Real-time data movement is no longer a “nice to have”

Companies now know the basics of storing, managing and analysing data, but how this data moves is still a mystery to many. Yet, in the background, real-time, efficient data movement is the key to most industries’ operations – not least building and maintaining an efficient supply chain.

Products are not the only entities that travel through a supply chain; the movement of data which allows this travel is an often overlooked yet critical element. The IT infrastructure at the heart of any given supply chain can either boost or constrain a company’s bottom line and its customers’ experience, by either allowing a fast and effective movement of crucial information or throttling it.

The crux of the matter, and IT’s key challenge, lies in the accessibility of real-time data and communication both within the organisation and across its partners in the ecosystem, from retailers to suppliers, to warehouses to shipping lines, and more. And that too in real time, moving “events” as they happen at the same time to all systems who need them.

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An event-driven business world

While batch-based, services-based and API-based ways to exchange data have been used over the decades, “event” and “event streaming” are a more natural way of thinking about real-time data movement. An “event” is an occurrence, which needs to be pushed in real time and in a guaranteed manner to whoever needs it, or subscribes to it.

For example, how does the US dollar price changing against the British Pound in London immediately get reflected in New York and Singapore? It’s an event that is being streamed. How do online shopping orders from London reach the warehouse in Oslo a millisecond later? And not just that, but how does it update inventory, warehouses, factories when needed as well as analytics and personalisation systems all in parallel at the same time, guaranteed? How do IoT sensors keep the energy grid running smoothly? How about a digital factory streaming events to correlate with quality and ERP systems and data lakes? All of this is made possible by events being streamed in real-time.

The way data can travel so fast is through an underlying event streaming layer called the event mesh, the infrastructure’s nervous system, which makes signals or data changes travel from point A to B, an C and D, all in real-time. Global capital markets have used this event-driven paradigm for years, and as other industries become more real-time, they can take inspiration from global capital markets event-driven architectures.

That’s why event-driven architecture (EDA), which pushes information as events happen, is a better architectural approach than waiting for systems to periodically update. EDA ensures that event information is sent to all of the systems and people that need it. It’s a simple but necessary concept.

Applications and systems can “publish” events to the mesh, while others can “subscribe” whatever they are interested in, irrespective of where they are deployed in the factory or data centre, or the cloud. This is essential for critical industries we rely on, such as capital markets, industry 4.0, and a functional supply chain. Indeed, there are few industries today who can do without as-it-happens updates on their systems. Businesses and consumers demand extreme responsiveness as a key part of a good customer experience, and many technologies depend on real-time updates to changes in the system.

However, many existing methods for ensuring absolute control and precision of such time-sensitive logistics don’t holistically operate in real-time, at scale, without data loss, and therefore open room for fatal error. From retail, which relies on the online store being in constant communication with the warehouse and the dispatching team, to aviation, where pilots depend on real-time weather updates in order to carry the passengers to safety, today’s industries cannot afford anything other than real-time data movement.

Overall, when data is enabled to move in this way, businesses can make better decisions. In the case of shipping, for example, if we are streaming discrete events such as shipping events, vessel location and order management events, and even external factors such as weather, or economic data while correlating and visualising them in real time, key insights are revealed and all parts of the transport chain can function in an accurate, timely manner, increasing efficiency across the entire operation and avoiding shipping delays and the costs business incur because of them.

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Time-critical supply chains need real-time data movement

Fundamentally, all goods with critical shelf-life require the supply chain data to move in real-time. This has become particularly apparent as the Covid-19 vaccines are distributed across the world through the “cold chain”, in a process that requires the chemicals to be stored in very low temperatures at all times. The accurate and real-time monitoring of factors such as temperature and quality control have proven vital in ensuring the preservation of the vaccine, and helping it reach the public.

At every instance of the supply chain, whether it’s distributing a vaccine or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it is mission-critical that organisations implement the right technologies to allow multiple digital systems including supply chain, product lifecycle management, quality control, manufacturing and others to talk to each other in real-time. The most effective way to do this is through event streaming and management technology – software which ensures data moves fast and accurately. Digital Supply Chain Twin is a symbiotic technical evolution to provide an easy, real-time state of everything related to supply chain and digital twins stay current by subscribing to real-time event streams.

These technologies help communicate changes in data at each step of the process – what is known as events – as they happen, keeping all pieces of the puzzle working together at all times.

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Real-time events in non-critical supply chains

However, it is not just goods with critical shelf life that benefit from operating in real-time. Many retail companies are event-enabling their supply chains in order to accurately control pricing strategies, to stay on top of international shipments, and to fully utilise new technologies such as IoT, AI and streaming analytics to both predict and avoid delays.

Amazon and Shopify have set the gold standard for supply chain management by doing the above, and in order to compete, it is critical that others follow in their footsteps and embrace event-driven architectures to optimise operational efficiency and generate better customer experiences. Better pricing, just in time, right sized stock procurement, lean warehousing, and above all, delighting the customer all become a reality with real time event streams being processed.

As customers move toward buying products and services as experiences, they expect companies to provide real-time updates. Supply chains play a crucial role in creating this value-driven customer experience, as by recognising that creating value for customers relies on collaboration, data has become the new currency feeding that value both internally and with supply chain partners.

Following on from the Covid-19 pandemic, the criticality of event streaming in every supply chain is accelerating. Supply chains, in fact most systems are evolving from reactive to predictive. With the likes of manufacturing, sourcing and patient care also moving to real-time event streaming as their way of system to system one to many push based integration, this form of digital transformation is where supply chains are heading towards into the new decade.

Written by Sumeet Puri, CTSO of Solace

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