AI Solutions for SMBs: Removing Barriers to Enabling Digitalized Decision Making for Small Businesses
For supply chain leader iGPS, Optilogic has injected true optimization and effective scaling into the equation
The terms “scaling” and “optimization” have become so commonplace in conversations around brand building and business growth that they almost feel like buzzwords — concepts we equate with improving our business, but without much context or detail. In truth, scaling and optimization require careful planning, strong decision making skills, and typically, an investment in better tools.
For Florida-based iGPS, a company that provides pallet pooling rental solutions to manufacturers, Optilogic has helped to unravel exactly what it means to scale and optimize and to do so with a tailored, cloud solution that fits the budget for most small businesses. Today, the company works with more than 100 leading manufacturers who ship the company’s recyclable plastic pallets to over 2,000 locations. These figures represent tremendous growth since the company’s founding in 2006.
“Like many small businesses, and I would even say large businesses, the modeling, the forecasting, the planning is often done in a series of disparate tools that were developed over the years.”
Jonathan Parks, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain at iGPS notes that like many small businesses, the company used tools like Excel for a while, but over time, these solutions proved to be too limited in scope. “These spreadsheets have limited capabilities,” Parks explains. “They limit the depth of calculations and complexity that you can solve for — Excel can only handle so many algorithms, and eventually, it’s difficult to feel confident it’s yielding the correct results.”
That’s where Optilogic comes in. Parks says the company knew that stakeholders needed to make thoughtful choices to solve increasingly complex supply chain challenges. “We needed not only to know where inventory will be when orders are placed, but also how to select which nodes to effectively turn on, turn off, and link together,” he says. Optilogic's Atlas design studio was used to tailor a solution that combined advanced algorithms used for forecasting along with optimization solvers to better flow products, both to the customers and back to the warehouses.
One significant challenge facing iGPS was the inherent seasonality of various customers’ supply chains. Atlas helps the team forecast for that seasonality, even making data-based predictions beyond the information available from clients. “We want to make sure we are building efficiency into the supply chain at every step,” Parks says. “Optilogic AI-driven modeling allows us to do that. We’re able to keep our average length of haul down and provide added benefits to our pooling network partners.”
Optilogic has also given iGPS granular insight into how best to optimize various operational aspects. Parks says that optimization at iGPS has meant changing the way the company runs at the root level in some cases.
“We changed the transportation modes that we have, looked at carriers and other partnerships, inventory issues including how much backstock or safety stock we should have, and so much more,” he says. “All those levers that we can pull, help us better serve our customer base.” Atlas has given Parks and his team access to advanced solvers with the ability to run scenarios that test new policies to understand the impact on cost and service. And doing so on a weekly cycle enables a planning by design mindset - operationalizing the design decisions as demand, cost, and other levers change.
In an Uncertain World, Tailored, Agile Solutions can be the Difference Between Failure and Success
Agility is the name of the game in the modern era of business. Being able to pivot seamlessly in environments that are constantly shifting can set a company apart from the crowd. Whether it’s adapting to workforce shortage challenges or navigating a major environmental event that’s impacting the global supply chain, it’s critical to be able to shift quickly without sacrificing efficiency, quality, or client service. The good news is that bringing on the right tools can make those pivots feel effortless.
While companies are forced to adapt to the limitations and features of off-the-shelf solutions, Atlas actually adapts to each unique client. This tailored approach allows SMBs to quickly implement the solution in ways that complement and augment existing systems in a way that makes sense of the many thousands of data points that must be considered.
Victoria Ma, Digital and Innovation Lead for Miebach Consulting’s North America division (an Optilogic partner), points out that cloud-based solutions like Optilogic’s design studio, Atlas, are easy to set up and feel harmonized, smooth, and effective in a short time period after implementation. Because Optilogic is 100% cloud-native, Miebach's team used a test environment to work through model and business workflow tuning, and could expose the user to the test environment to validate the fit with the customer experience. All without hardware, software, or significant changes to the current business workflow.
“We use Optilogic to design specific forecast engines that help to leverage internal and external data focused on forecasting,” she explains.
“We can tailor to specific regions, specific customer channels in terms of pallet demand and we know what we can expect from each region and each retailer.”
Our AI-driven, cloud-based solutions facilitate the kind of agile thinking that empowers companies like iGPS to act decisively even in the face of complexity and uncertainty. Parks says his team needed to find partners that were flexible and capable of solving problems with “out of the box” approaches. “We knew what we were going to be asking for wasn’t straightforward,” he says.
