Digital Transformation

Integration-as-a-Product (IaaP) – The Forthcoming Wikipedia Entry

Integration-as-a-Product (IaaP) was a late twentieth century model in which corporations utilized their in-house IT organizations to operate integration technology behind the firewall. The model worked as follows. Corporations would license integration software vendors from technology vendors. The software would be installed on servers running in a corporate data center. Vendors typically received license fees of hundreds of thousands of dollars up front as well as 20% on-going maintenance fees. Payment to the vendor was irrevocable regardless of whether the business outcome sought by the corporation was achieved or not. Corporations struggled to successfully implement integration as a product for three decades. After a period of 20 years of experimentation the industry had only achieved 30-50% adoption of electronic commerce technologies. It was followed by a shift in thinking towards different approach – See “Integration-as-a-Service” or “Cloud Based Integration.” As with the dinosaurs there are many theories as to why Integration-as-a-Product failed. Some of the most popular root causes are believed to be: Proliferation of XML Standards and IP Communications options resulting in overwhelming complexity for IT organizations. Inability of Point-to-Point Connections to scale beyond 20% of a community. Ineffectiveness of IT organizations to convince Small Businesses to participate due to the costs, resources and training required to purchase and implement software. Lack of accountability amongst technology vendors to ensure success. Payment to the vendor was irrespective of business outcome. Failure of IT organizations to keep pace with trading partner growth caused by rapid rise in outsourcing of functions such as manufacturing, logistics, distribution and aftermarket service. Widespread acceptance of easier-to-use and lower-cost cloud and SaaS models. See “Epic Fail” for other examples of similar failed business models.

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BIRT Developer vs Java Coder

Have you ever wondered just how much time and effort BIRT can save you in developing information driven, customer facing web and mobile applications? This “docu-drama” compares the experience of two enterprise developers creating a mission critical application, one who uses BIRT, and one who insists on hand coding in Java. Watch the VideoDON’T BE A LARRY!  

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How GXS Addresses the B2B Challenges Faced by Today’s Automotive Industry

GXS has been supporting companies across the automotive industry for more than forty years. Today, GXS works with many of the world’s leading automotive OEMs and tier 1 suppliers, helping to address B2B challenges such as supporting international expansion and ERP integration projects. I have been at GXS for just over seven years now and 2013 represents a major turning point in the industry. The restructuring faced by many companies after the recent economic recession is now starting to pay off and the industry is going through a renaissance. But what are the industry trends around the world?, what are the B2B related challenges faced by today’s automotive industry? and how does GXS help to address these challenges? Over the past few months I have been experimenting with a presentation tool called Prezi, with a bit of patience you can produce fairly eye catching presentations that makes Powerpoint based presentations look very old fashioned indeed! I thought I would share my latest Prezi presentation, the video is only 11 minutes long but I hope it gives you a good idea of the challenges faced by today’s automotive industry and how B2B integration solutions can help to address these challenges. If you would like to access the Prezi presentation used to create this video, then please click here. You will also find another presentation in my Prezi profile that provides a high level introduction to Cloud B2B integration.

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Standardizing on a Single Mapping and Translation Tool for B2B Integration

There are a wide variety of mapping tools available on the market today. Some are designed to be easy-to-use by IT professionals without much formal training in map development. These might come with wizards or other assisted mapping tools to guide you through the process. Or they might come with libraries of pre-built maps that just require slight customization to use. At the other extreme are mapping tools which are designed to support very complex scenarios, but require more experienced IT professionals to use. Runtime translation engines, that execute the maps as requested, also come in different shapes and sizes. Some translators perform better with certain types of standards (e.g. EDI and XML) than others. Some translators are designed for very high volumes of complex maps that require lots of processing overhead. These might support the creation of complex business logic or web services calls to enrich data. At the other extreme are translators designed for lower processing volumes and simpler maps. But, most companies have a very diverse mix of maps that don’t fit into the “sweet spot” of one particular mapping and translation tool. Let’s say you are a company that develops a lot of maps. About half of these maps are relatively simple. They require straightforward mapping of data fields from your ERP application into an industry standard such as EDI or OAGi XML. But the other half the maps are complex. Perhaps, you have a demanding group of customer that each want you to integrate directly to their business applications. These customers want business logic included in the maps along with calls to databases and APIs to enrich or validate data. Which mapping and translation tool would you choose for this scenario? Neither is really a good choice. The simple mapping and low performance translators are too soft. The complex mapping and high performance translators are too hard. The Goldilocks Problem with Translators – Some are too soft. Some are too hard. (Image Source: http://kindergartencrayons.blogspot.com) Historically, most companies have selected a single mapping and translation tool to support their B2B integration programs. Conventional wisdom suggests that you can lower costs and improve productivity by standardizing on one vendor’s technology for mapping and translation. Using multiple different mapping tools and translators from multiple vendors is viewed to be highly inefficient. So what do you do? A new cloud-based service called a translation hypervisor is emerging that offers a cost-effective answer to this dilemma.

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How the ‘Internet of Things’ will Impact B2B and Global Supply Chains

