Want more flexibility and ease for configurations? Consider a data-driven approach
Most sales and product configurators offer some form of a studio, whether it goes by that name or another—it houses the processes used to set up and maintain product configurations. Some configurators rely on the established patterns offered by fixed or rigid integration of data. There are advantages to working with fixed structures, but we think metadata that flows freely across your configurator and ERP system offers a more flexible, fluid approach. It enables users to create and modify models and work with all documentation needed for quote through after-sales processes. It provides the rich integration with ERP that makes working with information efficient and easy to change. Let’s explore both approaches—and when you’re done reading, we’d welcome your input and your stories.
What’s ‘Fixed of rigid’ ERP & configurator integration and an example
First, a summary of what goes into fixed or rigid integration, where data is written in tables that offer reliable structure bound by certain limits. It can offer a plethora of detail, and helps ensure models and documentation are accurate for both the configurator and ERP. Users can count on the simplicity of a reliable structure that does not require additional setup. For example, a sales order will always consist of sales order lines and items. A model for a product line will contain preconfigured fields for all variables. However, a lot of time and effort are involved if a user wants to modify data tables or even create new fields. In most cases, users need to call on the ERP vendor to help makes the changes and ensure they are modified in both the configurator and ERP. Even searching for the data needed can be difficult—users don’t know where it exists in ERP and sometimes in the configurator itself, because it lies outside the boundaries of the existing structure. They also can’t write to tables in both systems—it’s either/or, and then strenuous effort to get data from one solution into the other.
What’s ‘Metadata-based’ ERP & configurator integration and an example
Metadata-based integration transforms fixed structures by describing data based on tables, fields, and relationships between tables. That’s how e-Con works. The composition and structure of data used for models and configurations simply doesn’t rely on fitting data into a structure. Instead, data flow is the primary advantage of integration between the configurator and ERP. If information in the centralized database changes, metadata that flows cross both solutions changes as well. If the user understands how a database works, they can use it to read and write to tables in either system. Modifying standard structures is easy, and it’s also easy to search for and transport information. Instead of hunting for data that’s outside a fixed structure, users work with flexible tables similar to Excel sheets. Tables house current database information with clearly identified columns, rows, and search and sort filters. Users can search for information easily, write modifications to a table, and then drag and drop both standard and modified information, fields, line items, and more from one system to another.
How e-Con simplifies generic configurations to the max
e-Con is designed as a generic solution for sales, product, and project configurations. Metadata-based integration is key to the solution’s ease of use and flexibility, and e-Con has used this approach to create one of the market’s most powerful integrations for Microsoft Dynamics. Configurations modeled in the e-Con studio can make full use of metadata that originates in the back-end Dynamics solutions. Even better, the data is represented visually, so that mapping information across both systems is a simple task of searching for the right table or field in Dynamics AX, NAV, or CRM, and then selecting and dragging and dropping it into e-Con. Automated routing ensures that metadata in both systems is updated when the changes are made.
Even more innovation: Knowledge support for configurations
Along with fast, flexible mapping and routing, e-Con ‘s metadata-based integration actually advises users creating configurations, helping ensure that products can meet all specifications and customer demands while balancing speed, cost, and quality.
We’ll illustrate how e-Con opens doors with an example of a door configuration. Designers and engineers need to select from a multitude of materials. Options for hinges, cutouts, and mail slots may be involved. Once e-Con knows the material being used, the solution advises the user about the tool needed to punch the best holes. The solution offers suggestions for other options, to the point where the user has the full configuration, including a description in the ERP system, right at hand. Metadata spreads across the system so that the user can create the configuration quickly, drop it into e-Con, and convert the information into further suggestions, specifications, even reports. As we’ve already noted, he’ll have visual displays of all information he can work with to search for additional information and drag and drop it into e-Con.
Similar capabilities can be implemented in solutions with fixed or rigid integrations, but as with other changes, companies will usually need to call on the ERP vendor to adapt the solutions.
Your decision—we’re e-Con fans, but the facts tell the story
Regardless which approach you choose, integration between your configurator and ERP is essential to ensuring both systems house identical concepts, models, quotes, sales and service orders, bills of material, project breakdowns—the list is substantial. We believe metadata-based integration makes mapping and modifying information faster and easier than fixed or rigid structure integration. If your teams are savvy and you have quick access to IT support for complex changes, your company can save considerable time and expense. Quote through after-sales service work as optimized sub-processes and a streamlined umbrella process. We do lean toward the integration that’s given e-Con our motto of “ease and flexibility,” but we also encourage you to learn more and make the choice that’s best for your company, products, and services