Demystifying SAP Connectivity to Ignition
Practical Applications of the Sepasoft Business Connector Suite59 min video / 39 minute read View slides
Chief Strategy Officer
Co-Director of Sales Engineering
MES Product Manager
4IR Solutions Corp
When you connect the world’s most popular ERP system and the world’s first universal industrial application platform, the plant floor and the business level can share data like never before.
Synchronizing data with ERP systems like SAP has historically been very difficult. In this webinar, we'll demonstrate real-world use cases for connecting Ignition to SAP and other ERP systems and show how the new Business Connector Suite from Sepasoft drastically lowers the barrier to entry. Join experts from Inductive Automation, Sepasoft, and 4IR Solutions to learn about how to optimize communications between SAP and the Ignition platform, the latter of which is used by thousands of companies worldwide for SCADA, HMI, MES, IIoT, and more.
- See how the SAP Labs-certified Interface for SAP ERP solves connection pain points
- Find out how to trigger SAP tasks from within Ignition
- Learn how to bring in SAP data to use in the Sepasoft MES modules
- Check out a middleware solution using Ignition and the Business Connector
- And more!
(The moderator, Don Pearson, briefly introduces Inductive Automation and Sepasoft, and the panelists, Keith Adair, Joseph Dolivo, and Travis Cox.)
Connecting SCADA with SAP/Other ERPs
Don: Thanks to all of you guys for being here. Let’s go ahead and get started, huh? Just a couple of things about ERP and SCADA, because our subject today is about getting SCADA and ERP systems to work together, let’s start with just a quick overview of what these systems do. The SCADA system is used primarily by operators, engineers, and technicians on the plant floor. It’s used for controlling industrial processes, gathering and analyzing real-time data, recording historical data, keeping efficiency high and downtime low.
Don: By contrast, ERP software is used at the office level for managing and automating business processes such as your product planning, development, HR, financials, sales, supply chain, distribution, and a whole bunch more. ERP is used to collect, store, manage, and interpret data from these business processes, and to share data across departments. ERP, of course, helps to enhance efficiency and to reduce production and transaction errors. ERP software uses databases that are maintained by a database management system, or DBMS.
Don: We’re mainly going to concentrate on the ERP software known as SAP. SAP is widely considered to be the industry standard for on-premise ERP software. Users from many different industries use SAP to help eliminate information silos, to automate core processes, and to make better decisions. And there are a lot of good reasons to connect SCADA to SAP. To get into more detail on that, and to get started, I’ll turn it over to you, Travis.
Travis: All right, thank you, Don. So, there are a lot of incentives for connecting your SCADA and your SAP or other ERP system, such as preventing downtime; making your operations more efficient and transparent; complying with regulations more easily; improving quality control and quality assurance; increasing and accelerating data access; having a single source of truth for ERP and SCADA data, that’s really important; and adding financial context to your plant-floor data, or any other context, for that matter, to allow operators to have more insight into what’s going on in a single application; and sending real-time data back into ERP, and that’s also really important because we can eliminate human error and mistakes that happen by manually bringing data from one system to another; as well as retrieving and synchronizing schedules, work orders, and more. Really having the plant floor synchronized with the business systems will allow for all these benefits and can make operations faster and can increase productivity and profit
Travis: However, there are obstacles that make it difficult to get ERP systems connected to the plant floor. For starters, SCADA is part of operational technology, or OT, and ERP is part of information technology, or IT. OT and IT use different languages and different data in different formats. IT prefers using open, standards-based technologies, but OT data is typically stored in proprietary formats and proprietary historians, which make it very hard to get access to. SCADA data is in real-time, and some processes at extremely high speed, while ERP is a transaction-based system that processes data in batches. And historically, we can see why ERP hasn’t really down to the plant floor or vice versa.
Travis: And also, ERP systems are database-oriented but traditional SCADA systems are not, and that makes SCADA systems’ data hard to transfer over, especially when they’re not using open standards. So often, connecting the two systems requires some additional configuration, scripting, middleware, and specialized knowledge and skills in SAP or whichever ERP system you are using.
