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11 Oct

Data exchange in heterogeneous systems with robotics

The functioning exchange of information within a company, but also with business partners, is a key success factor. It acts like a hygiene factor: Only when the flow of information comes to a halt its importance becomes painfully visible.

Handling information is one of the core functions of robotics. Especially in those cases where accuracy, speed and the ability to free employees from tedious routine tasks are important, robotics plays its strengths with confidence.

Today we want to take a closer look at a special aspect of the flow of information, namely that in a heterogeneous environment.

Communication in heterogeneous systems

One of the challenges in the context of information flows is posed by grown systems and processes within a company and its environment. Especially in small and medium-sized companies, inexpensive software solutions are usually chosen at the beginning for cost reasons, and it is not uncommon for simple tasks to be solved “manually” via Excel. If a company grows or is forced to purchase new software due to external requirements, an even more heterogeneous system of isolated applications develops, Excel macros and manual changes are growing. Due to the slow growth of such systems, the necessary adaptations and the additional expenditure in daily work are hardly noticed or accepted.

Due to the ever-increasing digitalization and growing networks, more and more suppliers, important customers, production and logistics partners, but also the own distribution network, are demanding more and more data, which should be automatically transferred to the respective system. And of course, as a company, you yourself want to take advantage of the benefits of a working supply chain.

The precise challenge, therefore, is to let the different systems “communicate with each other” – in other words, to ensure secure data exchange. It is not only necessary to make sure that the interfaces of the respective programs are addressed correctly. Every media break (i.e. the change of information from one medium to another – most extraordinary cases are manual processing) also endangers the integrity of the data.

Not enough of that. Different software-specific nomenclatures, e.g. of customer numbers, the need for a consistent database or the fact that data from different applications must be “gathered” and updated for an order, for example, often play a major role in effective data exchange.

Electronic data exchange

An approach to this which has been in use for decades is “EDI” – Electronic Data Interchange. With the help of existing standards it should be ensured that different software products can exchange data with each other. Such standards include XML, EDIFACT, X12 and many others. EDI specialists then use a so-called “mapping” to program a “translation” of the data structure of their own software to a standardized data structure (e.g. to that of EDIFACT). This standardised data is then transmitted to the business partner, who then “translates” it back into the data structure that his software understands.

If the approach of standardized data structures (and standardized transmission protocols) is a thoroughly comprehensible one, however, it relies on very software-oriented and thus expensive programming for each necessary mapping. After all, often only a simple “translation” takes place – additional topics that go beyond this must be identified and “programmed individually”. Especially unclear and inconsistent master data in different own and foreign systems, such as customer or material numbers, represent a hurdle in the “automatic translation” of data from orders, delivery notes and invoices that should not be underestimated.

Robotics: Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) on steroids

EDI ensured that data could be transmitted and understood securely and without errors between different applications. In today’s increasingly complex world of business, where artificial intelligence and big data have made their entrance, simple data transmission is not enough. Simply reading out and “packing” data no longer represents a competitive advantage.

Robotics, on the other hand, offers a competitive advantage in this context.

Thus, the introduction of robotics starts at the process level and is therefore not based on solely software solutions and their functional scope. Relevant are the respective process objectives, possible sub-processes, the context of the upstream and downstream processes and all interfaces (and not only technical ones).

If this process analysis reveals the need to use a certain existing software, this is done regardless of whether a mapping can be programmed for it or not. Robotics can even read, structure and pass on screen outputs.

All software solutions used in the company can be integrated to transmit complete and consistent data. For example, the right contact data could be assigned from the CRM system, the right quantities from the ERP system and the right cost centre from an Excel list.

But that is not all. This is where Robotics once again deploys one of its strengths, namely programmable logic on the basis of which data can be checked, merged or, if necessary, modified. It doesn’t matter whether internal material numbers have to be rewritten to the nomenclature of the recipient, address spellings have to be adapted according to country, or certain orders or invoices have to be treated differently from the rest. Even more complex adjustments such as using AI to calculate order quantities or Big Data to calculate interest rates for late payment are possible.

If the data for the data exchange has been compiled in the correct scope and format, Robotics naturally also has the ability to write this data back to designated places in its own system, for example, to write the order with AI-adjusted order quantities back into the ERP system.

Finally, the data is transferred. Robotics can be used to create not only common exchange formats. It is even conceivable that Robotics could log into a web interface (e.g. the online shop) of the supplier and automatically enter the order that has just been compiled. The strength of Robotics to simulate user input is of course also fully effective in the internal data exchange, because here data can be entered directly as user input, e.g. even in programs that do not provide an import solution.

All these steps can be adapted to highly individual needs. For individual scenarios (such as an order above a certain limit), it would be possible to switch to a monitored mode (see In what ways can I use robotics?) to wait for a release.

Robotics also brings real added value as a data receiver. Incoming data can be read and evaluated with a defined logic so that the forward to the respective systems is completely automatic. The order is written to the ERP system, and if the system detects a new buyer in the order, a new entry can be created in the CRM system according to defined rules. But also the comparison with own material numbers, stocks and derived repeat orders is possible.

Since Robotics can take over a good part of the logic behind the processing of standard business cases, it is also possible to use standard software packages to implement functions for which otherwise expensive ERP suites would have to be purchased. Especially for small and medium-sized companies this is an advantage that should not be underestimated.

Robotics is designed to be scalable. This means that you can process very large amounts of data very quickly. If you choose our RPA as a service offer, you do not even have to build up and tie up additional resources for automation.

We hope to have given you again a general overview of the implementation possibilities of Robotics and what it can offer you. We will be happy to support you in the implementation of a pilot project, the selection of suitable software, assist you in the selection of suitable process candidates for automation, and even help you set up effective data exchange within your company and with your partners.

As always: If you have any questions about automation, its implementation, integration into your process landscape, or the selection of an RPA provider, please contact team@workanizer.at and we are happy to support you.

Your WorkAnizer Team

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