In today's complex supply chains, business leadership has to provide the guidance on where the business is goingwhat partners, what processes, and what results need to be achieved. Thus the business has to understand the technology and the benefits that can be derived from B2B communication and forge an effective partnership with their own internal IT team.
In this two-part series we discuss how today’s businesses need to adopt a broad spectrum of B2B communications methods that connect the enterprise to their trading partners, customers and government entities.
In Part One we discussed the requirements for B2B communications across key focus areas.
In this Part Two we describe the technologies that are essential today—not just EDI, but others such as APIs, IoT (connected/mobile equipment and device networks), workflows, etc. and the benefits of these technologies to enable a digital supply chain.
Then we conclude in a strategy and benefits discussion for the leadership, those who are responsible for establishing trading partner relationships and processes and those who are implementing those processes.
Today, companies need an information strategy to keep up with the ever-expanding marketplace’s demands for information. Having separate stovepipes for supply-chain tasks or EDI transactions provides little information leverage to optimize and execute the many cross-functional and cross-enterprise activities that must fuse. This is why we see more ecosystems of partners moving to shared cloud platforms that can leverage information.
Even consumers don’t just want the goods, they want information, too, such as the product pedigree and shipping status.
Into this world of complex end points with its increasing requirements to communicate, enter more and more forms of data and technology that we must absorb, analyze, and respond to (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Today’s Integration Challenges—Content, Media Across Protocols, Formats, Data Sources from
the Cloud as well as Enterprise On-premise Systems Behind Firewalls
Successful B2B communications require the ability to leverage multiple processes, methods, and data streams on one platform throughout the end-to-end relationship.
A great deal of this information comes from—or is needed by—our trading partners. Creating an environment where this is easily, yet securely, done requires an architectural approach beyond enterprise-type systems. Table 1 provides some considerations on the types and purposes of today’s communication techniques. They are more than transactions!
Table 1: B2B Communications
Of course, all this is only academically interesting unless it leads to unifying business processes. There are many stand-alone technology companies who provide one or some of the above capabilities. However, today, to unify partners, companies cannot restrict themselves to one process such as procurement or one data stream. So the smarter moveis to provide the ability to leverage multiple processes, methods, and data streams on one platform throughout the end-to-end relationship. Information from one party should be leveraged to enhance the process for all the participants in the process.
As shown in part one and Figure 1, the integration and translation support from the supply chain network harmonizes all these data models, technology, and information streams so that they are shared and leveraged within the enterprise and across the chain.
To create new opportunities today businesses cannot go it alone, but must create bold and successful partnerships to expand and reach new markets and customers. As partnerships are part of the plan, these relationships must be codified with connected business processes.
Thus, for even the most automated companies, more must be done to revitalize the B2B communications capability. This will require focus in two areas—business leadership and technology partnership.
Cross-Functional Communications: Many businesses no longer subscribe to a strict business model, e.g., retailer or manufacturer or wholesale distributor. Rather, they may do a little—or a lot—of everything. A technology provider who supports one function only, such as retail or invoicing, may limit the growth and functioning of the enterprise.
Full Communication Suite: There are media reports about EDI vs. API, or Blockchain replacing EDI. But, in fact, these are all additive capabilities that will be used across even a one-to-one relationship. Seek a platform that supports the various communication types (Table 1) so that managing business relationships is all-inclusive. With the growth of IoT, a solution should be sought that can include devices within the overall network.
Management and Monitoring: The many-to-many network’s forte is taking on the management challenge of creating and monitoring B2B communications on behalf of an entire network. This takes a real burden off the IT department—the angst of building a proprietary hub and managing constantly changing data, along with the nightly vigil of ensuring that their communications are not repudiated by customers and partners.
Quality Assurance in Onboarding: Each new partner or new shared process with existing customers requires painstaking onboarding with coding, testing, and changes. B2B communication experts have the tools, staff, and relationships to ensure rapid and successful onboarding.
Global Expertise and Support: Cross-border regulations today just don’t apply to goods, but cash and information exchange. With trade regulations always in flux, end users can’t keep up. So they need to rely on a third party who is staffed with global trade experts to support them. Setting the standard for exceptional partnerships means ensuring all of the processes and data meet the highest standards.
Table 2: Technology Solution Fundamentals
Business Leadership: B2B Is a Business Decision
Business leadership has to provide the guidance on where the business is going—what partners, what processes, and what results need to be achieved. They, not just IT, should ignite the initiatives to explore and expand the B2B foundation.
Businesses need to assess the current health and future direction of their partnerships. Where are the gaps in operational dexterity that need to be addressed? What policies need to be updated? What information is required to infuse and improve partner relationships and overall supply chain performance? How can we mutually modernize and leap ahead competitively? This assessment can subsequently lead to the establishment of priorities to guide strategy.
Creating the right partnerships also means selecting the right technology partners to enable transformation. Since these relationships are so critical to business success, there is more than just the technology to consider in selecting this partner. So what kind of partner should we seek for B2B communications today?
Technology leadership and vision are key here, since your investments should sustain your operations and transformational ability for a long time. For today’s B2B challenges, a technology provider with global reach is essential. Successful operation in foreign countries requires local knowledge of trade, product, and financial standards and regulations.
Your corporation’s reputation (ensuring efficient and accurate operations) and identity (leadership in your industry and marketplace) are critically impacted by the technology you use. From an operational perspective, Table 2 provides some key capabilities that should be priorities in your evaluation.
Typical Benefits from B2B Communications:
Performance improvement across the supply chain
Accurate order promising
Reduction/elimination of manual interventions
Reduced transactions costs
Acceleration of information cycle times
Reduction in overall IT costs
Improvement in cash cycles with more accurate and timely invoicing
Increased participation and enhanced compliance in B2B information sharing
The B2B world is not like other technology sectors, specifically, enterprise software, which focuses on “one”: one enterprise, one data model, with one goal of building and strengthening the cohesion of that one enterprise. Those enterprise systems are not architected for the many-to-many virtual, outsourced, global, and partnered world. The enterprise focuses on solidifying and codifying their own unique data model, but doing that challenges their ability to communicate outward to the vast and ever-changing world.
Today’s B2B network’s foundation, on the other hand, is architected for the many-to-many communications challenge with multi-protocols, support for multiple industry standards, and translation between thousands of enterprises. This foundation makes businesses commerce ready for any and all partners and customers, enhancing relationships through information as well as the high operational performance enabled thereof.
Business managers are constantly confronted with benefits statements and conflicting priorities regarding which processes and projects are most urgent to address. Through mutual engagement, IT and senior management can now create an understanding about the technology options and how they can enhance trading partner performance.
The priority is to have exceptionally competitive supply chains. And today’s supply chains are information powered. The stakes are too high to minimize the essential need—the goal—of frictionless commerce. It must be achieved to participate in the global economy. Businesses can’t win alone.
1 A great example here is Descartes OzLink™. Users fill out a form and “check off the boxes” of the process extensions they want to use and the end point they need to integrate to. Behind the scenes is all that integration code that users don’t have to deal with, e.g., a technical API, EDI, and workflow library.
2 These are not just IoT signals like location alerting. These signals connect to those infinite catalogues that offer an infinite variety of products from so many sources, delivered to potentially thousands of end points. They have upended the enterprise, requiring a new level of analytics to absorb all the signals and plan out the day (and the corporate product, partner, and supply chain strategy). As well, there is IoT and mobile data emanating from vehicles: GPS or mobile/cellular locating, ELD, assists with routing, and precision telematics/turn-by-turn guidance.
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.