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Microservices Expo: Article

Enterprise Data Platform Reference Architecture

Implementation in a manufacturing supply chain enterprise

Social media applications like Facebook walls, Linked-in dashboards and Twitter tweet-boards have inadvertently opened up a new paradigm of pushing data/information to the users. Enterprise IT applications, on the contrary, expect users to navigate to the information using designated UI forms or user reports; obviously the social media type of paradigm of pushing relevant/important data can significantly improve the productivity and efficacy of users. Typically in a Manufacturing Supply Chain enterprise, operations span activities across complex manufacturing automation and supply chain automation processes. These processes churn a large amount of data, activities and events that are consumed by thousands of knowledge workers to execute business operations.

This article proposes reference architecture for creating a new generation platform for delivering enterprise Data Information to knowledge workers to help improve their productivity and accuracy. It also articulates some high-level design options for implementing the platform.

Understanding the Enterprise Data Platform Requirements
It is believed that most of the challenges currently faced by enterprises for the presentation layer and information of stakeholders are addressed effectively by having a broad and effective unified collaborative network portal based on the user's perspective rather than an enterprise perspective in terms of functions like product development, supply-chain management, marketing, sales, and service management. Improved capabilities will be required to ensure that accurate business information is provided in a secure, timely, and personalized way to any decision maker who needs it-anywhere and on any device. Geographically far-flung operations that once operated semi-independently from headquarters and each other will now need to work in a synchronized manner so that companies can operate as a single, integrated global enterprise, capturing benefits from scale economies and yet retaining agility to respond to local market requirements.

Social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are bringing a sea change in how users navigate through data in their personal and social domain. It would be advantageous to the enterprise stakeholders if the same level of sophistication in enterprise applications is provided to filter and present information that is most relevant to them in their day-to-day operations. For example, in a CRM application, a user will expect his (her) wall to automatically present the most promising new opportunities in the pipeline, contacts to be reached out to, key results from an ongoing campaign, any alerts to be attended to and so on. The user will want to personalize the feeds, just as they can on Facebook, and the user may want to share the feeds with their colleagues, managers and contacts. When shared, the feeds will show up on their contacts wall too.

The stakeholders' user interface thus will be about the automatic bubbling of relevant information based on customized/personalized configurations and about sharing information between various stakeholders. The following technical contours of such a platform are described below. Information is presented in the user-dashboard as it happens. The dashboard contains a summary view of all relevant information (heterogeneous information). For example, a dashboard can show "orders held," "new project approvals," "co-workers on vacation," "number of projects in red," etc. The information is filtered for relevance, importance, urgency of action and any other criteria deemed important by the business. The information filtering can be customized by a group (Project Manager, Engineers, and Executives). The information filtering can be personalized by a user.

Users can select and configure any data (from the enterprise) to be made available to their dashboards. For example, an executive may want to have visibility to every new project created for a specific customer. The user can configure the information to be delivered as email or SMS messages. Users can share the information feeds with other users and user groups through explicit share actions. Users can configure information feeds to be automatically delegated to other users/groups.

An information feed may be classified as one or more types. For example, some feeds may require users to acknowledge that they have read the information. If confirmation is not made within a stipulated time, the feed may get escalated to the appropriate users/dashboards. As we can see, primarily enterprise data presentation requirements are focused on stakeholders of different types that can be correlated with current social media application requirements.

Overall solution requirements are depicted in the following diagram.

Apart from stakeholder-based primary requirements, let's look at derived requirements.

Enterprise Data and Presentation
Data is the core of any enterprise IT application. Data is persisted, processed, and presented to the users in the IT applications. In the contemporary applications, a user navigates to an appropriate presentation vehicle (UI Form, SQL report) to retrieve the information from the persistent store.

Some of the disadvantages of this contemporary approach are:

Manual navigation - user needs to manually navigate to appropriate forms to find/view information. For example, user has to navigate to the ‘Orders' form to find "held Orders," and to the "Projects" form to find "closed projects."

Different users have different data needs at different times. For example, a project manager may want to keep eye on all "ABC Ltd Orders" for a month or an executive may want to get an update when any quote is rejected by a customer.

An alternative solution is to push appropriate data (as it happens) to the users dashboard, as per some predefined (and user defined configuration).

