Who has the Largest B2B Integration Network?

Since IBM’s acquisition of Sterling Commerce in May there has been a lot of discussion about the consolidation of B2B networks (and what it means for the industry).  One of the topics discussed amongst B2B integration professionals is – Who has the largest B2B network?  Numerous analysts and thought leaders declared GXS to be the largest following the successful acquisition of Inovis in June.  However, I am not convinced that GXS really is the biggest.  Amongst the traditional supply chain oriented EDI networks, GXS earns top ranking for network-based revenues, annual transaction volumes and number of companies connected.  However, if you were to consider other types of similar B2B networks in adjacent industries such as financial services or health care, then the #1 position is not as clear.

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Does Your Supply Chain Have An Early Warning System?

New Predictive Intelligence-Based Financial Industry Risk Ranking Offers A Great Model for Global Supply Chains The dust, or ash cloud if you prefer has all but settled from the recent Icelandic volcanic eruption. An eruption that grounded flights yet gave flight to heightened awareness of the need to intelligently predict and respond to business disruptions. In days following the event, I was heartened to see humorous (and futile) attempts to master the pronunciation of Eyjafjallajokull quickly make way to discussions of supply chain risk and resiliency.

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B2B E-Commerce from 2010 to 2020 – Predictions for the Next Ten Years

Each of the past few years, GXS has published a list of predictions for the coming year.  With the start of a new decade, we have taken a different approach this year.  Instead of issuing predictions about just 2010, I asked a group of eight GXS Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to offer their opinions about how changing market conditions and new technologies will impact B2B e-Commerce over the next 10 years.  We developed 10 different predictions on a wide range of topics including cloud computing, SaaS, mobility, SOA, agile development, open source, social media, sustainability, emerging markets and demand driven supply chains.

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Integration Smackdown: Documents versus API in B2B

I have been focused of late (a rare luxury for me) on exploring the integration technologies to the emerging cloud computing providers — especially the SaaS guys.  Last week I attended Dreamforce 2009, which was an absolutely fantastic experience. has posted a bunch of the material on the site, and it is worthwhile. While at Dreamforce, I attended training on integration with, both to and from.  I enjoyed the class, and found the relatively rich set of alternatives (remember that this is a very young company that has quadrupled its workforce in the last few years) to be a good toolbox for integration.  One of the more intriguing aspects is how the company's engineers balance control of service levels (i.e. their ability to prevent you from hurting their performance when you integrate) with access.  One of their key technologies is a set of "governors" to control the resources available. While I really enjoyed the exposure to the API-level integration, I cannot help but compare all of this to how we traditionally do integration between business partners, as well as to SAP, which is via standard documents.  Apparently I'm not alone, as Benoit Lheureux of Gartner wrote a thoughtful blog post on how cloud integration will affect traditional integration.  From my point of view, API level integration (and yes, this includes web services), is usually more powerful and functional than integration driven through documents (disclaimer — yes, I realize at its heart that web services is basically the exchange of XML documents over HTTP, but for this discussion, it feels like an API…), but, document driven exchange is easier, more interoperable, and often enjoys much higher adoption.  And a major part of the "document advantage" is the ability to separate the handling of the document from "transport" (communications), which often allows use of familiar technologies to perform the integration. For my purposes, API level integration is the calling of specific low level services, with a set of arguments, often — though not always — using web services.  Although web services is "standard", the service calls are typically specific to a given SaaS provider (i.e. proprietary).  Additionally, the service calls may change based on the configurations done for a given instance setup for a customer (i.e. custom proprietary). Document level integration, in contrast, uses the basic pattern of sending in a document in a defined format, often — again, not always — in XML.  This document may vary from customer to customer, but most of it is the same, and customers can often submit the document in a variety of ways (web services, ftp, etc).  SAP is a pretty popular ERP system in the current world, and it supports a wide variety of integration technologies.  In our B2B managed services worlds, IDocs over ALE is by far the most common integration technology — despite the fact that there are often very good reasons to use a lower level approach (directly invoking RFCs after sending data using FTP, for instance).  Why?  Among many, many other reasons, customers and integrators like solutions that work predictably across multiple environments.  IDocs, like X12, EDIFACT, OAG, etc, are defined entities that do not change based on adding fields or custom logic to an application.  But possibly a bigger reason is the ability to use existing technology and processes to perform the work.  SAP IDocs can be manipulated using standard translation technology, and then sent via ALE or other communications methods.  The ALE protocol can be implemented in a comms gateway that you already own. Modern communications gateways have extensive support for web services today, but that is really a kind of toolbox for building custom adapters to custom services, with each one a "one-off".  This problem can be intensified if the service you are connecting to changes over time as additional data fields are added to objects (a product object is especially susceptible to change).  API level integration is usually much more brittle for this reason, and it is one of the characteristics that led many enterprises to switch to message oriented middleware, and attempt to impose canonical standards ("canonical standards" is a fancy way of saying a common format — usually in XML — for frequently used documents, like customer; canonical standards are often adopted from outside, especially the OAGi standards).  Integrating to a single system via API is often fun, maintaining dozens or hundreds of these is not. A common pattern is for emerging technology categories to start with low level APIs, and gradually build up to more abstract interfaces that are easier to use and less brittle.  Already, in the case of Salesforce, they are offering a bulk load service, and they are also offering a "meta-data" API that allows tooling to simplify integration.  Over time, I fully expect that most major SaaS providers will provide integration methods that feel a lot like trading documents, and that B2B teams will take the lead in using them. In the long battle between document and API integration, document style integration will dominate, though API and service level integration will play critical roles…   