Over the past few months CIOs and executives around the world have been trying to embrace a new set of IT related buzzwords, namely The Internet of Things (IoT), The Internet of Everything and the Industrial Internet. All three terms are essentially used to describe machine to machine (M2M) connectivity across the internet. The IoT relies on any machine or device being connected, via fixed wire or wireless communications links to the internet and then being able to transmit information in one form or another. There are countless research articles that have been published on the internet describing these three terms and I do not want to spend too much time discussing these in detail, instead I will discuss how they relate to B2B and the Supply Chain and how they are going to change the way in which companies work with each other in the future. The IoT has provided a much needed boost to the high tech and manufacturing sectors, but the technology being deployed is usable across virtually any industry sector and there lies the business opportunity. The most widely published figure estimating the market size for IoT was produced by Cisco who believes the market will be worth $14.4 trillion by 2020. Cisco has taken the lead in terms of developing thought leadership in this area, their recent Internet of Everything study provided some interested insights including the benefits chart shown below. IDC estimates an IoT market size of $9 trillion by 2020. Either of these estimates are very big numbers which is why IBM, GE, Infineon, Qualcomm and many other companies are investing significant amounts of money on IoT based technologies and services. IDC suggests there are three enablers driving the IoT, namely: On-going development of smart cities, cars and houses Enhanced connectivity infrastructure An increasingly connected culture where everyone wants to be connected to the internet at home, at work or in the car IDC goes on to predict that there will 212 billion ‘things’ connected to the internet by 2020. It is important to stress that the IoT is in its infancy but wired connected devices have been in use for many years. The idea of the IoT initially became popular through the Auto-ID Center, a non-profit collaboration of private companies and academic institutions that pioneered the development of a web-like infrastructure for tracking shipments around the world through the use of RFID tags carrying electronic product codes. The IoT relies on web-enabling virtually any type of product or piece of equipment so that data about the object can be captured and communicated. Once captured, the information would be transferred from the remote device and then processed via some form of middleware to an integration platform. Ideally from a business point of view, all connected devices would be connected to the same integration platform to allow them to work seamlessly with back office business environments such as supply chain management and ERP platforms. McKinsey & Company recently said in a report that the manufacturing sector is likely to see the most benefits from the IoT and they went on to predict that we are about to enter the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. The industrial internet will see the world of manufacturing become more and more networked until everything is interlinked with everything else. GE sees so much potential in the industrial internet that they have setup a software division, called GE Software, based in California to look at how they can exploit this across the various products and services that they offer. McKinsey also believes that the IoT will lead to an exponential growth in data flowing across the extended enterprise and companies will have to acquire personnel with the necessary data analysis experience to be able to process this information. These people will have to design robust algorithms for processing IoT related information and then translate what happens in the physical world into a format that can be handled in the digital world. This requires mathematical, domain, market and context know-how. In the connected world, the physical world should be integrated with business processes, including delivering data, sending events and processing rules. The area of Big Data may just be starting to gain acceptance across different industry sectors, but the IoT will see interest in Big Data Analytics grow exponentially over the coming years. With a piece of integration software or middleware acting as the interface between the physical and digital supply chains, how can companies leverage this connection and more importantly how could it help to streamline supply chain processes across the extended enterprise? There are a number of ways in which the IoT could add value to supply chain strategies, not just in manufacturing, but in other sectors such as retail as well. We are at the very early stages of understanding how the IoT will impact the enterprise, but from a supply chain management point of view here are three initial areas where the IoT could impact global supply chains: Pervasive Visibility – relates to the way in which shipments are tracked at every stage of their journey from their point of manufacture to their point of delivery. The IoT not only provides ‘information everywhere’ but will offer ‘visibility everywhere’ as well. RFID is one such technology that was introduced to provide improved visibility of shipments, but has sometimes struggled to offer full end to end visibility across a supply chain due to the fact that the infrastructure to track RFID tags has not existed on a truly widespread, end to end basis. As more pieces of equipment, infrastructure and vehicles are connected to the internet, it means that traditional ‘black spots’ or visibility gaps across a supply chain where shipment visibility is limited will begin to disappear. Connected devices or infrastructure will help to plug these visibility gaps and allow shipments to be tracked end to end across a supply chain. The IoT will also allow companies to have two way communications with their shipments at each stage of its journey across the supply chain. For example a piece of equipment could be remotely contacted and instructed to go into an ‘installation mode’ before it arrives at the site where it will be delivered. Proactive Replenishment – efficient inventory management has always been a challenge across the retail industry, especially when one considers the various channels that consumers can purchase goods today. Whether buying online, or through traditional brick and mortar stores, managing inventory levels and being able to replenish stocks efficiently is a constant challenge. It is not just the retail outlets, keeping vending machines stocked up is another area that could be considerably improved. Many vending machines are typically in remote locations and the only way a company gets to monitor stock levels is to physically visit the vending machine and replenish the stock as required. What if the vending machine could be connected to the IoT and when the vending machine detects low stock for a particular item it is able to automatically place an order for new stock which can then be delivered before it runs out. What if this was expanded to normal retail outlets and low stock signals from a sensor fitted to shelving in the stores triggers the ordering of new stock. In France many supermarkets have RFID based price tags to allow pricing information to be updated centrally, extending this capability to check for stock levels will change the way in which retail outlets manage their inventory levels. Predictive Maintenance – In an earlier blog I highlighted a case for how the IoT could support the replacement of parts in serviceable products such as industrial equipment and office equipment for example. If a piece of equipment is able to self-diagnose a potential problem and then place an order for a replacement part, then it can be fitted before the part fails. I used an example of a car engine detecting reduced flow rates across a water pump. A seal on the water pump could be leaking, causing inefficient operation of the cooling system. Before the water pump completely fails, the car’s ECU sends information via the internet to a local service centre about a potential problem and at the same time places an order for a new seal to be delivered directly to the car owner’s normal location where they get their vehicle serviced. The service centre then automatically checks the service schedule and emails the owner of the car to notify them of an impending issue with their car. This scenario could be applied to an aircraft, a piece of construction equipment or even a fax machine in an office, any serviceable equipment will be connected to the IoT to help detect potential problems and get them resolved ASAP. Direct integration with a B2B platform allows all ordering and shipment related documents to be created and tracked automatically so that service centres know exactly when the replacement parts will be delivered. Key to all three of these areas is the ability to integrate the physical and digital supply chains. Companies will need access to a cloud based integration platform that can integrate to a wide variety of connected devices, equipment and services. An M2M API or middleware that sits between the piece of equipment and the supply chain management environment will be key to providing the link between physical and digital supply chains. Therefore common standards will have to be developed to achieve this seamlessly and IBM has started the ball rolling by proposing their MQTT standard as the basis of how machines will communicate with each other across the internet. But this is only one part of the equation, as document/file standards and ways to process the information being transmitted between these devices must also be developed. The key challenge to widespread adoption of the IoT relates to achieving seamless interoperability and common standards that need to be developed to allow machines to be able to communicate at a technical level and across different borders and cultures as well. In North America an alliance of ten companies including Cisco and GE are working to lobby the US government on the importance of developing open standards that will encourage broad adoption of the IoT. The alliance is aiming to address the following IoT related issues: Co-engineering cyber and physical systems Identifying cyber-security issues and solutions Addressing concerns about interoperability Identifying ways to maintain robust wireless connections Setting standards for real-time data collection and analytics It is not just in North America where IoT related standards are being discussed. The European Research Cluster on the Internet of Things has undertaken some interesting research over the past couple of years, one of the more interesting reports tried to define all the areas that had to be addressed to develop an IoT related platform. In China the government sees the IoT as being able to offer a key competitive advantage in the global economy. So as not to miss out on the next big internet revolution they have instructed numerous government departments to come up with policies for how the IoT can be deployed across China. Pervasive, Proactive and Preventative, three words that begin to define the benefits of the IoT, especially from a supply chain perspective. The IoT will allow the seamless exchange of information in real time between a shipment, its surroundings and a common, cloud based, integration platform that is used to connect all trading partners across the extended enterprise. I have not had time to discuss other areas such as Smart Grids and how for example the IoT will impact the Electric Vehicle industry, I will expand on these in future blogs. I am fortunate to be attending the Internet of Things World Forum in Barcelona in two weeks’ time and I will provide an update on the latest IoT related trends when I get back from this conference. In the meantime have you given any thought as to how your business could benefit or embrace the IoT?

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The End of Mapping (in B2B Integration)

Maps are the one of the most painful and costly aspects of a B2B integration program. But maps are also the most important part of your B2B program. Maps are the key conduit through which information flows from your enterprise applications (SAP, Oracle, Infor) into the systems of your business partners (customers, suppliers, banks). That means that every time you make changes to the data structures in your enterprise applications you also need to make modifications to the associated maps. Every time you win a new account, you need to create a new map that converts the information the customer sends into the format of your enterprise application systems. And maps cannot easily be ported from one vendor’s translation tool to another vendor’s. If you want to change translators then you often need to rewrite your maps completely. Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way to stop having to use maps? Shouldn’t we be able to develop an algorithm that can automatically map and convert the data from one file format into the format of another? This type of artificial intelligence technology is certainly within reach (if not already present). Consider that: IBM’s Watson can interpret natural language queries and respond with answers faster than even the world’s smartest Jeopardy players. Siri can interpret a wide variety of human speech patterns and respond within seconds with answers to most common questions. Shazam can listen to a 30 seconds of music playing on a radio and match it the artist and title of the song. Google Goggles can scan an item via a cell phone camera and identify it with a high degree of accuracy. So why can’t B2B translators consume structured files and automatically identify what the data fields in the source file map to the respective fields in a target? Fields like bank account numbers, street addresses, part numbers and unit prices follow a relatively consistent pattern that should be easily recognizable. Optical Character Recogition (OCR) software is able to do this today. OCR applications can scan and match fields on document such as invoices and paper checks with 90% or greater accuracy. It is time to replace the expensive and time consuming process of mapping with an algorithm. But how would you build such an algorithm? The algorithm should require minimal inputs. For example, the algorithm might be a RESTful API that requires only the name of the receiver, type of transaction and the input file format. For example, you should only need to tell the algorithm that you want to send an invoice to Walmart from the attached EDI file. Or that you want to send a wire transfer instruction to HSBC via the attached SAP Idoc. The algorithm would maintain a library of known blueprints for translating documents that it builds up over time. For example, the algorithm might have a set of blueprints for converting wire transfer instructions into the respective HSBC format. And it might have a set of blueprint for converting invoices into Walmart’s preferred format. Of course, there will be new translation scenarios for which no blueprints exist. In these scenarios the algorithm will need to auto-magically identify the input fields and correlate them to the associated output fields. This could be done by reading the tags next to each data field. For example, “Invoice #” next to a field is a dead giveaway. The key to success is building such an algorithm will be having enough sample data to test and optimize it until it is 99.999% accurate. We can take some lessons from companies such as Facebook and Google here. How did Google develop its online “translation” capabilities? They identified hundreds of books which had been reprinted in different languages. Google used these known associations between words and phrases from the books in different languages to build their language translation algorithm. How did Google develop its speech recognition capabilities? Google offered free “411” information lookups to gather a wide sample set of human speech patterns that it could use to build its voice recognition software. Cloud-based B2B integration providers could take a similar approach. They already have massive amounts of transactions that are being processed. These same transactions could be replayed in a test environment to refine and optimize an algorithm. It could take several years to optimize an algorithm, but whoever can crack the code on this first will be able to save their customers thousands of hours of mapping activities every year.

