In this blog I would like to discuss some of the more technical considerations that have to be taken into account when expanding to new markets. From understanding the technical capabilities of your trading partner community through to deploying the right B2B tools, ensuring that you have 100% trading partner participation is crucial to the smooth running of your supply chain. So what should you consider?
- Understand the technical capabilities of your supplier – When connecting with a trading partner for the first time it would be worthwhile undertaking a B2B connectivity and technology audit. For example how does the trading partner connect to the internet at the moment?, what type of business applications do they currently use?, do they have any internal resources to look after their IT infrastructure?, if using business applications, are they behind the firewall or hosted and delivered as-a-service?, do they connect electronically with any other customers?, if so how do they achieve this?, the sooner you can understand the technical landscape of your trading partner, the sooner you can start planning to support their needs and deploy your B2B/IT infrastructure. You also have to bear in mind that the type of document they send through could be dependent on the communications infrastructure that might be available, for example a small supplier in Thailand might only have a slow speed dial up connection. To ensure 100% participation by your trading partner community you must be able to embrace each and every need of your trading partner, no matter how small they might be or what level of IT adoption they might have.
- Are you deploying the right B2B solution for each user? – When dealing with trading partners in emerging markets it is important to understand the current B2B capabilities (if they exist) of the trading partners that you will be dealing with. If you are working with a trading partner in India or China for example, there will be a high probability that they could be using paper or even Microsoft Excel based ways of exchanging information with their customers. If using paper and to ensure 100% integration with your B2B processes then you may need to offer a web form based method for these particular suppliers to submit information electronically to your B2B platform. Alternatively, Microsoft Excel is one of the most commonly used business applications in China so you might want to think about how you can exchange these types of files and more importantly utilise the information contained within a spreadsheet. If you can find a way of integrating spreadsheet content to your B2B platform then it will minimise any re-keying of information and hence minimise any errors getting into your business systems.
- So what about back end integration? – Another reason for ensuring that your trading partner community is 100% enabled is to ensure that externally sourced information can enter other back end business systems, such as ERP platforms, as seamlessly as possible. For example if you are running SAP, will your trading partner be able to send you an SAP IDOC file directly or will this be required to be converted by your B2B provider or internally by your own resources? Which accounts package are they using and will you be able to integrate to it? Given that your production lines or equipment may be waiting to receive B2B related information from your trading partner it is important to consider back end integration and how these trading partners will connect to your back end IT infrastructure. Successfully integrating to back office systems will help to bring additional benefits to your B2B platform, this includes reducing rework of incorrect data and speeding up the flow of information across your extended enterprise.
- Have you thought about extending supply chain visibility? – If you are sourcing goods from a trading partner in an emerging market, as well as ensuring that business documents can be exchanged electronically it is important to ensure that the physical supply chain can be monitored end-to-end as well. Key to this will be to ensure that you can monitor transactions across borders, customs agencies and multi-modal methods of logistics and transportation. If goods are delayed at a country border then the customer ordering the goods needs to be made aware of the situation. Being able to inform your customers of when their products or goods are to be delivered can often be a key measure of customer satisfaction and competitive advantage. So in addition to conducting a technology audit it may be worthwhile finding out which logistics partners and countries the supplier does business with already.
- Have you thought about how your business might expand or contract? – In these uncertain economic times it is important that your B2B platform can scale up or down depending on the exact needs of your business. If you have five Chinese suppliers on-boarded to your B2B platform, what happens if you need to onboard a further ten trading partners in a short time frame? Would you be able to scale up your B2B infrastructure accordingly?, would you be able to support the inevitable changes to your existing B2B platform in order to accommodate these new trading partners? Does your existing B2B infrastructure and accompanying service contract have the flexibility to incorporate a volume increase in B2B traffic? Factoring in likely changes to your B2B infrastructure at the planning stage, if you know what they are likely to be, can save you a lot of time in the long run.
GXS has been helping companies globalise their B2B infrastructures for many years, from onboarding trading partners in China to connecting to a new third party logistics provider, GXS has the solutions to achieve this.