IoT empowers the supply chain in many ways

The Internet of Things, increasingly ubiquitous in business, manufacturing, and consumer activity, can empower the supply chain in a number of significant ways, according to Tony Kontzer, manufacturing technology analysis for TechTarget.

IoT’s impact on some of the more prominent features of supply chain operation, such as awareness and visibility, are increasingly apparent. But Kontzer argues that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sensors that monitor manufacturing equipment are not new, but adding their input to physical plant management can increase efficiency, fault tolerance, and analytics, he argues.

Kontzer quotes George Favalaro of PricewaterhouseCooper, who made the case for real-time communication between machines in production environments, for the purpose of identifying inefficiencies and equipment wear/failure when they happen: “If your equipment is starting to wear and is drawing more energy, you want to know that, and you don’t want to know it in three or four months, you want to know it right away.” This real-time sensory communication can be leveraged for climate adjustment, identifying leaks and other useful savings.

Detection and prediction of malfunctions increases the value of IoT in manufacturing, enabling machines to be shut down when failure is imminent, making the environment safer and minimizing the impact of a shutdown. Moreover, IoT can increase the accuracy and improve the logistics in equipment repair by providing additional information on an equipment failure up front.

Finally, adding this data to the overall flow of information between supply chain partners can be invaluable in disruption management, minimizing the impact of manufacturing downtime and production shortfalls.

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AS4 is succeeding as core protocol of European gas distribution cooperative

AS4 is being implemented as the B2B communication standard for the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSOG), an initiative years in the making that recently passed the proof-of-concept stage and is now being shared out to implementation teams in the member nations.

ENTSOG’s mission, to create a unified market for gas on the European continent with a safe, robust and reliable transmission system that will be scalable in future years, is an ideal proving ground for new and innovative B2B communications methodologies. ENTSOG’s effort encompasses every feature of integrated B2B partnership, including supply chain dynamics, payments, analytics and capacity planning, customer interaction and disruption.

Educating its technical membership this past fall in Brussels, ENTSOG System Operation shared out the results of its AS4 proof-of-concept phase, the goal of which was to validate AS4 as the communications standard between its Transmission System Operators (TSOs).

AS4 is an ideal standard for such a purpose, encapsulating the versatility, robustness and enhanced security features of ebXML, in a simplified and easy-to-implement version. Use of this common protocol among TSOs and their partners is expected to yield considerable savings, reduced error in messaging and significant process improvement, according to ENTSOG.

An advantage of AS4 is the ease with which it can also integrate with existing government systems in each member nation, facilitating regulatory compliance without the need to modify back-end systems. In addition, the standard permits easy TSO integration with a wide range of third-party products.

ENTSOG’s 12-month implementation phase is expected to be completed in April 2016.

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Some Common Misconceptions about Managed File Transfer

Though the adoption of Managed File Transfer within B2B-integrated partnerships has been significant, a number of misconceptions about the technology remain pervasive, and can inspire reluctance in some partners to implement it – to the detriment of all.

The average employee sends/receives fifteen email attachments a day, for a total of over 5,000 attachments a year, per person – and even if that seems a little high, it does confirm that a great deal of ad hoc data transfer is occurring, much of it informal, yet in support of formal B2B processes. This compromises the security and robustness of those processes, while diminishing data integrity.

Managed File Transfer is the technology of choice for dealing with this maverick data handling; but its effectiveness depends upon its adoption throughout the supply chain.

IT Business Edge cited several misconceptions about MTF that could hinder its adoption:

1. MTF is only about moving data from Point A to Point B. No, it is also about implementing consistent security; reducing user error; and achieving deeper integration with the systems handling the data;
2. It is redundant; employees use IT-approved company email and systems for data transfer. In fact, almost two-thirds of employees surveyed said they have used personal email for storage and transfer of company data, so email should be eliminated as a data transfer method altogether;
3. Existing FTP and other methods are fine; employees know what they’re doing. No, nearly half of employees surveyed are unaware of their companies’ data transfer policies, and a third said that no such policies existed;
4. The existing data transfer policy is effective. How is it possible to be certain of this, when un-managed file transfer by definition cannot be monitored?
5. MFT is too expensive to implement. While it is true that MTF is more costly than conventional file transfer solutions, it is easy to see that it pays for itself in recovered downtime in supply chain operations, which are costly throughout the supply chain.

An obvious means of mitigating the reluctance of a B2B partner to adopt MTF is to offer incentive for adoption throughout the supply chain, making it a standard throughout, and sharing the costs of implementation and maintenance. This approach in itself can satisfy many of the objections and make for a smoother adoption.

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IoT to drive API usage for B2B Integration

IoT will be the biggest driver of integration technology in history. It will impact every point of  integration, whether its between two systems or two business entities. Devices are becoming smart and almost everything either has a sensor or will have one soon. As devices become smarter and use internet for connectivity, they will become more capable of handling tasks as well. In all likelihood, these smart devices will play a major role in e-commerce and B2B Integration.

We already see some examples of such activity and what future may hold:

1. Smartphones with NFC being used for payments. In future devices can become smart enough to recognize the shipment arriving at the warehouse, inspect it for damage, count it and automatically credit supplier account based on negotiated rate without any human involvement.

2. Smart watches for health information monitoring relaying data back for research and other medical usage. In future, the healthcare insurance card may just become an app on your smart watch and as you go through medical procedure, it may track diagnosis, prescription and claims.

3. Current thermostats learn usage patterns and automate settings. Next generation may even provide recommendations for reducing utility bills by showing ads from energy vendors or alternatives sources in your area and even change your utility company with a simple click.

The world is coming closer and the boundaries are disappearing fast. Sensors and devices transmit data in real-time and that will drive the usage of APIs for B2B Integration. APIs provide secure, real-time alternative to traditionally file based B2B interactions. Check out the Integration trends for 2015 and what future holds.

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