In my previous blog entry I highlighted a number of business drivers that could lead a company to want to outsource the management of an ERP/B2B integration project. In the last of my ERP related blog entries, well for now at least!, I will take a look at some of the key areas where B2B outsourcing can help improve the management of ERP/B2B integration projects and more importantly discuss how it can improve the quality of information being fed into an ERP system. So let me start with document mapping.
Implementing Document Maps
Of all the integration challenges facing a company looking to integrate their ERP and B2B systems, document mapping remains the most complex task to try and complete. Mapping is a highly skilled task and quite often these skills may not exist within a company. If they do then they are likely to be used on an infrequent, project by project basis. With the possibility of having to create 100s of maps or provide maps to link with ERP systems such as SAP, ensuring that maps can be created on time is one of the most important aspects of an integration project. Creating these maps internally is not a very efficient use of expensive IT resources and outsourcing this particular process would be beneficial for any company undertaking such an integration project.
Managing Trading Partner Communities
Another challenge with ERP/B2B integration projects is trying to manage the implementation and ongoing support expectations of a global community of trading partners. These projects require interaction with both internal and external users. With many companies having globalised their operations, the on-boarding of trading partners across different time zones can be difficult to manage. In many cases, companies simply do not have the resources to manage the on-boarding of trading partners in different geographical regions. Depending on the requirements of the integration project, there may well be a requirement to establish new trading partnerships with logistics and distribution companies around the world. Working with an outsourcing vendor that already has many of these relationships in place already can save considerable time on these projects.
Monitoring Data Quality
As explained in my last blog entry, one of the major problems with ERP systems is that a lot of the information entering an ERP system actually comes from outside the organisation. This information will no doubt have been created in different systems, using different standards and yet companies think that there is no reason to clean this data before it enters an ERP system. If I was a CIO of a company that had just spent $5m on implementing a new global ERP platform, I would want to be sure that it was processing and using clean and accurate information.
B2B integration can provide the capability to check externally sourced data before it enters an ERP system. For example checking to make sure that part numbers, units of measure or other attributes of the goods being ordered or shipped are correct. If your company has the ability to pre-process information before it enters an ERP system then it will minimise any re-work needed to be carried out on the information, it will ensure that any mapping processes can run un-interrupted and more importantly it will ensure that any downstream systems that are fed by the ERP system receive clean information as well. The proliferation of un-cleansed data across an extended enterprise can lead to numerous inefficiencies being introduced to a supply chain process.
Trading Partner Connectivity
Another challenge facing companies who may be looking to integrate their ERP and B2B systems is trying to ensure that all users across manufacturing plants, offices and external trading partners can all connect to an integrated ERP / B2B platform. There are many communication protocols in use around the world, from legacy communication protocols such as X25 and X400 through to the more recent internet based standards such as HTTPS and AS3. The appropriate communication protocol needs to be chosen according to the technical capability of the user or trading partner concerned.
The other concern that companies have is ensuring that their ERP / B2B integration platform is highly available and doesn’t experience any outages towards the end of a sales quarter. If an advanced shipping notice fails to get through to a manufacturer for example then this will have an impact on the delivery of goods. It is important that the integration platform runs on a highly available platform which has the capability of being connected to trading partners around the world.
ERP / B2B integration requires an immense amount of co-ordination across the extended enterprise. Ensuring that maps are created correctly, trading partners are all connected properly and more importantly, any changes made to the ERP system are reflected in the B2B system as well.
To achieve an integrated platform implies that any changes made to one system will be reflected in the other or vice versa. During an ERP / B2B integration process numerous change requests will be issued to modify one or other of the systems. This change management process needs to be managed and monitored efficiently otherwise the implementation of the project can be significantly delayed. Having a dedicated program manager look after the implementation can be a worthwhile investment, they not only ensure that valuable IT related resources are being used effectively, they will also ensure that the project comes in on time and more importantly to budget.
Providing Global Support
Many companies have globalised their operations and have now become 24/7 follow the sun operations. As a result, all users of the ERP/B2B integration platform must have access to a global support infrastructure so that if any problems arise they can be resolved as quickly as possible.
Global ERP / B2B integration platforms must be able to support manufacturing plants, offices and trading partners anywhere in the world and as such must have access to multi-lingual support services. Proactive monitoring of all transactions provides a valuable service for many IT managers who want to understand how business transactions are running across their network. If any problems are detected then the necessary steps can be taken to resolve the issue before any further problems arise.