Computer Science Essays - Automating And Web Enabling The Supply Chain

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Feasibility of WebEnabling an Application.

1.1 Executive Summary

In this essay, an attempt has beenmade to examine the feasibility of automating and web enabling the supply chainmanagement system in the automotive manufacturing industry. Supply chainmanagement is important because there is a need for efficient and focusedmanufacturing that is capable of responding to changing demand in largegeographic regions. Automotive manufacturers should be able to serve theexisting markets with higher levels of efficiencies and attempt to cheaplyexpand their market share by efficiently dealing with end users and otheractors in the business and logistics domain. If the organisational inertiarelated to the development of supply chains and continuing with the existingways of doing business may be discarded, then it is quite possible to implementa web enabled system using inexpensive web enabling technologies. The Microsoft.NET offering proves to be far superior to the J2EE from Sun, except that it isrestricted to the Microsoft platform. The J2EE technology has been used insituations where platform independence is important. Many large automobilemanufacturers such as Volvo have developed web enabled supply chain managementsystems and it is important for other automotive and parts manufacturers tofollow the trend in order remain competitive.

2.1 Background Related to Supply ChainIntegration in the Automotive Industry

Supply chains and logistics areimportant to businesses because a substantial portion of the price paid by acustomer for manufactured goods is passed on to distribution and logisticsnetworks. Thus, investments made to improve and automate the supply chain canenhance the effectiveness of a manufacturing organisation, minimising costs andincreasing the reliability associated with delivery. Because automotivemanufacturers can have global supply chains, it is important to ensure that thecomplex automotive manufacturing operations are properly coordinated for justin time deliveries. Both inbound and outbound logistics are important inautomotive manufacturing (Magnus, 2003. Pp. 2-10).

Dealers and end users as purchasers of spare parts and contractors whomanufacture components are important for the vehicle manufacturer which becomesan important hub for the supply chain. The end-customers or the vehicle ownersand operators have to be satisfied in a highly competitive environment whichpushes business-to-business relations to focus on the bottom line (John,1999, Pp 4-8).

With many stakeholders and high volumes of goods being exchanged, logistics hasgrown into a complex business. Although, many automotive manufacturers haveattempted to automate the supply chain, it is also important that such systemsbe built using the XML global data standards to ensure global connectivity withbusinesses (Juha, 2003, Pp 7 - 21).

Multiple interrelations and differences must be integrated into a systemdemonstrating agile logistics. In order to manage the large volumes involved intransactions and to manage the requirements for just in time inventories, manyautomotive manufacturers had invested in ERP modules with an emphasis towardsconnectivity with the dealers (Magnus, 2003, Pp 2-10).

Business process re-engineering and attempts to consolidate accounting had beenthe main thrust for bringing about IT related improvements in automotivemanufacturing. However, with the emergence of the World Wide Web and XML basedglobal data standards, the logistics focus has now shifted towards e-logisticswith attempts towards reaching the end-customer. The evolution of mobilecommunications and global manufacturing strategies for competitiveness hasmeant that there is a shift towards being able to interact with the endcustomer and becoming web enabled for easy interaction with almost any supplierthrough the use of XML based standards for universal connectivity. Enterpriseresource planning or ERP and inventory management as well as many other areasof operations to be found in automotive manufacturing had seen an enhanced useof computers (Dieter, 2005, Pp 20-21).

Areas such as design, accounting, human resource management and production planningamongst others benefited. Efforts had been made in the past to use IT toconnect with major business partners. However, there is now an increased needto update the efforts of the past by providing enterprise wide integration andweb services connectivity based on the accepted XML global standard. Suchenterprise wide integration based on global standards can also assist insituations where business operations need to be merged in order to reapeconomic benefits (Scott, 2002, Pp.3-6).

Managementassociated with many automotive manufacturing ventures is looking for seamlesslinks and collaborative replenishment structures with an ability todifferentiate the level of integration based on the nature of businessrelationships. Automotive suppliers, parts manufacturers and dealers aretherefore looking to upgrade older systems based on modular software to be ableto take advantage of the latest offerings of web services with WSDL standardsand better networking to provide, greater flexibility (Microsoft, 2004, Pp.2-3).

3.1 IT for Automotive Supply Chain Management

The web services technology withXML integration holds great promise for interactions between various actors inthe supply chain and end - user system. Web services are capable of processingXML encoded SOAP messages which are sent over the http protocol, using the WSDLor the web services description language. Web services are capable of bothsimple exchanges as well as complex interactions to cater for changing supplier- assembler relations resulting from changing global manufacturing decisions inresponse to demand (Web Engineering Group, 2005).There is, therefore, a change from the point-to-point thinking of the EDI eraand the hub-and -spoke model made possible as a result of the emergence of theinternet (John, 1999, Pp.6-10).

