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Mohawk Fine Papers builds integration-in-the-cloud

Robert L. Mitchell | Nov. 30, 2011
Just two weeks after Mohawk Fine Papers made the decision to sell its products on Amazon.com, integration work was complete, connections to its ERP system lit up and sales started rolling in. "Amazon generated tens of thousands of dollars in revenue immediately," says Paul Stamas, vice president of IT at the $83 million, 725-employee manufacturer of premium papers.

But for Mohawk, the benefits are compelling enough to outweigh those risks. The low cost per integration and the rapid turnaround has given Mohawk the agility to create new business relationships and build business processes on a trial basis. Mohawk can do all this without worrying about the investment of time, money and other resources required to do the integration work.

For example, Mohawk had a temporary relationship with a business partner that produced envelopes it needed until its own capacity came online. It was quick and easy to set up the processes to feed them orders and receive invoices back. The partnership is dissolved now, says Hunter. "But the cost was minimal and so well worth it."

Lower costs have also meant tackling smaller projects that never would have been considered before. Stamas points to the StrikeIron integration as an example of this. "It is a small little Web service. The granularity is getting finer and finer," he says, and in the future there may be hundreds - or thousands - of them.

The end of massive IT architectures?

Stamas sees this as the beginning of the end for monolithic enterprise application architectures. "They're beginning to break apart into pieces. Rather than monolithic systems like SAP and Oracle, an ecosystem of cloud services will be interoperating with other workflows and processes that can be anywhere."

For example, Stamas explains, "our ERP is the system-of-record for financials, but much of the functionality resides outside the system." Orders entered via e-commerce websites, CRM, expense management, and HR are "in the cloud," and advanced capabilities such as planning, scheduling, transportation, supply chain, asset management, manufacturing execution and warehouse management are performed outside the ERP software.

Today, he says, 60% of Mohawk's information technology portfolio resides outside the ERP system, up from 10% five years ago. "I see this rate accelerating."

In this scenario, he says, "Your ERP system may call Web services at StrikeIron for a currency conversion, and UPS or FedEx for a freight rate. It may check inventory for an item at a customer or supplier, perform a credit check for a customer at D&B, calculate sales tax from Avalara, approve a credit card payment from Authorize.Net, and more."

As the financial bar has been lowered and turnaround times shortened for executing on such integrations, the number of projects at Mohawk has increased. "There's so many things we can do that I can't keep up with getting the specs out," Hunter says.

"We can bring in a third-party manufacturer or logistics provider at the drop of a hat. That's what's fueling the revenue generation of the company," Stamas says. "If it costs us $1,000 to try something why not try it? If it doesn't work we just throw it away."

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rmitch or subscribe to Rob's RSS feed . His email address is rmitchell@computerworld.com.

 

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