Translated interview from Voka (in Dutch)
Wommelgem-based OMP is active worldwide in the niche of supply chain planning: the entire chain from the supply of raw materials through production to the delivery of finished products to the customer. The company has more than a thousand employees and fifty nationalities, supporting as many as one-third of the global Supply Chain’s Top 25 companies. It is no surprise that the research firm Gartner has rightfully positioned OMP in the category of industry leaders.
“OMP develops and implements in-house software solutions to organize, plan, and streamline the supply chain within a company or across companies,” CEO Anita Van Looveren explains. “Companies have every interest in ensuring a perfect connection of raw material supply, production, and delivery to customers. We map out how that supply chain is best organized in close consultation with our customers and according to their business strategy.”
But OMP goes even further. “We added an ‘industry layer’ to the basic software. That allows us to address very specific planning challenges by industry. For example, over the past decades, we have gained extensive sector experience in life sciences, chemicals, consumer goods, metals, and paper & packaging. We offer customized consulting and support to all these sectors. We configure the solutions in our software, which we then implement for our customers. We guide the planners in using the system and provide aftercare.”
Things are moving tremendously fast for the company: from a small start-up, OMP evolved into a market leader, with an annual turnover of nearly 200 million euros. Anita Van Looveren has been at the helm of OMP for more than 30 years, although she fell into it by accident.
“I studied Applied Economics at Ufsia in Antwerp with a specialization in Econometrics. After my studies, I became an assistant at the Faculty of Engineering at KU Leuven and became involved in master-after-master Industrial Management. There, I was initiated into the wonderful world of operations research,” she says. “I was always fascinated by quantitative methods to solve business problems.”
“One day, a vacancy appeared on the notice boards for an operations research consultant in Brasschaat, announced by Professor Georges Schepens. At the time, he taught product management and logistics at the University of Namur. He had developed optimization software to solve scheduling problems with a colleague, and he wanted to market that idea.”
“And that’s how we started, in a villa in Brasschaat. I was the first consultant. It was very exciting in the beginning: as yet, we had no documentation, no training materials, and no customers. There was nothing except for our software. Our first customers came from the world of academia. Only then did we actively seek out companies to help them with the optimization of their planning. That’s when the ball really started rolling.”
The importance of software in supply-chain planning has grown solidly in recent years, and technology hasn’t stood still either. “Previously, we used a mathematical tool and customization to solve a partial problem at a particular plant,” says Anita Van Looveren. “Now our customers want an end-to-end solution with standard software for their entire multinational company and more extensive applications such as forecasting, logistics planning, production planning, inventory management, etc.”
”As a result, our offering has broadened to a total package that allows you, as an entrepreneur, to make operational, tactical, and strategic planning decisions. Operational decisions as a function of the current order book, tactical decisions to adjust the capacity of a plant to market developments, for example, and long-term strategic decisions.”
“We deliberately invest a third of our sales in R&D to keep on top of developments.”
"All of that was only possible because of the increasingly powerful computers that have come onto the market,” adds Marc Scherens. At OMP, he is the Director of ICT, Cloud & Customer Services. “We unburden our customers by offering all of our products in the cloud. For example, they do not have to invest in their own servers, database infrastructure, or computers. In that way, we can monitor the entire planning environment, including the infrastructure from OMP, and customers can subscribe to our software offerings.
“In the beginning, there was some hesitation among customers to get on board with such cloud solutions. But, in recent years, these applications have boomed, and everyone is on board. With our software, a company has improved visibility on the entire supply chain. This allows for more efficient and agile management.”
Then again, none of this was possible without the implementation of artificial intelligence. For OMP, specifically the explainable AI or XAI for short.
“We have since arrived at a point where we can have supply chain models generated automatically based on all available data,” says Product Innovation Manager Broes De Cat. “Among other things, AI helps us predict changing market conditions through demand sensing. For example, you can predict how the demand for certain products will evolve based on posts on social media, weather changes, changes in buying behavior, etc.”
“In fact, we have been working with AI since the early days of OMP,” says Anita Van Looveren. “However, at the time, the model spat out a solution that was mathematically correct but often difficult for the user to understand or explain. That is the so-called black box. If we can’t fully follow the creation process, it makes us suspicious.”
“With XAI, the same algorithms are used, but the system tries to clearly explain or visually demonstrate how it arrived at a particular decision,” Broes De Cat explains. “We are also fully committed to generative AI. It will allow you to give the system even more complex commands, which will allow us to support our planners, consultants, and software developers even better. Opportunities are being added every day. “We deliberately invest a third of our sales in R&D to keep on top of developments.”
OMP has also grown into a really international story over the past few decades. Hence, in addition to its head office in Wommelgem (Belgium), the company now has branches worldwide, including in all neighboring countries, the United States, China, Brazil, India, Ukraine, Spain, etc.
OMP can also boast a broad international customer base, which includes BASF, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Johnson & Johnson, ArcelorMittal, VPK Packaging, and others. “Essentially, we started locally on isolated projects in the Benelux. Then, we grew along with our customers who were themselves building an international network,” says Anita Van Looveren.
“We want to expand our services even further in a green direction, including a focus on reducing CO2 emissions.”
“To be able to guarantee a 24/7 help desk, being active across different continents is also an asset,” adds Marc Scherens. “By the way, this year, we will have been in America for twenty years, with 200 employees.”
“Our growth is mainly abroad,” confirms the CEO. “China remains an important growth market, but in recent years, India has joined it. We ended up there primarily to attract talent. But, in the meantime, we also started working seriously on the Indian market.”
How does Van Looveren view the company’s future? “Supply chain planning remains our main focus. We want to continue to offer top service to industrial sectors,” emphasizes Anita Van Looveren.
“In addition to the implementation of artificial intelligence, we also want to further focus on sustainability and green planning. “Naturally, this is already happening abundantly by constantly organizing our customers’ supply chains more efficiently. “We want to expand our services even further in a green direction, including a focus on reducing CO2 emissions.”
“Also, we want to focus even more on smart & autonomous planning: resolving disruptions in a smart way without human input.”
“In late September, the OMP Conference was held in Barcelona for all our customers with agility and sustainability as the theme. “We wanted to let them see that we are committed to sustainability and can respond quickly to a very changing volatile market,” concludes the CEO.