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The Most Popular B2B Protocols As Chosen By You

We had a “standing room only” crowd at our recent GXS webinar, “How to Determine the Best Communications Protocol for B2B Integration.” In an easy-to-understand manner, John Radko, GXS Chief Technology Strategist, described the communications protocols available, the key attributes of each one, and how they work. During the webinar, a couple questions that stood out because they were submitted by multiple attendees were: “Which protocol is the most popular? Do you have any statistics?” It just so happens that we had already planned to conduct a poll to find out those answers. Attendees were presented with the following question: Which Protocol Do You Use for B2B Today? Answer options included AS2, FTP/VPN, SFTP, FTPS. Below are the real-time results:     AS2 and FTP over VPN were used most often by the webinar audience. These results were consistent with the trends we see at GXS.     Look at these charts that illustrate the percentage of new clients that chose each of the protocols at signup between 2008-2010 and 2011-2012:     As you can see, between the years 2008 and 2010, 40% of our customers chose FTP/VPN and 30% chose AS2. SFTP and FTPS were selected by about 10% each. The remaining 10% chose one of all the rest of the protocols we offer.       But, the picture changed between 2011 and 2012. AS2 took the #1 spot, selected by 34% of customers; FTP/VPN dropped to second with 27% of new customers; SFTP moved up from 10% to 24%; FTPS more than doubled in popularity – it moved up from 10% to 12%; and only 3% of our new customers selected one of the other protocols.   Want to get the answers to more of your B2B Communications questions? Select one or these webinars – you can listen to the recording and get copies of the slides and transcripts: How to Determine the Best Communications Protocol for B2B Integration AS2 or FTP: What’s Best for Your Company OFTP2 – A New Communications Protocol for the Automotive Industry

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GXS Named 2013 ISQA Award Winner by Avago Technologies

The global semi-conductor industry has faced numerous business challenges in recent years, especially during the most recent economic downturn when many companies were forced to restructure their operations to reduce costs. Today’s semi-conductor industry continues to face a number of challenges, including: Working across a highly competitive market where price is no longer a differentiator Needing to diversify quickly into other sectors such as automotive where the ‘connected car’ is driving exponential demand for new electronic components Highly cyclical in nature and heavily driven by changing consumer demand Complex business environment with a need to support a global and varied customer base These challenges have led many high tech companies to re-evaluate their ICT and B2B strategies and one such company is Avago Technologies. Avago Technologies is one of the world’s leading providers of innovative semi-conductor solutions with 40,000 global end customers and a portfolio of 6,500 products. With co-headquarters in North America and Singapore, Avago had net revenues of $2.4B in 2012. Avago’s success is dependent on being able to build a fully flexible and scalable B2B infrastructure that can support its international operations. When Avago decided to re-evaluate its B2B strategy, the overall goal was to introduce a one-stop shop for the end-to-end delivery of B2B, bridging the gap between customers/partners, business functions, processes, and information technology. Avago had three key objectives when defining its B2B programme, namely: Develop and drive strategic B2B programs to achieve optimum supply chain performance Reduce operational costs through improved process efficiency and greater proliferation of B2B tools across the extended enterprise Make it easier for customers to do business with Avago by meeting their individual B2B needs GXS Managed Services was chosen to provide a single integration platform between Avago and their global trading partner community. To highlight GXS’ key contribution to Avago’s growing success around the world, GXS was presented with the Avago Technologies IT Supplier Quality Award (ISQA) Winner of 2013. GXS was selected ahead of other industry leaders such as Cisco, Google and Wipro for its consistent and excellent performance for Avago. There were a number of strategic decisions for Avago to select GXS: GXS is one of the few established companies in the market that offers a completely outsourced B2B solution on a truly global basis Supports a wide range of B2B and industry specific standards that allows Avago to implement B2B transactions with almost any document standard used by Avago’s customers Offers support for a wide range of connectivity options / protocols that allows Avago to connect with almost any customer worldwide High dependency on a reliable vendor as 90% of Avago’s revenue goes through B2B Avago is one of many high tech companies to use GXS Managed Services and in the semi-conductor industry alone, 70% of the Top 20 companies in the world are connected to GXS Trading Grid®, the world’s largest cloud integration platform. Avago has been able to utilise GXS’ knowledge and experience in the high tech industry to integrate their B2B platform across their global business processes. To read more about this significant award, please read our recent press release by clicking HERE

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How Cloud B2B Integration Enables Michelin’s International Operations

Michelin is one of the largest tyre manufacturers in the world, in fact much of their €21billion revenue comes from the aftermarket retail sector rather than direct sales to OEMs. With Sales Operations in 117 countries, 69 production facilities in 18 countries and 115 000 employees, Michelin is a truly global operation. To support their operations, Michelin has had to stretch their ICT and B2B infrastructure into many different countries around the world and it is becoming difficult to manage their B2B environment on a day to day basis. Today’s automotive industry is expanding into new emerging markets such as Vietnam and Thailand and this will put further pressure on companies such as Michelin to manage the expansion of their B2B platform so that they can support their customers in these regions. For the past two years Michelin has been migrating their European B2B platform to a GXS Managed Services environment. This provides Michelin with a cloud based B2B platform that will be able to support their global operations. GXS recently produced an on demand webinar which looks at how cloud B2B integration supports Michelin’s international operations. This webinar was recorded in partnership with Jean-Luc Faye, IS Functional Domain Manager at Michelin and myself. Jean-Luc is tasked with managing Michelin’s global EDI strategy. This webinar also highlights the key components of GXS Managed Services and the benefits that it brings to Michelin’s operations. I would like to thank Jean-Luc and Michelin for their kind co-operation with producing this on demand webinar. To view the webinar, please CLICK HERE.

