Zebra Technologies’ deployment of Oracle’s Agile product lifecycle management (PLM) applications is part of the company’s larger IT transformation. As detailed in the May 2009 issue of Profit, the company is in the midst of a three-year project to move from a fragmented Baan 4C4 enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to a single global Oracle E-Business Suite implementation. As part of that project, product information from Zebra’s Agile PLM applications will integrate with Oracle E-Business Suite.
Because integration is occurring as both systems are being deployed—and because business can’t stop for IT projects—Zebra’s Agile team needed to find ways to link PLM and ERP systems even before true electronic integration could happen. “We knew that we were replacing our Baan ERP system with Oracle, so we made a conscious decision not to integrate Baan and Agile,” says Shantanu Dhar, director, global PLM and process excellence at Zebra. Instead, Baan-Agile data synchronization was done manually, and attention was focused on the ultimate goal of electronic integration between Agile PLM applications and Oracle ERP systems.
Zebra’s Agile team began working on integration in November 2009 and held design workshops in early 2010 to map out integration details. “We put down all the different scenarios that happen in Agile and how they will integrate into the Oracle ERP system,” explains Andy McCollum, senior director, change management and process improvement at Zebra. “We identified all the data points that would be mastered in Agile and how they will flow to the downstream systems.”
That sort of workshopping is important for success, according to Joe Barkai, practice director, Product Lifecycle Strategies, at research firm IDC. “The whole information set about a product is a very complex, multifaceted thing,” Barkai says, explaining that it encompasses information about the supply chain, compliance, customer sentiment and behavior, warranty claims, service information, and more. “To truly have a picture of a product, and how you want to improve it going forward, you have to master all of these aspects.”
Zero customization is an overarching IT mandate at Zebra, so for data integration the company will use the Agile Product Lifecycle Management Integration Pack for Oracle E-Business Suite for Design to Release. McCollum credits Oracle Application Integration Architecture, which is built on Oracle Fusion Middleware’s SOA products, with easing the integration. “That’s where Oracle integrates all its systems,” he says. “We did some proofs of concept, and most of our use case requirements are met by the process integration pack.”
McCollum estimates that integration between Agile PLM applications and Oracle E-Business Suite will be complete by the fall of 2010. Dhar adds that the Agile team’s work is tied to the progress of the ERP project. “There will probably be 8 to 12 weeks of intense integration work, but we have to respect the ERP deployment schedule,” he says.
IDC’s Barkai tells companies that integrate PLM and ERP systems that simply merging databases is only part of the challenge. “The most important part is not standard databases but information standards, taxonomy, and semantics,” he says. “Companies have to make sure that data elements can be looked at, analyzed, exchanged, and understood across multiple domains.”