Delayed Mercedes-Benz Sprinter

My MB Sprinter is delayed at least a month. It’s still in Germany “in production.” I had to call, email and call again over two days for Chad Clark, Mercedes-Benz, to tell me that from the original date of February 24 when the van was supposed to arrive in Austin at Sportsmobile, it looks like a month delay. Unfortunately, this new information lacks the specificity that inspires confidence.

Sprinter Manufacturing

Sprinter Mfg
MB Sprinter Manufacturing Line (from MB video)

I get it. Manufacturing a custom Sprinter is complicated, as documented by the Mercedes-Benz Video on Sprinter manufacturing. Hopefully, the new $500 million Sprinter factory in Charleston, S.C., which starts construction this year (2016), will ease the process for U.S. customers. I’m just as happy that I am getting mine from Germany. I’ve had the experience of buying a vehicle (an RV in fact) soon after the move of the manufacturing line from one state to another. Maybe my second Sprinter will come form Charleston.

 

Don’t Computers Do That?

In spite of the complexity in manufacturing a custom Sprinter, I would think that those brilliant Germans would have computers all over the production scheduling and control problem. And, that at a minimum, they would be able to give a customer  a current, accurate completion estimate. In most of my meetings with Mercedes Benz, “the computer system was down,” requiring that I be sent needed information later. What does that mean?  Am I just unlucky? Or is there a fundamental IT problem? Who is responsible? Being the nosey computer industry analyst that I am, I started researching at the top. I suppose Daimler’s CIO (Chief Information Officer) would hold the-buck-stops-here IT job. Daimler’s longtime CIO Michael Gorriz left Daimler in March 2015. Surely his past sweeping strategic IT decisions could not have been the cause of my little scheduling information problem. In my waiting-for-my-Sprinter boredom, maybe I’ll learn more.

Patience Is Overrated

I’m not patient and I never claimed to be. Further, patience, like humility and sharing are vastly overrated. Although I’m not good at any kind of waiting, I’ve done my best to wait patiently the past few months for my MB Sprinter — because I believe it will ultimately be worth the wait. I was given a firm date when my Sprinter would be in production in Germany, a firm date when it would be put on the boat to the U.S. and a good guess at when it would arrive in Austin at the Sportsmobile factory: about February 24. Relying on that schedule, I contracted manufacturing at Sportsmobile and started planning my RV travels for a few months later.

Oh, Well

I’m thinking that buying a custom van RV is a lot like building a custom house: one can expect schedule slippages and cost overruns. But, it will all seem worth it when you open the door for the first time, or in my case, when I load up my pug and my computers and embark for a not-very-planned journey to an out-of-my-rut place.

 

Building a Custom Camper Van

Building a custom camper van requires an adventurous sprit and much care in choosing suppliers. For the Sprinter, I wanted a Mercedes-Benz dealer near where I live, so I first had a few meetings and phone calls with Mercedes-Benz of Plano. I had the impression that the salesman there thought that trying to do business with a woman was a waste of his time. I guess he was right, because I moved on to Park Place Motorcars Mercedes-Benz Grapevine, which to date, has done a great job of helping me understand every feature possibility some of which are both non-obvious and critical to enabling my RV builder (Sportsmobile, Austin) to build the van of my dreams.

The steps I am following in building my camper van are:

  • Step 1: Choose the features of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
  • Step 2: After Sportsmobile checks features, order the Sprinter.
  • Step 3: Design the Sportsmobile additions.
  • Step 4: Wait several months for the Sprinter to be delivered.
  • Step 5: Finalize the Sportsmobile features.
  • Step 6: Wait a couple of months for the Sportsmobile additions to be done.
  • Step 7: Take delivery of a gorgeous little rolling house.

SprinterLike the one shown here, my Sprinter will be metallic silver, extra tall and standard length. One difference is that being 4-wheel drive, my Sprinter body will be about 4 inches more above the ground and tires. The interior will be empty except for the driver and passenger seats. Sportsmobile will finish out the inside adding the RV feature making the van into a little rolling house.

The finished RV will have a kitchen with refrigerator, microwave and cooktop. It will have a tiny but full bath. The two facing sofas  can be used for dining with a table between them, and at night they make into twin beds. Under one sofa are the house batteries, fresh water storage, gray water storage and other house systems. The second sofa storage is available for my personal things like pug food, computer displays, laundry soap and a change of jeans.

I am now at Step 4 — waiting for the van. I was told when I ordered it that it should leave Germany about Feburary 10th arriving at Sportsmobile, Austin about February 24 .

