This is a critical time in the evolution of business-to-business integration. Companies are becoming much more reliant on digital technologies for day-to-day business activities. IDC says digital transformation is changing the way enterprises operate and reshaping the global economy. The market research firm predicts that worldwide investment in digital transformation technologies will reach $2.2 trillion in 2019, almost 60% more than in 2016.1
The growth of initiatives such as the Internet of Things (IoT), social networking and big data analytics is creating vast new opportunities—and challenges—for IT leaders in integrating B2B activities. IT organizations can bring huge benefits to their companies if they can harness the power of these technologies to enhance B2B collaboration, communications and commerce.
But how do you get there from here? How do you put in place a technology foundation that modernizes B2B operations and processes? How can IT organizations ensure that their B2B platforms will help reduce costs, improve customer care and enable new levels of automation, agility and collaboration? Here are the six most important factors to consider in building a modern, future-proof B2B architecture.
1. A single, scalable and secure B2B integration gateway
Multiple-point solutions gateways are an impediment to successful B2B collaboration. They create silos where files and business documents are processed separately. This leads to inefficiencies, high costs and potential complications in coordinating processes and information across applications. With a modernized B2B platform, a single gateway should allow you to process file-based transfers and document-based use cases leveraging a common set of protocols and security features. The architecture should be extensible so it is easy to scale, and allow simple integration with other company-specific applications.
2. Simplified onboarding and partner management
Organizations are under pressure to onboard partners quickly, simply and securely. Time to value is a powerful differentiator in the era of digital transformation. A modern B2B architecture should leverage automation to give partners self-service capabilities. This way, they can set up and adhere to their own specific technical requirements for protocols and encryption. In addition, a modern B2B integration platform should leverage cloud models, including the ability to store contact data on a public, private or local cloud (behind a firewall).
3. High availability
Availability is another key differentiator in digital transformation. Downtime, planned or unplanned, interrupts business operations and therefore interrupts potential revenue streams. A modern B2B platform should separate customer-facing operations from core processing, so customer-facing activities continue without impacting performance, even during an outage. In addition, IT can ensure high availability by operating multiple data centers that act as hot-site real-time backups to one another. The system should have no single point of failure and should be built on an always-on foundation that delivers the scalability and performance required to support global operations.
4. Adaptable capabilities
To meet changing operational and compliance requirements, a modern B2B platform should be able to easily convert data from one source format to another without using manual processes. It should also include:
- An extensive set of reconfigurable operational settings
- Support for data standards across all industries
- Automation of internal and external integration processes
- Process flows that easily hand off content from B2B-focused processes to other IT and operational processes
5. Visibility and analytics
Analytics has the potential to be a major game-changer in B2B integration. With the growth of social media, IoT, mobile apps and other initiatives, companies can derive significant value by leveraging the tremendous amount of data flowing through their B2B systems. Key to leveraging analytics is a B2B platform that enables visibility over end-to-end process flows in both cloud and on-premises environments. The solution should bolster that visibility with the ability to do advanced analytics that can improve business operations and outcomes.
6. Hybrid deployment models
Leveraging cloud models can be a boon to B2B integration, but it can also create complications. Companies in certain industries, such as financial services and healthcare, are limited by security and/or compliance requirements in terms of how they can use public cloud services. A modern B2B platform should support hybrid cloud models that securely and safely incorporate public clouds where they are appropriate. The solution should therefore include APIs that enable easy integration with cloud applications, along with integration across a mix of on-premises, local, private, public or hybrid cloud scenarios.
Digital transformation is placing added pressure on IT teams to modernize their B2B integration platforms. Relying on outdated, siloed, legacy models creates unnecessary and potentially expensive risks for businesses. With a modernized approach to B2B integration, organizations can centralize B2B processes with a single gateway. They can also leverage cloud models, self-service capabilities, advanced analytics and other modern functions that are critical to enhancing B2B collaboration in today’s environment. Digital transformation is happening quickly and B2B integration is an important enabling technology. Now is the time to modernize.
For more information on how IBM’s modernization tools and services can enhance your B2B integration efforts, please visit https://www.ibm.com/watson/supply-chain/campaigns/optimize-b2b-integration
1 “IDC Sees the Dawn of the DX Economy and the Rise of the Digital-Native Enterprise,” IDC, Nov. 1, 2016