When I ask logistics people what problems they have difficulty solving, one of the most popular replies is the automatic exchange of information with other parties (also called, somewhat misleadingly, integration). Another very popular problem is that of visibility/traceability etc., but if you think about it, it would be an easy problem to solve if the information exchange problem had been solved.
Getting the systems of two companies to exchange information is tricky.
It’s not tricky because the technology is hard. It’s tricky because there are two parties involved.
For example, I have been developing a database of meteorological data. and I have noticed two patterns of behaviour:
- Sometimes someone contacts us and tell us “can we upload our meteorological station’s data to your system?” We answer “Yes!”, we point them to what they need to do, and they do it. They download our software, read its documentation, and configure it. If after some months data stops being updated for some reason, they take notice and investigate.
- Sometimes we contact people and tell them “Would you like to upload your data to our system?” They answer “Yes! The data is available at the xyz ftp server!” Then we have to do all the work for them. They won’t read documentation or configure any software. We have to write a script to get their data from the ftp server and configure our software to upload it. When the system breaks they don’t notice; we have to notice.
If someone contacts us and asks us if they can upload their data to our system, it means they want this very much. We tell them yes and they feel we’re doing them a favour and they’re grateful. They’re willing to take the few steps required.
If we initiate contact and they tell us yes, it means they don’t care that much. They are the ones doing us a favour by pointing us to their FTP server and giving us a password and permission to publish the data. They won’t go to any more trouble.
Very often you will have to adapt your systems to talk to your client’s systems. Very often your supplier will have to adapt their systems to talk to your systems. I think that generally, the person who has the least power in the relationship has to do the work. It isn’t always the supplier, though it is more likely to be the supplier than the client.
I think that this is, fundamentally, why it’s tricky. And if you have dozens of clients and dozens of suppliers, it gets trickier.