Businesses are acutely aware of the basic elements of storing, managing and analyzing data. However, how to move the data is still a puzzle to many. Real-time efficient data movement is a vital component of almost all business operations and the key to building and maintaining an efficient supply chain.
Tom Fairbairn is a Distinguished Engineer at Solace.
IT professionals involved in supply chain management know that the main challenge is making sure that real-time data is accessible within the organization and across the ecosystem, across all nodes: from the suppliers, the warehouses and all the way to the shops themselves. All of this must be done in real-time, capturing and disseminating information immediately, and coordinating with all in the system who need it.
Real-time data, an essential for success
API-based, batch-based and service-based ways to exchange data are often the norm, but ‘event’ and ‘event streaming’ are becoming more commonly accepted ways of thinking about real-time data movement.
To understand this, we should start with defining events, and what good management of these looks like. An event is any change in the business, or any business occurrence, which is captured as data. Events can be distributed to whichever entity needs them, and this is done by 'pushing' events towards those that are interested - 'subscribers'. This transfer happens when the event or change occurs (there is no waiting for a batched update or for the receiving systems to ask for an update), so receivers can act immediately and push the next node of the chain forward without delay.
One example of this is the updates to logistics operations: for instance, a ship or container is delayed by a weather event or congestion at a port. How will the downstream logistics operations, manufacturing operations and customer interactions be impacted? How is the change in a share price or movement of a currency value distributed to traders? All of these capabilities across multiple varied industries are made possible by real-time event streaming.
Data can travel at the speed needed through an underlying event streaming layer called the event mesh. This is the nervous system which makes any data or changes within it travel from multiple points to multiple points, all in real-time. This enables an event-driven architecture (EDA), which is widely seen as the best solution for enterprise-wide real-time decision-making; pushing information as the events take place in real-time, rather than waiting for a routine periodical update. Applications and systems can ‘publish’ the events to the event mesh, while others can then ‘subscribe’ to whatever event they are interested in. Events flow not just in a specific location like a warehouse or data center, but across everything, including the cloud.
Simply put, when data can travel in real-time, businesses are able to make better decisions because they have the most up-to-date information in hand. A tangible example is shipping. Vessels are sometimes delayed, which immediately clogs up the supply chain while also incurring numerous late fees from ports. If the system is operating on real-time capabilities, as soon as the delay is detected, and on arrival to port the business can correlate and visualize the data around this event (the arrival) so it can ensure offloading, distribution and departure happen efficiently. This increases operational efficiency, while also avoiding delay costs, such as port fees and opportunity costs.
The time-critical need for real-time data movement
COVID-19 showcased the immediate need for supply-chain data to move in real-time. Vaccines needed to be distributed across the world. Business and consumer demands changed overnight. Real-time monitoring and decision-making enabled a more accurate view of the supply chain for critical products such as foods and vaccines: factors such as temperature and storage quality and helped the life-saving vaccines better reach the global population.
Making non-critical supply chains real-time
While time-critical goods require real-time capabilities to ensure proper distribution, many other use cases also greatly benefit from operating in real-time. Retail is one of the more popular examples, as the leaders in the sector have event-enabled supply chains which help accurately control pricing strategies to help stay ahead on international shipments, while taking advantage of technological evolutions in IoT, AI and streaming analytics. The goal of this is to better predict and avoid any delays across the organization.
Ultimately, enabling real-time data movement allows businesses to optimise operational efficiency, keep customers and suppliers informed, generating better customer experiences. Customers’ demands today revolve around real-time updates, whether it’s about a package from an online marketplace or a takeaway order from a food delivery service. Supply chains, therefore, need to be more visible and transparent than ever before. Data of the actual process has become a currency that feeds the value of collaboration both internally in a business, and with supply-chain partners, ultimately satisfying customer demands for frequent and accurate updates on their purchase.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a critical moment for the supply chain as to how it could globally handle and safely deliver goods with a critical shelf life. Now, businesses are seeing the benefits of the core principles that made supply chains able to survive that disruption, which has become a must-have for digital transformation.
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Tom Fairbairn is a Distinguished Engineer at Solace.