There are many tools andtechnologies which are now available to assist with software design and thedevelopment team can leverage the power of web services technology using XMLstandards. Offerings from major software technology vendors include the .NETplatform from Microsoft, Web sphere from IBM and the Java J2EE platform fromSun. Whereas all offerings by various software technology vendors haverelative advantages as well as disadvantages, Microsoft .NET platform appearsto offer the most. Its widespread acceptance and the availability of relativelyabundant skilled manpower that can use the platform tools to develop solutionsmake it an attractive alternative (Roger, 2001, Pp. 8-29).

As a result of this proliferation, the development costs associated with asolution based on the Microsoft .NET are likely to be lower then thoseassociated with other tools and offerings (Hupe, 2002).Although the IBM offering has been successfully used to develop many largeprojects, so also has the Microsoft offering and .NET tools are much betterknown as compared to Web Sphere or J2EE (Microsoft, 2003, Pp. 2-5).

The J2EE and the Enterprise JavaBean approach is language dependant, requiring that all components be writtenonly in the Java language. It is also not practical to add components usingCORBA technology. The .NET platform is significantly cheaper, requiring five toten times lower levels of investment to acquire as compared to J2EE. Coderequired for a solution in J2EE is likely to be much larger as compared to thatfor the Microsoft .NET platform and vendor support for developers using theJ2EE platform is also sadly lacking. However, the J2EE platform offersadvantages in terms of portability because .NET is limited to the windowsoperating system, even though it is possible to program in C#, J#, VisualBasic.NET and C++ on the .NET platform (Roger, 2001, Pp. 8-29).

The performance offered by the .NET platform over windows can range from16,000 transactions per minute to 500,000 transactions per minute as comparedto the 17,000 to 110,000 transactions per minute range of the J2EE and the WebSphere offerings. Hence, the cost of developing and running applications in.NET is much lower as compared to the J2EE systems (Hupe, 2002).Transaction scalability and the associated ability to support a larger numberof clients are far superior with the Microsoft .NET platform as compared to theJ2EE. Thus the J2EE platform should only be considered if platform independencehas become essential for a project in order to integrate with legacy systems.It is because of the requirements for platform independence that that manylarge projects related to supply chain integration are undertaken using J2EErather then the .NET (Michael, 2002, Pp. 256-332).

The .NET uses a general run timeenvironment that is closely associated with the operating system. Theavailable tools include Visual Studio.NET, Enterprise Servers and the .NETFramework (Roger, 2001, Pp. 8-29).Support is available for the new generation of devices that can be used toaccess web services. ASP.NET, ADO.NET, Enterprise servers and SQL serverprovide flexibility and a capability for the design of sophisticated systems (Microsoft,2003, Pp. 2-5).

A typical supply chain system foran automotive manufacturer should provide 'publish-and-subscribe' capabilitiesfor various actors to permit different business roles and relationships. Such asystem should be accessible to all through the web and be able to support anumber of devices including mobile devices for the sales teams as well as homecomputers or desktops for the end - customers such as vehicle owners, fleetowners, dealers and parts manufacturers.

The web portal should be able toprovide interfaces into different business portals with users being able toaccess a parts database to determine what they want, get customer status, placean order, determine order status and possibilities for XML exchange as well asbatch processes for large commercial business purchasers. At the same time, theweb portal should be able to link to an enterprise wide integrated system tomake transactions with the parts suppliers' possible using inputs from anautomated inventory management system (Michael, 2002, Pp. 256-332).

The web portal should be able to enter into XML transactions with the partsmanufacturer's systems and place orders, receive delivery information as wellas query various aspects related to the automotive manufacturer / partsmanufacturer relationship. Because there is a trend to interact with the endusers of automotive components to provide better service and capture markets,the supply chain web portal system is expected to receive a considerable numberof hits per day and will be required to process a considerable number of ordersas well as queries. The design of such systems has been demonstrated to bepractically possible in the light of several development efforts (Magnus,2003, Pp. 2-10).

Considerable efforts and hencemoney was being spent in trying to process orders in a age where there is adesire for flexible manufacturing coupled with a desire for inventoryminimisation as well as just in time deliveries (Mani, 2003, Pp 6-15).Web services based supply chain systems make sense because they can offer abroader view with a capability for a myriad of individuals as well asbusinesses to interact with the company (Juha, 2003, Pp. 7-21).

