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Consumers more than ever push consumer products companies to provide continuous access to products, make inventory available anywhere, and to immediately ship orders.

That’s led companies to turn to software to speed up their business systems. Consumer products companies want to able to predict changes in demand, and technology can accomplish that, according to panelists from SAP and some of its most innovative customers and partners at this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW conference.

Here, I outline the top five presentations from the conference that show how high-performing consumer products companies are succeeding at meeting their customers’ demands:

Engage Consumers Through Omnichannel Opportunities in Consumer Industries

Businesses must adapt to meet consumers’ changing behavior, said Steve Fournier, executive vice president and chief customer officer of Discount Tire. Among his company’s customers, 50% own smartphones and 85% go online to shop for tires before they make a purchase. “If you’ve got half of your customers looking for information on a phone, you better be there with the right format to talk with them,” Fournier said.

You can, with the right software that tracks inventory in real time, said Michael Voegele, senior vice president, global IT applications for adidas AG. Although layout of stores might have to be modified to more efficiently fulfill online orders, with the right tools in place, businesses can engage online customers by offering access to all products available in inventory regardless of the location of the store or distribution center where they are stocked.

Use Point-of-Sale Data for Real-Time Consumer Demand Visibility

Johnsonville Sausage uses real-time reporting and advanced analytics on massive volumes of retail point-of-sale data with SAP Demand Signal Management powered by SAP HANA. To plan production, the company tracks information from point of sale, inventory, Nielsen syndicated data, social posts, and even the weather.

“We’ve got a perishable product. We need to be sensing demand much quicker. So if we … know what moved across the scanner yesterday, we have a much better opportunity to accurately plan, forecast, and deploy inventory,” said Paul Townsend, business intelligence administrator for Johnsonville Sausage, who detailed how his company uses software from SAP.

Improve Collaboration Through Integrated Business Planning (IBP)

Colgate-Palmolive Co. uses integrated business planning software from SAP and the SAP HANA platform to optimize the flow of toothpaste, toothbrushes, and mouthwash in response to consumers’ needs.

The global company began implementing IBP in 2013, and it’s now a big part of the company’s operations in Europe, saving $3 billion in costs. Colgate-Palmolive chose solutions from SAP because the software and platform can sense product demand daily, enabling production and distribution plans to be adjusted regularly. In North America, Colgate-Palmolive is preparing to launch integrated business planning with software from SAP that can track 25 million data points.

“We believe very strongly in this architecture. It helps smooth out the demand curve and volatility,” said Mark Vollrath, Colgate-Palmolive Co.’s global supply chain director.

Simplify Operations Using Integration Tools

The Coca-Cola Company is moving its hundreds of bottlers from independent business systems to common processes and technologies worldwide, built with software from SAP. The system, called Coke One, integrates service order management, sales force automation, mobile orders, vending route management, human resources, finance, and sales and production planning.

This end-to-end visibility is important to the bottlers who need to be able to quickly retrieve data that’s accurate, said Umesh Borikar, senior group manager and middleware architect, Coca-Cola North America Group. Previously, each bottler operated its own business systems, which did not integrate smoothly with systems Coca-Cola’s corporate units used.

“It [Coke One] makes it easy for end users. They can go in and see for themselves. … They have a lot of confidence in the environment,” Borikar said.

Optimize Your Company’s Transportation Processes

United Sugars Corporation manages shipments by rail and truck worth $300 million a year. That’s 4,000 rail cars a day, hauling bulk sugar produced by three producers’ cooperatives across North America coordinated by just three people.

How does the company accomplish this with so few employees? United Sugars switched to transportation management software from SAP and the SAP HANA platform. Roger Perala, director of business systems at United Sugars, said United Sugars chose transportation management software running on SAP HANA because the platform is easy to understand and use as a database. The technology makes it possible for the company to run with lean staffing throughout its organization.

“We are constantly looking at the system for exceptions and issues and errors, and what could be happening. And really our business process is such that the people are working off exception reports where there are issues – because if we tried to look through the whole system, it’d be too big,” said Perala.

Watch all of the SAPPHIRE NOW presentations for consumer products industry leaders.

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