Bitkom’s recent report on Industry 4.0 says it all: The number of companies tailoring their business models to accommodate digitalisation just keeps on growing. Most recently, figures jumped from 59 percent in 2018 to 65 percent in 2019 before leaping to 73 percent in 2020.

This development has been prompted by the creation of new solutions and services, as well as the rapidly increasing degree of connectivity within companies themselves (EAI – enterprise application integration) and between businesses (EDI – electronic data interchange). However, firms still struggle with five notable challenges when it comes to EAI and EDI which prevent them from harnessing Industry 4.0’s full potential.

Read on to find out how to best avoid digitalisation’s four biggest stumbling blocks.

1. Data quality

The first port of call when it comes to optimising data quality is to consistently reduce sources of error due to interface problems. Any cross-overs, where the automated transfer of data is interrupted, i.e. when printing and sending invoices, signing freight documents by hand, faxing orders or manually typing information into Excel sheets to be forwarded by e-mail, are inherently error-prone due to the manual nature of the processing involved. Those turning to automation – e.g. by introducing hardware and software solutions for digital delivery confirmations, sending invoices using electronic formats such as EDIFACT or ensuring electronic invoices can be processed using a variety of formats with the help of a data integration software – not only increase their data quality, reduce the time and effort needed for processing, but also improve transparency and traceability. What’s more, data integration solutions are able to regularly notify users about any incomplete or abnormal data records. Consignments with no house number when dealing with heavyweight deliveries or slipped decimal points, for example, are resolved before the shipment is rejected or incorrect bookings are placed with transport companies.

2. Data silos

Larger businesses, in particular, know this problem only too well. Either their centralised IT solution isn’t fast enough for their individual departments or the superordinate structure doesn’t fit into the department’s particular processes. So when it’s all systems go, and the marketing department is trying to focus on social media, and sales are wanting to introduce a customer newsletter and the product development team needs to create a customer-centric calculation basis for optimising applications, this can cause problems. Either the necessary data has been saved locally or it has been locked away on a provider’s server for sole or shared use with a partner only. What’s more, since departments like to follow their own processes, sales and accounting may oftentimes be working with different data sets. These complex, systems can force departments to store documents themselves, often twice over, or laboriously searching for them within a confusing system. Anyone looking to combat this data labyrinth has their work cut out for them. Solutions acting as an intermediary between the operational data hub (ODH), data warehouse, content management system and product information systems, first need a clearly analysed and precisely defined outcome to be achieved, before the silo is tackled head-on using a comprehensive business integration strategy.

3. Multi-cloud chaos

Probably one of the most widespread issues in companies no matter their size, is a lack of protocol when it comes to individual employees, departments or project groups using its webspace or SAAS. Duplicate data sets, non-transparency, non-observance of security standards, data loss or even data theft in the event of changes at employee level are probably some of the biggest problems faced by IT departments today. Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service are less likely to be affected, as they typically require support from the IT department. Clear, continuously communicated guidelines on the one hand, and an appropriate infrastructure on the other, can gradually help control the chaos.

4. Less is more when it comes to ntegration processes

Users of cross-system databases have to deal with various formats and different business integration issues right from the word go. In many businesses, the IT departments are the key-holders to the necessary know-how and skills to realise integrations. As long as the processes are complex and complicated, this is all well and good. But it’s a whole other story, when these mappings can be created by the individual departments themselves, with the help of simpler interfaces. In other words, the sales team themselves are able to distribute up-to-date product information from a central database, daily, in ten formats, via three different channels and to three hundred distributors. And even when changes do to occur, like adding new distributors for example, it’s still possible to individually configure and initiate the related data transfers immediately. Modern systems that cater to cloud-based and on-prem requirements, which only need to be configured rather than programmed, are now guiding users step-by-step through this process with the help of intuitive interfaces. Today, creating connections is easy. This allows for improved responsiveness when it comes to market and competitor movements and means processes can be automated right from the start which significantly reduces issues when implementing Industry 4.0 strategies.

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