The high level of automation that can be built into the systems offers obviousadvantages with a streamlining of supplier processes and the ability to capturelarger markets as a result of the attempts to capture end-user attention thatis being made possible in the latest systems (Yuxio, 2004, Pp.2-5).

XML capabilities andstandardisation does provide the ability to interact very broadly, but itshould be remembered that there are a very wide number of XML frameworks whichtend to constantly evolve and differ from industry to industry. There is aframework for the automotive industry, but this too is evolving and hence, thesoftware design for a system should make it possible to keep up with suchevolution with relative ease. The release of newer versions of XML had sloweddown the implementation of supply chain automation in some companies along withproblems related to legacy systems and proper selection of technologies (Scott,2002, Pp. 2-12).

However, it has to be appreciated that the adoption of web services forbusiness interactions is increasing at a significant pace and therefore effortshave to be made by all the actors in the supply chain to upgrade theircorporate IT systems for universal interconnectivity. A failure to do this canresult in a loss of business and global opportunities. The costs associatedwith tools to enable XML web services are not high and there are developersavailable. However, the important challenge is to communicate the XML webservices vision within the supply chain actors (Microsoft, 2005, Pp. 2-5).

The literature that is available onthe internet describes a large number of web services applications in greatdetail with source code (Web Engineering Group, 2005). Hence,it is possible to make an assessment for developing web services based systemsin general. Published literature also presents a wealth of information relatedto XML, web services and supply chain integration (Charles, 2001), (Michael,2002, Pp. 256-332), (Juha, 2003, Pp. 7-21).

4.1 Future Directions for Supply ChainManagement

The importance of supply chainmanagement has been growing and technology has started to provide thecapabilities which can be harnessed into practical realities. Outsourcing isconstantly expanding and therefore the requirements for a web enabled supply chainmanagement system for manufacturers are definitely on the increase. Global XMLstandards mean that manufacturers who want to take on substantial work will beunder pressure to develop the capability for a web services based supply chainmanagement system to make it possible for them to interact with theircustomers.

Supply chain strategies are required to support corporate strategiesand assist with constantly changing supplier / assembler relationships to takeadvantage of the economics of the situation. Effective supply chain managementcan be quite complex and it is likely that the systems which will be developedin the future will attempt to better address these requirements in theirsoftware design. Re-engineering supply chains coupled with a view towards lowercorporate costs is likely to force a higher level of automation in corporatesupply chain management techniques. The resistance to change which has hinderedthe development of better supply chain initiatives is likely to fade becausemanufacturers will have to compete effectively in order to serve costumers (Universityof Pretoria, 2002, Pp. 3-8).

With improvements in the available technology, it is likely that the supplychain management systems of the future will attempt to incorporate forecasting,collaborative planning, targeted opportunities and the common objectives ofvarious enterprises. Access to shared databases will mean that these can bemined to extract market data and potential customers for an alignment of demandplanning across the supply chain. Several levels of decision making and a clearflow of products, services and information across the supply chain will bedesired by manufacturers, resulting in novel attempts to apply informationtechnology to supply chain optimisation.

Thus, there is a considerable scopefor the application of information technology to supply chain managementapplications in many manufacturing industries (Mani, 2003, Pp. 6-15).

5.1 Conclusion

Evolution of the web services and associatedtechnologies has seen many novel applications becoming web enabled. Attempts towardsa wider application of web services technologies are likely to revolutionisethe manner in which many industries operate and web services for supply chainmanagement provides a capability for having rapidly changing of supplier /consumer relationships within widely distributed geographic regions. Automotivesupply chain management systems that are web enabled are necessary in view ofthe global manufacturing strategies that must be adopted by successfulautomotive manufacturers in order to respond to changing demand and challengesfrom competition.

The greatest hindrances towards the development of automatedsupply chain management systems have been technology evolution and theorganisational inertia which has wanted for the established ways of doingbusiness to persist. However, requirements for more complex and efficientmanufacturing with an emphasis on focused activities along with a tendency tosubcontract component manufacturing has resulted in a move towards bettersupply chain management.

Emergence of global data standards and newexpectations related to business-to-business and business-to-consumerinteractions has meant that manufacturers are more likely to succeed in theiractivities if they have the capability for automated interactions over the web.It is, therefore, very likely that there will be a greater proliferation of webenabled supply chain management systems in the years to come.

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