Planning by Design: How iGPS is Using Optilogic to Take Planning From the Screen to the Street
With Optilogic’s professional services and supply chain design software, Parks says, his team can approach planning comprehensively, to answer a wide range of potential scenarios. What if the company increased their pallet pool through manufacturing? What if they decided to partner with a specific retailer or third party? How could iGPS reduce time and supply chain? “All those scenarios allow us to make the decisions that we’ll go and implement with the customer base and retail partners,” he says.
Theoretical planning is one thing, but Parks needed to make sure his team could take what he calls the “screen” version of the company’s action plan to the reality of the “street.” “We needed to be very tactical when deciding how to implement the changes that would really impact our business,” he says. “That’s where you look at things like how we balance our network.”
Ma says Optilogic solutions can be run on a weekly cycle, locking in decision-making points for upcoming weeks. “It’s different from other types of design or planning tools on the market that might provide annual or monthly insights,” she says. “Here, you can see the pooling model requires more ad hoc decision-making. It’s more down to the operational level in terms of volatility and dynamics.” Atlas provides the accuracy needed to create more frequent analysis and data insights.
Those insights fuel optimization at a granular level. Ma says these solutions can solve optimization questions about where to send and receive shipments and through which delivery company and when to implement direct-to-customer shipping, for example. “We can save a double handle or a touch in our network, based on lowest cost,” she explains. “We can determine the cost to serve end-to-end and accurately balance network inventory to avoid more of those double handling and transfer scenarios.”
Optilogic’s solutions can adjust forecasts based on workforce restrictions, physical location constraints, and other aspects of the supply chain to arrive at the most cost-effective solutions. When details shift, as they so often do, Ma says issue forecasts can be adjusted to match new data points to see how they will pact total downstream inventory.
Parks understands the constantly shifting nature of modern supply chain operations at a base level. “We know transportation rates are going crazy, and there are varying hypotheses for different rates. We can also use this network-planning model to understand the corresponding impact and how to have the least impact possible by moving around specific assets in a network,” he says.
Optilogic provides Parks’ team with detailed outputs, including “how the pool works in a network from Node A to Node B for what type of product, the actual allocation of the volume to different depots and different customers, the cost reported on a detailed lane and customer level, and also all the service and tradeoffs among cost and service.”
Partnerships That Foster Authentic Collaboration Are Keys to Success
Ma says that there is always room to improve when it comes to supply chain management. “There are always areas to adapt to changes in business — that’s the reality of business, and we’re actually there together,” she says. “We didn’t just throw you out all those open library hours someone found on Google.”
Ma says Miebach works with Optilogic using applied research and the expertise of data scientists who represent various teams to select the models that best match each business. Navigating the adoption period successfully, she says, is key to adapting AI for SMBs. “We work with people so they truly understand the technology while we gain true understanding of the business and combine them together,” she says. “The key is that collaboration — it’s the driving factor.”
For SMBs, Every Dollar Matters — It’s a Good Thing Optilogic’s Data-Driven, AI-Enhanced Solution Won’t Break the Bank.
Every business works within budgetary constraints, but for SMBs, the stakes can be much higher. Prudent spending is crucial for smaller companies. Technology solutions often represent huge chunks of SMB budgets, so the choices made about which solutions to invest will significantly impact these companies’ bottom lines.
“It doesn’t always have to be a multimillion dollar solve,” Parks says. “It doesn’t have to be something you’re doing on your own. Our partnerships here have allowed us to achieve our budgetary targets and our project targets.”
Parks says his team implemented Atlas alongside other projects with relative ease. “It doesn’t have to be this nebulous of a project that is so complicated to understand that it’s iterative,” he says. “When you operate in this more nimble fashion of problem-solving, together, you can do it relatively quickly.” Parks says his team has also been able to leverage resources they wouldn’t have found on their own.
“These are the reasons we selected the partnerships with both organizations,” he says.
Optilogic can help solve your biggest supply chain challenges, gain better insight into your current models (or create new ones), and simulate a variety of scenarios to test its strengths and weaknesses. Not on a monthly or yearly basis, but in real-time. This allows you, and companies like iGPS and Miebach Consulting, to get a more accurate, holistic view of a supply chain. Interested in learning more? Let’s chat.