Enhancing Efficiency through System Interface and Integration

Originally published in Caribbean Maritime Magazine Issue 43.

To keep ahead of the curve in an increasingly competitive global market, industries have looked to technology to improve operational efficiency. One such method has been the use of system interface or fully integrated systems.

Today, we look at the advantages of interface and integration through an interview with Kay Wilson Kelly, Operations Manager/Project Lead at ADVANTUM.

Ms. 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 are one.

System Interface at work

Today, there are many ways that one application can be integrated or interfaced with another, once they both can facilitate the process.  An application program 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.

Take for instance when Billing and General Ledger Accounting applications are disparate systems. When you generate a receipt, you would capture a customer name, item, cost of item and amount.  You now need this represented in your General Ledger as an accounting transaction. Instead of accountants re-entering the data in the General Ledger that is already in the Billing system, 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, a way is now provided to move data 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.  The 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 be responsible for sending or consuming data related to themselves.

With interfacing comes smoother operational flows, removal of double entry of data, less errors in data entry and facilitation of faster processing.

Integrated Systems at work

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 know how to 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. Based 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 as data extracts or graphical visuals.

The ADVANTUM Suite of Products allows all that, catering also to other industry players such as Agents, Freight Forwarders and Warehouses using similar integration techniques. Since the platform and database is like the Port, interfacing is that much easier because of the similarity of the database structure.

Similar advantages as with interfaces also exist. However operational efficiencies are now taken to another level with the introduction of the workflows.  Separately, all your data is up to date in a single database and since all users are viewing the same data set, dissemination of unified data is realized.

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 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 Motor Vehicle, ADVANTUM eLabour and ADVANTUM Equipment.

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