InterForm Keeps Automotive Data On The Straight and Narrow
January 24, 2018 Alex Woodie
In the massive automotive supply chain, barcodes and EDI are part of the daily grind. Warehouse workers and drivers have no choice but to assume the barcodes are correct. But what happens when the barcode is wrong? That’s a situation that InterForm, a provider of electronic forms management software, is addressing with a new solution.
The penalties for bad data can be severe. If you’re dealing with a big OEM like Ford or General Motors, the penalties can approach $300 per incident. Some of the European manufacturers that InterForm A/S CEO Peter Sørensen works with pay penalties of €3,000 per month.
Instead of just considering the penalties a cost of doing business, InterForm wants to help automotive manufacturers and distributors get a grip on their business data, identify the sources of the errors, and eliminate them if possible.
There are several ways that InterForm tackles the data problem with its new Automotive Solution, an output management solution geared specifically toward automotive suppliers.
Some of the approaches are easy. Consider:
- If the OEM requires that a barcode has an eight-digit number, but there are only seven digits present, then you might have a problem.
- If the EDI order from the OEM called for delivery of 100 products, and you only generated pick tickets and invoiced for 95, then there might be a problem.
- If a customer generates an invoice and there’s no purchase order number associated with it, then you might have a problem.
To address these (and other) problems, InterForm has done the hard work of mapping the data and barcode requirements for hundreds of companies in the worldwide automotive supply chain into a collection of 500-plus templates that are included with the Automotive Solution product, which runs natively on IBM i and other operating systems.
These templates help ensure that output from the customer’s ERP system, such as Infor AutoRelease or other systems, is correctly transformed into the standards used by its trading partners standards – particularly when that output is used to generate a shipping document and an accompanying barcode.
But sometimes errors crop up even when you’re using a common ERP system, a familiar EDI system, and working with a popular OEM that has clearly delineated standards for data and barcodes.
The sources of these errors are widespread, but sometimes they have simple explanations. Maybe the customer is simply keeping the wrong product in inventory, or maybe the print quality of the barcode is so poor that it’s unreadable by barcode scanners.
Other problems are more mysterious in nature, and seem to surface when data and business logic from multiple systems are involved. In the old days, an AS/400, iSeries, or Power Systems shop could count on pulling all the data they needed from applications running on their OS/400, i5/OS, or IBM i platform. That monolithic platform approach made things simpler from a data and application integration perspective, but those days are over.
Sometimes the data sent to the forms software is a combination of data from multiple systems, with business logic determining the ultimate content of the barcode, Sørensen says.
“There are so many different kinds of error where the data is not aligned,” Sørensen tells IT Jungle. “For instance, we see a lot of customers who don’t have just one solution that contains the data. They have their own product descriptions and customer information and so on. It’s actually shared across more than one system.”
Everybody knows the old computer adage “garbage in, garbage out.” But sometimes, computers will still give you garbage output even when your input is pristine. “It can be that the data in each system is correct, but when it’s merged, then there can actually be errors formed,” Sørensen says.
The customer may even be getting bad data from its upstream supplier and passing that bad data along in its barcodes. But that doesn’t matter much to GM, which will give the customer a bad review for erroneous data even if the error didn’t originate from that customer. Get enough bad reviews, and your reputation takes a hit.
InterForm developed its Automotive Solution to alert users that the barcode data may not be meeting the standards of their trading partners. The software will alert the user to the presence of common errors and will even give the customer the capability to programmatically alert the user
“If we catch an error in the process, we can actually pull it back with a Web service, either through EDI or through the ERP system, to say ‘Guys, you are trying to do something that’s not according to the guidelines. You can carry on, but you should know of the potential that will cause an error,'” Sørensen says.
InterForm is based in Denmark. Its software is distributed in the United States by Infor under the name ArtForm.