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5 Ways Cloud B2B Integration Makes Procurement’s Life Easier

In my previous procurement related blog I discussed some of the significant challenges facing today’s global procurement teams. I highlighted a couple of reports, one written by Cap Gemini that focused on how consumer based technologies are likely to impact the procurement organisation moving forwards. The report highlighted that 40% of procurement organisations are involved in augmenting their practices with ‘digital tools’. Digital procurement, or more simply using B2B tools to automate manual based processes, is an area that is going to become more popular across procurement departments in the future. To be honest I would expect the figure of 40% to be much higher today as cloud based B2B technologies can streamline the operation of a procurement team as well as contribute towards the bottom line. In my earlier blog entry I highlighted a number of issues faced by today’s procurement teams and how cloud B2B integration could help address some of these challenges. This blog will look at the five ways in which cloud B2B integration can make procurement’s life easier. The cloud enables procurement teams to do business with any trading partner, anywhere in the world. Comprehensive on-boarding services allow a procurement team to reach out to potentially 100% of their trading partner community and ensure that they can exchange business documents electronically with them. Using a comprehensive on-boarding service, such as the one offered by GXS, makes it easier and quicker to work with trading partners located in emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Trading Partner ramping times can be significantly decreased and costs associated with connectivity testing etc can be significantly reduced as well. Cloud collaboration platforms enable all of your supplier contact information to be held in a central repository, so that you can communicate more accurately, more often and hence foster greater collaboration across your trading partner community. Procurement teams have traditionally held supplier information across multiple business systems, spread sheets and databases. This information can potentially become out of date very quickly, for example a key contact at a supplier may leave the business but none of the procurement systems have been updated to reflect this change. How much time and effort would it take to enter a new contact name or update an address across multiple procurement systems? Would it not be easier to push the responsibility of maintaining up to date contact information back on to the supplier concerned and may be make it part of their contract to update their own details as soon as any changes are required to their contact information? Cloud based community management platforms can not only maintain up to date contact information, they help to improve day to day communications and provide traceability of all outbound communications with a trading partner community as well. All of this can be achieved through one centralised contact database which if necessary can be integrated to other business systems, such as ERP platforms so that contact details are up to date and consistent across your entire business. Regardless of the size of your trading partners, or their technical capabilities, there are B2B enablement tools in the cloud that ensure that no trading partner is left behind. Whether connecting with suppliers, customers, banks or logistics providers, cloud based B2B tools simplify the process of exchanging information between these trading partners and your procurement organisation. As part of the on boarding process it is possible to quickly determine the technical and connectivity capabilities of each and every trading partner and then assign a B2B enablement tool to help with the exchange of electronic information. The cloud provides a single point of entry into your procurement department, whether through a web form based environment or one that utilises a Microsoft Excel based platform to exchange B2B information, the cloud offers a single integration platform that anyone across your extended enterprise can use. The cloud offers procurement departments a wide range of hosted applications that require minimal IT infrastructure involvement so that you can automate more business processes and remove extensive amounts of paper. You can deploy these hosted applications either ‘off the shelf’ or with some form of customisation, for example integrating with other back office business systems or tailoring the web forms to incorporate company speci9fic branding such as logos. Either way, hosted applications provide a convenient way for your trading partners to be integrated more tightly with your procurement processes. For example being able to track the progress of an order or implement full traceability of all interactions with each and every trading partner. The light weight nature of hosted applications means that your trading partners, in most cases, will simply need an internet connection to get access to your cloud based applications. Once you have on-boarded your new trading partners, captured their contact details, deployed B2B enablement tools and given them access to your suite of hosted applications, the final area that procurement teams should be considering is support. Working with a global community of trading partners requires a follow the sun, multi-lingual support service to allow supply chain issues to be resolved proactively before they impact your procurement processes and ultimately your business. Establishing a multi-lingual helpdesk is beyond the reach of many companies and this is a key area where a vendor such as GXS can bring real value to the management of your trading partner community. B2B outsourcing, via a cloud integration platform such as GXS Trading Grid, provides procurement teams with a ‘one stop shop’ in terms of enabling and managing a community of trading partners. Many companies take a step by step approach to deploying cloud based services and this can be achieved with the five areas described above. Cloud B2B environments offer procurement teams a significant step change in how they enable and manage their trading partner communities. Using a cloud based approach to community enablement and management takes away the day to day concerns of looking after a potentially global, diverse group of trading partners. For more information on how GXS can help move your procurement processes to the cloud, please visit www.gxs.com.

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Focus on Regional Banking: Meeting the Needs of Increasingly Sophisticated Commercial Clients

Regional Banking On the Rise North American Regional Banking experienced a resurgence coming out of the financial crisis of 2008. According to SNL Financial, average Return on Assets (ROA) and Return on Equity (ROE) for banks with assets between $20B and $360B exceeded the results for the “Big Four” commercial banks (JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo). Regional banks attract small and mid-sized businesses who want a more personalized approach or who want to reduce their reliance on the big banks for credit lines. In serving middle-market commercial customers, regional banks serve a profitable niche sometimes overlooked by the global banks. However, regional banks often have limited technology budgets and may lag behind the biggest banks when it comes to the technology required to meet the needs of their increasingly sophisticated commercial clients. Meeting The Technology Needs of Middle Market Clients Your commercial customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated as a result of international expansion, treasury technology improvements and shifting markets. This sophistication translates into more demanding communication requirements from middle market commercial and small business banking clients. Meeting the technology needs of middle market commercial clients is critical to regional banks. Ernst & Young publishes an Annual Cash Management Services Survey summarizing results from banks that actively market treasury services to wholesale customers. As shown in the graphic below, for banks in the “Peers 2 & 3” category (assets less than $87B), 40% of their fee-based cash management revenue comes from middle market clients. These commercial customers are expanding their usage of electronic products such as information reporting, ACH and EDI payments, wire transfers and purchasing cards. Somewhat surprisingly, in addition to the traditional payment types, North American middle-market commercial clients are also initiating SEPA Credit Transfers and SEPA Direct Debits for Euro-denominated transactions. Even the old cash management cash cow, information reporting, is undergoing a transformation. Commercial clients are demanding that their banks transmit balance and statement transactions in SWIFT MT 940/942 or ISO 20022 XML formats in place of the traditional BAI2 format. And those same clients are initiating payments in SWIFT MT and FileAct file formats. What’s a Bank to Do? To maintain and command a greater share of the growing middle-market segment, regional banks must be well-versed in the complexity of corporate-to-bank connectivity including SWIFT integration options and support for an increasing variety of file formats and product interfaces. And this is not a one-time exercise, financial messaging standards and file format are ever-evolving and keeping up is challenging. There are several options that regional banks should consider to increase their ability to meet a broad set of needs and requirements. We’ve posted a 30-minute webinar that covers Regional Banking industry trends, connectivity options, SWIFT for Corporates, and relevant case studies to help you learn more about corporate-to-bank connectivity including support for the growing variety of financial services file formats and product interfaces. Let us know if you have any questions or would like additional information.  

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We need a Snapchat Model in B2B Integration

For those not familiar with Snapchat – it is a mobile application that allows users to share photos, videos, audio, text or drawings with other users.  The difference between Snapchat and Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and the other 15,000 social media applications on the market is the duration over which users can view the message.  Snapchat messages are designed to be viewed for a very short period of time – between one to ten seconds.  After the ten seconds the message is purged from the Snapchat server and the Internet.

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Could 3D Printing Support the Introduction of ‘Zero Length Supply Chains’?