Connecting Data Through the Ignition Platform
Travis: As I mentioned before, I have been working with customers over the years to solve these problems using Ignition. Ignition from the very beginning has been built on open standard technologies and has allowed it to connect to a lot of different systems and a lot of different sources of data. So we have devices directly in Ignition, or drivers directly in Ignition to talk to PLCs on the plant floor. if there’s a PLC that we don’t have a driver for that allows us to connect to, we can connect to any other device through OPC, there’s an OPC server out there.
Travis: We can also work with any standard SQL database, that could be MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Postgres, and more. That allows us to connect with those to get data from them and of course to put data into them. And historically, we have communicated with ERP systems through web services, through a REST or SOAP API where we are communicating to, typically, middleware, and in order to make the two work together, we have to provide some scripting or some mappings in the product to make that happen. That really wasn’t a very simple drag-and-drop to make that work but, however, it is a connection point that existed for quite some time.
Travis: You’re also communicating to barcode scanners and scales, but importantly, we can get that data to people on touch panels, on PCs, smart TVs, on mobile devices, whether it's IOS or Android devices, phones or tablets, we can get that data out there. So with Ignition's licensing model being unlimited, the idea is we can connect to all these resources of data, we can move data any way that we want through this. And today, you're gonna learn a lot more about communicating to ERP and how that's gotten a lot easier, a lot simpler. So, Ignition really can connect to these in a variety of different ways. But again, the MES can be somewhat difficult and time-consuming. So we've always been working on ways to improve that process. Now with Sepasoft, they have built a solution that makes it easier than ever to connect Ignition with SAP. And to tell you more about that, who better to introduce this than Keith over there, Keith and Joe from Sepasoft and 4IR. So Keith, over to you.
The Business Connector and Interface for SAP ERP
Keith: Alright, thank you so much, Travis. Alright, so the Business Connector has been available now for Ignition 7 and Ignition 8 for some time now, a few months here. And we are truly thrilled to see our customers have used the Business Connector Suites to dump their old ERP connectivity scripts and to replace them with intelligible, easy to build parse and use Business Connector charts.
Keith: Today though, we really wanna focus on how well the Business Connector works with SAP. With the Business Connector Module, in tandem with the Interface for SAP ERP module, users are able to enable their Ignition gateway to communicate seamlessly with their SAP server, so they can execute ERP-related task rate from their Ignition gateway. This includes like Travis said, the execution of goods receipts, the retrieval process of production orders and much more.
Keith: So, with a few moving parts here, let's go into a little bit of detail here. First, we have the Business Connector itself. That's where the business logic lives. It's where we do the data transformations, where the mapping actually occurs, and it's where you build that structure. So in lieu of these Python scripts powered by web services, we have these really nice, intelligible, easy-to-use Business Connector charts.
Keith: So we are really cribbing a lot from ... We're taking a lot from the Inductive Automation way of doing things. Easy-to-use, drag-and-drop logical arrangements of data that you can really see what's happening. So the next guy behind you who works in this chart knows what to look out for, what to expect. We want this really easy-to-use interface to really empower you to transform your data from raw ERP output into your desired format and let you send those payloads back that are so important between your Ignition gateway and your SAP server.
Keith: The way we do this... So part of the way we do this is our very intuitive mapping tool. So there is always a gap between what your ERP, like SAP, provides to you and what you actually want to display on your screen or store off in your database or what have you. So we've given you this mapper where you drag and drop these target points to make these relationships apparent and to retrieve the data that matters to you. So you simply drag and drop to these touchpoints and you can combine data points into one and bring in all that data and capture the things that really matter to you on your platform.
Keith: So that's the Business Connector, what then is the Interface for SAP ERP Module? Well, it's a connector module, which the first of what we hope are many such connector modules that we have made for the Business Connector. It enables your Ignition gateway and the Business Connector to talk to SAP. It is an SAP-certified mode module. We went through that process with Joe Dolivo's help, who's also on the call, and we went through that certification process and were certified to make those communications happen successfully. And we'll go more into versioning of SAP later on the call, but broadly speaking, we are using SAP's Java connector library that they developed, we are simply implementing their library, so we're using all those best practices. And once you've installed that interface for SAP ERP module, you'll notice new Business Connector blocks in the chart palette that Joe and I will show you in a minute. Those blocks are called the "SAP BAPI block" and the "SAP RFM block". The BAPI block lets you talk to SAP Business APIs or Business Application Program Interfaces, and the RFM block enables communication with SAP Remote Function Modules. So it's this really great tool that makes the Business Connector able to talk to your SAP server.
