This article is an excerpt from the report:
Business Transformed: B2B Communications Hold the Key for Success in Today’s Economy
A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.
In Part Two of this series, we looked at B2B communications’ role in automating commercial processes, streamlining logistics and global trade, and modernizing intercompany product management. Here in the final part of this series, we examine the technology required to successfully support these processes.
Integrating B2B: Understanding Technology
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 endpoints 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
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!
Types and Purposes of Various B2B Communications
|Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). There are thousands of commercially available APIs that are published for many integrations. For example, there is an API set for third-party solutions like ERP; or specific task libraries for just about any function: getting rates, calculations and rules, freight booking, and searches. |
|Business Process Extensions (BPEs) are more than API. BPEs are expressed in business language, for example,|
“Print a barcode label; find part number/inventory; execute drop ship; send service request; send ship notification; issue a material return authorization.”1 BPEs use a variety of technical enablers, API, EDI, and workflow to create tasks. Modern providers of these services allow for configuration (checking off the box) by users or business analysts and behind-the-scenes automation by the tech provider.
|EDI is transforming, but the idea of a standard message and well-defined data still thrives, although it may be communicated with different technology. Today, the ability to convert across industry standards is essential. |
|IoT and Networks |
|Device integration is not new, but IoT has given it a refresh including more data from more sources such as sensor and RFID data and smart, connected equipment and products. Devices on vehicles in today’s logistics world have GPS and Electronic Logging Devices (ELD), and mobile to support driver telematics, labor management, safety, and road-service applications. Consumer devices such as Alexa or Dash, or a consumer’s mobile create orders that demand that the whole supply chain be alerted and activated based on their IoT signals.2 That information can be collected in IoT and supply chain networks to rationalize and analyze the data streams to support responsive processes. IoT also supports modern tracking technologies. |
|Sharing content within a group or person-to-person social networks is an essential part of collaboration today. Beyond day-to-day problem solving, a community can be the starting point for building networks of partners as well as creating a knowledge base of industry practices. |
|Customized messages flow to multiple parties, routing, guiding workers, ensuring accurate procedures, and signatures/approvals.|
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 that 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 move is 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
As shown in Figures 1 & 2, 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.
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 the 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 the 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.
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 its own unique data model, but doing that challenges its 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 endpoint 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. — Return to article text above
2 These are not just IoT signals like location alerting. These signals connect to those infinite catalogs that offer an infinite variety of products from so many sources, delivered to potentially thousands of endpoints. 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, which assists with routing, and precision telematics/turn-by-turn guidance. — Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.