Tag Archives: B2B Integration

Stay the Course and Avoid the Bling

I was recently driving while listening intently to a radio program as a woman described her inability to survive each day without her Blackberry.  I recalled how years earlier I was able to enjoy my twenty-seventh consecutive year of attending the first round of NCAA’s “March Madness” because I had implemented similar survival techniques and had email available at my fingertips.

This year I returned to the phone outlet and found my Blackberry to be far outdated.  There were phones with a “bling” for this…and a “jingle” for that.  These were electronic office assistants that also doubled as high quality cameras.  Storage capacities were available that rivaled hardware ten times their size, perfect for catching that otherwise useless video moment.  As if my favorite 250 songs weren’t enough, I had an option to carry them all.  I was certain at some point I would be approached by a stranger asking if I might just have Tiny Tim’s, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” available for immediate play. Continue reading

Revisiting the Golden Rule

You’ve probably heard some version of the “golden rule” of business (not the one we grew up with) – “S/he who owns the gold makes the rules.”  In the world of business-to-business (B2B) integration, it’s easy to see the golden rule at work.  In general, it’s the payer – the customer in a B2B relationship – that sets the rules for partner interactions, including implementation details like document types, versions, and syntaxes, document size and content constraints, communication and security protocols, and quality of service requirements.

The term “channel master” has long been used to describe the role of a dominant company in a value chain, exemplified by mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, or Sears.  Companies that supply products and services to such channel masters understand that compliance with their integration requirements is a price of doing business. Continue reading

Data Transformation Mapping – Can it be Automated?

In my previous post on this subject, I wrote about the neglected problem of data transformation mapping productivity, and its impact on integration project costs, particularly for B2B integration in companies with many customer relationships (and therefore many documents pairs to map).

Although attempts have been made to automate aspects of mapping, it remains largely a manual activity.  Gartner and other industry analysts have published research on automated mapping methods, particularly Dictionary-based mapping, but real-world implementations haven’t put a serious dent in the mapping productivity problem.  Why is that?

Mapping is a large and complex problem space.   It accounts for the single largest part of integration time and effort, encompassing data validation, translation, value derivation, enrichment, aggregation, and routing.  Defining these outcomes involves two kinds of specification, not one:  source-target matching and transformation.  Most attempts to automate mapping have focused intensively on the first part (matching), but very little on the second (data transformations).  But the biggest obstacle to mapping automation is that specifying the right mapping action may require an understanding of business and data contexts and requirements.  And that requires human decision-making.

So to the degree that mapping automation is possible, it must occur in the context of a broader, human-guided mapping process.  Simply defining a source-target dictionary and “lighting the fuse” won’t produce a map that can be used in a production environment.

Integrating automated mapping methods with the human-guided mapping process imposes critical implementation requirements for integration technology providers, including:

  • Unobtrusive integration of automation methods and human mapping decisions in the UI
  • Support for both source-target matching and data transformation aspects of mapping
  • Automation that works with both familiar and unfamiliar document types and combinations
  • Results that can be verified quickly and easily by humans
  • Configurability to suit different circumstances and preferences
  • Ability to “learn” from and adapt past decisions to future mapping situations

Each of these requirements could be subjects for their own blog posts.  The bottom line, however, is that past attempts to automate mapping have ignored or fallen short in all of these areas.

Automating data transformation mapping isn’t easy, but it is possible.  The next post in this series will examine the technology solution strategy taken by EXTOL, with the Smart Mapping feature introduced in EXTOL Business Integrator v2.5.

B2B to Be

For my inaugural post on this blog, I want to revisit one of those “solved problems” that still dogs many of the companies we talk with, namely, how to handle B2B integration requirements that don’t involve standard EDI. Companies still find it difficult to cope with the full range of B2B connections and content types needed to integrate with large and small trading partners, including:

  • Standard EDI (and in some cases, EDI that does not fully conform to standards)
  • “Standard” XML, which ranges from well-developed, horizontal standards like RosettaNet to hundreds of loosely-defined vertical transaction sets
  • EDI-like flat file standards (most of these are older, vertically-focused cases)
  • EDI-based web forms
  • Proprietary, partner-defined flat files
  • Proprietary, partner-defined spreadsheets
  • Proprietary, partner-defined web portals
  • Proprietary, partner-defined documents sent by email or fax

Did I miss any? Probably. But the point is that standard EDI is just one of numerous conventions used for B2B integration.  Of course, standard X12 and EDIFACT EDI are still the mainstay of B2B integration. And there is little evidence to suggest that companies are ready to invest in replacing all of their EDI connections with something “better”.  In fact, EDI adoption is increasing.

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