Tue | Apr 13, 2021

Interface and integration – pulling it all together via digitalisation

Published:Tuesday | March 23, 2021 | 12:06 AM

This is the third article in our series in which we discuss how digitalisation is proving its immense value to shipping and other industries. Today we look at the advantages of interface and integration in digitalisation through an interview with Kay Wilson Kelly, operations manager/project lead at ADVANTUM.

Our first article showed how digitalisation is helping to keep the supply chain operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second part in this series explored the role of the ICT business analyst in this process of digital transformation.

In introducing today’s topic, Wilson-Kelly explains that an interface is where two or more separate software products communicate under limited capacity and data is maintained in multiple locations. A fully integrated system means that the products operate as one.

To explain these concepts further, we conducted the interview from the perspective of a client seeking advice from a software developer on how interface and integration can benefit their business.

Client: My billing and general ledger accounting applications are disparate systems. Daily, my accountant re-enters data in the general ledger that was already entered in my billing system. How can I eliminate that ‘double work’? I would like the operations of my business to be more efficient.

Software developer: Today there are many ways that one application can be integrated or interfaced with another, once they both can facilitate the process. An application programme interface (API) can be developed to define how both software can interact. To eliminate the re-entry of data, an interface can be written where one application generates an extract of data and sends it to the other application to consume same. For successful transmission, the data output must contain fields that are similar in size and data type in order to accept the data. The API may have to do some data conversion and mapping to achieve this.

Let me give you a simple example. When you generate a receipt, you capture a customer name, item, cost of item and amount. You now need this represented in your general ledger as an accounting transaction. Therefore, the API will translate this data by applying a debit and credit account for receipts, then create a journal record with the combined data to be imported into your general ledger system.

Once these interfaces are thoroughly tested and implemented, data can now be transferred from one system to the other on a real-time basis or in batches, based on a time schedule.

Interfacing of applications can also be achieved between software of two or more separate clients. In the shipping industry, freight forwarders, brokers, ports and custom offices communicate and pass along data using interfaces as well. Data movement can also be collated by a port community system that forms a central storage point where related parties can view shared information. Each party can control the sending and consuming of data related to themselves.

With interfacing comes:

• Smoother operational flows;

• Removal of double entry of data;

• Less errors in data entry;

• Facilitation of faster processing.

Another example of interfacing is when your developer extracts your data to be pulled into a business intelligence tool in order for you to do analysis. In that tool, you may then generate reports which can also include charts of various types as visual aids.

Client: How then is integration different from interfacing?

Software developer: When applications are integrated, they are more tightly coupled. They all share a common platform and database. Again, using the shipping industry, an integrated system can be developed that allows a port, for example, to perform vessel scheduling, labour requisitions and allocation, container and motor vehicle load and discharge, yard management, warehousing, container processing, as well as vessel and cargo billing – all on a single platform. Each activity can be produced as its own module to allow for role segregation. As a business entity, you may still be required to interface with a general ledger. However, imagine all those applications on a single platform! Management of the system, the need to have multiple servers and various architectures has been simplified. Users experience a unified graphical user interface (GUI) where keystrokes and functionality are the same. The learning curve to quickly navigate systems, too, has been made simpler.

An integrated system allows for easy generation of workflows within and across each role. For example, following the scheduling of a vessel, a workflow process can send an alert in the form of a requisition to HR to allocate Stevedores for work when the vessel arrives. Depending on the activities assigned to each Stevedore, another workflow can initiate the billing process to relevant entities based on start and end times of each activity performed. The use of Dashboards and Query tools which too form a part of the integrated system (and therefore needs to only pull from a single database), can provide a user with real-time reports such as data extracts or graphical visuals.

The ADVANTUM suite of products allows all of these benefits, catering also to other industry players such as agents, freight forwarders and warehouses using similar integration techniques. Since the platform and database structure is similar to those used at the port, interfacing (which we spoke of earlier) is that much easier.

The advantages of integration are similar to those of interfaces. However, operational efficiencies are now taken to another level with the introduction of the workflows. Separately, all your data is kept up to date in a single database, and since all users are viewing the same data set, data that is disseminated is unified.

Client: With all this data capture and movement how do I secure my data?

Software developer: I will let my network team respond.

Network team: Data security and protection is critical whether you have interfaced or integrated systems. You will acknowledge that with interfaced systems, you may need to employ different data-protection methodologies for each system that is on a different platform. Your backup processes may also be disparate. On the other hand, a single protection and backup method is required for the integrated system. This allows for easier administration. Needless to say, for both methods, you should not compromise proper password controls internally, and you must protect your overall firewall protection from unwanted external forces.

Our next article in this series will look more closely at cybersecurity and how individuals and organisations can protect themselves against cybercrimes. ADVANTUM will continue providing us with information for this series.

The ADVANTUM team has been providing port, shipping, freight and transportation companies in the Caribbean with the information technology services required for a smooth and effective transition to this new world of speed, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Although ADVANTUM products have been used widely in the shipping and logistics industry over the years, several applications transcend shipping and also help other enterprises to manage financials and resources with greater efficiencies, such as ADVANTUM Financials, ADVANTUM Payroll, ADVANTUM eLabour and ADVANTUM Equipment.

You can request a free consultation or demo today by contacting ADVANTUM at 876-923-7022; email: contact@advantumpcs.com, or by visiting their website at advantumpcs.com.