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What manufacturers should know about software integration

April 11, 2016

Businesses are disappearing faster than ever as they fail to adapt to their environment. This is happening because the technological developments around social networks and mobile applications, the explosion of data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, are generating disruptive change that hasn’t been seen in decades. Slow and steady no longer works, as General Electric chairman and CEO, Jeff Immelt, recently commented:

staying relevant in today’s interconnected world is not a function of hierarchy or geography, but immediacy. It’s not what you control vertically, but how you connect horizontally.

So it’s not size that counts, but connectedness. For manufacturers this means ensuring that all your systems are integrated is going to more critical than ever.

 

 

Changes in technology for manufacturers

Until recently, most data in manufacturing plants has been captured manually or if automated, processed in batches. Manufacturing supervisors and managers have been used to getting reports daily on operational issues, if they are lucky. Typically the repository of data and source of management information has been the company’s ERP system. Although there are probably several specialized systems used on the production floor, the data from these systems has been integrated with the ERP application using hand-coded programs.

However, things are changing.

  • Customers increasingly stipulate orders be communicated and processed electronically, via EDI or an alternative data format.
  • With the arrival of mobile computing, the factory floor is no longer such an unfriendly environment for computers, and machine and work-in-progress status can be updated much more frequently and in more detail.
  • In the near future, the Internet of Things will start impacting, and each piece of equipment and item produced will have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.
  • Cloud computing will affect the way business operate and work with partners (You can read more here how cloud computing will change the supply chain).

What manufacturers can expect from these new technologies is a huge growth in data and data sources. The challenge is going to be integrating all this data and the applications they come from. Traditional approaches and tools for integration won’t cope under the new conditions, especially if agility and flexibility are required, because manual coding integrations becomes increasingly difficult as integrations grow. Many manufacturers still rely on manual interventions, and the impact of this is hours or even days of work by staff just in re-capturing and updating data.

As acceptance of cloud computing has grown, the number of software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings has expanded, providing manufacturers with new options for IT solutions. The best strategy for manufacturers is to follow an incremental approach to using new applications, but as they start replacing old on-premise applications with cloud-based software, they enter the arena of hybrid systems, and will need integration tools that can handle that environment easily and cost-effectively.

How to proceed with integration

As the diagram shows, there are a several dimensions to addressing integration challenges.

integration-dimensions

Dimensions of software integration

Manufacturers need to understand:

  • how their integration needs and related infrastructure are changing
  • the impact of new and growing pipelines where data will come from

An enterprise integration platform

To tackle this complex scenario, businesses should consider an enterprise integration platform (EIP) – a comprehensive framework for integrating the spectrum of on-premise, cloud, SaaS, mobile and other systems. An EIP can dramatically reduce the number of interfaces required for both internal and external business applications, simplifying and streamlining your IT infrastructure. This, in turn, makes it easier to implement, manage, and monitor system and network components end-to-end. Using an EIP that runs as a cloud-based integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) is even more beneficial as it frees up resources and budgets for more mission-critical tasks. Other benefits include:

  • An integration platform enables organizations to seamlessly connect the wide variety of on-premise and cloud-based systems and devices that comprise today’s complex infrastructures. Network traffic is optimized and data flows unimpeded between the enterprise and a mobile workforce.
  • Integration between internal teams, customers, and suppliers becomes faster and more reliable with the improved connectivity provided by an EIP. This minimizes errors, reduces business risk, and improves project completion rates and time-to-market for a greater overall competitive advantage.
  • The growing volume of data flowing through the enterprise makes the need for an EIP even more critical. Secure, reliable, and scalable data storage and processing is greatly improved when diverse datacenters and cloud-based data warehousing are seamlessly integrated with on-premise systems and made more easily accessible to workers.
  • A streamlined, more efficient IT infrastructure made possible through an enterprise integration platform reduces maintenance costs and minimizes costly downtime and system upgrades. A best-in-class EIP such as Flowgear can even automate implementation and integration so you’re free to choose the best, most cost-effective software solutions for your business without fear of incompatibility.

How to start your integration project

In 2013 The Economist noted that the biggest changes in manufacturing will come from technology. These changes will be delivered via new production methods, materials and processes, and from the data that comes from them.

The technology analyst group, Gartner, calls integration a “top priority for forward-thinking CIOs”, but notes that many CIOs and IT managers tend to relegate integration to an issue that has been addressed once and can be forgotten. Using a cloud-based integration platform like Flowgear allows the business to get the benefit of a comprehensive integration solution with the reduced cost cloud software brings. Flowgear also provides a professional services team that can assist IT departments in getting started, and works with partners to develop and implement industry-related solutions.

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