What This Article Covers
- What are some of the important MCA Solutions contributions to supply chain planning software?
- What will happen to the MCA product?
- What can other companies learn from MCA?
Servigistics recently acquired MCA Solutions. This is an important development as the two companies were the top two software vendors in the service parts planning space. A number of articles will certainly cover the strategic angle of what this merger means for the service parts planning software market, however, in this article I wanted to focus on some of the important contributions for which MCA Solutions should be remembered.
My Exposure to MCA Solutions
I first attended MCA training in 2007, which was just a month or so after my first introduction to the company. After attending training at their headquarters in Philadelphia, I worked on an MCA implementation for a year. During that year I learned quite a bit about their application, and used their software, read through their documentation and interacted with MCA consultants. My interaction with MCA’s people and product was how I first became educated in inventory optimization and multi echelon planning (MEIO), a topic on which there is also an SCM Focus blog, and for which I have a book coming out which highlights several important features in MCA’s product that helps demonstrate concepts related to MEIO (MCA screenshots are included in the book, but they will now be described as Servigistics screenshots).
What Will Happen to MCA’s Application?
The MCA Solutions product will eventually be discontinued, and some of the functionality will be ported to Servigistics’ service parts planning product. Because the MCA application will not exist as a product far into the future, I wanted people who had not worked with the product to know some of the important contributions of MCA Solutions.
A Sampling of Their Ideas and Contributions
MCA was one of the first MEIO applications. MCA was founded by Morris Cohen, a highly regarded academic and sometimes consultant, and along with the people they brought in, they were able to implement in a commercial product something that had previously been primarily of academic interest.
A High Degree of Control Over the Supply Plan
MCA developed one of the most powerful supply planning applications, either in service parts planning or in finished goods planning, that I have used (MCA’s solution was also a forecasting in way specifically customized for service parts). A few of the reasons that MCA’s application was so powerful are listed below:
- By leveraging MEIO, which is more powerful and controllable than other supply planning methods (MRP/DPR, heuristics, allocation and cost optimization), the application was able to control the supply plan very precisely.
- The application interface was compact, with easy access to different screens.
- The application’s parameter management was one of the easiest to review and change of any application that I have worked with. Parameter maintenance is one of the most underrated areas of supply chain application usability, and a major maintenance headache with many applications, however MCA made it look easy to develop a straightforward way to adjust configuration data. It was actually very simple, and I have wondered several times why more companies don’t copy it.
MCA’s solution had an excellent combination of a mathematically sophisticated backend, with an easy to use frontend. This is one of the main goals of advanced supply chain planning software generally, and it is infrequently accomplished.
Alerts and Recommendations in One View
MCA developed an ability that I had never seen before, which was the Network Proposed View. In this view, which is shown in the upcoming book, sorted the recommendations by their contribution to service level. It is a combined straight analytical view on the application recommendations (Procurement Orders – so-called “New Buys,” Repair Orders, and Stock Transfers, so-called Transshipments and Allocations) as well as alert system — in that it told planners where to focus. It also required no configuration, and was literally an out of the box capability.
MCA had mastered redeployment, something which all service parts planning clients need, and many finished goods companies also need (but often refuse to admit, the comment on this topic often being “we just need to improve our forecast, and we won’t need to redeploy“). MCA’s redeployment was also highly customizable, and could be very specifically tuned.
MCA’s application was an excellent simulation environment. It displayed two planning runs results right next to each other in the user interface. This allowed a planner to keep one result, and then make adjustments, and rerun the optimizer with new service level or inventory parameters. The planner could then perform a direct comparison between the old and new runs. If the new run was not an improvement, a few changes could be made, and then the optimizer could be rerun and the simulation would be overwritten. This provided simulation capability in the same screen as the active version, and made it very easy to use. This is another area which many vendors have hard time making user friendly, and which MCA had mastered.
Optimizing Service Level or Inventory Investment
The MCA MEIO optimizer could be run bi-directionally. That is it could maximize service level and cap inventory investment, or minimize inventory investment and cap service level. While inventory optimization is generally known as controlling service levels, by capping inventory investment, MCA allowed companies to stock their network based upon their budget.
Clear and Highly Educational Documentation
MCA’s documentation on its solution was top-notch. Through accumulating research papers, books and other sources, I have a large library of MEIO documentation, and MCA’s Principles of Operation in particular may be my favorite MEIO document. In fact, I still frequently refer to MCA documentation when I have a question about how MEIO or service parts concept can be implemented in software. MCA had both functional and technical documentation, and all of it was extremely helpful and was written with a high attention to detail. Many vendors could learn from how MCA documented their product.