Over the last six months the ‘3D printing’ industry has received significant coverage in the global media, commonly being described as the ‘the next big technology to hit the consumer market’. However this is not new technology, when I was studying at Cranfield University in 1992, a couple of PhD students were just starting their own business in this area. In the early 1990s, the technology was called ‘stereolithography’ or ‘rapid prototyping’ but it still used the same fundamental process of curing layers of polymer or plastic based materials to form the final shape of the object being produced. From a business perspective 3D printing has revolutionised the manufacturing process and I for one believe that it is in the manufacturing sector rather than the consumer market where 3D printing will continue to see wide spread adoption. There are a number of issues which will prevent mass adoption across the general consumer market: Even though the cost of 3D printing machines has come down considerably from when I was at University, the machines are still relatively expensive for household use The platform used to create the 3D models is relatively small in size which will restrict the kind of models that can be produced The technology comes from the manufacturing industry where engineers work tirelessly to create intricate 3D CAD models that can then be made in these machines. The average consumer will not have access to 3D CAD software on their home PC to design their own models. One option could be to use an outside design bureau to create the 3D model on the consumer’s behalf. Without access to 3D CAD software, consumers could purchase a small 3D laser scanner to create an external representation of the shape they want to manufacture, but even this technology is not widely available to the general consumer The only option that is really open to the consumer market at the moment is to download their 3D models from an online library or catalogue. This could be seen as being too restrictive and the lack of involvement with creating your own models will inevitably mean that ‘domestic’ 3D printing machines will be consigned to the back of the garage within no time at all. So now that I have tried to bring a sense of reality to the proceedings in terms of how 3D printing will apply to the consumer market, let’s now take a look at what it could mean for the manufacturing industry. For many years the aerospace and automotive industries have been using 3D printing technology to produce prototype parts. These ‘rapid prototype parts’ were being used as part of concept models to test form, fit and function before the final products were produced. Manufacturers have been making physical models of future products via wood and any other material that could be easily formed, for many years. For example one aerospace company in the UK made a complete wooden mock-up of their jet engines so that they could use it to test hydraulic pipe and wire harness runs. As 3D CAD modelling and visualisation technology improved so the need for wooden models started to disappear. However 3D printing once again brings physical models into the lime light as they can potentially be used in the aftermarket sector, let me explain by way of a simple example. A small plastic housing on a hydraulic pump cracks, you identify the failed housing in an online 3D parts catalogue from the supplier, you then download the 3D model to your PC and then using the 3D printer at your office, you proceed to manufacture a replacement part, quickly and easily with no fuss at all. Clearly this process would only work for certain types of parts but the ability to download the 3D CAD models and then manufacture locally brings immense time and cost savings as part of the service management/replacement of critical components. No external supplier to deal with (in terms of manufacturing the replacement part), no need to wait for a logistics provider to deliver the part, bearing in mind the broken piece of equipment could be anywhere in the world and no waste of material as the 3D printer will only manufacturer an exact copy of the failed component. In fact one of the terms that I have heard recently to describe 3D printing technology, is ‘zero length supply chain’ which when you think about it nicely sums up the technology and perfectly fits this particular scenario. To take this process one step further with the so called ‘Internet of Things’ gathering pace, what if a failed part is proactively identified using sensors on the equipment, ie differing flow rates (may be caused by a leak of fluids) outside a specific tolerance may highlight that the housing is about to fail. Information about the failed component is instantly relayed to a local 3D printer manufacturing hub which automatically downloads a 3D CAD model of the component and then proceeds to manufacture the ‘failed’ component before it actually fails, if you follow this! The first time the operator becomes aware of a potential problem is when they receive an automated email from the piece of equipment saying that a component is about to fail and a new part has been manufactured and is awaiting installation. Combining the Internet of Things with 3D printer technology has the potential to completely transform the management of serviceable machines such as power generation equipment for example. I will add one caveat to this in that 3D printer technology has until now really only been used at the rapid prototyping stage rather than really using for mass production of parts. But assuming that the 3D printers can produce parts to a repeatable quality, which meets various testing criteria, then there is no reason why the process I have outlined above could not one day become reality. Now this may all sound far-fetched but a number of companies including GE Software, Cisco, IBM, Infineon and many others are working together to try and make the ‘Industrial Internet’ a reality. In fact, only a few weeks ago the top ten companies involved in making the Industrial Internet a reality formed an alliance which is to be sponsored by the US government. It wasn’t too long ago that real time, sensor controlled, intelligent, machine to machine communications was regarded as science fiction and here we are today investing billions of dollars to develop such internet connected technology. One thing is for sure, the global manufacturing industry is heading for exciting times! Speaking of the future, just after I drafted this blog entry I found a news item relating to a 3D fax machine. Imagine two 3D printing machines connected together but one has a built in 3D scanner. You place an object in one device, it is scanned, the 3D scan data is transmitted to the remote 3D printer and the object is then produced. Sounds too good to be true?, find out more HERE. So how will B2B systems play a part in this new heavily automated world?, a world where the physical supply chain, in this example, almost disappears and all information is exchanged in an almost instantaneous, closed loop way. From a B2B perspective, how will remotely printed 3D parts be accounted for in an order management system and how will they be paid for?, how will 3D CAD models be exchanged securely from one location to another?, how will 3D CAD models be hosted in online catalogues, how will Big Data be exchanged between the machines and the central IT systems? and how will replaced parts be tracked and updated across an ERP platform? So as you can see, B2B certainly has a part to play in this new and emerging area and the application of B2B in the world of 3D printing and the ‘Internet of Things’ is an area that I will expand upon in a future blog entry. In the meantime and just to show how 3D printing has hit the news headlines this year, here are a few innovative examples of its use: Full size, running replica of an Aston Martin DB4, consisting of thousands of small, 4 by 4 inch, 3D printed parts. The parts once glued together will form a mould from which a fibre glass body will be manufactured. Buttercup the duck was born last year with a backward growing foot. The foot was amputated and a replacement foot was created using a 3D printer. In early August, the space and electric car entrepreneur Elon Musk announced plans for a new rapid transport system called the Hyper Loop. Within hours the open source designs were downloaded and a 3D printed model of the proposed train and station platform were created.

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Checklist to Select the Right B2B Managed Services Provider

More companies are opting to outsource their B2B integration operations to a B2B Managed Services provider as an alternative to the do-it-yourself B2B model.  They prefer a hosted service environment in which processing and storage can be scaled up and down as needed.  Many also find that the shift from up-front capital expenditures, such as software licenses, to a monthly operational expenditure is better for their company.  Most believe that access to the expertise and best practices that Managed Services providers offer, such as expertise in communications protocols (FTP, AS2), messaging standards (EDI, XML), regulations (e-invoicing, e-customs), and application integration (ERP, CRM)is  more important than the technology architecture itself. In particular, they don’t have to worry about increasing or decreasing the number of experts needed to meet fluctuating resource demands for tasks such as mapping or onboarding.If yours is a company that has decided that B2B Managed Services is right for your business, you need to carefully select the provider that’s best for you.  After all, that provider will be responsible for handling the day-to-day integration activities between your company and your business partners – your suppliers, customers, logistics providers and/or financial institutions.  These daily interactions are the lifeblood of your business.   The best way to compare different B2B Managed Services providers is to compile a list of the technology features, infrastructure features, and personnel services you will need.  Then, you can rank each provider methodically, according to how well it meets your needs.  When choosing a provider, don’t just consider whether the provider can meet your needs for today, be sure that your provider can meet your future needs as your company evolves. Here are just a few examples of the features I recommend you include in your list: TECHNOLOGY & INFRASTRUCTURE What communications capabilities do you need supported?  Internet-based protocols, such as AS2, SFTP, and FTPS, or do you also need support for legacy protocols such as SNA or LU6.2? Which EDI Standards need to be supported? ANSI and EDIFACT and their subsets, but what about XML-based standards such as RosettaNet or Japanese standards, such as EAIJ? Do you need a centralized business partner directory that is accessible to authorized personnel that provides contact and corporate data about each of your business partners? Do you need data in transit to or from your business partners to be augmented to include, for example, standing settlement instructions, product codes or manufacturer specifications?  Is a real-time database inquiry required to obtain additional data in real time? What type of service availability does your business require? 99.9%, 99.95% or 99.99%?   PERSONNEL SERVICES Do you need a help desk that responds to support requests during business hours only in one country, or one that supports inquiries around the world 24x7x365? Do you need implementation experts that are knowledgeable about B2B requirements in one country or in multiple countries?  For example, e-invoicing regulatory compliance requirements in Europe and South America. Will you need web-based forms developed that can be available on a web portal for use by  business partners that are not yet ready for fully integrated B2B? Will the forms require business rules to ensure data accuracy during data entry? Do you need an easy-to-use 24×7 web portal that enables your EDI partners to self- test their documents for syntactical compliance with your format requirements to speed their implementation?   These are just a few of the features and services you should consider before finalizing your checklist. Click here for a comprehensive B2B Managed Services Vendor Evaluation Checklist and an Excel-based app you can download and use today!