As to Step 3, I have done some rough drafts of the RV features and floorplans. Last September I traveled to Austin for a meeting with Paul Meyer at Sportsmobile for a quick but thorough review of the RV feature options resulting in a good rough plan. I expect to have another meeting with him about the time the Sprinter is delivered to Sportsmobile.

As I write this, I am waiting for Chad Clark, Park Place Motorcars Mercedes-Benz Grapevine, to let me know exactly when I can expect my Sprinter to arrive.

Could an App Build Market-Forecast Spreadsheets Worth Thousands of Dollars Each?

Of course, an app could build technology market forecasts worth thousands of dollars each. Microsoft Excel does it now but only with brain-numbing, tedious, repetitive effort by the forecaster. Could there be a better way?

Since the early 1990’s, my dream has been to build a specialized market-forecasting app with the following features:

  1. The app would have knowledge of market forecasting, such as, diffusion models as well as the mathematical relationships of quantities like installed base, replacement purchases and churn.
  2. The app would have knowledge of technology, such as, Moore’s Law, the Learning Curve and multi-generation products and services;
  3. The app would provide foundational data needed for most forecasts, e.g., for every country of the world: population, number of households and technology-in-use profile.
  4. The app would provide data about historical products and services that would serve as analogies for forecasting new products.
  5. The app would provide assistance to a forecaster in each forecasting step, e.g., choosing a geographical scope and regional structure, choosing a target market, potential market, penetration curves, pricing, and so on.
  6. The output of the app would be an Excel file that could be further tailored by the forecaster. The Excel file would be worthy of publication complete with table of contents, summaries and charts. The spreadsheet would include appropriate formulae for the forecasted quantities as well as a fact table for pivot tables and charts.

An app that would do all that would truly be a Forecast Joy app.

I have built parts of the Forecast Joy app again and again as a background activity to my consulting business, which until recently has occupied the vast majority of my time. About 1994, soon after Microsoft embedded Visual Basic in Excel, I started working on feature 1 above. I wrote a business plan for a product with features much like the list above. In the late 1990’s I implemented features 1,2 4 and 6 as an Excel Add-in. Unfortunately, it was a nightmare for users to install. I beta tested a version called “Bass Modeler” with Frank Bass’s students. The forecasting features were good, but the support of an Excel add-in on unpredictable versions of Excel was beyond me. I gave up on the add-in approach. About 2005, again I implemented features 1,2, 4 and 6 on the website bassbasement.org. I sacked that because the website lacked the interactivity that I had been able to accomplish with Excel. Because of support issues, I removed the forecasting features from bassbasement.org, which does still has some good information about the Bass Model.

But, I am stubborn. I didn’t give up. In 2014, I built this blog using Microsoft Silverlight as the delivery vehicle for the forecasting app. Although it runs from this website, the app, after downloading, is actually running on the user’s PC on top of the Silverlight add-in to Internet Explorer. Thus, unlike bassbasement.org, it does have reasonable interactivity. But soon bad news made clear to be that this direction had no long-term future because Windows 10’s Edge Browser does not support add-ins including Silverlight. Of course, Internet Explorer will continue to be offered, but with diminishing visibility. This took the wind out of my sails.

wp_ss_20160209_0001But, I am stubborn. I didn’t give up. When I retired from client work in late 2015, I decided it was time to stop dabbling with app development and get serious since, without client interruptions, I had time. I had been toying with phone app development for about five years and had done some cute Windows phone apps including a Bass Model calculator, which I would have released had there been enough Windows phones in the world to make it interesting. A couple of years ago, I explored using Xamarin to implement Bass Model Calculator as a app that would run on iPhones and Android phones and tablets as well as Windows phones. I became discouraged because, although phones are a fascinating app opportunity, Forecast Joy really needed at bigger screen. Further, I very much prefer writing programs in C# with the vast resources of .Net technologies so it was hard to get excited about phones or even tablets running iOS or Android.

But, I am stubborn. I didn’t give up. Windows 10 made my direction clear: I set out to build the Forecast Joy app as a Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app that would run on Windows 10 phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Since I think most Forecast Joy users will be on larger screens, this is perfect. To that end, since last September, I have been humongously focused learning Windows 10 UWP app development. That has included completing hundreds of hours of video classes and doing endless programming exercises to systematically become a seriously competent Windows 10 developer. I have a way to go, but for a semi-retired old lady, it beats knitting. I have an ugly version of Bass Model calculator running as well as the most ambitious to date version of the full blown Forecast Joy app. I haven’t had this much fun since … I don’t remember when.

