AS2 is a security standard that ensures the authentication, message integrity, nonrepudiation, and privacy of EDI data sent over the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). AS2 is being rolled out by companies across many industries, including grocery and retail, because it allows companies to take advantage of inexpensive Internet communications as an alternative to more costly third-party value-added networks (VANs).
However, as with any e-commerce standard, AS2 has its own unique set of challenges. For hub companies rolling out AS2 to their trading partners, considerable expense lies in AS2 software licensing fees, which are typically charged on a per-trading partner basis. These fees are limiting some companies to AS2 connectivity with only their largest trading partners, while still using VAN connectivity for the rest of their trading partners. On the other end of the spectrum, for trading partners being asked to comply with AS2, it means another layer of complexity and cost to the often already-burdensome EDI mandate.
Softshare AS2 Network Communities: A Win/Win Approach
Softshare contacted companies rolling out AS2 to their trading partners. We asked their EDI coordinators if they would be willing to establish AS2 connections with Softshare's network as an alternative to establishing individual AS2 connections with those trading partners that are Softshare clients.
Under this arrangement, a hub company only needs to configure one AS2 trading partner connection to Softshare's network, regardless of how many of their trading partners are using our network. In the case of Cardinal Health, a company that has over 250 trading partners using Softshare's EDI software and network services, an AS2 connection with Softshare's network would bring a significant reduction to Cardinal Health in AS2 licensing fees, testing hours, and trading partner support.
For these reasons, many of the companies we contacted were interested in exploring AS2 network communities with Softshare and, to date, Softshare has successfully established AS2 network communities with Cardinal Health, Dollar General, GS1 (formerly EAN of Austria), and T-Systems (Mercedes Benz Mexico). In the near future, Softshare is scheduled to begin AS2 network testing with Anna's Linens, Circuit City, Meijer, PETsMART, and Safeway.
It's not just the hub companies that benefit from Softshare's AS2 network community approach. Softshare's clients, who are using our EDI software to view, create, and exchange EDI data, also benefit because they don't need to concern themselves with the complexities of AS2. They only need to pass their EDI data to Softshare's network and we take it from there, handling all the details of AS2 compliance on their behalves, including EDI data encryption/decryption and the exchange of MDNs.
Softshare Shows that Value-Added Networks Still have Value
For many years, there's been speculation about the longevity of VANs. The general consensus has been that the Internet will make VANs obsolete. In fact, according to many past predictions, VANs should be extinct by now. It's true that the traditional role of VANs has fallen by the wayside, but a progressive VAN, such as Softshare's, still plays a vital role in the e-commerce industry by finding ways to make Internet communications, including AS2, more manageable for everyone involved.
Diane Koornwinder of Softshare can be reached at email@example.com