Keith: So there are basically three possible moving parts here. This is the Business Connector Suite stance now. First is the Business Connector itself. It provides the actual business logic and sequencing engine, along with that mapping functionality is the core piece of the Business Connector suites. Then we have a pair of modules that serve as connectors. We have the Interface for SAP ERP Module, which I described a moment ago, which lets the Business Connector talk to SAP, and then we also have the web services module. Now we've sold the web services module for several years now and it does stand alone, let you in Python's script, talk to a higher-level system that uses a REST or a SOAP API. Well, it also integrates nicely into the Business Connector. So when you install the web services module, you get new REST and SOAP blocks in the Business Connector. So with these three modules, you can talk to SAP and REST and SOAP providers. And actually, in today's call, we'll be using all three of these modules as part of the demonstration.
Keith: Now, I'm gonna go ahead and throw over here to Joe Dolivo, 4IR Solutions. He is going to share a bit about the value proposition that we see in the Business Connector Suites, he's gonna talk about the versions of SAP that we support and he's also going to offer our first demo today.
Joseph: Excellent. So thanks a lot, Keith. I wanted to highlight some of the pieces of value that we see from using the Business Connector, the Interface for SAP ERP, and I wanna contextualize this based on my experience having done things the hard way, as we like to say. So firstly, the Business Connector, in general, is built on standards. Dedicated middleware tools have been around for a long time, they're not new. But in developing the Business Connector with Sepasoft, our primary goal was to not only build on best practices and open standards where appropriate but to also take advantage of lessons learned from having implemented these with other kinds of systems, whether that was through other middleware solutions or just through just brute force programming.
Joseph: Regarding standards, the Business Connector leverages B2MML, which if you're at all familiar with MES or Layer 3 or ISA 95, is just an XML-based implementation of the ISA 95 object models. But B2MML enables us to structure data in a form that is agnostic of any particular ERP system, whether that's SAP like talking about here or something like Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle or other systems too.
Joseph: Low TCO in line with the Ignition platform, both licensing and support costs are far less than with other middleware solutions, often by as much as a whole order of magnitude or more. Plus, the Business Connector builds on existing Ignition skill sets, which significantly reduces the learning curve and labor costs to develop and maintain a business as an interface. Intuitive integration with Ignition. Something built as an Ignition module enables this really deep integration with the Ignition ecosystem and the Business Connector is able to take advantage of this by leveraging familiar concepts like drag-and-drop like tag-binding, like scripting, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and requiring these skills to be developed. And then, seamless MES integration. Certainly by itself, the Business Connector is a really powerful tool for exchanging data between Ignition and various business systems. But when you pair it with the other components of the MES 3 from Sepasoft, the value is even greater. So, the Business Connector can automatically create MES objects like production schedules and materials, which can synchronize bidirectionally across a whole enterprise as a part of MES Platform 3.
Joseph: And now building on this, we have the interface for SAP ERP and these are specifically geared towards using some flavor of SAP installations, along with the Business Connector. The first of those minimal configurations. So outside of your initial user account set up and giving proper access, there's no configuration that's required at the SAP side for typical SAP installations. And for anybody who's worked with SAP before, they know what kind of a barrier to entry it can be and what kind of a burden it can be when you have to engage maybe an SAP Basis team or somebody from IT to give proper access for that. And then even if you have these SAP systems that have been customized, the time and effort to get set up is significantly reduced versus installing and then having to maintain another middleware product like SAP, MII or PI or something like that.
Joseph: And then SAP certification. Keith alluded to this earlier, but we officially went through SAP Lab's Integration and Certification Center process for certification, which involves rigorous testing to ensure that the module is reliable, that it can scale up as connectivity requirements change and grow in the future and as you potentially roll this out across multiple production facilities. And then finally, built-in templates. We're bundling the module with a number of built-in templates that you can use outright or customized for your particular SAP landscape. These temples provide for common data flow scenarios and we combine with the MES object synchronization that's handled automatically by MES Platform 3. You can easily ... and we have easily replaced thousands of lines of code with this interface tool that is visual and intuitive and still very flexible to work with.
