With the ever-changing economy, especially now, businesses are looking for ways to reduce costs and become more efficient. The new technologies (as previously discussed in Part 1 of this blog), coupled with the immediate need for cost cutting, have created the perfect environment to fuel another major shift in business communication.
One factor helping this shift is that technology has been developed and priced so that even small “Mom and Pop” shops can obtain affordable AS2 and/or FTP solutions. The shift in cost of direct connections will fuel the move away from traditional Value Added Network (VAN) trading partners to having more AS2 and/or FTP partners (connection types). This shift will increase more rapidly as a result of the constant need for companies to become more efficient to remain competitive.
Large retailers, such as Walmart, require a “direct” AS2 connection to do EDI business. This represents a key indicator that this shift to AS2 (and/or FTP) is becoming more prominent and recognized.
It is interesting to see this relationship go though another major change. What we’re actually seeing is communications between Trading Partners coming full circle. Initially there were leased lines and individual modems for connecting to trading partners. Over time this became too expensive and, out of necessity to reduce communication costs, the VAN was born. More recently the Internet was introduced, which provided a new and inexpensive means to communicate. With expanding Internet capabilities, VANs became too expensive and too time consuming to manage. Better, cheaper software was designed to utilize these new communication methods. As a result, we now see more direct-connections being established in place of moving data through the traditional VANs.
This shift will require more time…it will not happen overnight. Instead, it will be a slow migration that will occur over the next decade (possibly longer). As new business relationships are formed, they will take advantage of these newer technologies; older methods are likely to remain with the VAN service (although the VANs often do provide other solutions and services besides merely the moving of data). Going forward, implementations will generally see a mix of these connection options until costs and efficiency eventually eliminate those methods that restrict growth.
When setting up a new trading partner or business integration process, thinking through the process beforehand can greatly decrease the implementation time and help minimize problems. Many integration projects can come to a grinding halt in the middle of implementation if it’s only later realized that required data is not configured in your backend application, or if your system doesn’t support the particular communication protocol your new trading partner intends to use. “Looking before leaping” will help alleviate potential problems later.
In Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), digital certificates can be used to secure data transfers between systems. Certificates can encrypt the data transfer in multiple ways. First, the data itself could be encrypted, making it unreadable by any receiving system unless it has the proper decryption key. Second, the communication channel that the data is being sent through could be encrypted. Third, encryption could apply to both the data and communications channel. It is common for certificates to secure AS2 communication (data encryption) or SSL connections (communication channel encryption). Continue reading
The Value Added Network (VAN) business began with a simple transaction that was manually transmitted within the grocery industry. The VAN was developed out of a necessity for companies to replace their traditional business communication methods. These methods included human interaction and the use of the postal service and the telephone. Communicating in this way caused severe “bottle necks” and held up the flow of data. This problem spawned the birth of the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards. EDI was developed to help standardize the electronic flow of business documents. As this shift from manual to electronic business communications grew it opened up a market for how to exchange this data. Thus, VAN business emerged as a direct result of this shift in business communication.
Securing electronic communications is of paramount concern for companies exchanging business-critical transactions. A recommended method to ensure a high level of security is to introduce an additional layer to the process: HTTP Proxy. A previous EXTOL blog discussed some of the benefits provided by a proxy for AS2 transmissions; this will focus on the EXTOL Secure (ESX) Proxy.
It is important to consider that Secure Proxy is not a generalized HTTP proxy to be used for all network traffic. It is a lightweight, low complexity solution designed to work for AS2 traffic only. Secure Proxy should be deployed within a “DMZ” where it can perform important security functions such as weeding out insecure and potentially malicious traffic before it ever reaches the firewall. Continue reading