Tag Archives: B2B

The Long Tail of Automated B2B Transactions

The benefits of automating the exchange of business transaction documents between B2B trading partners (customers, suppliers, and service providers), including time and clerical cost savings, as well as increased accuracy, are well known. This automation is typically accomplished utilizing some type of standardized data formatting, such as traditional EDI or, in some cases, industry specific XML documents. Initial implementations frequently involve trading partners with high transaction volumes, and/or those of significant strategic importance.

The next stage of partner integration involves implementing those trading partners with lower transaction volumes, but who also have the capability to exchange transaction data utilizing standardized data formatting. After this, automating transactions with your remaining trading partners involves a greater challenge, since they are frequently smaller businesses who cannot justify the required investment in softwareand/or do not have the level of IT sophistication required to implement and integrate B2B data exchange with their internal applications.

There are a number of alternatives which a larger organization can utilize with their smaller and less IT capable trading partners that will provide many of the benefits of automated B2B transactions to both parties. These include:

  • Implementing web-based software that trading partners can use to send or receive transactions. For example, this software could present purchase orders to a small vendor from the same system used to send orders to EDI capable vendors. The small vendor would log into the website to receive the orders, which could be printed or downloaded in a spreadsheet. When the order is ready to be shipped, the small vendor could log back into the website and add the shipping and billing information to the original order. The larger organization would receive all the benefits of automated transactions, and the small vendor would also receive the same benefits except for the clerical cost savings.
  • The same scenario described above could be providedas a service by an EDI VAN (traditional EDI VANs are now considered ‘in the cloud’), or some other third party service provider.
  • Documents could be exchanged as spreadsheets attached to emails sent between trading partners. There is B2B integration software available that can create and process spreadsheet data in addition to standardized data exchange formats.
  • Software (both on-premise and available as a service) is available that can reformat data in standardized data exchange formats to an easily readable document and fax it to a smaller vendor. Some systems also have the capability of receiving faxed documents and transforming the information into standardized formats, although the accuracy achieved with this method is not always acceptable.

With the technology available today, automating the integration of business documents with small B2B partners is practical and affordable.

White Paper Excerpt #1: Design-time Automation Strategies for Business Integration

This is the first in a series of excerpts from a new white paper on Design-time Automation – the application of automated techniques to the delivery of business integration applications.

Executive Summary

New advances in object generation methods for business integration are making it possible to deliver customized business-to-business (B2B), application (A2A), and data integration results faster and at far lower cost than was possible just a few years ago.

Key Findings:

  • Business integration productivity is a challenge in nearly every business, but manufacturers and intermediaries with many customer relationships face the highest levels of integration volatility and gain the greatest amount of benefit from design-time automation.
  • Integration staff time is concentrated mainly in implementation and maintenance tasks, rather than operating and managing integration.
  • Creating, testing, and maintaining data transformation maps is the most time-consuming integration activity, in most projects and companies.
  • Applying automation to the creation and maintenance of business integration objects can dramatically reduce project delivery time, effort, and cost, when compared with both programing and conventional integration modeling.

Recommendations:

  • Determine which integration activities consume the most time in your business, then focus efficiency and cost containment efforts on those areas.
  • In addition to new project delivery efforts, consider the staff time devoted to ongoing maintenance, especially in response to changes that are driven by trading partners.
  • Investigate ways to generate integration project deliverables in place of coding and modeling.
  • Look for opportunities to leverage integration software investments across B2B, A2A, and data integration projects. Continue reading

Restricting Traffic Inside and Out

While considering enhancements for the next version of EXTOL’s AS2 product a while ago, I was presented with what I initially thought was a curious, if not paranoid, enhancement request: a customer wanted to be able to restrict outgoing traffic to specific ports.

My first question was: “Why bother?” Indeed, the vast majority of our customers had no restrictions on their outgoing source, or egress, ports and the concern of network administrators has traditionally been on restricting who and what can come into the network from outside. While the threat from viruses, worms, denial-of-service attacks targeted at a company’s internet infrastructure from the outside is obvious, the perils from inside the network are not so readily apparent. Nevertheless, they are worthy of a security conscious IT professional’s close consideration.

So what can a company gain by restricting the traffic over its egress ports? Continue reading

The Publish/Subscribe Model: You gave the message to whom?

Enterprise Service Busses (ESBs) offer an interesting communications layer that enables an enterprise to expose data to interested parties (i.e. applications, data-feeds, etc.) with a Publish/Subscribe model.  The Pub/Sub model originated in the printed media world, utilized as a distribution model for newspapers and magazines. It has evolved with modern times into the electronic age in the form of email-subscribed newsletters, and more recently, RSS feeds such as blogs.

In the enterprise, there is a growing need to share data among systems, both internally (A2A) and externally (B2B).  However, as new demands for sharing data surface, we need a way to “bolt in” the new requestors without impacting our current implementations.

ESBs commonly implement a variant of the GoF Observer Pattern.  This exposes a Publication/Subscription model allowing information sources (publisher) to expose data (message) on a queue.  One or more interested parties (subscriber) consume the data.  The key benefit of loose coupling in a Publication/Subscription model is that the Publisher does not need to know, or care, about “who” is subscribing.  The data is published and downstream subscribers use the data as they see fit.

Continue reading