Important trends are impacting B2B priorities and agendas

While many of the trends in B2B, such as the use of managed file transfer and increasingly ubiquitous shared standards, may be obvious, a great many are not. The B2B landscape is changing swiftly as consumer supply and demand dynamics continue to evolve at an astonishing rate.

The International Data Corporation cites a number of less-obvious trends as important cues in B2B integration strategy and planning:

1. Consumer empowerment. The modern consumer is making increasingly informed decisions and can become well-informed faster than ever, thanks to the Internet’s easy access to information and consumer reviews of products and services;

2. The complexity of globalization. Extended communities of partners are now increasingly common in the face of the growing global economy; new markets are emerging at break-neck pace, and low-cost sourcing is increasingly common;

3. Volatile demand. The consumer’s proliferation of choices and easy access to decision-driving information have resulted in diminished brand loyalty, making supply chain performance increasingly important in product selection;

4. Accelerated business. The Internet-driven acceleration of business in all industries has increased the priority of agile performance and response in every member of the B2B supply chain.

Each of these somewhat passive realities has added to the urgency of increasing flexibility and visibility as essential steps in adapting to the evolution of the marketplace, IDC has found. As the demands and expectations of consumers are steadily ratcheting up, the internal prioritization and self-imposed discipline to answer that demand with similarly-improved performance and adaptability have become mission-critical.

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IoT to drive API usage for B2B Integration

IoT will be the biggest driver of integration technology in history. It will impact every point of  integration, whether its between two systems or two business entities. Devices are becoming smart and almost everything either has a sensor or will have one soon. As devices become smarter and use internet for connectivity, they will become more capable of handling tasks as well. In all likelihood, these smart devices will play a major role in e-commerce and B2B Integration.

We already see some examples of such activity and what future may hold:

1. Smartphones with NFC being used for payments. In future devices can become smart enough to recognize the shipment arriving at the warehouse, inspect it for damage, count it and automatically credit supplier account based on negotiated rate without any human involvement.

2. Smart watches for health information monitoring relaying data back for research and other medical usage. In future, the healthcare insurance card may just become an app on your smart watch and as you go through medical procedure, it may track diagnosis, prescription and claims.

3. Current thermostats learn usage patterns and automate settings. Next generation may even provide recommendations for reducing utility bills by showing ads from energy vendors or alternatives sources in your area and even change your utility company with a simple click.

The world is coming closer and the boundaries are disappearing fast. Sensors and devices transmit data in real-time and that will drive the usage of APIs for B2B Integration. APIs provide secure, real-time alternative to traditionally file based B2B interactions. Check out the Integration trends for 2015 and what future holds.

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Let Suppliers Sit At the B2B Table

When things go wrong in the integrated supply chain, the easiest dodge in the world is to blame suppliers. Suppliers often have a rough time of it in B2B; they tend to lie at the outskirts of integrated processes, not treated as full partners.

This attitude is out of date, according to Principles and Practices of Public Procurement, a consortium for public sector supply chain best practices. Equitable treatment of suppliers as B2B partners should be a guiding principle.

What should that equitable treatment include? Openness and mutual visibility should be agreed-upon standards in the supplier relationship. This lowers the risk of delays, enhances contingency planning, and reduces recovery time when delivery failures do occur.

Another important practice is governance. A team-based approach to management of the vendor relationship can be an advantage. Defining the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of those who interact with the supplier leads to repeatability of successful process innovations, and efficient escalation for problem resolution.

On the technical side, single-sourcing of data is a recommended step, enabling consistent processing and minimizing the chances of data loss for all parties.

Going the extra mile can also pay off. Apple secured its position with critical suppliers by investing more than $3 billion in pre-payments to those suppliers, ensuring their long-term loyalty, reducing risk and strengthening those partners within their own markets. That level of investment is rare, but the principle behind it – treat suppliers as full B2B partners – is a sound one.

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Strategic Managed File Transfer

Managed File Transfer is an important new tool in B2B integration, enhancing a traditional data-sharing mechanism with audit, enhanced security, and failed delivery functionality. But the benefits of MFT extend beyond the technical, also enhancing business processes.

As B2B partner networks grow increasingly integrated, so do B2B partner business processes; the need for increased partner collaboration and the accompanying need for increased visibility make MTF as much a strategic business imperative as a technical goal.

Industry analyst Derek Brink has summarized the strategic features of managed file transfers, as they affect business process integration:

•Visibility. In the film The Godfather, the point is made, “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately,” Brinks writes. His point is that it is better to keep all parties in a B2B-integrated supply chain as up-to-the-minute as possible, in matters of delivery, inventory maintenance, information access, transaction verification, and other messages. MFT provides workflow to ensure this visibility, he points out.

•Reliability is essential to achieving this visibility, Brinks continues: assurance of file delivery, with confirmation, delivery failure options, and checkpointed process recovery, provide that reliability.

•Integration with existing infrastructure, easily achieved with MFT, encourages smooth business uptake of MFT enhancements, he concludes: to be able to integrate up-to-the-minute messaging and immediately monitor acceptance and response enhances partner confidence.

Finally, he points out that standardizing messaging around a robust and reliable platform leads to centralized messaging policies and administration on the business side.

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