Clarifying Supply Chain Visibility Terms

Guest Article from Randy Marble – Blue Sky Logistics

Software vendors often market their applications using a wide array of buzzwords and acronyms. Even in a relatively focused area such as Supply Chain Management (SCM), there are literally dozens of terms used to describe an application without really helping a potential customer understand what it does. BI, SOA, SCEM, SCPM (not to be confused with SCpM), EDM, OBI, BAM – the list goes on and on with most terms having multiple conflicting definitions that usually correlate closely with the product that is being sold. The purpose of this document is to first ignore all of the acronyms and explain as clearly as possible what SCN Partner Insight application does and what it will do in the future. Then, we will revisit the acronyms to provide useful definitions and honestly state where Insight fits and where it doesn’t.

The following sentence describes the mission of the Insight application:

Insight collects the raw data produced by your supply chain, transforms it into useful information, routes it to the people who need it, and presents it in a format that can be immediately understood so that specific objectives can be effectively achieved.

Let’s dig a little deeper in to the key parts of that definition, without resorting to buzzwords, to explain the functionality in more detail:

Collecting Raw Data

A typical supply chain, which really means the people and applications that run it, generates millions of pieces of data every day. This raw data consists of predictions (a truck is scheduled to arrive at a door), states (there are x units on hand), and events (an order was received), often 10 or more for each item that’s moved during the day. If all of the raw data ended up in one place, in a consistent format, the data collection part of Insight would be trivial. But with different applications storing data in different formats at different levels of granularity, a key component of Insight must be to collect the data in such a way that the rest of the application does not have to be concerned with where it came from or what condition it was in.

Insight accomplishes this data collection via software components that we call Adapters. An Adapter is simply a module that reads data from a specific data source, and converts it into a format that the rest of the Insight application can use. Adapters often use SQL to read data directly from relational databases, because that allows the data to be collected in virtual real-time. However, there are times when it is not possible to access the database directly, in which case Adapters will use messaging, batch files, web services, or any other data collection method.

In addition to using a specific communications protocol, such as SQL or web services, an Adapter also contains knowledge of the application that generated the data. For example, both an SSA WMS Adapter and a Manugistics Demand Planning Adapter may use SQL to retrieve the data but each is written specifically to understand a single application, often even a specific version of an application. This allows new Adapters to be created as new applications are encountered and prevents Insight from being tied to any one vendor or version.

All of this may sound complicated, and it can be. However, the good news is that the only people that have to worry about these are the people who write them, either our functional specialists, or your supply-chain application vendors themselves. Even if you have in-house applications that need Adapters, we’ll work with you to design and build them – and your end-users will never even notice them.

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