Modern interfaces: working with real-time information

Bastian Späth, CEO/Vorstand EIKONA AG

Time-critical logistics concepts such as just-in-sequence and same-day delivery require sophisticated IT systems with state-of-the-art interfaces. Why? Because modern-day supply chain management depends on accurate real-time information.


That requires modern interfaces that possess the following capabilities:

  • Event-based data transmission
  • Zero-latency data exchange
  • Scalability
  • Straightforward encryption technology

IT systems have to satisfy these criteria in order to meet the rigorous organisational standards of logistics systems that serve an ever more tightly integrated supply chain with processes that are synchronised across company boundaries. Most tried-and-true organisational standards and interfaces cannot handle this kind of seamless connectivity.


Rigid timing

File-based interfaces lack speed and flexibility

One of the biggest problems of traditional interfaces is that they are too slow for interlinked processes. This has two reasons: they are file-based and schedule-based. They exchange files according to a fixed rhythm. In a sense, data provision and collection follow a rigid timetable that sets the pace for new status updates. We know this from travelling by train: if we miss a connecting train by even one minute, we arrive at our destination much later – even though the travel time itself remains the same. Another difficulty in using these types of interfaces is the need to physically store the data on a specific server using a method such as FTP (file transfer protocol). If the data transmission exceeds the server's transfer capacity, there is no way to add capacity on the fly. The recipient then faces yet another delay. However, the FTP server's operator cannot simply add another machine because the same data can only physically reside on one of the two devices. In addition, encrypted data communications often require the server operator and recipient to coordinate and exchange data such as IP addresses and open ports.


Modified logistics structures

Reliable real-time information with modern interfaces

In contrast, a fully connected supply chain and thus current IT systems have to offer constant availability, high reliability, flexible integration and efficient resource use. Shifting structures in production, commerce and logistics make it increasingly necessary to dovetail processes within and across organisations. For example, logistics companies often deliver automotive parts and assemblies right to the assembly lines. Right when the production workers need them. This can only happen if the data is as current as the production plan, i.e. transmitted in real time. Modern interfaces are designed to transfer data instantly.


Event-based data exchange

APIs and message brokers communicate faster

Modern application programming interfaces (APIs) spare recipients from having to regularly check for new information. Or – to continue the metaphor: trains do not have to run every hour if there are no passengers. Instead, recipients are automatically notified that they have new data as soon as the data arrives. This is called an event-based approach. The message goes through the interface right to the recipient instantly. It is also possible to scale the data exchange process as needed. APIs that transfer a new status can be deployed in any number of ways simultaneously. Data is then transmitted through the least busy interface. This speeds up the data exchange in two ways: it is done at the earliest possible time and the greatest possible speed. In addition, REST APIs, which are built on web technology, enable the painless transmission of encrypted data using known web protocols and ports such as port 80 and port 443. Message brokers, such as the open source Rabbit MQ software, are alternatives to APIs that also support event-based data communications. In this case, a recipient subscribes to a message queue and automatically receives messages about data when the sender puts it in the queue.

Conclusion

Fast-moving logistics thrives on modern interfaces

Event-based interfaces meet the needs of modern logistics operations with same-day services and production-driven planning. They can provide real-time information such as estimated times of arrival (ETAs), thereby improving planning options for logistics professionals at industrial and commercial enterprises as well as logistics service providers.

How modern are your interfaces?


Bastian Späth
Bastian Späth
CEO

As a college-educated computer scientist, Bastian Späth understands how IT solutions are developed from the ground up. For more than 15 years, he has spent every workday collecting requirements, finding ideas, developing designs, setting up projects and getting them safely across the finish line.


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