Raising manufacturing integration to a higher level

Address manufacturing data integration challenges with the key technologies outlined in this Q&A.

IT channel takeaway: Understand these key data integration issues in the manufacturing sector, and get advice for providing the right-filtered information to the right roles.

With Bob Mick, vice president of emerging technology with ARC Advisory Group, a consultancy focused on IT for the manufacturing sector.

Question: What are the key trends in manufacturing integration? Obviously SOA, but is that all we have to talk about?

Mick: Certainly SOA is one of the important factors relative to integration right now, no doubt about that. The problem is making the integration easier and faster and available to more than just the people who sit down and write code. What I mean by that is, higher-level tools that business analysts or other people with some technical background -- but not developer-type backgrounds -- could potentially use to start knitting together information from various places and processes. That's the promise of SOA from a manufacturing standpoint -- that it could actually happen instead of having very rigid systems that need a lot of coding to integrate information across the enterprise. That's especially important in manufacturing because the information in the operations side is almost always stored differently from the information on the corporate side. So, in order to share information, you really need higher-level tools.

Another trend in manufacturing is to try to define how to do that -- to provide the right filtered information to the right roles. It doesn't sound like an EAI-type objective, but that's really what integration is about now.

Question: Are the high-level tools something like BPEL?

Mick: BPEL is actually an execution language, and that's a good thing, because then the process engines have a common target. Once a process engine has been developed to execute BPEL, then a variety of tools can target that as the result of the configurations that developers or users make.

Question: Specifically what tools are these high-level people going to use to draw the boxes and the lines that connect them?

Mick: I think there are two classes. At one point, everybody was talking about the business process management configuration tools, which are the ones with the swim lanes and sequence diagrams and all that sort of thing. They usually included some sort of data mapping tools as well. Everybody had the hope that the analysts would be able to use them, but I think that they were still a little bit too complex for most [analysts]. In many cases, you still had to do some coding when you were done to make sure you had access to the right information. But I believe there is another category of tools aimed at ordinary users who don't even know they're creating a process. Maybe they're configuring a document. Those tools are often tightly coupled to applications.

This 3 Questions originally appeared in a weekly report from IT Business Channel.

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