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Top Ten Trends That Will Impact High Tech Supply Chains in 2014

The global high tech industry is currently going through a period of immense change. From restructuring global supply chains through to diversifying operations into other industry sectors, companies across the high tech industry are having to embrace new technologies and new markets in order to survive. So I thought it would be useful to summarise some of the key trends that will impact global high tech supply chains for the remainder of 2013 and the first half of 2014. If you would like to understand some of the trends that are likely to impact the automotive industry in 2014, then please CLICK HERE to read my predictions…… Consumer demand for tablet devices is changing the face of the PC industry, not only are PC sales continuing in a downward spiral but the structure of the tablet related supply chain is very different to those suppliers found in the PC supply chain. This is due to the difference in components used in tablet devices. The tablet market is also driving increased innovation and development costs across high tech suppliers, for example the introduction of flexible OLED displays. High tech suppliers are diversifying into other industry sectors, one example is the automotive industry where consumer demand for connected vehicles is providing new opportunities for companies such as Qualcomm who are designing bespoke semi-conductors for next generation in car entertainment systems. In future, there will be a greater emphasis on in car software with Apple expected to license their IOS platform to allow car manufacturers to improve the interaction with vehicle systems. Increasing interest in wearable high tech devices, a potentially lucrative new sub-sector of the high tech industry where Google, Sony and newcomers such as Jawbone are starting to introduce new, wearable devices. This provides a great opportunity for the high tech component supply industry but at the same time presents challenges as components have to be scaled down in size even further and there is a much stronger emphasis being placed on extending the battery life of these devices. The so called ‘Internet of Things’ is providing another sub sector for high tech companies to diversify into. Improving machine to machine (M2M) communications is driving the need for connecting more devices to the internet and being able to remotely monitor equipment such as power generators or wind turbines. GE, IBM, Cisco and Infineon are some of the leading companies who are starting to explore new business opportunities in this particular market. There is an increasing shift for software companies to develop their own hardware. Microsoft was one the first to do this by introducing the XBOX console. But now Google, Facebook and others are keen to either work with external hardware partners or acquire other companies. For example Motorola Mobility has just released the Moto X phone, but this company is owned by Google. Software companies do not have a direct supply chain as such and they certainly do not have production facilities. So this presents a strong opportunity for the contract manufacturing industry as Google and others will be reliant on these particular companies to bring their products to market. New regulations being introduced in 2014, for example Dodd Frank, will make high tech companies and their suppliers more accountable to ensure they do not use any conflict minerals in their electronic components. Every company submitting a filing to the SEC in North America in May 2014 will have to prove they do not have conflict minerals in their supply chains. This means that companies will have to improve the way in which they assess their supply chains and improve day to day management of key contacts at every company across a high tech supply chain. This will become increasingly important as we move into 2014. As production costs start to rise in China, more high tech companies will continue to look at alternative manufacturing locations. Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand are expected to grow their respective high tech industries considerably as they attempt to attract inward investment from the world’s leading high tech companies. The Japanese high tech industry has primarily been built upon home grown software based ICT infrastructures. Recent natural disasters have led many Japanese companies to rethink their ICT and supply chain strategies. Moving into 2014 it is expected that more Japanese high tech companies will look to upgrade older legacy ICT platforms and it is very likely that more companies will adopt cloud based services in order to support their rapidly expanding global operations. The PC industry is expected to contract still further with consolidation and merger and acquisition activity expected to rise significantly. Whereas the software companies are diversifying into the hardware space via their contract manufacturers, traditional PC manufacturers such as HP and Dell are expected to adopt/acquire more service based solutions to help maintain or better still increase revenues. China is expected to continue globalising their own high tech operations by acquiring distressed assets in other markets. Lenovo is a good example of a Chinese manufacturer acquiring an established business and this trend is likely to continue as we head into 2014. Whereas many western manufacturers have expanded their operations into China over the past two decades it is expected that Chinese companies will now continue the globalisation trend as they look to acquire recognised high tech brands in other markets.

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Customer Access to Federated Content: from Need to Reality

A common challenge our prospective clients have is the difficult transition to enable true customer access to content from any device. A lot of organisations have tried to enable customer access in the past, but may still only have solutions that offer limited online presence or capabilities. For example, insurance companies often offer customers the ability to view policy documents but not details of any claims, direct debit forms or other correspondence. Our prospects are offering customers access to either none or only a limited set of their content online. Making this type of transition to allow access to ALL content is often desirable but technically difficult to achieve. Quite often there are many technical barriers which typically fall into the following categories: Different types of content are stored in different archives for historical reasons. For example, we often find that customer facing statements are held in one archive, whereas inbound correspondence or general marketing correspondence documents are stored in other archives. Each archive offers different means of accessing content and not all archives allow external access. Content is stored in different formats in each archive (legacy, print, image etc.). User information is not centralised, each archive has its own view of who an external user is. Fortunately, Actuate’s e-Presentment technology overcomes these barriers very simply. Our technology provides the capability to rapidly design process flows that can encapsulate the processing and integration of content from multiple archives. The screenshot on Figure 1 is an example of a complex retrieval request: Actuate Process Flows can be triggered by external APIs or as a WebService which means that integrating our solution into an existing customer portal is very easy. Once integrated, the solution offers very powerful functionality. We have many pre-built adapters for common archives, and also support interfaces such as CMIS (e.g. for connecting to SharePoint). By including these adapters in a single process flow, we can combine request information from different sources (i.e. from a web page, tablet, or mobile device) and use this to make several requests to these archives to fetch matching content. This type of integration does not need any programming or consulting services, as it can be achieved simply by dragging and dropping the components required from our palette. Our pre-built adapters (such as the CMOD Adapter, Figure 2) have already been constructed against the public APIs of these pre-built archives. Connection parameters can be supplied as parameters or hard-coded through our GUI. Actuate technology can also dynamically transform this content from its source format into more customer facing formats such as PDF or HTML5 and provide a merged document including all content from all archives. Creating such integration is very easy in our Developer Studio product. However, this simplicity hides the complex processing power we can achieve. Actuate’s Enterprise Server can process multiple requests in parallel and handle large volumes easily. Using our e-Presentment Technology, to perform retrieval, harmonisation, and delivery we can construct user-centric websites for PCs and tablets using modern visuals and insights as demonstrated on Figure 3. Actuate e-Presentment technology exposes and makes these types of visualisations from document content stored in archives irrespective of document age or tenure in the archive, and not just the past 12 months of data in your live data stores. To make customer access to federated content a reality, organizations must consider a powerful solution which would be flexible enough to enable access to a variety of existing archives with numerous types of content stored in them. To learn more about Actuate’s ePresentment capabilities, contact us and we will be happy to discuss your needs.

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Is Your Supply Chain Ready for the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Reporting Law?