Joseph: I did wanna highlight the SAP burdens that are supported. SAP is kind of a blanket term for both the company as well as the technology platforms that the company produces. The one that we officially have our certification on and fully support is what's called "SAP ECC 6.O", there are other versions of SAP that are out there. And the main ones we hear about are R/3, which is an older version, we support all the way back to 3.1I and above. SAP S/4 HANA On-Premise is the newer version, we do support that as well, and then there's SAP S/4 HANA Cloud which is a more limited version. They have a whole separate interface for communication that's based on REST APIs and we're actually able to support those using the Web Services module.
Joseph: The one family of products that requires additional middleware right now is SAP Business One. So we're actually really looking to hear from you guys as customers, is this a platform that you have connectivity needs to? In which case, we'll consider that for a future recent module.
Demo: Executing a Goods Receipt
Joseph: And then I wanted to actually ... Enough talk, I wanna show you some actual examples of... In this case, executing good receipts, which for somebody in the SAP landscape, is probably something that you guys have to do day in and day out. So, I'm gonna go ahead and share my screen here.
Joseph: What you're looking at now is the Ignition designer, this is Ignition 8 with the respective module installed. I wanted to just quickly show you, when you install the module, you have this new Business Connector note that appears here. And one of the things that we're distributing when you have the interface for SAP ERP is this library of existing templates. So very easily, I can go ahead and show you, this is a list of things that we have developed based on real-world use cases and practical examples of trying to use this. I'm gonna show you one of these that we distribute with the module. I'll show you how easy it is to actually use this.
Joseph: So the one that I'm gonna show you here is called the "goods movements". And for those of you who may not be familiar with the terminology, it's simply a way of saying, in your ERP system, your SAP system, your system of record, we basically want to be able to move some quantity of material from one place to another. And so what you're looking at here is a Business Connector chart that shows you in a very visual flow chart graphical way, how this all kind of works. I'm not gonna get into the details, but basically here we have ... This block represents a call to our SAP system. I'm actually connected to a live SAP system that is pre-populated with some sample data that I'll be able to actually access and show you. And then I have a second call here which is basically committing whatever move that I'm making.
Joseph: So this is kind of what a chart looks like. I'm going to show you here a Perspective screen that I have. This is something you can do in Vision, you can do in Perspective. This can certainly render on a mobile device, but I've basically built an interface allowing you to execute what's called the "goods movement" within an SAP system. And so, instead of you having to go to a dedicated SAP screen, I can show you doing this from within Ignition. So here, for example, I've got a material and a plant code and storage location already pre-populated, I'm gonna choose a random quantity here like 24, I'm gonna pick today's date, and then I've got two different movement types and then go ahead and do a good receipt, which is basically receiving material into the storage location. And then, maybe I'll go ahead and do another type here, I'll do 12, and then I'll go to a reversal and execute this as well. And you could see in both cases, I've received a status message telling me that these have been successful.
Joseph: To actually demonstrate to you that this works, I'm going to load up the SAP GUI, and again, I'm not gonna go into the details here, but if you've worked with SAP, this is probably a screen that you're quite familiar with. So I'm gonna log into my system and SAP has what they call "T-code" or the transaction code, which basically lets you navigate around. There's one called "MB51" that'll let me look at material documents which are basically a representation of material having moved. So if I go ahead and filter, let's say, just by my user name here, I can execute this search, and then if I come down to today's date, which is ... I have to read this in reverse notation, so it's the 12th. You can see I have my 24, which is the first one that I did, and then I also have my negative 12 here which represents the reversal that I did.
Joseph: So very quickly, I'm demonstrating how we've been able to take a built-in out-of-the-box template chart, builds a Perspective screen that basically references those fields. And then very quickly, we can have an almost real-time system that's showing actual changes in data within SAP. So next, I'll give it back to you Travis.
Travis Cox: Okay, over to you, Keith.