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Are B2B Standards About to Enter the Clouds?

In an earlier post about cloud computing I started to talk about the continued development of SaaS based B2B applications.  In the past two weeks there have been a couple of interesting developments in the cloud computing space. Firstly two weeks ago, an initiative was launched in Europe called EuroCloud. EuroCloud is essentially a new industry organization that aims to promote cloud and SaaS based solutions across seven European countries. At the moment EuroCloud consists of representatives from the UK, France, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain and in addition nearly thirty SaaS and Cloud vendors ranging from Amazon, Salesforce,com, Microsoft and McAfee have all signed up to the intiative. In simple terms EuroCloud represents the Cloud business in Europe. The aim of EuroCloud is to make it easier for SaaS vendors to expand their operations across different country borders and then making it easier to deal with different languages, cultures and business best practices.EuroCloud essentially creates a central hub where anyone can find out about the leading SaaS and Cloud vendors across Europe.Now inevitably as soon as you start to talk about making it easier to trade across country borders you begin to think about introducing standards to make communications easier. Now there are obviously many standards bodies in Europe but in my mind EuroCloud could offer the first platform/industry association for introducing standards in the cloud, so to speak. Some could argue whether we need yet more standards but as with any new technology trend, the subject of common standards always gets mentioned. Now I am only speculating here but I wouldn’t be surprised if new standards are introduced in the near future for Cloud related B2B transactions. Certainly a topic for another blog entry. Secondly, GXS announced today that it was helping to drive greater adoption of cloud computing based technologies in the Integration-as-a-Service (IaaS) industry. GXS has been working very closely with Microsoft and their Windows® Azure product line to provide greater business intelligence behind our B2B e-commerce services. Azure essentially provides unlimited computing power via a scalable, standardized platform. The aim of this partnership is to provide more detailed intelligence, visibility, monitoring, reporting and auditing for customers seeking greater insight into B2B transaction volumes, values and trends within specific business processes and trading partner relationships. By leveraging the cloud, GXS will be able to provide this data in an unlimited fashion, increasing the value to our global customers. Microsoft believes that cloud based B2B integration services represent a strong market opportunity that could benefit companies of any size.

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Cloud Computing may Change Outsourcing/BPO

cloud outsourcing

Recent events (economic, technological, business) may be driving the convergence of two traditionally separate sources of value in the managed services or outsourcing world, specialized knowledge, and scale. Although some organizations have traditionally applied both specialized knowledge and scale, it was far more common for smaller service providers to compete on specialized knowledge — with higher infrastructure costs, and larger firms to compete mostly on scale, with less specialized knowledge and focus than their smaller rivals. But recent research and trends, show that the advent of cloud computing, and large commodity cloud service providers, may allow specialized managed services providers to focus and still provide compelling scale in the infrastructure. Referred to as “ADAMs” by Gartner (Alternative Delivery Models), these providers leverage not just Cloud architectures, but also Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms. And there is no reason why this has to be only a two-tier model! I recently posted a link via Twitter, Facebook, etc regarding a beta-service called CloudMQ. This service, not commercialised yet, may be an indicator. It aims to offer standards based (JMS, or Java Messaging Service), business grade messaging (guaranteed delivery, etc) “in the cloud” (offered to customers via the internet). So far, this sounds normal enough, until you realize the entire service is hosted on Amazon’s EC2 and S3 services, which are themselves infrastructure services!  And we are only at the start of this. Commercial services like Amazon change the economics, and when the economics change, the models quickly follow…

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