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Thursday, August 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2014
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by Carol Weidner, eZCom Software
No doubt about it, integrating the solutions that facilitate your supply chain – what analysts call "Enterprise Application Integration" -- can exponentially streamline your trading processes. Even the smartest, most automated supply chain management application loses value when it operates in a silo. Lack of communication between software solutions leads to multiple inefficiencies: replication of data in multiple locations, overinvestment of time and resources in managing processes that could be automated, and increased audits and errors.
Today's best practices prescribe linking supply chain software in an automated manner with back office, warehouse management, CRM, and other business process solutions. The goal is to simplify and automate business processes to the greatest extent possible, while at the same time preserving the integrity of existing applications and data structures.
Not only is EAI desirable, it is fast becoming an industry standard. So as you compose your own plan for implementation, should you opt for a more fully automated end result or place more value on flexibility and preservation of customized business specifications?
A more fully automated "out of the box" integration has allure. Obvious advantages include:
Time savings: Ability to manage multiple business processes from a single GUI (graphical user interface) saves time and reduces steps (and, in the case of full automation, it, at least in theory, eliminates steps, cutting out human management of processes).
Cost savings: Fewer hours and less manpower means fewer resources applied. And, a fully automated "plug-in" solution without customized features may be priced lower.
Ease of use: Elimination of the need to remember and execute multiple steps to move data where it belongs makes day-to-day operations easier.
Speed of implementation: A fully automated "plug-in" solution without customized features may have a quicker set-up time.
Flexible, custom-built solutions also have their selling points:
Error resolution: Running a business has nuances that fully automated integration solutions may not take into account. While these automated solutions provide streamlining and speed, they may fall short on accuracy. Non-validated documents can be difficult to detect and correct if passed directly to an ERP or accounting system without a validation step. If the EDI application has strong validation capabilities, it can be more effective to load orders into the EDI application and check for compliance before transferring to the ERP. This extra step adds integrity – only documents that do not fail validation go directly into the ERP, while others can be presented for correction before uploading.
Sensitivity to particular business needs and processes: A customized solution can be set up to accommodate specific fields, tasks, users, and all the particularities of a company's supply chain.
Constant change: The very nature of EAI is dynamic – it requires a pathway for ongoing implementation to accommodate emerging requirements such as application updates, revisions, and technology innovations. Company structure, size and focus may change as well. Customized implementations can be built extensible and modular to allow for such future changes.
Consideration of "protectionism" and specifics of company culture: The applications whose data is being integrated often belong to different departments that have technical, cultural, and political reasons for not wanting to share their data with other departments. Customized solutions can be negotiated to accommodate the particular needs and preferences of user departments.
Competing standards: Since EAI is an emerging phenomenon, standards are not yet universal. This means an "out of the box" fully automated solution may likely require customization in any case.
The hybrid solution
The good news is automation and customization are not mutually exclusive. To reap the benefits of EAI and avoid the pitfalls, opt for a happy medium. Plan an implementation that allows for as much automation as possible, while still preserving validation and the custom processes that will support the success of your supply chain.
Carol Weidner, CEO of eZCom Software, is living proof of the adage, "If you want something done right, ask a busy person." Soon after graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in Mathematics, she opened her own successful business – wholesaling homewares and accessories in the New York/New Jersey area. Carol continued in her entrepreneurial endeavors while she returned to Rutgers full time and completed a second degree in Biology. Following her (second) graduation, Carol learned computer programming and focused on EDI – working for companies serving the retail industry and consulting for major retailers like Toys "R" Us. When an opportunity arose to take over a small many-to-many retail portal in 2000, Carol grabbed the reins. She directed the finance and sales side of the burgeoning company, while working together with a team of colleagues who redesigned one of its key products to serve as a web-based EDI application. The result was the B2B supply chain software provider eZCom Software – and the cloud-based EDI solution, Lingo. Carol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (201) 731-1800.
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Enterprise Application Integration