In this guest blog, a key Kallik partner, George Young, founding partner at professional services firm Kalypso shares his perspective on the importance of integration in the modern enterprise.
Why does integration matter?
If you don’t do integration right, you are failing to truly maximise the investment you have made in enterprise software, in the sense of leaving too big a gap between two very important business functions. Let’s back up a little so I can show you the basis of my understanding a little better. Kalypso is an Ohio-based consulting firm focused on helping clients to improve productivity and boost innovation. To that end, we’ve found the Kallik system a highly useful tool in our armoury, especially in the packaged goods sector. This is because packaging integrity and brand identity are becoming more and more important in this market, for all sorts of reasons – compliance being very important, of course, but many of these companies’ leadership see the need for integration between all the elements in their systems. And a lot of the time, we encounter two sorts of enterprise IT systems in those customer environments: the central corporate platforms, the Oracles and the SAPs, the classic Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) suites at one end of the scale and at the other, the PLM, the Product Lifecycle Management applications, which can sometimes be from the same suppliers. Generally speaking, the first set of systems is there to take care of the overall business – to process orders, handle the finance side, and so on. At the other end of that spectrum, we have the smaller PLM solutions, whose main job is to manage the integration of product design. This is a very typical snapshot of a lot of the consumer goods as well as regulated industries, I think you’ll agree.
Where does integration come in? It comes in when you want to marry the two sides up – when you want to connect the data that is in the ERP system with what you have in the PLM system so as to have a properly unified single source of truth for all your product information. It is probably worth saying at this point that the tool we use to help bridge the gap between the ERP and the PLM sides of the business - by working with our PLM assets on artwork and labelling content which is then integrated to ERP - is, the Kallik Veraciti Labeling and Artwork Platform, which we are happy to see is fully compatible with the leading products in both sectors.
A new, systematic way of working
But there are challenges on the way to achieving that desired integration – a lot of them. We can start with the human one. A lot of teams outside the IT side of a business can often end up resisting what they feel are ‘monolithic’ attempts to unify all their data and workflows: you find quite typically that the IT department want everything in SAP, which can be difficult for some people in the business given the complexity of that very rich system. That’s sometimes compounded, in our experience, by the artwork side of the house not being too keen on being expected to work with PLM-style systems, either. Sometimes, you find the artwork team is just not really that convinced of the value of working in a systematised way, be that with ERP or PLM. The next level up in terms of integration challenges is the technical aspect of the integration (between ERP, PLM and artwork and labelling). To make that work, you have to be very sensitive to the architecture underpinning the proposed joined-up system you want to see emerge here. The key here is the old adage of KISS – it really does pay to Keep It Simple (Stupid). In the past, the technical elements of an integration project might be much more nuts and bolts, to do with making two non-standard or niche systems talk together. That’s less of an issue now, as so many organisations have standardised on SAPs and Oracles, for both ERP and PLM, as well as SQL RDBMS. So the main face of integration now is that overall architecture side, we are finding. Beyond human/cultural issues and possibly technical/compatibility hassles, what other challenges are there to effective integration around the packaging and labelling process? We find the final one to often be around business process integration. How does a business process around packaging, artwork and labelling management need to be adapted for seamless integration of data to take off?
The human factor (redux)
To some extent, this hearkens back to the people issue I mentioned, but at a level of greater complexity. There are often big changes here in the work styles and daily activities of team members that need to be carefully thought through and sensitively handled; get this stage wrong and your whole effort may end up going nowhere, frankly. Make sure you build in time for people to get used to new ways of working with artwork and labelling post the introduction of an integrated process via Kallik, is my advice. And we all may have to. In the past 20 years or so we here at Kalypso have seen more and more parts of our customers having to get to grips with integration, which is now touching more and more highly creative people who haven’t been asked to deal with this sort of technology before. We need to help them get used to this and get comfortable first if we want to get the main benefits of integration here: better throughput and efficiency. No pain, no (lots of) gain? It’s easy to lose sight of why we’d want to put in efforts around integration. The truth of the matter is that there is a huge value to be gained, despite these challenges. I always point to the Kalypso customer that implemented integration via Kallik and realised a 40% improvement in turnaround due to saved time and errors as the proof point as to why we want to do this. And if we can not just produce accurate artwork assets quicker but re-use those assets throughout the enterprise, then that’s also promoting efficiency as we are clearly not re-inventing any wheels any more.
My final comment, then, is that for any sort of company that has a lot of investment in packaging and labelling, that needs to get them right or done better, integration – for all the organisational, and, to a lesser extent these days, technical challenges it creates, it really does have to be the face of the future. I wish you good luck with all your integration efforts!