The B2B landscape continues to be cluttered with emerging technologies and legacy stalwarts. Both continue to drive value for organizations, but CIOs are finding it far more challenging to justify strategic deployment of new technologies because with each new software and service offering, organizations are tasked with developing a strategic IT roadmap that delivers the necessary competitive improvements while extending existing investments.
“Edge applications,” the latest technology term du jour, describes applications that manage external interactions with trading partners and are considered to be at the edge of the enterprise. The emergence of edge applications is in fact the latest re-branding of the B2B gateway, or integration broker, which links public and private processes within the enterprise. With the loose patchwork of systems that make up many organizations’ B2B commerce platform, the case to support such fabric extensions is well worth making.
Frayed Edges Can Make for Elegant Quilts
One of the biggest integration challenges is finding a way to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The technology infrastructures of most enterprises resemble a patchwork quilt of several applications stitched loosely together to deliver process automation, B2B integration and supply chain visibility (or, for many organizations, “islands of Excel”). Legacy investments, changing standards and new deployment requirements make managing interactions outside the firewall increasingly difficult.
The edge of the enterprise frays with trading partner interactions. More industries are embracing new technologies and legacy technologies that require upgrades and displacement. Each of these applications or platforms has its own operational requirements and integration touch points, which creates increased support and increasingly complex systems management.
The Weft and Weave of B2B: Horizontal Processes and Vertical Requirements
Multiple technology applications have erupted throughout the enterprise by chance or by design, neither with strategic evaluation of the technology from an overall organizational standpoint. This is aided by the diversity in the technology fabric being created by the horizontal processes that drive vertical supply chains.
For example, the retail and automotive verticals have discretely different time requirements and standards support, but they both need to move parts or products to distribution centers or manufacturing facilities prior to the delivery of the final product to a sell-side location – whether it’s a car dealer or retailer. Transportation and logistics is a key component of every supply chain; logistics is in and of itself a standalone vertical, and requires unique support from an enterprise edge.
However, many B2B solution providers target specific verticals with their solutions and provide rich support in respect to the vertical components of a supply chain or the perceived differentiated processes. Vertical support shouldn’t be the key requirement when implementing a solution. There must be an extension beyond POS data in retail or release schedules in manufacturing to support horizontal needs such as back-office financial service activities and supply chain extension/requirements, such as transportation and logistics, to provide overall support for the supply chain.
As organizations look for solutions to address new requirements, it is important to establish a single view of the edge of the enterprise, where so many critical transactions occur. B2B gateways are a leading choice for many organizations, as most provide a single view of the edge regardless of whether a business partner deploys its technology with in-house software or via a hosted service offering. B2B gateways provide a single console for managing supply chain and other business processes within the enterprise, which drive incremental efficiencies inside the firewall and even across divisions and subsidiaries.
Binding the Edge and Increasing Efficiencies
Most organizations have invested significantly in maturing their back-office infrastructures. Now that they are extending the fabric to the edge of the enterprise, additional flexibility is required that is currently not found in most of today’s back-office applications. The complexities of diverse trading partner connectivity requirements, data formats and business relationship guidelines require a consolidated view of all the transaction information to minimize supply chain interruptions and compliance failures.
As the edge of the enterprise continues to fray with additional solutions, processes and more complex partner requirements, a B2B gateway provides an opportunity to streamline these interactions and reduce operational complexity. Most gateway providers offer application-agnostic solutions to support legacy EDI translators, ERP, HRIS and other internal applications. By using a single enterprise gateway, a single operational dashboard is established for deriving the necessary KPIs consistently across on operational and commerce initiatives in an organization.
Mending the Fabric of your B2B Activities
With more then 20 years of application and partner integration activity since the introduction of EDI, many organizations have established a patchwork of technologies that are stretching the infrastructure and providing visibility gaps. These gaps introduce risk and operational overhead for hybrid trading communities. As an organization’s infrastructure is taxed with the introduction of new technology requirements and the ongoing management of preexisting technologies, islands of visibility and multiple points of failure have emerged as a de facto reality that has been accepted for far too long.
The new reality – and this should be a relief to CIOs everywhere – is that the majority of these scenarios can be managed by leveraging a single B2B gateway solution. Deploying a single gateway for managed file transfer activities that service the horizontal business processes and supply chain operations provides a single version of the truth with increased visibility and control of strategic supply chain initiatives – as well as better support for internal business owners.
Jonathan Gatrell is Senior Director of Portfolio Strategy and Analysis for Inovis. He is responsible for portfolio strategy, analysis and planning activities for all product groups. www.inovis.com