Why Capacity Management Matters to Business Executives

July 1, 2009
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bucketIn a challenging global slowdown, the world seems awash in capacity. Scans of major business publications show airlines reducing flights, companies furloughing or firing employees, and manufacturers closing plants. If you agree that it appears there is more unused capacity than demand, why should capacity management matter?

It would seem in the “Great Recession,” capacity planning and management should be a minimal consideration. In fact, capacity utilization for many industries is at an all time low.

For example, from January 2008 to January 2009, according to the Financial Times, the demand for automobiles in the United States fell from 15.9 million to 9.6 million per year. And Wall Street Journal reports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Budget Committee recently, “The slack in resource utilization remains sizable”.

As companies attempt to cope with a “new normal,” painful restructuring processes have included reducing “capacity” in human resources, plants and equipment, information technology, number of brands, distribution channels, and even debt covenants. All this restructuring is intended to pare down capabilities to what is perceived as a ..

bucketIn a challenging global slowdown, the world seems awash in capacity. Scans of major business publications show airlines reducing flights, companies furloughing or firing employees, and manufacturers closing plants. If you agree that it appears there is more unused capacity than demand, why should capacity management matter?

It would seem in the “Great Recession,” capacity planning and management should be a minimal consideration. In fact, capacity utilization for many industries is at an all time low.

For example, from January 2008 to January 2009, according to the Financial Times, the demand for automobiles in the United States fell from 15.9 million to 9.6 million per year. And Wall Street Journal reports Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Budget Committee recently, “The slack in resource utilization remains sizable”.

As companies attempt to cope with a “new normal,” painful restructuring processes have included reducing “capacity” in human resources, plants and equipment, information technology, number of brands, distribution channels, and even debt covenants. All this restructuring is intended to pare down capabilities to what is perceived as a new reality in market conditions.

Indeed, observing macro-economic conditions, it’s tempting to write off “growth.” However, “growth” is far from dead.

Take for example, the exponential growth trends of Facebook and Twitter. In January 2009, Facebook touted its 150 millionth user, and in May 2009 surpassed 225 million users! One site projects Facebook to have 300 million users by the end of the year. Twitter’s growth has also been phenomenal—audiences grew 40% in just 30 days (March-April 2009).

In fact, “growth” exists (often exponentially) in areas such as data volumes, populations, energy usage, Moore’s Law, GDPs of select countries (India, China etc), education expenditures, and unfortunately—state and national debts!

Growth also can be found in micro-segments and categories such as increases in market share of private label brands vs. national brands on grocery store shelves, or Apple’s share of the smartphone market. Once our eyes are opened to growth trends, it’s quite easy to see signs of expansion everywhere!

The ability to meet the needs of your customers now and in the future is a critical function of any business. That’s what capacity management is all about. Spikes in demand could mean that your company is leaving money on the table and/or failing to meet customer needs. Need proof? For customer reaction, simply perform a web search on keywords “Twitter down time” or “Twitter outage” and you’ll gain evidence of how important capacity management really is.

Indeed, capacity management isn’t a one-time, annual event. It should be a continual process of making sure your business can scale up or down to meet customer needs. With a thumb on the pulse of demand, marketers have a responsibility to help establish a well documented capacity plan and process that considers future business requests.

Sound like simple, common sense, right? Properly predicting demand is anything but easy. Considerations must include a clean and accurate set of historical data, an analytical infrastructure to compute and analyze data, an understanding of the current state of the business and its capabilities, future growth projections based on applicable trends, and then a gap analysis of what it would take to scale based on various “what-if” scenarios.

Capacity management is all about reducing surprises. Take a good, hard look at your business. What’s growing? Something surely is.

What marketing campaigns are you preparing? What happens—for goodness sake—if they’re too successful and demand exceeds available supply? McDonald’s in India had to scale back marketing campaigns for Chicken McNuggets because they couldn’t keep up with demand. Good marketing is making promises your company CAN deliver.

Can you accurately predict if and when you’ll run out of resources to meet customer needs? Can you afford not to properly manage “capacity”?

Questions:

• There appears to be a glut of capacity worldwide (i.e. shipping, telecommunications, manufacturing etc.). Should marketers be concerned with the concept of capacity management?
• What are the ramifications of getting capacity management wrong?
• Businesses are adding flexibility to meet spikes in demand through vehicles like cloud computing, temporary labor and outsourcing. Can you think of others?
• Suppose “capacity management” is built into the function of an annual strategic planning exercise. What might be a pitfall of this approach?