B2B integration is widely recognized as a cornerstone of digital transformation efforts. It allows companies of any size to realize the potential of their internal line-of-business and supply chain applications by securely connecting them to their external trading communities.
Integrating internal and external stakeholders in this way provides a solid foundation for the real-time exchange of order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay transactions while dispensing with slow and expensive manual paper-based processes.
The digital transformation challenge for mid-market companies
EDI – or Electronic Data Interchange – has formed the backbone of these kinds of exchanges between enterprises for many decades, but due to its complexity has remained out of reach for many smaller businesses. EDI is a set of standards and protocols that enables fully automated system-to-system exchanges of business documents, such as purchase orders and invoices, in a structured format.
Historically, businesses had two primary options for implementing B2B EDI integration solutions – either leveraging an internal “DIY” approach with on-premises software or accessing a trusted partner that provides a cloud-based outsourced “managed service” delivery model.
These approaches each have advantages and disadvantages, but for mid-market companies, it may feel like the negatives of both options weigh heavily. In-house “DIY” solutions require a lot of day-to-day support as well as highly specialized skills to manage the complexities of mapping and translation between internal and external data formats. While a fully outsourced managed service addresses these challenges, it often proves cost-prohibitive for growing businesses, especially as other economic pressures take effect.
There is, however, a middle ground where scalable B2B solutions can provide the best of both approaches – a cloud-based outsourced integration platform with self-service tools to empower smaller businesses to easily manage the day-to-day operation of the platform without all the added complexities.
These kinds of self-service tools typically include:
- ERP adapters to rapidly integrate with common mid-market ERPs such as Oracle NetSuite and Microsoft Dynamics 365
- Trading Partner kits that provide connectivity to large buying and supplying hub companies
- Self-service visibility tools that allow business users to address the day-to-day problems that may occur during the exchange of business-critical transactions such as orders, invoices and shipping notices.
Five key benefits of self-service integration tools
Achieve more with less
Integration can be complex, and smaller businesses lack the resources and expertise to manage complex integration tasks such as EDI mapping and API connections.
Self-service tools allow companies to manage key integration activities without specialist expertise. They simplify the complexity of these tasks and empower smaller businesses to manage these integration tasks with existing resources, significantly reducing the cost of implementation and implementation timelines. Retaining control over these activities means businesses can respond rapidly to market opportunities, and this can be a key competitive differentiator.
Accelerate integration with business applications
Pre-built adapters for common ERPs enable a point-and-click approach to integration that quickly automates your order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay transactions without the need for programming by specialists.
Self-service adapters leverage the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) built natively into these ERPs specifically for this purpose. They present key supply chain processes so that external applications can seamlessly interact with them.
APIs are designed for developers to integrate between systems, so these types of self-service adapters also shield you from the complexities. You can connect rapidly without having to understand the API of your ERP.
Simplify trading partner onboarding processes
Large established buyers and suppliers across manufacturing, retail, healthcare, and other industries have long relied upon EDI. Like APIs, EDI can be complex, with many industry and region-specific standards for business documents. Large buyers and suppliers may further customize these EDI standards to support their specific business data needs.
Because of this, on-boarding partners with an established EDI can be a lengthy process, involving much technical discussion around communication protocol, EDI format, and extensions to the EDI standard. It can take weeks of onboarding before you are ready to exchange your first documents.
Pre-built Trading Partner kits for your external buyers and suppliers can simplify this process in the same way ERP Adapters simplify the integration to your ERP. They are customized for each partner and recognize which EDI standard the partner is using, as well as their preference for communications protocol. The kit will manage the connectivity for you with a simple point-and-click interface.
Trading Partner kits work with ERP adapters. They include pre-built transformation technology to automatically manage the translation from the ERP system’s internal format to your partner’s EDI format, meaning you don’t need to understand EDI at all.
Businesses can dramatically cut onboarding times for key. Connecting to your trading partner can be done in minutes, not days or weeks.
Optimize key business processes with pre-configured application and industry specific adaptors
While Trading Partner kits are specific to individual buyers and suppliers, often, there are industry-specific standards used to automate business processes across an entire industry or at least in a particular region. One example of this would be PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement Online).
PEPPOL is widely used across Europe and parts of Asia for business-to-government purchasing and is a key enabler for cross-border e-commerce and e-procurement activities in these regions. PEPPOL consists of a secure e-delivery network as well as a set of business document standards (BIS – Business Interoperability Specifications).
Pre-configured adapters for PEPPOL, like the Trading Partner kits described above, will significantly simplify the process of connecting to PEPPOL-enabled buyers and suppliers. They shield businesses from the complexities of PEPPOL Access Points and the BIS document formats, which differ from region to region, enabling them to automate these business processes rapidly without significant investment.
Improve long-term control with a modular integration environment
B2B integration is the foundation of digital transformation for supply chains. Connecting your internal line of business applications with external providers is essential to reaping the benefits of investing in technologies like ERP, WMS, and TMS. After all, business does not happen within the four walls of your enterprise.
A modular integration approach that leverages self-service tools, as described above, allows you to scale and grow your integration activities as your business expands while controlling costs. These types of tools can be used without specific technical expertise reducing staff costs in hiring API and EDI specialists, and training existing staff. By reducing onboarding times, you can rapidly transform manual processes, while controlling the associated expenses of large scale onboarding programs.
On-premise, in-house solutions can be expensive to operate and maintain, requiring both an up-front capital investment as well as a lot of day-to-day support and expertise to implement and manage. Although outsourced enterprise-managed services address these challenges, they often are out of the reach of cash strapped businesses.
A scalable, cloud-based integration platform with self-service tools provides the ideal compromise, allowing you to connect to your internal ERP system rapidly and integrate your order-to-cash and purchase-to-pay processes with external partners. And all of this can be accomplished without investing in API and EDI expertise, thereby controlling your costs and freeing up your team to focus on core business activities.
For more information on how your business can take advantage of these tools and build your own scalable B2B integration platform, see our BN Cloud Foundation page here.