be beneficial to carry out analysis to validate the importance of suspected factors and to quantify their effects. Such causal analysis can be an important element in the overall forecasting solution and can help define pricing strategy and other business strategy.
Forecast Solutions is skilled in the use of specialist statistical software to examine such vital areas as price sensitivity and the effects of economic leading indicators. Unseasonal weather can drive significant changes in demand, so a study to quantify weather sensitivity can be very helpful in forecasting.
Time Series Forecasting
Many sales forecasting systems rely on the simple forecasting methods of time series projection, thus analysing sales trends and seasonality in the history and projecting into the future. Both curve fitting and the commonly used exponential smoothing methods fall into this category.
In medium term forecasting such as for sales and operations planning, it is important to reflect product life cycles and expected changes in the competitive and technological environment. Short term demand forecasting and planning is more to do with detailed tracking and management of short term demand in order to minimise inventory and maximise customer service.
FMCG Forecasting and Promotions
The presence of past promotional activity in the historical data that is to be used as the basis for demand forecasting can cause problems in FMCG forecasting. It affects seasonal analysis, choice of forecasting model and setting the correct level of forecast demand. Therefore the sales history often needs to be cleansed of promotions before it is submitted to statistical forecasting.
Then there is the question of how to approach the promotional forecasting going forward. If promotions have occurred frequently in the past, a good option is to try to build promotional profiles through analysis of previous promotions. Otherwise a more manual approach may be needed. Sometimes it is helpful to keep the promotional forecast separate from the baseline.
Seasonality in Forecasting
Finding the best way of dealing with seasonality in forecasting is an essential element in sales forecasting for many businesses and can sometimes dominate the forecasting task. Seasonal analysis becomes harder as the data becomes more detailed, so it is often useful to use a GSI (group seasonal indices) approach.
Smaller time buckets also make the calculation of seasonal indices more difficult, therefore the task is more difficult with weekly as opposed to monthly forecasting. This sometimes contradicts an intention to improve forecast accuracy by forecasting in smaller time buckets.
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Improved forecast accuracy is vital in short term sales forecasting leads in order to lower stock levels, reduced operational costs and provide better customer service. For medium term forecasting, such as that needed for sales and operations planning, an accurate forecast is essential for best business and financial planning.
Forecast Solutions can carry out a forecast accuracy health check by measuring forecast accuracy achieved in the past and comparing with the accuracy that could have been achieved using improved statistical forecasting methods
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Forecasting Process Improvement
In a program for forecasting process improvement the first step is usually to understand current methods and assess how successful they are in meeting business objectives. Measurement of current forecast accuracy will play a part , together with exploration of potential gains in accuracy that might be achieved from forecasting process improvements.
The aim then is to identify improvements that can be made involving the forecasting infrastructure, methods and processes, with a view to improved forecast accuracy going forward. If there is significant benefit to be achieved by consideration of new or improved forecasting software, Forecast Solutions is well placed to help.
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If internal resource is not available, Forecast Solutions can fill the gap by providing an expert sales forecasting service. A number of alternative methods of delivery are possible, ranging from regular on-site visits to a full remote service, the aim being to complement existing resource in the best possible way.
In a fully outsourced service, specialist econometrics and forecasting software is brought to bear to provide a baseline statistical forecast that can then be reviewed and modified by those in the business with detailed commercial knowledge.
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