Today’s manufacturing industry has to contend with many different Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and compliance related issues but how do supply chain directors enforce their suppliers to adhere to numerous compliance regulations?  One of the most significant compliance issues that will shortly impact supply chain directors across the manufacturing sectors is conflict minerals reporting and this will be the main focus area for this particular blog entry. Raw materials/minerals used in the manufacture of electronic components are typically sourced from many different locations around the world.  One country that considered mineral rich is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) however it is widely known that the trade of minerals in this particular country is helping to fund extreme levels of violence across the region. This conflict has claimed more than 5.4 million lives since it began in the late 1990’s. Raw materials mining is crucial to the DRC economy, however some mines are controlled by militant groups causing serious social and environmental issues in the region.  Such issues include serious human rights abuse, theft, extortion, forced child labour, deforestation and high taxation of mineral resources.  All of these factors combined have had a negative effect on both the manufacturing industry and the image of the DRC. So what exactly is “DRC Conflict Free”? This is defined as the products that do not contain minerals or their derivatives determined to be directly or indirectly financing or benefit armed groups from the countries highlighted in the map shown above. So which minerals are affected by this ban? Well there are basically four: Cassiterite (tin ore), Wolframite (tungsten ore), Coltan (tantalum ore) and Gold.  Collectively these are known as 3TG (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold). The ban on conflict minerals relates directly to minerals sourced from the DRC or any of the adjoining countries listed above. The chart below highlights the percentage of Conflict Minerals sourced from the DRC: Tantalum: regarded as the first conflict mineral and became popular on the back of growth across the mobile phone industry.  Today it is used in electronic components inside mobile phones, computers, video game consoles, digital cameras and as alloy for making carbide tools and jet engine components. Tin: widely regarded as the primary funding source of rebel groups and used in alloys, tin plating, and solders for joining pipes and electronic circuits Tungsten: DRC is the 5th largest producer for this mineral and is used in metal wires, electrodes and contacts which are used in a multitude of electrical and electronic devices Gold: due to its superior electric conductivity and corrosion resistance it is used in electronic, communications and aerospace equipment Over the past couple of years a number of organisations have been formed to help define processes for clamping down on conflict minerals sourcing. In December 2010, the International ‘Organisation for Economic  Co-Operation and Development’ (OECD) produced a document entitled “Due diligence guidance for responsible supply chains of minerals from conflict affected and high risk areas and the supplement on Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten”.  The purpose of this report is to help companies avoid fuelling, facilitating or exacerbating conflict through their sourcing practices or contributing or being associated with serious human rights abuses. The OECD designed a 5 step framework for identifying and removing conflict minerals from a supply chain. From a high tech industry perspective there are two bodies that have been setup to help high tech companies implement the OECD framework, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSi).  Both of these organisations are committed to improving conditions in the electronics supply chain and all mining activities that fuel conflict are unacceptable. The EICC and GeSI joint working group aims to enable companies to source conflict free minerals through actions including: Implementing conflict free smelter and due diligence programs to verify conflict free minerals down the supply chain to the OEMs Supporting in region sourcing schemes to enable future legitimate trade from DRC and surrounding countries Supporting OECD due diligence guidance and pilot Engaging with stakeholders for collaboration and efficiency Supporting individual company’s assurance processes through information sharing, standard tools and templates For the high tech industry, the OECD defines upstream and downstream as follows: In order to try and remove conflict minerals from global supply chains, the U.S congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which was signed into law on 21st July 2010.  Section 1502 of the act is a provision related to sourcing, namely conflict minerals. The intention of this provision is to deter through increased transparency of companies sourcing practices, the extreme violence and human rights violations in the DRC and neighbouring countries funded by the exploitation and trade of certain materials. Section 1502 instructs the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in consultation with the US Department of State, to introduce regulations requiring certain companies to submit annually a description of measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of conflict minerals. All companies submitting filings to the SEC must now complete forms to confirm that they are not using conflict minerals across their supply chain and the first submission is 31st May 2014 and then annually by 31st May each year. Any company, and there are estimated to be around 6000, that files Forms 10-K, 20-F or 40-F with the SEC each year will be affected by this new law. The manufacturing industry is the most impacted by Dodd-Frank with aerospace, automotive, high tech, defence and medical devices sectors being particularly badly impacted. According to Deloitte “the complexity of today’s supply chains combined with lack of visibility into sourcing practices will be one of the key challenges of ensuring that Dodd-Frank can be adhered to”. One such tool that has been developed by EICC is the conflict minerals reporting template shown below which complies with SEC’s due diligence requirements for downstream companies. The Microsoft Excel based reporting template embraces the OECD framework and asks specific questions to ensure that conflict minerals are not used across a supply chain. Having a spreadsheet based reporting tool is far better than a paper based questionnaire that would need to be mailed out to participants across an entire supply chain. The sheer number of supply chain participants is complicated enough but having to distribute the reporting tool to the correct contacts in every company across the downstream supply chain is a big challenge in itself. Given that conflict minerals reporting is now law for North American based SEC filings, it is in a company’s interests to find an efficient way to conduct the reporting process with minimal effort and without disrupting the day to day operation of the companies being asked to complete the survey. There are two key challenges to ensure successful reporting of conflict minerals, firstly ensuring that you have up to date contact information for every company across your supply chain and secondly ensuring that these companies complete the survey questions in a timely manner so as not to delay an SEC filing.  Efficient contact management is therefore critical to the success of this reporting process and hence ensure that a company remains within the law on conflict mineral reporting. Establishing a community management strategy is never easy, especially given the global nature and diversity of today’s suppliers. One of the simplest ways to engage with a global community of trading partners is through a common platform that is accessible through nothing more than a web browser. One such platform is GXS Active Community, a cloud based community management tool that has been designed from the ground up to support people to people interactions across a supply chain. The platform uses a combination of centralised contact management and mass communication tools to allow a company to reach out to their trading partners anywhere across a supply chain. When using this platform, the EICC reporting tool could either be distributed as an email attachment or it could be replicated within the platform’s built in survey module. Therefore any company that has to comply with the new conflict minerals reporting process will be able to ensure that all their supply chain contacts are up to date but more importantly have full traceability over which suppliers have actually completed their submission. Any trading partner that fails to complete the report for any reason will automatically be sent a reminder email thus allowing you to significantly improve response rates and ensure that a SEC filing is completed on time. CSR compliance and risk management are high on the agenda of every CEO and a community management platform such as GXS Active Community can help enforce compliance regulations across a trading partner community. In the very near future, GXS will be developing an on-demand webinar to showcase how a community management platform could be used for this particular SEC reporting requirement, but in the meantime if you need further information on GXS Active Community then please CLICK HERE.

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The Genetics of a Corporate Supply Chain

