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%?
- 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!