Investments in new technology require IT architecture

17 April 2019

Many industrial companies face the question, if investments in new technologies are needed. Such investments nowadays always go hand in hand with digitization, and digitization is often the main course, sometimes under the banner of Industry 4.0. However, investments in digitization always raise the question, how new investments fit in the existing IT landscape.

Such an IT landscape comprises all kinds of applications which become gradually more integrated. Well-known integrations are CAD/CAM, ERP/CRM, CAE/PDM, APS/ERP to mention only a few examples. Usually, these integrations need retesting or even redesign if either of both applications is replaces by a new version.

Obviously, there is overlap in functionality between systems offered tot he market from various sides. Many ERP packages provide good support for production in batches, but lack functionality for repetitive manufacturing or production in larger projects. Other systems provide adequate support for simple warehousing, but lack functionality for large distribution centers.

Vendors of so-called ‘mega-suites’ put effort into harmonization of all pieces of the puzzle to create a nicely collaborating mutually adjusted set of software applications (at least one may expect this). However, what is the meaning of “mutually adjusted”? This implies a clear demarcation as to  which  functionality belongs where, and therefore, which interfaces are required. If these interfaces are stable (upward compatible), a modular architecture is established.  In this case, new versions of applications can be released which can re-use the interface with old versions of other applications – all within the same mega suite.

Let us assume for a moment that this is all completely true and real. Even in that case, the interfaces between sub-systems or applications are not mutually adjusted between vendors Functionality which belongs at one vendor to CRM can at another vendor be allocated to PDM or ERP, or accidentally be placed in an e-commerce module. Each vendor presumably wants to put their suite of applications in a thorough modular architecture, but no vendor has the same modular architecture as the competition.

An industrial enterprise is seldom inclined to make itself dependent on a single vendor fort he whole landscape of IT applications. Moreover, each industrial company has an existing archipelago of applications which are more or less interfaced. Accordingly, the IT landscape is usually a patchwork. Adding new applications  to such patchwork is usually expensive and not very sustainable. What is wisdom here?

There is only one answer: each enterprise ultimately has to take responsibility for the architecture of its own IT landscape and for choices to be made.  For proper control of their own future, companies should choose the right tools. Such tools provide the technology to span the boundaries of the business and the IT architecture.

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