Infosys, the global IT services company with an offshore model, held its annual Infosys Connect conference last month. Two directors from a very large consumer packaged goods (CPG) client spoke during a track session for analysts.
Like many Western multinational firms, this company’s growth will largely come from developing countries, where the company has a goal to acquire 1 billion new customers. But running an efficient supply chain in these regions is very difficult. There are many very small retail outlets, which are really little more than store fronts, and they have no supply chain technology and are served by small distributors with limited technology.
This CPG company is using the Distributor Edge platform developed by Infosys, a combination of technology and managed services, to drive more efficient forecasting, trade plans, inventory management, and fulfillment. This company has achieved double-digit improvements in case fill rates and is using Distributor Connect to improve fulfillment to emerging market distributors that account for 70 percent of its dollar volume in these markets.
But the presentors did not say how this system worked, so I talked to Sanjay Nambiar, the Platform Head for this solution, to dig into the details.
In developed nations, getting data via EDI from leading distributors about what they are selling, to whom, their inventory counts, and which goods are being promoted to whom, is a standard operating procedure. In developing countries, however, the barriers to obtaining this information from distributors are not just technological–they don’t use EDI for the most part–but cultural and structural too. The entrepreneurs who run these companies want to know what is in it for them. Any solution must have minimum barriers for the distributors and show them how sharing data will improve their sales and margins.
First, let’s examine the business case for the distributors. Infosys has sold this solution to three large multinational consumer goods companies. Sanjay claims that the distributors using this solution at the behest of those three multinationals are averaging a double-digit increase in revenues associated with those manufacturers’ products, with improved case fill rates, and a 3-4 percent drop in inventory. The manufacturer identifies the distributors, but then it is up to Infosys to close the deal.
This is not, strictly speaking, a Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) process. But it is close. In some developing markets, anti-dumping laws prohibit a manufacturer from shipping product to a customer without getting an order approval first. But the manufacturer can provide the distributor a suggested Purchase Order (PO) with what their analysis shows to be an optimal order from a demand replenishment perspective, and then make it easy for the distributor to confirm the PO. Infosys personnel do the forecasting, suggest products they think will sell well that may have a better margin than what the distributor is currently selling, and even look to see if the distributor is close to a truckload size order (which will generate a discount) and make suggestions about what to add to get the discount. The suggested multi-echelon replenishment orders occur on a daily basis. For distributors with multiple warehouses/branches, the suggested orders also contain information on which products and product quantities will go to which warehouses. There is also reporting that lets a distributor see how they are doing now versus in the past.
The other key piece of this solution is using managed services to drive timely and accurate data transmission. The distributor may choose to share their inventory and associated data via fax, spreadsheet, or EDI. Infosys personnel will massage this data and get it into their system in the correct format. If data on the returned PO looks incorrect, or if the distributor is not responding in a timely manner, Infosys personnel will make every effort to contact the distributor, including by mobile phone, to rectify the situation. The coverage is global in nature, with personnel who speak the local languages.
Infosys tells me the heavy lifting around Distributor Connect is not the software; it is the managed services. Without managed services, you would never be able to drive large scale adoption and usage.
Finally, and this may seem obvious (although it wasn’t to me initially), if the distributor base is increasing their product revenues associated with a particular CPG company by double digits, and these distributors represent a great majority of sales in these markets for that CPG company, then the manufacturer is also in all probability experiencing double digit growth in these markets. This is a case where supply chain excellence drives sales.
(Note: Infosys is an ARC client)