Data Integration Challenges for Supply Chain Software

The right supply chain software can make or break a distribution company's profitability. Companies with distribution centers and private fleets are ever less likely to use manual or paper-based systems for receiving inventory, taking orders, selecting products for delivery, loading trucks, dispatching routes, managing transportation assets and human resources, and evaluating operational performance. New or upgraded information technology can provide efficiency gains and cost savings in many areas of operations.

The first challenge is understanding what various software systems can do.

The acronyms and jargon can make your head spin: Enterprise resource planning (ERP), warehouse management systems (WMS), order management systems (OMS), transportation management systems (TMS), on board computers (OBCs), and business intelligence software (BI). As these systems continue to evolve, their features, functions, and ensuing benefits increasingly overlap. Do you need a suite from the same vendor? Some "lite" version of one or more platforms? A focused solution for a specific challenge? Do you host the software and warehouse data on your own server or access it from "the cloud?" Do you build a solution in-house, license it, or lease it?

The second challenge involves data integration.

Supply chain systems generate and process huge amounts of data. That data either remains in the silo of the system that generated it or it gets passed along to another software system. This is where the real world meets the promised land. While standard protocols such as XML and application programming interfaces (APIs) and shared frameworks such as Microsoft .NET aid integration, someone, somewhere has to build the architecture. Fields in one database must be mapped to another. Data integrity must be established with unique identifiers, time codes, filters and logic. Sometimes integrating two systems from different vendors is easy and inexpensive. Often it is not. Each time you have to go back to a vendor to request an integration, be prepared to spend more money.

In the promised land, your supply chain software systems make your job easier. Complex processes are more automated. Information is available on demand. Questions can be answered at a glance. Tasks can be executed efficiently.

In the real world, you discover the gaps. Systems are seldom fully integrated, otherwise, they would just be one system, right? For example, let's say you are a transportation manager wanting to evaluate route performance comparing planned routes vs. actual performance. You want to see metrics for such things as scheduled arrival time, unloading time, miles per gallon, cases per mile, and so on. You want to rank your drivers based on performance, perhaps in an easy-to-use visual scorecard. To get what you need, your route data must be mashed up with data from driver log books and OBCs.

Live with the gaps, or find better integration.

In a worse case scenario, you would not be able to see the route plans and the actual in the same place (a single computer screen), but you might have to toggle between the user interfaces that came with your routing program and your onboard computer software. Or you might print out paper reports from both systems and cut and paste columns together to see the side-by-side comparisons. Or you might export data from both systems and combine them in a spreadsheet; if you are a real spreadsheet wizard, you might create your own calculations and generate graphs and bar charts.

In a better case scenario−one that both routing systems and on board computer vendors now claim−either system can import from the other and display a "plan vs. actual" report. If their standard report doesn't give you what you'd like to see, then the vendors can build you a custom report...for a fee.

In the best case scenario, to truly evaluate plan vs. actual to drive towards continuous performance improvement you would want integration that allows for:

  • Deep drill downs on any data point: individual driver, individual route, individual stop, road segment
  • Filtering by data range, region, routes, truck type, driver demographics
  • Benchmarking against past performance, driver class, customer type, etc.
  • Visualizations that are interactive, so you can scenario test and dial in insights
  • The ability to create your own calculations and variances
  • Reports and alerts that support changing driver behavior
  • Hiding or adding any data elements
  • Display reference information without leaving the screen
  • Roll up summaries
  • Trend analysis
  • Predictive analytics
  • Annotations.

This is just one example out of hundreds of practical, real-world challenges for distribution professionals. Their biggest constraint is time. Their biggest frustration is having the data available without the tool to integrate the data on ONE PLACE, for facts-based decision making and the drive to actionable insight that lead to measurable performance gains.

Visibility is what they all want. Better integration leads to greater visibility.

For example, in our plan vs. actual view we were considering driver performance. But in drilling down to driver performance it might be an advantage to analyze how a driver's speeding might impact the company's exposure to accident risk. And in assessing a driver's safety performance, it would be nice to integrate CSA 2010 BASIC scores with other safety related metrics such as speeding events (by speed zones), hard breaking, and HOS logs. Furthermore, it would be better to spot trends and predict and prevent accidents before they happened.

Syntelic is designed as the integration hub for all your supply chain data

Syntelic is designed to to be the unifying data repository for critical analytics, dashboard creation, and reporting. Syntelic has partnered with major supply chain software vendors to be able to merge disparate streams of data, cleans it, filter it, and tie it all together for deep drill downs and analysis. Think of Syntelic as a "command and control center" that goes beyond the one-size-fits-all template within a data silo.

Syntelic's architecture is also designed to allow each of our customers to build the views they need, and to modify those views as their business changes. In short, Syntelic translates data into transportation intelligence and warehouse intelligence, integrating both sides of the equation for a comprehensive distribution business intelligence solution.