A chart with viruses over top.

The Common Keys of Digital Transformation

by Murray Oles
February 6, 2021

Digital transformation has been taking place for half a century, so what does it really mean on this day in the COVID-19 age? For one, it means staying connected while working from remote locations, but for many, staying connected across a supply chain has its’ challenges. Consumer product manufacturers interact with suppliers of products and services to enable product planning and production. Access to product and project information must be secure, especially when using the public internet for information sharing and process management. Many larger companies invest in extending their intranet by deploying VPN technology to connect supply chain partners. This is a relatively costly strategy that effectively restricts outside access to enterprise systems while establishing an extra layer of security. Those outside resources enjoy configured access arranged by IT and very often installed on locked-down computers. While VPNs work well, they must be closely managed, and casual access for the occasional project rarely warrants IT engagement. At least that was the case until everyone started working from home during COVID-19.

The virus accelerated digital transformation in ways that have really challenged IT. Suddenly the supply chain was forced to operate remotely. The use of SaaS services to support project collaborations and production has expanded. To mitigate the re keying of item data across digital services, the software service API is the emergent strategy for securely connecting distributed enterprise systems. Application Program Interfaces have been around for decades. How they are written and implemented has evolved greatly. A web service API invokes a service by sending information to or pulling information from an external system based upon a pre-programmed request. For example: A printer fulfilling a managed inventory contract for packaging materials needs to know when to re-print labels so that they are available to production just in time and with minimum waste. The printer might use an API to query the label quantity inventories on site at the supplier production facility to determine the replenishment schedule.

The API is a magic link when it comes to process automation. Utilized wisely, APIs can automate a broad range of workflow process activities. However, the number one rule of computing still apples; “Garbage in equals garbage out” GIGO. This is where common keys are so very important. Common keys are “Key Fields” in a database. Otherwise referred to as unique identifiers. For example: The designer working on the packaging prepress file must ensure that the barcode used to identify the product at checkout is linked to the unique item ID that defines the exact nature of the item. This is where SKU, UPC, and Item ID overlap. Of the three coding methods, are any the same? Is one more unique than another? Does the number get modified when different secondary and tertiary packaging is involved? What are the relationships between these identifiers?

Relationships can be one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many to many. Consider a co-branded product bundled by a printed over-wrap for big box stores. What is the relationship between the over-wrap and the SKUs in the bundle? Then there is the shipping skid, container.

Likely the skid is used to ship many bundles. How does one identify the shrink wrapped skid full of boxed products where the products are uniquely formulated to create a flavor range? The complexity of these relationships is logic driven until exceptions defy the logic. Perhaps this is why ERP systems are generally considered the system of record for Item Description and Item ID. However, there are exceptions where MRM (Manufacturing Resource Management) systems become the Item database and the touch points with ERP are bespoke integrations. The “system of record” is where the Item ID is originally generated, edited, deleted, or updated. All other systems that may reference the Item ID do so through an integration with the system of record.

So what are your common keys of digital transformation? What is the system of record for the common keys that mean the most to the task at hand? How do the common keys get managed across the connected systems? How do you connect a cloud-based SaaS system with a firewall protected enterprise system to ensure that the use of item codes and critical data is integral across the enterprise?

First, the architecture of the whole, intranet and extranet along with a clear understanding of common keys and their systems of record is fundamental. Second, the workflows that make up the fabric of the business must be modelled, paying particular attention to the passing of information between systems. Third, the task level activities within the workflow must be optimized with the tools, methods, and specifications that ensure accurate and timely completion. Easy as one-two-three! Well, with SmartFlo it is: Check it out at CHALEX.com.

SmartFlo is the only DAM-enabled BPM system in existence today. Of all the available tools enabling digital transformation, SmartFlo is the only one that integrates DAM functionality as a service to any and all workflows across the enterprise. The unique benefit of this approach lies in the simplicity of administering and owning work processes at the department level. Who is more qualified than the department managers when it comes to defining effective work processes? The workflow engine that runs within SmartFlo includes support for exception task handling, rules-based task routing, and manages creative assets by recalling their virtual job bags and restarting jobs at a selected task within the original workflow or picking up the original job log and assets to run through an all new workflow.

Digital transformation, like learning, is a continuous process. The number one rule of computing, “GIGO” still applies. Get your keys straight, pay attention to the details, and everyone will enjoy the journey.