Late last year, I considered getting into the market forecasting business still yet again; that is, selling forecasts and their associated market analyses. I am especially interested in forecasting the possibly endless number of products that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT). To that end, I bought the domain name iotresearch.com, which would be the business identity publishing market research about IoT. While working on IoT forecast models, predictably, I became more interested in the forecasting process and tools than I was in actually building a specific forecast model. Although I may return to that path sometime in the future, for now, my forecast joy lies in building the Forecast Joy app.

 

 

 

Bass Model Calculator Bug Fix: Years to Saturation Slider Label Now Updates

A meticulous reader pointed out this bug in Bass Model Calculator Online: when the p parameter slider changed, the years to saturation slider changed correctly, but the label did not show the changed value. Easy fix once I had a few coding moments, which have been very few lately as a client has been holding me captive. Thanks to the client for the freedom and thanks to the reader for the bug find.

FJBF1

 

New Forecast Futzer Measures: Subscribers, Shipments, Users …

An Adopter by Any Other Name …

This version of Forecast Futzer provides the following names for Adopters and Cumulative Adopters as measure pairs in a basic forecasting model:

  • Physical Product
    • Unit Sales and Installed Base
    • Shipments and Installed Base
    • Unit Sales and Devices in Use
    • Unit Sales and Systems in Use
    • New Adopters and Cum Adopters
    • New Users and Users
  • Subscription Products
    • New Subscribers and Subscribers
    • New Adopters and Cum Adopters
    • New Users and Users

The measure pair can now be selected in Futzer as appropriate for the product category being forecasted.  For example, if forecasting Things in an Internet of Things forecast,  Unit Sales and Devices in Use seem most natural.  However, if the number of users of Internet Things is being forecasted, New Users and Users would be more appropriate.  The numbers would be different in these two forecasts if, on average, each User owns more than one Thing.

In a basic model, as is now implemented in Futzer, the measure pairs listed above are mathematically equivalent so only the names in the model change, not the formulae.

Next …

Replacements, switchers, attrition and regionalization. And, someday, really fun things like generational diffusion models.

Attention Futzers: This Forecasting Tool Is for You

Quick and Dirty Futzing

For the benefit of futzers everywhere, this is version 1.0 of a tool for the most common forecast futzing problems.  It is for those who do not want to take the time and trouble — or do not know how — to build a diffusion model.

There is nothing wrong with futzing.  A futzed forecast embodies the opinion of the analyst about how a market will evolve.  A forecast is worth no more and no less than the forecaster’s resume plus the reputation of the company publishing the forecast.  Unfortunately, there are many forecasts sold that are not worth the bits they are printed on — but that has nothing to do with futzing.

Let’s face it — most published product sales and penetration forecasts are created by futzing with historical data and growth rates until the analyst deems the numbers reasonable — or they just run out of time.  Companies buy millions of dollars of market analyses containing futzed forecasts — so, who am I to argue.

Let’s futz.

How to Futz a Forecast

Using the Forecast Futzer tool, do the following:

Hold the mouse cursor over each item in the toolbar for a tooltip description.

Step 1. Enter the product category.

Step 2. Select the region.

Step 3. Select the starting year and the number of years.

Step 4. Select the model (e.g., physical product). Also, select the model subtype.

Step 5. Enter the required starting values in the yellow boxes.

Step 6. Use the sliders to apply growth rates to the starting values.  The top slider is the growth rate, which if the lower slider is zero, is constant for the forecast period.  The lower slider is the growth rate of the growth rate.  This is a commonly futzed item; for example, in a new product forecast the growth rate typically declines, which is indicated by selecting a negative value for the lower slider.

Step 7. Export the model including formulae and charts to Excel.

Definition of “Futz”

“Futz” means “to fiddle with.”  And, fiddling with the numbers until I have curves that sing to me about the future brings joy to my heart.  Go fiddle.

 

Forecast Joy’s Database Includes Products with Monthly and Quarterly Data as Well as the Usual Annual

How to Find a Product with Data of a Specific Intervals

IntervalDropDownUsing Bass Model Calculator Online, under the Product Database tab, use the lower right filter to select the interval (e.g., Monthly).  For some intervals, additional filters must be set to specify just one product. Once a single product is selected, the graphs and parameter sliders will update to reflect the parameters for the selected product.