Sepasoft Business Connector and Sepasoft MES
Keith: Alright, wonderful. Thank you, Joe, that was great. Okay, so now I wanna talk on my favorite project over here about making the Business Connector work with the Sepasoft MES modules. So Joe did an SAP task, SAP native task from Ignition. I want to show you how to haul in data from SAP and save it off as MES objects in our Sepasoft MES suite. So, in this case, today, I'll be demonstrating saving an SAP process order as an MES operation schedule. So, among the payloads that we can retrieve from SAP and save off into our MES modules are process orders as schedules, production orders as work orders, materials as material definitions, many more such payloads can be brought from SAP and saved off in our Sepasoft MES modules.
Keith: Then if you're using our Platform 3 modules and you're using a global enterprise, you can share those schedules and those work orders and these materials with the other gateways that make up your MES enterprise, as part of our Platform 3 rollout here, is that you're able to connect various gateways running these Sepasoft MES modules and share them and share those material data and that schedule data from SAP into our modules and with the other gateways that make up your enterprise.
Demo: Download Process Orders from SAP
Keith: So I'll go ahead and demonstrate quickly here an example of downloading process orders from SAP and saving them off as schedules. Okay, alright, so I had that SAP GUI ready to go as well. So here's another Business Connector chart, similar to what Joe was showing us a moment ago. Only in this case, I'm using a few more advanced concepts but not too much complexity here. First, we are querying a business API called "BAPI Proc Or Get List", that's process order get list. We're getting a list of the process orders. And we are iterating over that list. So "I" for "iterate" over that list of process orders. Then we are going to another BAPI called "Process Order Get Detail". We're fetching the details about those process orders. And then we're using that mapper that we have mentioned so many times.
Keith: So I'll go ahead and maximize this up here 'cause it looks pretty nifty. We'll expand those connections out and expand all these connections out, and you can see how I've created ... I've taken the SAP data that matters to my MES schedules. That includes the operation schedule ID, the start time and the end time, the material ID, I have mapped those out and I'm ready now to save those off in the MES objects. So then to show off some more functionality here, I'm dropping into what's called an "enclosed chart". So an enclosed chart is simply the next one chart within another. It's like a nested function in Python almost, where we're able to call into another chart and perform additional tasks. In this case, I'm making sure that my line is ready to receive schedules. It's an optional step but I was hoping to demonstrate that we're able to drop into other charts and perform other tasks.
Keith: Finally of course, here we have our "save MES object" block. That block lets us save off those schedules that we've mapped into and drop them onto a Sepasoft MES schedule. Then we return back to the iterator and we keep looping here, looking up data, doing the work in our enclosed chart, and saving for as many times as we have schedules in that first entry. So we'll go ahead and head over to my window where I've implemented this chart. And this actually in Vision, so Joe is really cool using Perspective, I'm using Vision here today. And we are gonna go ahead and fetch some schedules. I can pick which line I wanna drop the schedules on. This is the order number I'm starting from, so you would just keep this updated to your current or most recently gathered process order, and I'm gonna go ahead and fetch those schedules.
Keith: So here they are. We've pulled in four schedules from SAP and they're here. And I can reschedule them, I can put them on different lines if I need to. But now I know what SAP requires of me to do. What task I need to accomplish, and what those schedules look like. So, I really quickly hauled in those schedules and as you folks know, this is a task that we ... is on the present one. We're always wanting to go into SAP, retrieve out our process orders and be able to act on those process orders. We've done so natively and successfully here. Alright, so that's my first demo here.
Using the Business Connector Suite as Middleware
Keith: For my second demonstration what I'd like to share with you folks is this idea that kind of came to us or that in kind of halfway through the process of developing these modules, and it's that talking to SAP is frankly somewhat difficult, right. They have sort of proprietary methods of sending and retrieving data. You have to either install middleware like PI or MII or you have to implement that Java connector library. And we were doing all that work and so we wondered is there a way that we could act as almost a replacement for that PI or that MII product? How can we be a source of SAP data or other ERP data for other systems that may not know how to talk SAP?
Keith: So what you can do is install our web services module, and our web services module lets you create not just consumers of other REST and SOAP APIs, right, other web services, but actually act as a web service yourself. So in this example that I'll show here today we are going to query SAP, haul in some details about some materials, then using the web services module, we are going to provide that data to other systems, so those systems could be a LIMS system, a laboratory information management system, it could be an APS, an advanced planning system, it could be a statistical service that you want, that you wanted to share that data with.
