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Monday, January 16, 2006

New Source of Bread (or is it alphabet soup)

For those who actually read "What I do for a crust" and then noticed that I don't do that anymore (am now doing Disaster Recovery Planning), I have a further update.

One year of Disaster Recovery Planning has been enough for me. I've applied for, and gotten a new position as an SAP Application Specialist. What's SAP? Which application? What's so special about it?

SAP is an Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) application.

--You might notice that ERP is one letter in the alphabet away from DRP, so we might expect that at this rate I'll be working in FRP next year. That could be Fibre reinforced plastic, or Forestry Research Planning, we'll see... --

ERP is just a fancy computer program that helps large industry get the right materials to the right place at the right time. It's almost that simple. But the level of detail these ERP programs get into is impressive, and that's where it get complicated.

The specific part of SAP I'll be working with is Advanced Planner & Optimizer (APO)
APO concentrates on Demand Planning and Supply Planning (D&SP). Demand Planning is like forecasting; taking into account last year's demands and the current year's promotional activities and then forecasting, for example, how many Fluffy Yogurt Cups we'll need to manufacture. Supply Planning drives the purchasing to get the materials and ingredients to the factory floor at just the right time. Manufacturing Planning(optimizing the production line) and Distribution Planning(scheduling trucks/logistics) are subsets(?) of Supply Planning. I'm hoping to specialize in Manufacturing Planning because the idea of optimizing a production line floats my boat. Toyota manufacturing guru Taichi Ohno sums it up nicely:

"....Ohno used the analogy of manufacturing being like a river full of rocks. The water level in the river represents inventory and the rocks represent manufacturing waste. The aim of the Toyota Production System, says Ohno, is to continually drop the water level and expose the rocks, so they can be eliminated. The rocks of poor quality, long set up times, poor factory layout and so forth all must be eliminated to turn the factory into a smooth, rapidly flowing stream of production."

Translated from Japanese to English things can come off sounding profound (or like total gibberish). Maybe I'm wrong, but after I get neck deep in the job I might put it a little differently; "manufacturing planners are like a dredge. They suck the crap out of the river to maintain a passable channel." That doesn't sound quite as nice, but I'm betting it's more accurate to the day-to-day of manufacturing planning.

Having said that, you might wonder why I went for the job in the first place. I can answer that in one simple acronym: SAP. SAP carries a certain cache in industry. Being a trained application specialist for a recognizable company will be as close to actual job security (i.e. a career) as I've ever been. I'm looking forward to having something that is broadly marketable and recognized.

P.S. You might have noticed I haven't defined what SAP stands for: Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte.

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