Supply chain planning and modeling for decision-support: approaches and techniques

Февраль 16, 2023 Anastasiya Malinovskaya

Supply chain planning and modeling for decision-support: approaches and techniques

Successful supply chain management is impossible without proper planning. However, supply chain planning is not as easy as it sounds. It starts way back with managing the raw material suppliers and goes right up to the moment a product is delivered to a customer. And it can go even beyond that – to returns, recycling, and reverse logistics.

In this blog post, you are going to learn about various supply chain planning challenges on strategic, tactical, and operational levels, and dive deeper into planning done with modeling.


  1. Supply chain planning challenges
  2. Supply chain planning levels
  3. Strategic tasks
  4. Tactical tasks
  5. Modeling for decision-support
  6. What is a supply chain model for strategic planning
  7. Key takeaways

What are the main difficulties in supply chain planning?

Any large company has a plan for sales, production, purchasing, and sometimes transportation of products. However, few of these plans can be rigidly linked because, in most cases, they are made separately from each other and in different measurement units.

For example, a production plan may be in tons, a sales plan in dollars, and a shipping plan in a number of freight cars or containers. Therefore, it can be hard to understand how many freight cars and containers needs to be shipped to transport all the products.

This happens because each department of the company aims at solving its own problems and looks at the business from its own point of view.

End-to-end supply chain management with integrated planning

End-to-end supply chain management with integrated planning

Depending on the type of business, specific problems can vary greatly from company to company. However, the general trend of disparate data and lack of information exchange between departments is very common. The world's most successful companies have long gone from siloed to integrated business planning with the concept of Sales and Operations Planning.

But a company might not be ready for integrated business planning. How can it then approach supply chain planning?

Supply chain planning levels

Usually, companies do supply chain planning at several levels, namely strategic, tactical, and operational. Each level differs in its objectives, planning horizon, and level of detail.

Compared to the operational level, strategic and tactical planning are crucial to successful supply chain management. The so-called Pareto's law could be applicable here as 20% of efforts in strategic and tactical planning brings 80% of the total effect. On the other hand, errors made on the strategic level happen to be the costliest ones.

Here's what you need to know about strategic and tactical planning to make the most of them and mitigate risks.

Supply chain strategic planning tasks

This type of planning usually covers a several-year time horizon. It influences the creation of policies and procedures for procurement, manufacturing, and logistics to meet a long-term plan of the company.  

When developing a strategic plan, a company identifies the major product groups it offers to the market and the potential demand for them. It also designs the supply chain structure that will help to meet the demand. The strategic level addresses supply chain development and restructuring challenges, investments in production and warehouse modernization, reduction of logistics costs, and so on.

Supply chain’s on-map view in anyLogistix supply chain optimization software Supply chain network’s structure in anyLogistix supply chain optimization software

Network design: a supply chain’s on-map view and its network’s structure (click to enlarge)

During strategic planning, the management can get answers to questions like:

  • Where is the best place to locate production to enter a new market?
  • Where to source raw materials or components from?
  • Is it more profitable to buy raw materials or produce them?
  • What actions should the company take in case of a drop in demand?
  • What is the best way to organize distribution across multiple tiers?

The most important financial and investment decisions are made at this level, therefore their impact on the businesses’ bottom line is substantial. That is why supply chain strategic planning is considered a critical component of supply chain management.


Tactical planning covers a mid-term horizon (over several months or quarters) and involves regular supply chain analysis based on updates. Informed by sales forecasts and demand projections, supply chain managers make production, distribution, and warehousing decisions.

The typical tasks would be to:

  • Decide whether to use third-party logistics or a company-owned fleet.
  • Estimate future service level based on demand, inventory and other data.
  • Analyze demand fulfillment.
  • Analyze potential supply chain risks.
  • Make inventory management decisions.

With the company’s finances at stake, the question is how to do supply chain strategic and tactical planning with minimal risk. For that, a solid approach, a risk-free environment for testing, and digital tools at hand are needed.

Supply chain modeling for data-driven and informed decisions

At strategic and tactical levels of planning, it is necessary to consider many factors and constraints, numerous indicators, types of costs, and connections between them, as well as to understand the supply chain structure.

When something in a supply chain changes, a company would need a tool to test different options and safely look into the future. Supply chain modeling is perfect for this task.

Although Excel is one of the most common tools in supply chain management, it has limitations. Spreadsheets fail to describe all intricacies of a supply chain network, connections between its elements, and factors that could affect operations.

More complex computer supply chain models allow a company to create different scenarios, compare them with each other, choose the best solution, and justify the choice. To build these models, companies could use supply chain planning software could be used, and anyLogistix is an example of such a tool.

Supply chain model for strategic planning – with facility location example

A strategic model operates with generalized and aggregated data, and the re-planning cycle is relatively long (from several months to a year or more). So, how does it work?

The supply chain strategic planning approach

Suppose you have a real management problem. For example, this could be a facility location problem where you are trying to decide where to locate facilities and which quantities should be shipped from the facilities to the markets. 

The next step is to transform the real problem into a supply chain model. For this transformation, you would need to reduce the complexity, or in other words, simplify the reality. As an option, you could aggregate demand into fixed quantities instead of considering fluctuations in demand.

Supply chain problem-solving workflow with modeling

Supply chain problem-solving workflow with modeling

The supply chain strategic planning tool

In the described case, the facility location problem is formulated as a mixed-integer linear programming model that can be solved with the help of algorithms in a tool such as anyLogistix.

The software will calculate the solution. In this example, the solution would include suggestions on new facility locations and product quantities that should be shipped from each opened facility to each market. The software would find the best solution in terms of total production and logistics costs.

But can you take the solution and present it as a managerial decision? Not always.

The software provides you with a solution to the mathematical problem. But to transfer this solution into managerial decisions, usually management expertise is needed.

Here you would need to review the simplifications of reality you’ve made for the model. Then in the analysis you should consider supply chain risks, flexibility, and so on. Because of the need for managerial expertise these supply chain models are called decision-supporting, not decision-providing.

Supply chain planning and modeling – key takeaways

With their differences and unique traits, strategic, tactical, and operational planning are of utmost importance for successful supply chain management. However, when it comes to the strategic and tactical levels, the companies should be especially thorough and ensure their decisions are based on data, not on a gut feeling.

Supply chain modeling is widely used in the industry for all levels of planning, particularly strategic and tactical. It gives companies room for testing their hypotheses and supply chain-related changes as well as solid data to support business decisions.

Delve into supply chain optimization and simulation – two of the most applied technologies to develop network design strategies and solve complex supply chain problems. Read our white paper to find out more about these tools.