File Transfer Protocol (FTP) vs SharePoint vs Supplier Collaboration Hub

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With the ever-increasing amount of digital data, businesses are looking at ways to improve their data sharing both internally and externally. Eurostep’s extensive experience working with large, medium and small manufacturing and engineering companies has led us to encounter many businesses that use File Servers or SharePoint for this. So, how well suited are these tools and why is a supplier collaboration hub better?

Due to similar if not identical business disadvantages mentioned further down below, exchanging and sharing data via email has been discarded in this comparison. Nevertheless, we can’t ignore that working with email has one major advantage over FTP and SharePoint – it’s an established mean of business communication that is easy to use.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of FTP for product collaboration with suppliers?

File transfers protocols is a common way to transfer large amount of data between companies. Its main benefits are that it is capable of handling large amount of data, it can manage multiple directories at once, transfers can be scheduled, and lost data can be recovered.


Now, in terms of using FTP as a channel for collaboration, the main weaknesses are that it lacks security, compliance, and traceability. When sharing a file using this protocol, the data, usernames, and passwords are usually not encrypted and are all shared together in text format, making it highly vulnerable to Man-in-the-middle attacks. Moreover, since there are no frameworks put in place to facilitate control over the sharing process, the use of FTP can put organisations at risk of not complying to export regulations such as ITAR.

Finally, FTP does not have capabilities for traceability and version control. Imagine the chaos when collaborating on complex multi-part projects such as a truck, a ship or even a power plant with many partners. Keeping control of what has been shared, with whom and when can quickly become a nightmare.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of SharePoint for product collaboration with suppliers?

Given SharePoint is easily accessible through Microsoft’s Office 365 platform, a lot of businesses are using it as a document storage and sharing solution. SharePoint is a collaboration and document management platform integrated with Microsoft Office 365’s productivity stack. It is a well-established product across industries and a common alternative to FTP for file sharing. Unlike FTP, SharePoint offers a wide range of capabilities for document management such as version control, change history, workflow management, secure data sharing etc. It can be a great solution for internal document management, assuming a company has the budget to administer it, since it is a platform that requires internal resources to structure and maintain.

However, one of the main disadvantages for engineers and manufacturers is that you cannot store relationships between documents, drawings, meta data, revisions and it is simply not intended to deal with fine grained information that you will need in dealing with engineering data, at least if you are looking to break out of the document paradigm.

When collaborating around a product with any kind of complexity, a well-defined change process is needed. What is essential during that process is that all teams and suppliers affected by the changes in the product, can see the changes and be kept up to date.

Companies need to know where else parts that undergo a change are used, so that they can understand what and who gets affected and analyse the impact. They also need to look at what testing has been done previously, to know if that must be revised due to the changes.

From a legal enforcement standpoint, it saves time to have all agreement and PO documents around parts and products, to make sure all obligations are fulfilled by all parties affected by the change. So overall, when working with product manufacturing, all sorts of information and metadata needs to be at hand to support the business process. Without a relationship-based platform made for collaboration around product data, companies are missing out on a lot of time and cost savings as well as reduction in errors.

Why should you rather consider using a supplier collaboration hub?

In a survey conducted by keysight technologies, engineers from 10 companies in the US and Canada were asked about what improvements would have the biggest impact on time-to-market. 58% and 56% of them believe that the integration of software across their product development life cycle and improving their ability to share data across teams would have the biggest impact reducing lead time.

Data sharing is a sensitive matter that is often treated with scepticism due to the risks it entails, such as the loss of intellectual property, sharing sensitive data to competitors, security breaches, etc. The complexity that data sharing can bring scares away companies from making changes and improving this area of their business. They only see costly and slow implementations with complex maintenance and no real proof of ROI. But using old processes to collaborate and share information such as email, FTP and SharePoint is more detrimental in the long term.

How to correctly implement a smart and robust data sharing solution?

Something that we have been advocating for a long time has recently been concluded as well at McKinsey in their report “Four ways to accelerate the creation of data ecosystems”. In their experience, companies that are fast to establish a secure and effective way to manage and share data along their value chain, start small.

Successful companies focus on a limited number of data and partners to simplify the tasks. In other words, they start with a small-scale proof of concept in a real business environment. By doing so, they can quickly define the framework and create value for all parties involved at low cost. This early stage allows them to agree on the parameters each team will provide such as the resources, the value-sharing models, privacy requirements, technology to be used, and the talent needed. Once tested and consolidated, this framework can then be scaled up and used for bigger data sets and larger number of partners. This is a process that was successfully used by one of our customer, Weda, using ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing. They were able to improve the transparency of their supply chain, leading to reductions in procurement errors and costs. This is a great example of a low cost and fast digital transformation. More reading on the topic of Collaboration Hubs can be done here in a recent blog post by Jos Voskuil.

Legal and risk management process

When forming new partnerships with suppliers and manufacturers, it is imperative to work out the legal and risk management process from the get-go. It may sound obvious, but many companies barely address legal and risk management or leave it for later stages. Yet focus on business risk, privacy risk, reputational risk and data security is key to avoid data breaches, loss of IP and brand damage. The later you address it, the more delays and issues will arise. Partnerships must have clear agreements and processes in place to form transparent and resilient value chains.

Select an effective and sustainable approach to be ahead of the market

Setting up such ecosystem may seem complicated, especially if you go along the path of developing everything from scratch and designing your own data architecture blueprint. This will end up being a very costly initiative with no assurance on successful results. You can and should leverage from existing solutions that have been developed to enable easy and secure data management and sharing. By combining powerful product data management capabilities, metadata-based storage, security features such as access control and simple integration with API-based data access, the path forward becomes clear. Using such solutions enforces a defined process that must be put in place in order to address the issues raised in this post.

You will be able to scale to your needs without compromising on resources, time and money. Additionally, an open standard based hub makes it easier to have your whole value chain connected to your digital thread and avoid vendor lock-ins.

So why wait? Get in touch with our sales reps to come up with the best approach that fits your needs and requirement for the complete transformation of your value chain. Or skip the talking and get started straight away with a 60-days free trial of ShareAspace Design to Manufacturing!


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