One thing I know for sure is, hybrid B2B solutions are here to stay. Over my last couple of blogs we’ve discussed the pros and cons of it, and tried to identify the optimal B2B solution set. Of course, what we always want is the best of all worlds – if you recall my car analogy in a previous blog, we wanted quiet electric power with the flexibility of a petrol engine and without making too many compromises!
Traditional EDI and B2B, even in a managed services mode, was characterised as being good at some things and cloud based services good at others. Nothing new, information technology has always been like this. In recent months I’ve concluded that these hybrid solutions have been around much longer than you might suppose. In fact, the more I talked about it, the more I’m convinced that the cloud is driving a fundamental shift but it’s a different shift than we might think.
You might assume that when it comes to traditional B2B e-commerce, it has always been a simple decision. Either we do it on premise, or we buy B2B as a service. If you like, it’s a “make” or “buy” decision. But it is apparent that many companies are in fact “making and buying”, and at the same time. These are, if you will, our hybrid B2B solutions. Let me explain further.
This is fundamentally a debate on the pros and cons of different technologies, whether it is battery power or petrol power, software or service. For example, EDI network providers are good at reliably moving highly structured and compact data. They are designed for small packets of data and usually charged for on a volume related basis.
As newer data standards, such as XML, have been introduced, the volume of data being moved in messages has increased by perhaps a factor of ten. Some companies implemented on-premise gateways with direct AS2 connections to handle these new data structures and to try to avoid EDI network charges. And conveniently these solutions could be used as on premise integrators linking the various ERPs. But, they then incurred software costs, on-going upgrade and maintenance costs. In high technology, retail, construction and other industries, solutions involving the co-existence of on-premise software, direct connections and EDI network trading partners have been around for years now. To me, this is hybrid B2B. But is it also a compromise. Do you, I wonder, get the best of either worlds or the worst?
If you have on-premise software, even for just a small part of your B2B needs, it brings a range of additional costs. There are the purchase, upgrade and maintenance charges I mentioned earlier as well as the hosting costs, the on-going training, and the people costs. And in a hybrid approach, the managed service set up, initiation and volume charges as well are only being defrayed across part of your B2B implementation, thus making the unit cost expensive. So maybe you get all the hassle of running your own software and fail to reap the true economies of a managed service as well.
So here’s the rub. The debate around hybrid is currently centred on how to maximise the attributes of different B2B services, be they legacy or cloud-based. Yet many are already operating a hybrid approach of on-premise and service in B2B. Many accept that a B2B managed service can provide a robust solution for high volume transactions. Others are becoming committed to the cloud for their low volume collaborative activity. Indeed the best solutions allow cloud users to see and amend EDI network generated transactions. Is this the best of both worlds?
Perhaps the real answer is now three worlds. On-premise, managed service and cloud. Maybe what we really need to do is persuade on- premise software users to move to a managed service or the cloud? I wonder if B2B integration is now a stepping stone to full blown cloud based Enterprise integration? Would people risk it I wonder? I may not have the answers to all the questions, but I do have final question to leave you with – the first thing to do when you start discussing a hybrid approach in your business is to ask “What exactly do you mean?