Manufacturing: digitalise with ESB and BPM to boost agility

Logiciel dématérialisation pour l'industrie

Why is Blueway’s platform combining ESB, BPM, MDM and API Management so popular in the manufacturing sector? Certainly because our vast implementation experience has made it possible to digitalise many processes, and consequently restore some agility to manufacturing companies that are too often running old information systems that are troublesome to upgrade…

We frequently encounter manufacturers that invested in ERP systems a long time ago, and where projects have been run in a bespoke fashion over the course of time. Their information systems, sometimes still based on old, albeit very stable, technology such as AS400, are somewhat fossilised. Their IT departments face real dilemmas, as migrating the ERP system running transaction processing would usually be a huge and expensive exercise, posing excessive risk to the wish to see seamless continuity in the company’s day-to-day business. Stability consequently prevails over innovation.

However, the manufacturing sector is not wholly lagging behind as regards process automation and optimisation. Indeed, under pressure from distributors and wholesalers, firms were quickly forced to invest in EDI (electronic data interchange) systems to convey data between the various instructing parties involved in sales, procurement, logistics, etc.

Now, they just need to seize the opportunity to digitalise internal and external processes to regain greater agility, but how, practically, can this be achieved?

Digitalisation in manufacturing, the next step after EDI

The manufacturing sector saw a rapid standardisation of product-related data interchanges between the various parties involved in the sales and logistics chain, thanks in particular to the establishment of standard formats by bodies such as GS1. Yet while the switch to automated EDI data streams (LIEN ARTICLE BLOG EN EDI) was quick, the same cannot be said of digitalisation generally; manufacturing has been slow to act compared to the tertiary sector as shown by research into this area by French digital consultancy Markess.

The move to paperless processes in service companies and the public sector has seen huge growth for some years now, such is the impact on improving internal efficiency and competitiveness.

The obstacles we see with our manufacturing customers are often a result of the burden their current information systems represent, as digitalising internal processes has impacts on the organisation, people and IT. Planning such changes has many consequences on the software in place, but as we shall see, it is not that difficult to seize the opportunities offered by digital transformation to boost a company’s agility. One example might be travelling sales staff placing orders using a tablet, which is nowadays far simpler to implement thanks to dedicated third-party applications that can make your existing software work on mobile devices.

Boosting IS agility through digitalisation

The first step towards making manufacturing more agile is the installation of a BPM platform combining both process optimisation and data stream integration.

This BPM platform will connect to the existing information system, to allow you to model processes, create user interface screens that will be compatible with mobile devices, and secure data interchanges using the ESB application bus. The advantage of the ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) over more long-standing methods of exchanging data such as EDI is that it will more readily meet different systems’ constraints regarding “openness”, and provide asynchronous integration options for which persistence is crucial when delivering messages with software based on older technologies

Manufacturers can consequently quickly become more agile. This was for example the case at Mecachrome, a leading precision mechanics firm for aviation, which planned to decentralise its purchasing requests to hundreds of users, but quickly hit the implementation obstacle of its existing ERP making the project more complicated and thus more expensive. Moreover, is the ERP system really the best option when digitalising all the processes in a business? Its strong point is that it offers a structured, unified system to hold master data, but it cannot do everything.

Digitalisation in manufacturing: more openness to partners’ information systems

Projects like the one at Mecachrome also show the underlying tendency in IT departments to streamline IT projects by giving preference to “quick wins”, including in SOA with key partners, suppliers, logistics providers and even customers. Here too, the ESB will provide great flexibility in handling data interchanges between widely differing systems.

Agility in a business should be viewed in the broadest sense, and the information system opened up to receive different inputs and supply different outputs. A company’s senior management sees its environment as a whole, and the IT department should do likewise for information systems, very much a prerequisite to the creation of an efficient extended enterprise where data interchanges will be automated.

Blueway’s BPM platform thus makes it far easier to work in total synergy with all of its partners, customers and suppliers. Another example is that of Allflex, the world leader in livestock tagging, where order-handling processes used various different applications running on varying technologies, causing wasted time, mistakes and consequently customer dissatisfaction. Allflex accordingly decided to use Blueway to open up its information system and integrate all data streams and processes, making processing more secure and slashing lead times for customers.

The benefits of a BPM and ESB platform for digitalisation

Our approach of integrating BPM & ESB in the Blueway platform simplifies process digitalisation in the manufacturing sector, and makes it possible to regain agility without calling your entire existing information system into question.