Function as a service: reach your goal by taking small steps

Stefan Seufert, CTO/Vorstand EIKONA AG
Many small turtles crawl the way from the beach to the sea

IT solutions for logistics tasks are becoming increasingly specialised and small-scale. This trend has been ongoing for several years. With the rise of cloud applications, leading production systems have been increasingly linked with partial solutions.

Microservices have since supplemented transportation management systems (TMSs), warehouse management systems (WMSs) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. However, in their quest for the ideal IT solution, developers are increasingly distilling units to individual functions. Their products provide additional flexibility in the form functions as a service (FaaS). Among other things, they can:

  • Close gaps in existing systems
  • Perform individual tasks in a process chain
  • Enable flexible process modeling
  • Support process outsourcing

FaaS use reflects an increase logistics service differentiation and provides a bigger toolset for integrating startups with their solutions from sub-segments.

Task orientation

What step takes us further?

Technical capabilities should never be an end in themselves. Particularly for FaaS. The smaller the IT systems, the more effort required to monitor and maintain them. It's not a problem until logging and monitoring them becomes so complex that they start to seem unmanageable. It makes more sense to assemble functional units. Then, logistics service providers can, for example, outsource e-commerce packing to subcontractors. Or outsource shipment notifications to call centres. As these examples show, even complete subtasks currently performed by people can be grouped as a function and used as a service on a transaction-by-transaction basis.

In a nutshell

What's the benefit?

Even if functions are not services that perform relatively complex steps, they can still make valuable contributions to logistics processes. For example, freight forwarders handling a high volume of shipments to private recipients would do well to check addresses online before the first delivery attempt. Deutsche Post's Addressfactory database cleans up errors in the data and determines beyond a doubt whether the recipient address is valid. This knowledge helps avoid unnecessary trips. Service providers can also calculate transport distances using the mapping services of major online search providers. Or they use online translators to overcome language barriers when they chat with their delivery drivers. Small tasks with big benefits for the overall process.

Seamlessly integrated

Orchestrate streams and platforms

FaaS solutions use state-of-the-art technology. They use various features such as streaming platforms, APIs (programming interfaces) and event sourcing systems. This often involves the use of a single source of truth containing all progress statuses and changes. This allows the services to exchange data statelessly, i.e., they do not require distinct or identifiable sessions. In addition, they are not expected to have fixed response types or times, which makes process integration much more flexible. That is why FaaS does not require dedicated servers (serverless). Since it can utilise resources dynamically, it is well-prepared for the utilisation volume to scale simply and flexibly. That is a very important feature for demand-driven use (on demand). It makes FaaS particularly suitable for volatile logistics services with extreme peaks in demand. It even shines in business continuity management: if the system is down, shipment data can be reconstructed from photographs of the labels on the packages – for example, by having an offshoring service provider assist with manual data entry.

What functions are driving your IT system forward?

Stefan Seufert
Stefan Seufert

As a design guru, the software developer delves into logistics service providers' requirements like no other. He is passionate about exchanging information securely and efficiently and thus speeding up the physical logistics process.

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