Keith: If you build this sort of hierarchy here, where you're querying SAP, hauling the data then sharing it with the other services that need it, you can replace costly middleware and have your Ignition gateway continue to act as that central hub, a role at which we already know that it excels. So I'm gonna go ahead and demonstrate how one might achieve such a task. If we can get the monitor back over.
Demo: SAP Middleware with the Web Services Module
Keith: Wonderful, okay, and here we go, alright, we're still on my schedule here, we're gonna hop into a different Business Connector chart, and it looks somewhat similar to my scheduling chart.
Keith: We are going to a BAPI called BAPI_MATERIAL_GET_LIST, getting a list of materials we are iterating over those materials. Same pattern as before, this time, however, we are fetching out all those material, all that material data, right. And this time instead of using the schedule structure. We're using kind of a structure that I built myself. This is called a parameter, so on the start block of any Business Connector chart, you can define any number of input and output parameters, so I have defined this parameter that looks like this, it has the description, the type, the sector, division, and group, so on and so forth, and we retrieved all that data from SAP.
Keith: We've looked that all up and we've mapped out the piece of data that matter to us. So I didn't care about the page format, but I did care about the length, width, and height, so I fetched out all those pieces of data as part of my chart and then I'm aggregating that data into one large data set. So remember, we got the list, we're iterating over it one by one, and then we're taking each individual row of data, and we're making a big data set out of it. I'm going to steal Joe's trick here and drop into the SAP GUI interface. We're gonna look up that same BAPI, BAPI_MATERIAL_GET_DETAIL and I'll go ahead and run that guy and we'll type in the material that I'm using here. It's this great SAP material that has all these leading zeros and we'll go ahead and run that and we can see that in the general data we have that description, the group, all those data points that I described, the weight, the volume, the length so on and so forth, we have all those pieces of data.
Keith: Well, not everything can talk via the SAP GUI or natively to SAP, so what we've done here, as I return to my gateway, I've built a web services provider, so if I head over here to web services, I go to SAP materials, this is what we call a REST provider, and it allows us to build a REST API that other systems can talk to. So, the two communication protocols that we support in web services are REST and SOAP. They're very commonly used, REST, in particular, is kind of the standard method by which modern web services communicate.
Keith: And so, in this very simple example, I am retrieving a parameter from the user called quantity. If I don't get that parameter, I'm gonna go ahead and hard code that to 50, then, I'm going to execute the chart. It's the get materials chart, we're passing that quantity and we're retrieving out the aggregated material details and then we're serving that back to the user as the content. So then I can simply right click and copy this restful endpoint URL and navigate to any web browser, paste that in and I can say, "Quantity equals 67," right?
Keith: And I'll go ahead and run that. And it fetches out that data. So in real-time when I hit enter just then my Ignition gateway ran a call, grabbed a list of materials, looped over all those materials, got their details and serve them via a REST provider to the user. So many, many different.
Keith: Modern tools use REST APIs to talk to other systems. So here I have this data in what's called JSON. Now my web browser is parsing this, but it looks like this kind of in a raw data format. And here's how it looks nicely parsed. I can also, with a quick click here, change that to XML format, which many other services talk, and I can re-run that here and here I have that XML documents with that same data. So the use case here is we're sharing data with other systems that need to know about it. Now, we've successfully been able to share that data with other systems that may not go to talk to SAP and we've replaced costly other middleware solutions with one that's much more affordable, maintainable, and it's already in the Ignition gateway that you already have on sites. So that's my example here, and I'm gonna go ahead and throw back to Travis to continue with the webinar.
Discussion: How Ignition & Business Connector Help With Your Digital Transformation
Don: Keith, thanks so much. I'll take over from here a little bit and move us into some group discussion because that concludes our demos of Business Connector. Thank you, both you, Keith and you Joe, appreciate those great presentations and seeing the use cases. I'd like to wrap up with a little bit of group discussion before we go to the Q&A. First, I think I wanna maybe just revisit for a second this idea mentioned at the beginning of OT and IT systems and the difficulty or challenges in bridging the gap between the two and hear some of your thoughts as panelists about that. There's a tremendous amount of talk about OT-IT convergence, and this related trend, if you will, of digital transformation. And so really what you're trying to do is go from, I've heard it say sensor to cloud or edge to enterprise, and really that's what we're talking about here. I'd like to get your comments on how the Business Connector Suite can help more industrial organizations to really get started or go further and faster on that path to digital transformation. So maybe Joe, I'll ask you for your comments first and then Keith and Travis to chime in.