Enterprise Data and Configuration
The platform needs to provide an ability to configure the data to be pushed (data feed element) to the user dashboards. The configuration can be at hierarchical levels - system defined, group defined, and user defined configuration. The platform should also allow setting the importance of a data-feed element.

The data feeds should be presented to the user dashboards in the order of their importance (time of occurrence can be default). Presentation templates can be used to configure how data is to be presented in a data feed element.

Enterprise Data Presentation Platform's Reference Architecture for Manufacturing Supply Chain
In the centralized information hub for the enterprise consisting of manufacturing supply chain operations, the presentation layer plays a significant role and each of the stakeholders have the ability to access relevant information, can initiate transactions and real-time collaboration to improve the supply chain efficiency, exchange data, and respond to events in real time over the Internet,/web. The advantage of this architecture is to reduce the network-wide inventory, speed up product flow, and finally increase service levels while reducing the operational and maintenance cost. This can also help in extending the network functions like order sourcing, item substitution, quality of service, tracking of incidents/items, tracing of events, and finally effective supplier/ provider management. The ultimate aim of this reference architecture is to provide a convergence of the provider's responsiveness with the customer's reciprocation, which will lead to an increase of enterprise opportunities.

The Pproposed architecture is to increase the effectiveness in terms of collaboration, messaging, communication, analytics and search parameters based on a single stakeholder view.

This view would support the competitiveness, scalability, productivity, innovative, collaborative, and communicative. This view also supports enterprise architecture principles like separation of concerns, loosely coupled, component based architecture.

Implementation Architecture and Conceptual Constituents
This section captures the proposed conceptual design elements of the Enterprise Data Platform.

The design is made up of the following elements:

Data Provider - This component collects the data from the application in a non-intrusive manner while the processing is in progress and feeds the data to the Transformation Engine.

Transformation Engine - Transforms the incoming data from the provider to the internal format. JSON has been chosen as the format for processing.

Correlation Engine - Responsible for identifying the correlations in the data while flowing. Performs event streaming using a CEP engine. The event streaming analysis is performed after applying the Map/Reduce on the incoming data.

Filtering and Segregation Engine - Applies the configurations per user preferences and segregates the data.

Persistence and Notification Engine - The filtered and segregated data is persisted in to "user spaces." A document-oriented database is chosen as the persistence store.

Rendering Engine - Responsible for formatting the content per user roles and rendering the content on the dashboard.

The manufacturing supply chain operations present distinct and complex challenges with the ever-changing economic, social and industrial aspects that necessitate a supply chain that is scalable, innovative, collaborative, and communicative. Presentation to the various stake holders in a timely manner helps to enhance productivity and to stay abreast of the competition. Of the architectural elements that cater to the aforementioned qualities, the data presentation platform plays a pivotal role in pushing the relevant information to the users at the right time, instead of the users pulling the information various data stores. The conceptual and logical architectures of the proposed solution have been detailed to provide such a platform. The Implementation Architecture is covered at a high level and the components required for implementation could be developed with the proven open source software products.

More Stories By GVB Subrahmanyam

GVB Subrahmanyam an Application Developer, Lead, Project Manager, Development Manager and Delivery Manager in a wide variety of business applications as part of an IT service provider. He focuses on Development, Delivery and Sustenance of IT Applications in Supply Chain/Insurance/Banking/Finance. Albeit most of his projects are Java-based assignments, he is technology agnostic.

In his current role, Subrahmanyam is working as a solution provider for Commercial Healthcare, Insurance, banking and Financial systems with Mahindra Satyam. He is also TOGAF certified Enterprise Architect and IBM certified Ratioanal Software Architect.

GVB Subrahmanyam has an M.Tech. and Ph.D. from IIT Kharagpur in the area of Chemical Technology, India and MS in Software Systems from BITS Pilani. He is also a PMI certified PMP. He attended one year of the Executive Program in Business Management(EPBM) from IIM Calcutta.

More Stories By Ravi Srirangam

Ravi Kumar Srirangam is working as the Technical Architect for Dell in the Outbound Logistics and Fulfillment program and OTM implementation programs. He has around 11 years of experience concentrating in Enterprise Java and SOA technologies. He possesses expertise in architecting and designing volume intensive applications with high availability and transactional integrity. He worked in BFSI, CRM, Logistics and Supply Chain domains. Ravi can be reached at [email protected]

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