Building a digital partner ecosystem beyond traditional B2B/EDI communication

By October 10, 2017 April 27th, 2019

Perception of traditional B2B (business-to-business) electronic communication is all about batch oriented, point to point transactional document exchange with the business partners through EDI VAN or directly managed file transfers. This involves exchanging transactional information using various industry standard EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) formats configured for each partner along with partner/document specific logic customization for line of business applications. In typical supply chain or retail context, these partners are vendors, customers, services providers like 3PL (Third Party Logistics Providers) and b2C ecommerce websites.

Even though EDI based implementation model has matured over decades of commercial use, the traditional approach lacks many inherent capabilities required for modern digital evolution. The chart below highlights some of the fundamental features and gaps between the traditional models versus the capabilities required to support the modern digital paradigm:

Traditional capability model for B2B communication

B2B capabilities required for modern Digital Evolution

Batch Oriented (EDI or proprietary managed file transfer) Near real time interchange (via API’s) where partners can exchange transactions, status and 360 degree visibility with the process context:

For example,

  • Rapid fulfillment of B2C Ecommerce order fulfilment
  • Near real time inventory information exchange for automation based accurate decision making
Point to Point Architecture – Single document exchange centric architecture Business process driven architecture where single B2B system manages all process touch points through the value chain
Tight coupling with internal systems where business logic is spread across (EDI and internal LOB applications) for inbound and outbound communication.

Implication -> Replacing internal systems typically requires throwing away entire EDI system which is tedious, expensive and risk prone..

Open architecture with self-contained, scalable services as strategic self-contained systems, independent of any specific LOB internal application.
Scalability limited by the nature of the EDI application. Linearly scalable services with inherent architectural capability to driven by demand.
Reliability and degree of recoverability varies from application to application. Well defined system with the ability to recovery features and proactive notifications for manual guaranteed recovery

Given the prevalence of EDI based integration for decades, this form of communication will continue in near future. However, it is imperative for both business and IT leaders to assess how their current B2B communication ability will affect their organizations through the journey of industry wide transformation. It is also critical for businesses to start viewing B2B communication platforms as strategic self-contained, standalone asset and not just a bolt on to their internal business application(s). The modern architecture for deploying a strategic B2B communication capability needs to incorporate the following:

  • Complements existing batch-based electronic data interchange (EDI) with API enabled real-time B2B collaboration
  • Centralized B2B partner onboarding and management
  • Common workflow for all type of communication
  • Decoupled solution with minimal dependency on internal applications (in terms of code logic)
  • Single point of management for all B2B communication by the operational staff

A modern B2B communication architecture to support digital growth

A well-guided investment in B2B integration will reduce organizational risk, improve processes and increase the partnership advantage through longer-lasting relationships. When done wrong, B2B integration becomes a limiting factor, which will burden staff, introduce inefficiencies and increase compliance risks leading to substantial loss of revenue and opportunities.

Visionet Systems offers PartnerLink, an innovative, process-centric B2B integration solution that streamlines setup, onboarding, operational management of all forms of B2B interchange including EDI, real time API’s and file based/proprietary integrations. It encapsulates all partner setups, document exchange configurations, API support, and business rules into a single robust solution. It leverages Microsoft’s cutting-edge Azure cloud and server technology to handle very large transaction volume and provides native integration adapter for Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations (Azure Cloud based ERP platform). PartnerLink solution is a long-term strategic asset for the organizations for B2B interchange that is no longer dependent on any specific source or target ERP system.