Application Integration and Social Distancing

COVID-19 is the largest crisis in recent history, impacting us all economically, physically, socially and politically. Everyone will play a role in helping our world achieve a new normal. As business leaders, we can celebrate the success of an adaptable supply chain, but also expose and acknowledge areas of supply chain improvement such as collaboration and agility. While we hope to never experience this again, we will take these as lessons to building a stronger, more agile and resilient supply chain.

The ability that companies (large and small) have been able to switch manufacturing from their core business to the life-saving agents is remarkable. Car companies are now producing ventilators, chemical companies are making hand sanitizer, and even a local corn hole company is now making protective gear for doctors. This shows how quickly a business can adapt to new business models, find new sources of raw materials and shift manufacturing and fulfillment processes.

However, as consumers we still wonder when masks, protective clothing, toilet paper, and hand sanitizers will deliver in bulk. This has exposed the greater and quicker need to integrate supply chains for the mass market. Part of this transformation is reliant on the ability to connect the whole supply chain.

But how can we integrate with stringent stay-at-home policies in place? We have created a greater need for a digital society in which the virtual world and the physical world merge. An environment where everyone and everything is connected.

As we work more and more remotely as individuals, how can our systems work together in a more efficient, faster, and less social distancing manner?

The answer is modern day Application Programming Interfaces or APIs. Application programming interfaces (APIs) connect people, businesses and things. They enable new digital products and business models and create new business channels. APIs make digital business work for you.

Why should a business leader, like a CIO, care about APIs?

Connecting trading partners of your external supply chain, whether they be suppliers, customers, or logistics service providers, is not an easy task and not a “one-size fits all” approach. B2B onboarding is often a source of frustration to businesses due to its cost and complexity, but APIs provide a potential solution to connecting with your long tail of trading partners beyond what an EDI connection can provide.

CIOs shouldn’t think of this technology simply as an integration technique but as an advanced method to quickly and proactively connect to broader ecosystems outside the four walls of the enterprise. In order to achieve the greatest value to the business, look at the perceived value of the applications and users that consume the APIs vs. the API itself.

Transformative Supply Chains and APIs

Despite the benefits of APIs, the supply chain industry has been sluggish in response. This is a critical error for many organizations, especially during this crisis and through the recovery. Implementing an API is less costly and complex than implementing an EDI connection, with a turnaround of days rather than months, and without the high-cost maintenance and troubleshooting.  

Additionally, on-demand delivery and omni-channel buying demands puts new pressure on supply chains to streamline. These new pressures are agents for change. To meet the growing expectations of the “new normal,” manufacturers need to quickly shift their supply chain partners and operating models for the products they are buying, selling, and moving through the supply chain.

They require visibility into their supply chains to be proactive and event driven and to be more responsive to demand and supply fluctuations for risk mitigation. CIOs need to support the supply chain needs of their internal and external customers. IT needs to be viewed as a strategic profit center with robust and integrative tools for the supply chain control towers their operational users rely on.

The crisis at hand has brought the need to close the gap that exists between the digital supply chain and the physical supply chain. Supply chains have become more dynamic in the physical world these days. The digital supply chain of discovering the data world, quickly developing integrative solutions, deploying these new digital products, and experiencing new transformative supply chain models is enabled through the use of APIs.

Understanding the transition from pre-crisis supply chain activities to today’s digital supply chain helps organizations optimize the delivery of their core business capabilities through digital products. Enterprises can now unbundle and re-package their business capabilities in a way that dynamically meets the needs of their new customers.

A New State of Business Tomorrow

As we live in a crisis mode and eventually get back to some state of new normalcy, digitalization of the supply chain and Business-to-Business-to-Consumer models will drive greater automation between constituents. This automation of processes, events, and alerts will only increase between man-to-man and machine-to-machine communications and every combination. APIs enable connectivity — quickly, consistently, and cost effectively — for these new communication models in a self-service model that trading partners can use to on-board themselves.

APIs provide the ability to query the real-time status of an order, product or shipment easily throughout a Digital Supply Network ecosystem. The DSN platform supports the creation of and connection to external ecosystems, marketplaces and communities within your overall enterprise architecture. It also supports the quick connection to new supply chain fulfillment networks, originally foreign to them, in order to deliver the new products and services their manufacturing facilities are producing.

The underlying need to support advanced consumer and business needs is becoming the new impetus to connect to a diverse set of applications, different types of data networks, and multiple types of unique devices. In the end, APIs provide a conduit of two-way communication between the people, processes, and technologies that we are all craving to have as we manage through this crisis.

David Cahn is Director of Global Marketing at Elemica, The Digital Supply Network Provider for the Process Industry. He has been implementing, marketing, and product managing leading enterprise applications for over 30 years including ERP, SCM, TMS, and WMS solutions and lived the word of customer-facing solutions and customer experience for the past few years. David has held leadership positions at Phillips, KPMG, CA, AMR Research, Aptean, and Infor. Additionally, he has started, built, and sold his own e-commerce and supply chain software company during the dot-com days and had his own corporate development consulting company to the software industry for over ten years.