How MCA Solutions Should be Remembered

Executive Summary

  • MCA has been acquired.
  • What are some of the important MCA solutions contributions to supply chain planning software and what will happen to the MCA product?

Introduction

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. Some 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 significant contributions for which MCA Solutions should be remembered.

My Exposure to MCA Solutions

I first attended MCA training in 2007, which was 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 the product was how I first became educated in inventory optimization and multi-echelon planning (MEIO). This is a topic on which there is also a 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 critical contributions of MCA Solutions.

A Sampling of Their Ideas and Contributions

MEIO Innovation

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 finished goods planning, that I have used (MCA’s solution was also forecasting in a way specifically customized for service parts). A few of the reasons that MCA’s application was so powerful are listed below:

  1. By leveraging MEIO, which is more powerful and controllable than other supply planning methods (MRP/DRP, heuristics, allocation and cost optimization), the application was able to control the supply plan very precisely.
  2. The application interface was compact, with easy access to different screens.
  3. 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 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 primary 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 the 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 an alert system — in that it told planners where to focus. It also required no configuration and was an out of the box capability.

Redeployment

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 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.

Simplified Simulation

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 user-friendly, 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 in which many vendors have a 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 known as controlling service levels, by capping inventory investment, MCA allowed companies to stock their network based on their budget.

While inventory optimization is known as controlling service levels, by capping inventory investment, MCA allowed companies to stock their network based on their inventory budget. This is actually quite realistic, as companies do track the amount of their inventory investment and are given objectives to reduce the inventory investment as much as possible. However, with MCA one could manage the inventory investment quite specifically.

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 high attention to detail. Many vendors could learn from how MCA documented their product.

Synopsis

From any angle one would wish to view these items, these are significant contributions, and this is not even the full list.

Conclusion

Things change. However, I will miss MCA Solutions. They were a real innovator, and had a great vision and executed on this vision exceptionally well. MCA showed the benefits associated with focusing on one area. Many of their consultants were not the only expert in MCA software, but they also knew service parts planning inside and out. Their software and their people got me to think about things differently on a variety of topics than I had before. While MCA did not exist as an independent entity for that long (although software companies tend to have shorter lives than most other companies), their innovation should be remembered.

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References

https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2366

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