The fantastic factory of the future: a connected, cyber-physical wonder-plant that brings human ingenuity and collaboration into perfect harmony with automated efficiency, high quality and mass customization. (Think Willy Wonka, but with edge devices instead of Oompa-Loompas.) But what about when it breaks down?
Even with the most expensive technology in place for process improvement and smart maintenance, none of it matters if you’re still stuck phoning vendors and manually ordering parts and supplies.
The same smart connectivity technology can be applied to the procurement process to streamline processes in maintenance and procurement. Headless eCommerce is an API-based solution for vendors to simplify ecommerce experiences and, through IoT and automation, better serve manufacturing and industrial customers during the process of ordering replacement parts, consumables, materials and other transactions.
John Bruno, VP PRoduct Management, Elastic Path.
John Bruno is VP of product management at Elastic Path. Engineering.com recently spoke with Bruno about how innovative headless ecommerce can enable more effective maintenance and procurement for industrial operations.
How can procurement transactions be smarter?
Well, a good example is my coffee machine. The machine notified me that the filter needed to be replaced. It had a little light that turned on saying "replace filter." What I experienced, as a consumer, but this is also equally relevant in an order element, is when that light goes on, I know I have a decision to make. However, the experience for the buyer now in our world, whether it’s a B2B or B2C sale, is one where I have to effectively leave that coffee machine go to my computer conduct a search online. If I know the manufacturer, I know the parts, but in a situation I don't, I may struggle to make the correct decision for the product for the part that I require. With smart technology, that device, that sensor that is already triggering an alert for me can actually go ahead and place the order for the part.
Our commerce platform allows commerce to be embedded in all of those experiences while others in the market that have been traditionally focused on the web storefront have required a lot of custom development work to bring those experiences to life. Require the creation of APIs and things of that nature to make it happen whereas it’s seamless using Elastic Path.
In manufacturing operations today, how would you rate the maturity of digitization of purchase flows? Are things still being done using ‘old school’ methods, or are we seeing more and more adoption?
Things will always be done in old school ways. So, this technology is not necessarily a replacement so much as it is supplemental and so there's always a requirement for a salesperson to be involved in certain areas in a B2B application.
Where I would say you can expect to see more pioneering to do things differently is in the world of manufacturers with brand equity—companies such as General Electric, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Honeywell. Stryker in the medical devices industry. And the reason why it's important there is because individuals who purchase equipment or products from these manufacturers with brand equity; they know the name; they respect the name. It's a preferred vendor. It’s likely that those companies will embrace this future because buyers increasingly have signaled to them that they want to keep working directly with the manufacturer, as opposed to going through another channel.
For example, if I'm ordering equipment for an operating room or a patient room in a hospital, I may know Stryker and want to engage more with them. So, what they're doing is, they're putting more sensors and making more of their product connected, allowing individuals to engage directly with the manufacturer, including through as-a-service models and tools like predictive maintenance.
And so it's those companies who are really going to be usher in the future as opposed to a regional distributor of an electric product or something like that.
So, how might maintenance of industrial machinery be different with Elastic Path versus without it?
Sure. I'll try to keep it simple and put it one of two ways.
The first way is I have four pieces of equipment that require routine maintenance. That equipment has sensors in it and those sensors will flag when maintenance is required or when a part needs to be replaced, which will trigger an alarm and automatically place the required part into the user’s online shopping cart, ready to purchase. The customer can quickly review the order and complete the purchase as soon as they receive the notification.
The other option is to truly automate. That is to have your contract, pricing, your payment terms, all those things already set. So that when the equipment requires a new part, the system does not notify the customer for a review. It's not asking you to do more work. It’s doing a straight-through process, adding that item to your cart, checking you out against your payment terms, and sending you a notification for your approval for the purchase. The purchase is completed, and you're notified with the invoice. So, it really goes from low-touch to no-touch very quickly.
Can it tie into customers’ existing ERP or asset management solutions that they already use?
It absolutely can. So, there's a bit of technical nuance behind headless commerce but for us what headless commerce means is that we've created this API orchestration layer between all of your commerce data, your business logic, your properties and the touchpoint, the rear piece that commerce transaction flow. And so if you wanted to have say an IBM Maximo who is identifying a service need and scheduling that it's kind of ticking off their own process flow. Those systems, through our API could do the very same thing from a commerce viewpoint.
So you could say that there's a piece of equipment that requires maintenance and in that maintenance role, what we want to do is we want to identify a service technician and we want to identify the appropriate date and time to conduct that service. But we know full well that, that service technician is going to require parts that they might not necessarily have on hand. And so as it's going through that flow and identifying technicians to find, it can also leverage our API, to go ahead and place this order for that part. So that part arrives ahead of the time of that service department when the technician shows up.
And so it's very easy to not have commerce feed obstructed by a human or even a device that's tied discretely to a particular account or buyer but to have commerce happen in a true machine to machine fashion. So again; sensors, triggers, a need for maintenance, a technician and a part. That need for that part actually sends that call over to something like elastic path commerce that gets transacted. And really at the end of the day, that business buyer on the other end who has a need for maintenance; they don't see anything. All they see is: Joe technician show up and replace that part and be on his way. So absolutely.
What’s next for eCommerce in the manufacturing industry?
People have been talking about industry 4.0, IoT, industrial IoT now for a couple of years. But I really think as organizations start to think about the customer experience more broadly than just a purchase or a service requirement or things of that nature, that it will actually start opening up the realm of possibilities to other emerging use cases. As companies think about going beyond traditional channels that they have normally used, they do things differently, architecturally speaking.
And so, when I mention on our side, with the API you can invoke calls for just about anything. And so if companies start taking more of approach like that, then when it comes time to do things like a chatbot integration or something else along those lines of new, innovative, unseen in their particular industries... The barrier of entry for each one of those new experiences get lower and lower. We're talking about things like automated orders and IoT right now. But I expect in the next 3 to 5 years the lid is going to be blown off of that and everyone is going to be talking about the next 5 things that people can do that are just as innovative.