In my last post I described how there is a need to map the genetics of corporations in a similar fashion to the project underway to map the human genome.  While this is an intriguing concept you might wonder if it is possible.  How would you go about mapping a corporate genome?  Well, you could go to the company and ask them to fill out a survey with one hundred questions about how they manage their business processes.  Or you could send an army of consultants on-site to their various locations to document the company’s genetic code.  But both of those methods seems so twentieth century.  How would a company like Google would approach this type of problem?  Build an algorithm, of course, that analyzes the massive amounts of data companies exchange with their business partners. With such an algorithm you would be able to decipher the genetic code by which a company operates its supply chain.  For example, you could determine if the company: Do they prefer to manufacture their products with its own employees in its own factories?  Or do they prefer to outsource to contract manufacturers? Do they prefer to manage innovation, research and development in house?  Or do they prefer to outsource product ideation and development to third parties? Do they prefer to have suppliers deliver products directly to its stores and factories? Or do they prefer everything to funnel through distribution center? Do they prefer to have barcode labels, RFID tags or packing lists included with shipments?  What are the preferred pallet configurations for inbound truckloads of goods? Do they prefer to own their own fleet of trucks and planes to move its inventory around the globe?  Or do they prefer to utilize third party transportation carriers for ground, air, ocean and rail transport? Do they prefer to sell its products and services through its own sales organization? Or do they prefer to leverage third party channels such as resellers, distributors, brokers, wholesalers or agents? Do they prefer to provide maintain and repair through their own field service organization?  Or do they prefer to outsource these aftermarket functions to a specialized provider? Do they prefer to manage the inventory in their stores, warehouses and factories?  Or do they prefer to use a vendor managed inventory model? Do they prefer to pay via wire transfer, automated clearinghouse, check or procurement card?  Or do they prefer to conduct international trade using letters of credit or open account? Do they prefer to self-bill with evaluated receipts settlement?  Or do they prefer to use a traditional supplier-generated invoice model?  Do they prefer to offer early payment discounts to suppliers?  Or will they only pay at the contract term date?  Do they accept invoices without purchase orders?  Can they accept electronic invoices? The answer to these questions for most large multi-national companies may be a combination of multiple techniques.  So corporate DNA may need to be mapped at a product-specific level.  But let’s skip over that detail for now and ask the big question you may be wondering – why would a company want to have its DNA mapped?  This whole process sounds a little creepy, doesn’t it?  And don’t companies know the answers to the questions about their profile?  Of course they do. But while companies may be instinctively aware of their DNA, most have not documented it.  Furthermore, few companies are able to easily leverage their genome profile to improve their supply chain.  If a third party mapped a company’s genome then it could begin to identify potential new suppliers to match them with.  At first this might sound a lot like Alibaba.com or Ariba’s supplier discovery offerings.  However, those discovery programs are focused on matching the needs for buying a specific type of product (e.g. snowblowers or office supplies).  A buyer and seller of widgets might be able to be matched and quickly agree upon prices.  However, if they cannot also mutually agree upon payment terms, service level commitments, inventory replenishment and customer support processes the relationship is doomed to failure.  So matching processes need to be more sophisticated. By comparing the genomes of different companies you could identify not only companies who want to buy or sell the same type of goods.  But you could also identify those partners which are highly-compatible in terms of business operations.  For example, suppose there is a North American chain drug retailer who prefers suppliers that provide: Vendor Managed Inventory Direct Store Delivery After Hours or Weekend Delivery Slots Custom Packaging Accept 90 Day Payment Terms You could search through suppliers that meet the business process criteria identified above within the retailer’s preferred merchandise categories would be a high-compatibility match. The other benefit of having a corporate genome mapped is the ability to benchmark performance relative to your peer group.  There is not enough data available in the industry to evaluate what supply chain models truly deliver best-in-class performance.  Do companies using VMI achieve more profitability than those organizations using traditional order management?  Do companies using contract manufacturers grow revenue faster than those who do not?  A neutral, third party could begin to offer these types of comparative analytics once it had mapped a corporate genome for a few thousand organizations.  The identity of the companies being compared could be anonymous to prevent leakage of any sensitive data. More thoughts on the corporate genome in future posts.

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Financial Services International Expansion: Using Global Expertise to Meet Local Needs

I recently published a blog post titled “International Expansion in Financial Services” discussing how banks are supporting the needs of multi-national companies through expansion into new geographies. Meeting the needs of demanding corporate clients in remote geographies can be challenging for global, national and regional banks. Banks challenged with meeting unusual global requirements frequently turn to specialized providers in those geographies with global reach and local expertise.  Here are some examples of unique client requirements by geography and how GXS’s extensive experience in financial services enabled their banking partners to cost-effectively meet their clients’ needs. Europe: EBICS — The Electronic Banking Internet Communications Standard (EBICS) is a communications protocol developed by the ZKA (German joint banking authority) and first implemented in Germany and France to replace the aging FTAM and ETEBAC X.25 protocols retired on June 30, 2012. The protocol is used to transfer data from a customer’s treasury management systems and the bank’s processing systems. As discussed in an earlier GXS blog, EBICS is just one of several host-to-host connectivity methods that a bank’s clients may use to transmit payments and receive transaction data. Another factor driving adoption of EBICS is that it is a SEPA-compliant protocol, a payment scheme being rolled out across the euro zone.  GXS launched EBICS-as-a-Service for financial institutions that do not want to invest in building an internal EBICS technology infrastructure and client delivery organization. SEPA — The Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) integration initiative provides a set of harmonized payment schemes and frameworks for electronic euro-denominated payments. Facing an implementation deadline of February 2014, both banks and their corporate customers must migrate euro-denominated credit transfers and direct debits into SEPA-compliant formats. This migration is being discussed in many forums including the EuroFinance SEPA conference held earlier this year. That event highlighted the challenges facing banks as corporates struggle to modify ERP and other treasury systems to produce the SEPA required ISO 20022 XML formats. GXS is working with banks and corporates to route and transmit payment files for IBAN enrichment, SEPA direct debit mandate management, and SEPA payment factory applications. South America: FEBRABAN CNAB – For Brazilian low volume domestic payments, banks use the FEBRABAN (Federação Brasileira de Bancos) CNAB (Centro Nacional de Automação Bancária) 240 file format to digitally exchange information with their clients for a variety of products and services including payments, collections and account statements. As financial services firms such as Bank of America and U.S. Bancorp’s Elavon subsidiary expand into Brazil, they must deal with both domestic payment formats as well as the official Brazilian language, Portuguese. GXS’s Brazilian financial services experts, headquartered in São Paulo, work with both global and national banks to facilitate client connectivity, including customized solutions for the Brazilian market.    Asia-Pacific: ZENGIN – The Zengin Data Telecommunication System is a Japanese electronic interbank system developed by the ZENGINKYO (Japanese Bankers Association). The Zengin system processes domestic banking transactions, such as remittances and transfers, from Japanese financial institutions. In order to connect to the Zengin system, many banks and corporates need to use a Zengin TCP/IP adapter. GXS has provided Zengin connectivity for clients for several years and continues to see demand for the Zengin protocol from global firms expanding into Japan. AS4 – Although AS4 (Applicability Standard 4) is a global B2B messaging specification, its adoption is receiving a boost from an Australian initiative called “SuperStream.” In July 2011, the Australian Government began its implementation of SuperStream, designed to improve back office processing for government retirement benefits. The new data and e-commerce standard underlying the initiative establishes certain technology requirements including the use of ebXML3/AS4 (electronic business XML version 3.0) and AS4. GXS is working with its clients in Australia during the phased implementation of SuperStream. Corporate-to-Bank Connectivity: Want to learn more about global payment systems, standards bodies, file formats and communications protocols? Check out CorporateToBank.com’s Resource pages.

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Multi-Channel Demands: “Your Data, in Their Hands”

DM Magazine is a widely recognized bi-monthly publication circulated in the United Kingdom that focuses on Document Management and related subject matters, as well as the technologies around them. Recently, Actuate’s own Jeff Mills, VP International for Actuate Content Services Group , was featured. His article, “Your Data, in Their Hands,” focused on multi-channel delivery in today’s big data world. “Today there is more information than ever for companies to distil and keep track of,” Mills writes in the article. “Not only that, but customers increasingly want to interact with information – and to be able to access it at any time, wherever they happen to be.” In today’s age of big data, though, that’s more difficult than ever. So how do companies do it? Here are the main points Mills made: Traditional electronic document repositories and output solutions weren’t created to manage big data. They don’t have the depth of design necessary to keep up with demands for its seamless storage and presentment, while also adhering to regulatory requirements. More cohesive systems are required to satisfy modern customers’ demands. The typical file-based storage system used in repositories wastes space storing files individually, and has a limit on the number of files that can be stored. Adding storage capacity can also be complicated and expensive. A more future-proof and efficient system is needed to store transactional information and supporting resources separately, requiring less space. Every customer is different, and they want to interact with their information in unique ways, whether that be with their mobile devices, online, or through assistive technologies for those with special needs. To offer this, organizations need to consider multi-channel requirements when they create the information layout, in order to harness different technologies for different outputs. When document creation is tied to document storage, a more efficient system is formed, allowing for seamless document creation, storage and delivery. “The chain of custody from the document to its source data is clearer, and there’s no need to glue disparate pieces together, which can lead to messy results,” Mills writes. A single end-to-end solution helps ensure content integrity and makes it easier to search and find content quickly. Meanwhile, adding indexes can further enhance searching capabilities. Read the entire article: DM Strategy: Multi-Channel Delivery.

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