Solving The Data Challenge In Manufacturing With Easy Integration

Operationalizing data to gain the insights manufacturers seek was previously prevented by a disjointed, disconnected infrastructure, but these organizations no longer have to navigate their hodgepodge of technology to harness the power to plan for better business outcomes.

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Dave BrunswickDave Brunswick

Manufacturing of any kind is an extremely well planned process. From early idea stages and prototyping to the purchase of bulk raw materials to the full-scale hiring and production, little happens without long-term vetting and planning.

Careful planning keys the never-ending pursuit of automation, process improvement, and quality management in manufacturing, because even the slightest efficiency improvements can have significant competitive and financial gains for high-volume manufacturers. More specifically, modern manufacturing execs constantly angle for innovative ways to:

  • Reduce costs
  • Capitalize on analytics for production efficiency
  • Juggle outsourcing and near sourcing
  • Proactively manage risk
  • Streamline inventory management

And that’s where the mountains of data enter the equation.

Manufacturers would be more than happy to invest in things like a new press to create their widgets, a new conveyor belt on the dock to move more of those widgets, or another piece of equipment that helps build and sell more widgets. But before those purchases happen, these organizations must move and manage the volumes of customer, partner, supplier and logistics data that sustain the operation on the back end and tell execs exactly when to make these purchases.                

With today’s ever-increasing data volumes and data sources, even robust managed file transfer (MFT) and EDI integration technology, while essential to every manufacturing organization, are no longer sufficient because of all the other types of data and applications these organizations must integrate for a full view of the organization. Thus, solving the overall integration problem starts with breaking companies’ bad habits of accumulating technologies.                                

Getting it right, then, can have a major impact on the bottom line. Today’s integration technologies better inform the planning process and actually increase revenues by connecting and consolidating applications, reducing redundancies, better managing the supply chain, and eliminating bottlenecks. With a proven integration platform, the secure, reliable movement of data becomes just as crucial — and lucrative — as the machines in a factory and skilled laborers on the floor.

How We Got Here

The digital boom of the 1990s brought about a lot of new technology pieces to address individual business problems. Software and service vendors concentrated on solving single problems and rarely offered a full suite of solutions for related challenges, so organizations over time accumulated multiple, disparate technologies to run their business on a daily basis.

So for years, companies including manufacturers have been forced to take a piecemeal approach to such critical IT needs as application integration, B2B integration, and data integration using different products from different vendors to solve each integration challenge. With these different products come different interfaces and often, distinct skill sets — with a different skill set needed for each product. Add to that the need to manage configuration, onboarding, governance, operation and maintenance, and you quickly need an army of people to keep the lights on.

You can already imagine the cost and complexity of managing these systems, and this is before confronting the fact that these systems (and probably people) do not adequately communicate with each other. Anyone seeking to extract full end-to-end visibility from such a siloed, pieced-together ecosystem for a comprehensive business view would be looking for a while.

Various attempts have been made to pull together these disparate integration solutions under one umbrella, including the rise of the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) in the early 2000s. While some large organizations have had success with this approach, it has not been without significant organizational effort and cost, and has ultimately led to only a partial solution to the problem.

The ESB provides a common software bus that various solutions can plug into and does offer some improvement in visibility, but it does not solve the issue of multiple interfaces and skill sets, and has proven complex and expensive to implement, making it really only suitable for the largest and most disciplined organizations.

It may in fact be no one’s fault, however, that we ended up here, but it actually is someone’s fault if this “spaghetti” infrastructure continues its unwieldy ways while better solutions are delivering better processes and results to the competition. A pervasive integration platform delivers all the power to connect and integrate your complex B2B, applications, data, cloud, file sharing, big data and information workflows, yet remains incredibly easy to implement and use.

The Integration Imperative

The umbrella term pervasive integration, sometimes called dynamic integration, is loosely defined as a strategy for integrating cloud and on-premises applications, data, business partners, mobile apps and even “things,” all of which are becoming more prevalent in a hyper-digital society. This type platform connects multiple integration domains and endpoints, and facilitates multiple integration styles, including MFT, EDI and composite/API integration for direct application communications.

Think about some of the integration manufacturers already strive for on a regular basis and consider the role of an integration platform:

  • Application integration: Every day a company takes a purchase order for a widget, passes it into an internal electronic resource planning (ERP) system for processing, and then sends it through to an internal warehouse management system for fulfillment and on to a transportation management system for delivery.
  • Data integration: A manufacturer might pipe CRM information into a database or data hub via an ETL process to compare a particular customer’s year-over-year buying habits and plan a campaign to support future goals and upsell opportunities. Organizations armed with things like any-to-any data transformation, data routing and data enrichment on their integration platform will be ahead of the game.
  • B2B integration: Manufacturing IT departments must deliver 100 percent communications uptime across a wide variety of tools, technologies, and business units for information exchanges with customers, parts suppliers, partners, 3PLs and other endpoints, all while ensuring compliance, security and governance.

There’s no reason to maintain separate systems for these roles when a single integrated platform facilitates all of these integration patterns to automate manufacturing processes, speed up the planning cycles and expedite time to product and thus, time to revenue. But it’s more than just combining separate integration pieces into one platform and interface. The core value of a leading dynamic integration solution stems from the fact that it’s:                                                          

  • Complete: With so many endpoints businesses must connect these days, look to a technology that consolidates and streamlines those connections, and delivers information exchanges with the utmost security and reliability.
  • Easy: A system with so much power in addressing complex processes doesn’t have to be equally complex to use. Expedite ROI with an implementation that’s easy to set up and then achieve faster business outcomes because it’s easy to use.
  • Scalable: A technology should grow with the company, and manufacturers must support multiple protocols to meet current trading partner demands and quickly onboard new ones. Consistently adding new trading partners will increase data volumes and require the scalability to enable that growth.

Summary

Operationalizing data to gain the insights manufacturers seek was previously prevented by a disjointed, disconnected infrastructure, but these organizations no longer have to navigate their hodgepodge of technology to harness the power to plan for better business outcomes. Agile manufacturing enterprises, now more connected than ever, can anticipate what will happen with customers, on the shop floor, with raw materials and out on the road, versus just reflecting on what already has occurred.

Simplifying and automating processes are right in the wheelhouse of a modern manufacturer, so doing the same for complex, multi-pattern integration processes should come easily. A dynamic integration platform complete with robust application, data, and B2B integration functionality delivers a single source of truth to establish audit trails, information visibility, analytics enablement and numerous other ways to manage the data critical to your business.

Meet emerging integration requirements with one pervasive integration platform that replaces all of those integration point solutions and future-proofs IT operations as technology evolves and new business use patterns materialize.

Dave Brunswick is the vice president of solutions at Cleo.

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