Joseph: Absolutely, Don. I think when we talk about digital transformation, there's a number of pillars that kind of fall underneath that. There's interesting things like AI and machine learning and cloud and what's central to all of these that you have to have connectivity. So until you have access to data, you're really dead in the water. That becomes an enabling technology for you to start making actionable business decisions that are part of a digital transformation strategy. And one of the brilliant things about the Business Connector Suite is that it enables you to get access to data that has historically been very, very challenging. And now all this data that's in an SAP system, if it's a LIMS system, using the Web Services Module, you can connect to maintenance systems. There's all this data that you now have access to that you can work with within a platform like Ignition that makes it very easy for you to build your own ad hoc reports and dashboards, things that you can present across all levels of an organization to make decisions at the plant level, at the corporate level, at the enterprise level, and there really hasn't been a tool, there hasn't been a platform that has all of these points centralized in a single location. I think it's a huge differentiator for sure.
Don: Thanks, Joe. Keith, your comments?
Keith: Yeah, so at Sepasoft, we've long made, since 2011, these MES modules, and you know where MES lies, it's sort of in the messy middle between your ERP layer and your control layer or in other words, operational and information technologies. So when we work with our new customers, with our MES modules, we're often trying to drag those OT guys to talk to the IT guys and vice versa. We have our quick start program where we are always trying to get these folks who are implementing these projects to keep the IT folks in the loop and keep people talking. Well, it's hard to keep people talking if those platforms can't actually physically talk to each other.
Keith: And so we were always facing up with, "Do you have that script together? Do you have a plan for talking to ERP?" And we got tired of, "Well no, not really. We're using shared database tables or flat files." We got tired of those answers and we built this module suite in response to that, to enable that very idea of OT and IT convergence. We are tiered to remove the technological barriers to that, such that the philosophical ones can also be overcome. That's our idea here.
Don: Thanks, Keith. Travis, your comments?
Travis: Yeah, I think really it's all about the speed of delivering solutions, and the Business Connector, SAP Connector, really it provides that speed in a very simple way using a tool. Now we always say you gotta stop coding on operating systems, and that's what we see a lot in terms of connectivity between OT and IT where somebody built custom code, custom applications that are very, very difficult to support long-term because there was one person that made it and nobody else knows how it was set up. Instead, you really gotta look at using tools on platforms, and this is a tremendous tool that is there that you can easily take advantage of, that is simply drag-and-drop, and that provides this connectivity without having to write a ton of code. I mean we're saving thousands of lines of code here with this kind of a system. So the speed at which we can deliver solutions, the speed at which we can build new things that didn't exist, is really exciting.
Don: Yeah. And even the subject matter, or even maintaining, for God's sakes. If you put a tool on top of a platform, you've got a lot better maintainability than one person creates some sort of coding on an operating system. Now I actually wanna bridge this into one more question that I would like to add to this particular group discussion portion, because I mentioned at the beginning that we released in April, Ignition 8, and the Perspective Module. I think I'll go to you first, Travis, and then ask for Joe and Keith to come in too, but could you just comment on the potential value of using the Business Connector Suite we just saw today along with some of the new features of Ignition 8?
Travis Cox: Yeah, I'll certainly just talk about Perspective and highlight that. There are a ton of other avenues where the combination can be really valuable. But looking at Perspective, in particular, having a native HTML5 application that you can deliver to anybody in the organization, whether it's on their PC or their phones or tablets, it really increases the visibility of the application and allows people to be more integrated, and again, to have that context all be in one place. But in particular, with phones and tablets, having Perspective and the native apps for iOS and Android, we can get/gain access to the phone's sensors, GPS, camera, for barcode scanning and more. Joe, they showed a demonstration of material movement and imagine you enter those values in, but imagine using the Perspective app and just scanning a barcode and having the material movement be just a couple of scans, being native and part of this, and ... where I can deliver that solution again, through that speed that I was talking about. I can deliver that solution in an hour, and be able to do this. So the overall perspective and Ignition 8 has tremendous value along with Business Connector.
