The recent Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit promised delegates an exciting event and even told us that the conference would ‘empower innovation and lead transformation’. Bold claims indeed, and I’m delighted to report it was an inspiring gathering. Reflecting on the conference as a whole, there are a number number of interesting themes to consider.
While a lot of the technologies being talked about are not new – Artificial Intelligence, Cloud evolution and API Management for example have all been around for some time, it is only now that the market leading providers such as Google and Microsoft have now the solutions to support mass rollout. There are many good reasons for this, but often the adoption of cutting edge technology has not kept pace with the organisations that could or should use it.
Enterprise Resource Planning
One example of this is Enterprise Resource Planning (ERPs). ERP provides an end to end data flow within an organisation which integrates the core business systems and allows endless data sources to interact with each other. ERP has been stuck in “legacyland” for the best part of the last five years using infrastructure intensive architectures which are generally out of date and inflexible in this day and age. By embracing cloud technology and building new cloud-based ERP platforms change is slowly coming in this area, yet there is consensus amongst the Gartner community that the major players will attempt to “lock in” clients not only to use their ERPs but also their database technologies and potentially their supply chain networks as well (i.e. Ariba/SAP). New there is flexibility in the way the technology can be used, but an inflexible business model by providers – is this better?
The rise of cloud computing
The rise of cloud computing is fundamentally changing application architecture. Most companies are now running over 50% of their infrastructure in the cloud. That’s partly due to original ERPs not being configurable enough and partly due to the capital cost savings of not having to buy yet another computer system to talk to all the existing computer systems. This brings its own problems, and it is worth considering the pain caused to IT departments since software providers are now bypassing IT and selling straight into the business with their “cloud-based solutions” which promise a global panacea to back office problems, sorted out be an eternally smiling set of boffins.
The conference also highlighted the re-emergence of middleware through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). APIs are the lingua franca of the machine world. You see APIs operating behind the scenes everywhere in your day to day life. A tweet from your apple iPhone makes it onto Twitter platform via an API. Your bank balance is piped into your home accounting software via API. In a nutshell it is what allows completely separate and unrelated software programs to share and use data correctly. APIs fundamentally change how we operate both in the B2B and B2C space with strong mainstream API platforms in existence today that solve many of the historic problems associated with software upgrades and the knock on effect of broken API links. The API market is really getting traction especially with trailblazers such as NetFlix having their own API development environment, showing how important they are going to be in the digital world.
The two main problems around using APIs are that first, inevitably someone has to build it and the disparate things that need to be connected need to be worth connecting in the first place and second, APIs need to be maintained otherwise they can break with updates or changes to the software operating on either side of the API. They are a great invention for sure, but they’re also just something else to go wrong. But the key thing here is that they have finally come of age. Plentiful and adaptable enough to make a real change to how data flows in the world around us.
The 'Internet of Things'
Which neatly brings us last, but by no means least, to the much heralded “Internet of Things”. All the technologies we have mentioned are about connecting the world and in particular supply chains. The internet of things will revolutionise how businesses strategise, plan and operate their supply chains. It’s no accident that the Internet of Things (IoT) has been defined as “the infrastructure of the information society”. When all the shelves, forklifts, vehicles, plant and machinery in your supply chain can collect and exchange data it’s pretty obvious to even the uninitiated that the world is changing. You just have to be able to make sense of all this information, which is another challenge in itself. But when it comes to solving core problems such as accurately estimating day by day customer demand, if end-user IoT data can be utilitised (e.g. from a vending machine or point of sale terminal), supply chains will be in a much better position to react to demand fluctuations, reducing inventory, logistics complexities and ultimately offer a better service to end-users. In our experience, this will have a profound effect on the global supply chain.
If you would like to find out more, please contact James Jenkinson.