As manufacturers increasingly adopt cloud applications a strategy to integrate must be considered.

By: Jan Arendtsz, CEO of Celigo - November 19, 2019

With the new year just around the corner, companies are drafting business plans for 2019 hoping to keep them ahead of the competition and major trends that will affect their business and workers.

Similar to other industries, cloud applications are revolutionizing manufacturing. Cloud computing has made technologies that were traditionally only available to the largest enterprises accessible to smaller players. Cloud applications are low cost, easy to use and do not require a large team of IT developers. Whether a company is large or small, myriad applications are available to help streamline and automate business processes.

As a result, many 2019 business plans will include the adoption of new applications. However, some plans will lack a solid strategy for ensuring these apps share important data seamlessly and automatically. These will be the companies that discover they’re stuck with time-consuming, error-prone manual processes and data silos that hinder the flow of information from one department to another.

Cloud Applications in Manufacturing

In the past, most companies have focused on technologies for automating the manufacturing processes. However, technology investments in streamlining internal operations, communications, customer management, reporting and other key business processes are catching up.

Since cloud applications have made it easier and faster to use technology for specific business purposes, manufacturers are signing up for popular apps to run their businesses. Examples include:

  • Supply chain and demand planning (e.g., Epicor, JDA, Manhatta)
  • Analytics and business intelligence (e.g., Birst, Sisense, Tableau)
  • Vendor management (e.g., Fishbowl, TradeGecko, Tradeshift)
  • Customer relationship management (e.g., HubSpot, Salesforce, Zoho)
  • Communications and office productivity (e.g., Google Suite, Microsoft Office 365)
  • Collaboration and project management (e.g., Evernote, LiquidPlanner, Slack)
  • Human resources and payroll management (e.g., ADP, Bamboo HR, Workday)

Importance of App Integration

As companies adopt three, ten, dozens or even hundreds of these business applications, the productivity gains from the applications may get lost. As the number of applications increase, data that is only available within one application needs to be manually entered into other applications leading to manual processes that cause delays and errors.

In order to fully leverage the advantages of using the best application for a specific process or job, making sure key data is automatically synchronized and available across multiple applications is key. Integration allows a business, its partners, its customers and its employees to have the information they need in the applications they want to use.

Businesses that have embraced a strategy for integrating applications upfront avoid operational issues before they happens. Businesses that have yet to embrace it have a harder time quickly changing and adapting their business processes, holding the organization hostage to manual processes.

How Businesses Integrate Apps

Businesses use a variety of technologies and techniques when it comes to integrating mission-critical applications, including a do-it-yourself approach, native integrations, point-to-point connectors and iPaaS. But some of these solutions have downsides.

The DIY approach requires considerable technical know-how, where companies must pay top dollar. Such an approach means building solutions from scratch, with costs mounting for any product that requires customization.

Native integrations and point-to-point connectors only work with specific use cases, and are generally difficult to scale. Futhermore, businesses find these approaches don’t solve enough problems.

What is an Integration Plaform-as-a-Service (iPaaS)?

One of the increasingly common integration strategies today involve the adoption of an Integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS). Research and advisory firm Gartner coined the term iPaaS several years ago, referring to a cloud-based integration platform that makes it easier to connect applications and business processes.

iPaaS platforms take care of many critical integration requirements out of the box, such as guaranteed data delivery and governance, so these capabilities don’t need to be built from scratch. The platforms are reliable and easier to monitor, and tend to be easier to maintain and update over custom integration projects.

Importantly, iPaaS integrations can be easily tailored to the needs of individual businesses, which is faster and more reliable than connecting multiple systems with custom-built or point-to-point integrations.

Example Integration Scenario: E-commerce Integration

Online marketplaces are becoming increasingly popular for manufacturers. In the world of Amazon and omnichannel expectations, providing a seamless shopping experience is key to capturing market share.

To meet the shopper expectations, data needs to be seamlessly sent between all the relevant applications. Customer orders need to immediately be sent from the shopping cart to both an order management and warehouse management system. As soon as the order is fulfilled, the shipping information then needs to be sent back to Shopify or to a customer email platform so that the customer receives all the relevant information.

If the shopper decides to return the product, then not only will the shipping application need to send a printing label to the consumer, but the refund process needs to be initiated and tracked within the order management and financial systems. Once the returned order is received, then an update to stock levels need to be sent to both the webstore and marketplace.

A number of variations need to be accommodated for each experience, but the example shows the importance of integration in the shopping experience.

Staying Ahead of Problems in 2019

Next year, two of the most important trends shaping business—the move of critical processes to the cloud and the growth of SaaS-based business apps—will continue. But as new applications proliferate, so does the potential for breakdowns and errors.

Businesses that are hiring expensive professionals to build and maintain integrations should consider adopting iPaaS, and those who opt for a modern iPaaS should find a system that’s developed both for today’s business users and IT professionals.

Companies should not be resigned to bottlenecks in their digital infrastructure, with the losses that come along with them. They should get ahead of such problems to avoid them before they happen.

Jan Arendtsz is a veteran of the software industry with more than 20 years of experience in development, product management, client services, and sales roles. He founded Celigo with the goal of simplifying the integration of cloud-based applications. He is responsible for overseeing all company operations.

Jan was a Director of Technical Services at NetSuite, where he led a team that provided technical solutions within the professional services group. He also worked as a Product Manager at NetSuite, launching the company’s integration platform.

Before NetSuite, Jan worked for Cambridge Technology Partners, where he implemented complex solutions for a multitude of customers ranging from Internet startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Jan holds a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Austin.