Integrated life on Mars - a sweet approach to data via Mulesoft

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels July 4, 2022
Proving the business benefits of APIs can be hard work. Mars’ data leader suggests creating strong processes and clear use cases that bring senior stakeholders on side.


Mars is working with software company MuleSoft to integrate data and develop a pioneering approach to supply chain management.

The manufacturer of confectionery, pet food and other food products is using integration to help unlock insight that helps it get products to market faster. MuleSoft technology plays a central role in this process, helping the company continue its digital transformation journey, according to Santosh Jamadagni, Vice President of Digital Technologies at Mars:

Our purpose is to have a digital Mars. We achieve that by moving 100 times faster. So, why the emphasis on speed? For us, getting to market is the essence of success – especially in this environment.

Mars’ ability to get to market faster is anchored around three pillars: growth, efficiency, and compliance. To deliver results across these areas, the company relies on its core technology platform, with data integration a key element. Mars uses the data it collects to deal with supply chain challenges. Jamadagni argues that modern companies operate in a world dominated by ‘five Is’ – inventory ratios, inflation, interest rates, invasion, and infection:

That's the reality – and how that reality is shaping our day-to-day job is what we need to acknowledge and be prepared for. When we look at planning and sourcing, the volatility that we have out there is significant. We can't be reactive. It’s all about how we can be better prepared, because the challenges are not going to go away in the near future.

The opportunity for Mars, says Jamadagni, comes from embracing those supply chain challenges and delivering data-led improvements across planning, logistics and manufacturing. In planning, the aim is to remove bottlenecks. MuleSoft makes data available across a range of platforms in real time. He cites the example of trade promotion management:

So that’s about changes in promotion, its impact on pricing, our ability to generate insights, and making those insights available for our customers, so they can make pricing decisions. That's all crucial, right? And that becomes especially important now that we are living in the world of electronic commerce.

When it comes to logistics, data also helps Mars meet sustainability targets. Green delivery methods are a crucial goal for the organization. Mars takes API-based data from a range of external sources, which it integrates with transport order information from SAP. That information is sent in near-real-time to a data lake, where analytics are performed:

We have a CO2 calculator in our database. We get this external data source and integrate this information with our enterprise application, so we see what the impact is. And that's cool. We take pride in doing it.

In the area of manufacturing, Mars uses real-time data to improve the overall quality of its operations. Across all these supply chain uses cases, Jamadagni reckons there is often one key challenge – data management:

Success is about how do we bring some method to the approach. There can be hundreds of integration requirements and thousands of data sources. How does the technology manage all this effort effectively? The success factors ultimately come down to how we are grouping these requirements and sources into manageable integration patterns.

The business benefits of integration

Mars must make careful decisions about where to targets its investments. Real-time data processing can be a costly – and potentially unnecessary – activity. For this part, Jamadagni advises other digital leaders to weigh up potential costs and benefits carefully:

Sometimes, we swing the pendulum too far and go to the extent of making everything real time – and that’s not good, either. So, being very selective about where to put the money to make it real time really matters.

Another issue, he adds, is canonical mapping. Being able to map integrations effectively, especially when it comes to Mars’ third-party partners, offers a huge productivity boost. MuleSoft makes it possible to document, map and integrate data between partners securely and cost effectively. In effect, says Jamadagni, MuleSoft allows Mars to “call the shots” on standardization:

With MuleSoft’s business interface, you can map the extent to which you want to entertain your partners. We can take a stand and say, ‘If you are interfacing with us, these are the ways you can do it.’ That’s about harmonising integration. We all talk about efficiencies and doing integrations better – and MuleSoft is a huge player.

In Jamadagni’s opinion, MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform, which provides a holistic approach to API design and development, is a “fantastic concept” that helps Mars integrate its applications and edge devices. He also points to MuleSoft’s application network, which connects tools, data and devices through APIs:

That concept was beneficial for us. It's a huge mindset change for the business. I can go and engage with a programme stakeholder and say, ‘I'm building you these interfaces.’ That's where it takes some crucial discussions around convincing the business about creating repeatable APIs and making a target.

One note of caution - Jamadagni warns that it can take some effort to convince the business of the value of APIs. While data specialists are aware of the value of insight, their business peers might be unclear. He counsels other digital leaders to focus on the concepts of re-use and productivity, which are values that the rest of the business will understand:

Those numbers resonate better. So, explaining the business value through those terms is a lot more beneficial than trying to explain the various principles of APIs. We have gone and made those sorts of mistakes and learnt the hard way.

It’s important to have use cases that show the benefits of MuleSoft and an API-led approach. Rather than acting as a center of excellence, his team works like an open hub that shows how MuleSoft and APIs have many potential benefits, he concludes:

We say, ‘We have this platform, come and play. You see what's possible. Look at the art of possible, then use it, and then become a champion in the business.’ That approach helps us drive more adoption. And once they see the benefits – such as across the supply chain, which I talked about – then there are no boundaries. The sky is the limit.

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