All You Can Eat or à la Carte?
We’ve all been there; searching for a must-have product we find that many outlets have availability, but the stock level is the same for all of them, coincidence? Obviously not, so what is going on?
It depends, but it is likely that the distributor or manufacturer of the product has made its entire product set and stock holding available to its resellers by way of a data feed, in that way the resellers can advertise all of those products on their websites, offering them to their customers, without having to hold stock themselves.
But what is a data feed, and is it something that can be used with your IBM i systems?
Thankfully the first question is simple, and the second? The answer there is a resounding yes! A data feed is simply a set of information or ‘data’ that is provided in an automated way. Sometimes this data will be live, sometimes it will be generated on a schedule.
Hang on, that sounds a lot like EDI…
Absolutely, and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) should be considered a form of data feed. EDI is highly standardised so that any company using an EDI standard can transact with any other using the same standard. The complexities of EDI are beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that whilst EDI is a system of data feeds, there are many data feeds which are not EDI.
So, what about the IBM i?
IBM have always been at the forefront of business computing and the IBM i and its predecessors the i Series, AS/400, and System36/38 were no exception. There are a variety of methods that can be used to provide data feeds to business partners, let’s run through some of them now:
- File Transfer – Going right back to 1971 FTP has been a standardised method of allowing a system to place and retrieve files from a remote system. These days Secure Shell (SSH) based methods such as Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) or Secure Copy Protocol (SCP) offer a secure way to move files. Your IBM i supports all of these methods natively, using the integrated programming tools simple (or complex) automations can be created to allow data feeds to be utilised.
- Flat Files – A frequently used term that describes a number of file types that contain data in rows. Common types would include comma-separated, and tab-delimited files. These files could carry the data being provided (or consumed) in the feed. Again, like FTP or SFTP the IBM i has supported this functionality natively since its inception.
- Web Services & APIs – These offer a different way of presenting data, rather than a file being generated which is transferred and then processed to extract the data; a web service offers the data directly so that partners can securely connect to it on their own schedules (pull) and be selective about the data that they access. The IBM i can both provide web services and connect to them making it easy to integrate with the systems of your business partners.
- Direct Database Connectivity – As an IBM i user, you will be aware of the incredible performance offered by the DB/2 database which is completely integrated in the platform. Using database connectors, for example, Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) or Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) connections can be made to this data and information transferred directly. In the same way, those connection methods can be used to connect to partner systems also.
So, whether it’s providing stock levels or pricing so that you can enable your customers to sell your products easily, or using the Google Merchant Center to make sure your services are found in every search, data feeds can satisfy the appetite of all diners.
Joe VavasourKFA Connect IT Manager
22nd March 2023
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