Companies – especially those dealing with low-margin consumer packaged goods – face a daunting task accurately forecasting product demand and tuning their supply chain accordingly. "Even with the most advantage planning software, I've seen people get it wrong by 300% even 3,000%," says Mike Quinn, CEO of supply chain collaboration software company Eqos.
What they lack, he argues, is the ability to view activity in real time right across the supply chain, to share information with suppliers, to build alerts and react when significant changes occur.
Over the past four years, Eqos has been refining a supply chain collaboration platform, Collaborator, that has brought some of the largest retailers in the UK market – Sainsbury's, Kraft, Guinness, Kellogg's and others – closer to that goal.
The platform establishes many of the key technologies that retailers need to collaborate with their supply base: messaging, alerts, views, reports, rules, security and integration. On top of that, it provides a rapid application development environment that companies or (more typically) their consultancy partners use to create applications that span supply chain processes.
Sainsbury's, for example, layers Eqos Collaborator on top of its core systems to carry out predictive alerting, manage on-shelf availability and promotions, monitor the performance of suppliers, and analyse stock turns. The supermarket chain claims that it has seen a £2 million return on investment from lowering its supply chain costs.
Such Eqos applications are almost exclusively build by consultancies. In fact most of the company's handful of deals to date have come through its close relationship with the retail sector practice of Accenture.
Quinn now predicts wider acceptance, particularly in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing: "Everyone involved in the supply chain will need a collaboration platform in the same way as they need a database." But to exploit that Eqos will have to deal with its own area of unpredictability: how well its product can continue to outshine the offerings emerging from the large enterprise resource planning software companies.