Supporting multinational logistics with Optis and AWS

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One of the most underappreciated aspects of modern society is how complex and interconnected our trade networks have become. An average grocery store contains products from all over the world and getting everything there is the result of hard work and careful planning by thousands of individuals.

Luckily, this herculean task is increasingly supported by technology. But just like logistics, technology needs to evolve with the times: increased flexibility, faster throughput times and higher volumes are the rule of the day and IT systems need to evolve to keep pace with consumer demands.

To aid them in this endeavor, one of Belgium’s biggest logistics players enlisted the aid of Optis experts to help modernize their logistics operations. Using the latest and greatest in AWS technologies, our people helped design and build highly scalable and secure systems.

EDI Forwarding with AWS Step Functions

In logistics, shipment information needs to be bundled and transmitted when handing over goods from one logistics partner to the next. For example, when sending a package, you hand over the destination address and package weight to the mail carrier, and in return they provide you with a tracking number to follow your package.

Sounds simple enough, but in large logistics operations this requires data from many different sources and enough processing power to transform that data into a format accepted by the receiving party. The standardized format in logistics is the Electronic DataInterchange or EDI format. Even more, due to increasing shipping flexibility this is a process that cannot be planned and needs to happen ‘on the fly’.

Our client noticed that during busy times, trucks could spend up to 20 minutes waiting for the EDI process to complete, while other times the system was almost completely idle for long periods of time. What they needed therefore was a flexible way to set up EDI workflows and have them scale according to demand.

Luckily, this is exactly what AWS StepFunctions bring to the table. AWS Step Functions is a low-code, visual workflow service to build distributed applications using AWS services.Workflows manage failures, retries, parallelization, service integrations, and observability so developers can focus on higher-value business logic.

Just like logistics, technology needs to evolve with the times.

In simple terms, AWS Step Functions allow you to create a type of flowchart to orchestrate all steps of a complex business process. Need a lot of database calls to retrieve product information or pdf engines to render shipping documents? Thanks to the event driven architecture, AWS Step Functions allows you to dynamically adjusts each steps’ resources to meet demands and scales them to zero when the job is done. 

The result? A factor 10 improvement in processing time while still cutting down on operational costs! Thanks to AWS Step Functions the EDI system is always using the exact amount of resources required, leading to fast processing times even during busy hours and no costs when the system is idle. In the end, AWS Step Functions handles your infrastructure, allowing you to focus on delivering business value!

Direct Shipment with AWS Fargate

Direct shipment is the process of directly shipping goods from the manufacturer to the consumer, bypassing intermediate logistics flows. This approach benefits both parties by reducing transportation and storage costs but does carry increased planning and administration complexity.

Our client however has decided to meet this challenge by building a flexible, cloud native shipping platform. This platform is being built through the collaborative effort of several development teams, and our Optis experts are working on one of the core solutions: the planning component.

As any human planner will attest, planning mainly requires a huge amount of flexibility, or as Eisenhower would put it: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. This is no different for their digital tools. Good logistics planning takes a huge amount of diverse information into account: from weather reports to live traffic information and even planned strikes somewhere down the logistics chain.

The planning platform therefore required a flexible solution that allowed for both scalability and extensibility that would allow our client to handle an ever-increasing number of shipments and data integrations without breaking a sweat. The result was a flexible assortment of external tools and AWS components, but one of the prominent new solutions was AWS Fargate.

In Amazon’s own words, Fargate is a “serverless, pay-as-you-go compute engine that lets you focus on building applications without managing servers”. As a managed service, Fargate eliminates the overhead of server management, scaling, patching, securing, etc.

The result is that our developers can focus on developing their planning software without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure, the ideal solution for a client looking to quickly jump on evolving trends and efficiency standards.

Cloud Native Benefits

Though we decided to focus this article on the most interesting AWS components, we glanced over the hundreds of both internal and external components that make up the logistics platform. And this is a somewhat surprising benefit of the cloud native approach: it offers you a flexible common framework that integrates and unifies a diverse array of services, allowing you to pick the best technology for your needs without being forced into a singular toolset.

As a leading international innovator, our client is already firmly convinced and committed. But we hope other parties will soon follow suit and reap the benefits of cloud native development. In case you ever need expertise in this area, don’t be afraid to get in touch, and we’d be more than happy to show you the future in both logistics & application development!

Steven Goris

February 20, 2022

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