Three Ways to Connect Technology-Lagging B2B Partners
When companies invest in B2B, it’s because they have too many partners, using too many different methods to exchange invoices and other electronic documents. But, occasionally, buyers of B2B solution run into the opposite problem: supplier does not have the technology and expertise to handle electronic documents.
How do you achieve end-to-end automation when your supplier cannot meet your B2B requirements?
It’s not as unusual as you might think. Although it’s a few years old, one survey found that 65 percent of organizations connect to only 60 percent or fewer of their trading partners. The situation has not changed much since then.
There are three ways companies solve the problem of exchanging information with technology laggards in the supply chain:
Email documents. This is often the quickest and easiest way to deal with a supplier who doesn’t use B2B systems. It’s most optimal for a supplier who infrequently invoices. But as most companies know too well, it’s fraught with problems, including disappearing documents and unpaid invoices just because somebody went on vacation. You may find your employees spend a significant amount of time tracking down payment questions. More importantly email is not a secure mechanism to transport B2B documents.
Web EDI. Even technology laggards have desktops and browse the internet. Web EDI is basically web-based EDI where your supplier can log in and enter information on a web page. As soon as they hit submit, the application generates an EDI document behind the scene and sends it to your B2B systems for processing. The same thing happens on the reverse side: The buyer can send an EDI document that goes into the web application. When the supplier logs in, the information is on a web page. The benefits are that it’s more arguably more secure than email and, again, it’s quick and easy to do. A frequent complaint with this approach is that suppliers will often forget to upload documents. This can create problems when, for instance, a shipment shows up and you have no idea what it contains or who sent it.
Both of these approaches are still widely used; industry studies indicate around 50 percent of B2B traffic is non-EDI (electronic data interchange) formats, such as PDF or an Excel file.
3. Buy a B2B integration gateway for your suppliers. Most B2B gateway solutions offer a Partner (supplier) Solution as an “accessory” option. These gateways use B2B standards to deliver documents and provide a limited set of features provided by a full B2B gateway, but at significantly less cost. Typically, the B2B integration gateway is more limited in function and “locked down” so the Supplier can only use it with the Customer who bought the product for them. Larger organizations will frequently invest in Partner (supplier) Solution version of the B2B Gateways and provide the software to its suppliers free of charge.
Like B2B gateways, the Partner (Supplier) version of gateways provide several benefits, primarily for the buyer, but also for the supplier:
- Makes it easy to submit and track invoices, orders and other processes
- Supports collaboration between the buyer and supplier
- Can automate the buying processes, which can result in quicker delivery
- Provides visibility into your supply chain
- Typically supports a variety of document standards, including XML, EDI or flat files
The downside? While it’s cheaper than a full B2B solution, the software still costs money. Your supplier may not be able to support the system, too, in which case you may need to set up an IT division for supporting and training suppliers. But if you can help your suppliers get over the initial hurdle of installing and setting up a B2B Gateway based solution, you can fully achieve the benefits from full automation.