The writing on the wall is clear – tablets and smartphones are becoming ubiquitous and increasingly leveraged as critical business tools. EDI is the foundation of business-to-business e-commerce (B2B), so it was inevitable that a combination of mobile devices and EDI would be something that companies would start to consider. After all, there are many potential opportunities to improve business processes by integrating mobile devices with EDI document exchange processes. It could be simply enabling someone in your business to be able to create a purchase order or an invoice while he or she is out of the office. I think that this could prove to be rather cumbersome while typing on a smartphone with “fat fingers.” Anyway, I think that there are more exciting EDI-based opportunities out there with mobile – and they are applications that are built atop the EDI processes.
Here are just a few examples I have found that have already been implemented in some companies.
1. Real-time event notifications
Employees that receive emails or text messages on tablets or smartphones can proactively react to changing business conditions – no matter where they are – and thus avoid or reduce process bottlenecks, ensure that customer satisfaction is maintained or increased, and therefore help to protect and/or grow revenues. A couple of examples include:
- Notification via email or text message that an invoice has been received and is ready for approval. The recipient can immediately review and approve the invoice or contact someone at the office to have it approved. Approving an invoice within a certain timeframe can ensure that the company qualifies for any discounts available for early payment.
- Notification to a buyer via email or text message that an Advance Ship Notice from a supplier has not yet been received. The buyer can immediately contact the supplier to determine the status of the order and decide whether or not alternative order fulfillment sources should be used in order to ensure timely delivery of goods to an end customer.
- Notification to a supplier via email or text message that an Advance Ship Notice to a customer has not yet been sent. The supplier can investigate the situation and expedite the order fulfillment if necessary in order to preserve good relationships – and thus revenue – from important customers.
2. Transaction status inquiries
Business people that are out of the office need to know whether a transaction has occurred. For example:
- The sales person who is on the road needs to know the status of a delivery to a customer. Instead of calling the office to find out the status of the Advance Ship Notice, the sales person can use his/her smartphone or tablet to sign into a portal to find out at any convenient time.
- The buyer whose supplier has called to inquire about a missing payment can use his/her smartphone or tablet to access a portal to determine if and/or when a remittance advice has been sent.
3. Visibility to analytics
Using a smartphone or tablet, buyers (and suppliers) who are in the process of negotiating new contracts can access a portal to display a dashboard showing the supplier’s on-time delivery performance or a buyer’s payment history over the prior year. These metrics are based on orders, ASNs and invoices exchanged.
4. Special-purpose EDI-related mobile apps
Once the key business documents are being exchanged via EDI, new mobile applications are being built to further improve the process efficiency. Here are a couple of examples from the retail sector:
- The adoption of Direct Exchange (DEX) streamlines the flow of products and information through the supply chain. Using DEX, delivery personnel can scan the barcode of an item into a mobile device to create an electronic invoice. This data is transmitted to the receiver via an in-store docking station. The receiver opens the invoice in the receiving system and scans the delivered goods to verify quantities. After the data is reconciled, the digital invoice is closed and a finalized copy is transmitted back to the supplier system via his mobile device. One US retailer has been able to reduce the duration of each store delivery by 15 to 45 minutes using DEX.
- Another retailer is leveraging tablets in its warehouse to help improve efficiency of warehouse personnel in dealing with identification and tracking of damaged shipments received, shipments for which there are inaccurate ASNs or ASNS that don’t match their purchase orders, and the creation of deductions that should be applied to subsequent invoices as a result of those errors. Using the tablet, the warehouse employee selects the affected purchase order via the PO #, selects the deduction reason code, enters any comments, attaches photos of any damaged goods, and submits the deduction for processing by the accounts payable system. An approver then determines whether the deduction should be waived or processed. This process not only automates many of the manual tasks associated with deduction management for the buyer, but also aids in the dispute resolution process.
In summary, it looks like new mobile technologies are already positively impacting the speed and efficiency of business-to-business electronic commerce. And, I believe that we can look forward to many more applications in the future. Maybe now is a good time to think about where mobile and EDI could be used to create positive impact in your company?
But, while you investigate these new opportunities, remember that these are just a couple of examples of new integration requirements for B2B programs. They will add more complexity in the company. To learn more about how and why B2B integration is becoming more and more complicated and the key factors, resource competencies, and skills that are needed when determining your company’s integration strategy, be sure to watch this Gartner webinar: “Roadmap for Improving Your Integration Strategy, the 7 Things You Must Know (and Do) About Integration”