Don: Thanks, Travis. I'm gonna give you and Keith a chance to comment on that and also review on it, Joe, but first Keith.
Keith: Wonderful, yeah, so, we spoke to a prospective client not terribly long ago, who said, "Hey, we want to be able to empower our quality professionals to walk the line and to report on quality incidents up to SAP, right? We wanna be able to use that particular remote function module in SAP that allows for the reporting of those quality incidences. But we don't want an SAP in front of a terminal, we want them on the line looking for those things, proactively being able to report them.
Keith: Well, with the perspective module, visualization module, very simple perspective view, like Joe demonstrated for the goods receipt. They'd be able to create a view that calls a chart that reports those quality issues. And they could do so from the comfort of their phone or their industrial tablet or there, though you know even in an iPhone or iPad, they could walk the line and perform that task successfully without having to interrupt their workflow or write them down a clipboard and get back to a machine back in the office.
Keith: They can do that right from their device with a barcode scanner like Travis mentioned. Right on... Right down on the phone using the phone's camera, they're able to report those issues and get them up to SAP natively, rapidly in a secure and certified fashion. So, we're needless to say very side about perspective's ability to take the business, trying to replace work, couldn't otherwise go.
Don: Thanks, I appreciate that. Joe?
Joseph: I'll just come back on what Travis and Keith said, that I think, kind of harkening back to my last point around connectivity, I think connectivity is equally to devices as part of digital transformation, but it's also connecting users. So the mobility that supports your users, that are able to bring this kind of stuff up on their mobile devices using Perspective, I think, is really unprecedented. And then really if this is a holistic platform, again, we're not talking about setting up a separate tool, so that people driving forklifts in the warehouse, they could use. We've seen customers in the past who build this very special tool maybe like a web application that has to have all these other connection points to other systems.
Joseph: We're talking all this being built on Ignition. So the same toolset, the same skills you're using to build your SCADA screens for your operators, you're now exposing to your quality folks to people in your warehouse and they are able to do these kinds of things on the mobile device in real time as opposed to joining it down on a clipboard and then coming back and answering out with a computer. So really, in terms of being able to rapidly respond to these kinds of things, it's just really a big differentiator.
Don: Thanks, Joe. So I'm gonna ask one more question of this group and then we're gonna go to some Q&A from some other folks. So, what can we look forward to from – maybe I'll just throw this your direction Keith, so you should be able to address this – what can we look forward to from Sepasoft, in terms of MES and ERP connectivity solutions?
Keith: Well, I'll take a few questions from both of those camps here. One, we want to make more connectors. We at SAP first, because that was overwhelming demand. We knew we had to ship with that. But in the interim, we've heard about folks using Oracle, Dynamics 365 from Microsoft, JD Edwards, QAD. We've heard all these reports and requests and we just would like to continue asking for those, right? As we look for what other ERP systems folks are using, we'd love to hear that feedback and develop native connectivity. We can talk to a lot of these using REST APIs, using the web service module. But that requires you to build out consumers for each little transaction you want to perform.
Keith: We'd love to support that natively like we do SAP. So please help us to understand where the demand is for further connectors, and really making those consistently as the years go on. We want to add named query support. So if you talk to your ERP provider via shared database, we wanna, that to look and behave the same way as the BAPI or RFM block does.
Keith: Over on the MES side, we are finalizing our Perspective components, we wanna ship those as soon as possible, so for our MES we need to, you can get those MES projects out for into your perspective, on to your mobile clients and so on, so forth. That's one of our big tasks in front of us right now.
Keith: And then finally over the course this year and last year too, we've been developing a batch engine in a batch module, to answer to that need described by the standard ISA 88 for executing these large complex operations that involve many steps. We want to be the best product in that area and really revolutionize the way those products look and feel and behave and their usability. We want to bring a new level of polish to that, to the Ignition platform. Those were kind of the four big buckets of tasks that I see in front of us here at Sepasoft.
Don: Thanks, Keith.
(The speakers respond to audience questions for the remainder of the webinar. You can hear the Q&A by listening to the webinar recording.)