More B2B Tech Trends to Look For in 2016

As the new year approaches, a number of technology trends that have been building for several years are reaching critical mass. As B2B grows beyond its traditional boundaries, integrating partner data exchange, on-the-ground logistics and the nuts and bolts of paying for things, it is poised to embrace many of these trends more fully.

Mobile payments. Most everyone has long since abandoned writing checks in favor of sliding a card. Now an increasing number of people are making payments by tapping their smartphones on terminals. Apple Pay is pushing the tech forward, and it will make a big jump in the coming year.

Crowd-sourced logistics. Uber and Lyft represent a game change in logistics for both the supply chain and on-the-ground services. More than just a novelty or a fall-back, crowd-sources transport and delivery represent a strategic edge for the smaller supply chain partner looking for a competitive edge. As acceptance of the trend grows, so will its presence on the road.

Drone management platforms. As market acceptance of crowd-sourced transportation increases, so does its uptake of drones as delivery providers. The technology has progressed rapidly and is slashing delivery costs wherever the technology is used. Drone fleets and platforms face a tougher journey to universal acceptance, but big strides will be taken in 2016.

The Internet of Things. As devices go online by the millions every day, the opportunity to leverage them for B2B data collection increases. The healthcare industry stands to benefit a great deal in the coming year as healthcare providers implement wearable monitoring devices for those under care, increasing the efficiency of service delivery and patient analytics.

The Battle for the Internet. All of this progress is welcomed by thousands of companies, but viewed with suspicion by thousands of others. A few missiles fired across the bow of the Internet have already awakened the business community to its status as a steadily-warming hot potato; while a showdown for control of the Internet is not yet imminent, there will certainly be increasing signs of potential conflict as next year unfolds.

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What the B2B Community Needs, Technology-wise, in 2016

As another year of technological progress and process evolution in B2B draws to a close, a number of unfinished transitions remain, ripe for attention in the new year.

A number of new standards (AS4) and technologies (MFT) took strides forward during this past year, and the battle for supremacy among cloud service providers raged on. In the milieu, several important milestones were missed, and remain important industry goals, moving forward.

The analytics consortium

The evolution of B2B data transfer has seen many distinct technological phases, from EDI X-12 to the current practice of coordinated analytics. But the reality with regard to infrastructure remains every-company-to-itself, with many bridges existing between partners. While simplified data formatting standards and the leveraging of the Internet have been game-changing, networking between partners for the purpose of data-sharing remains a patchwork undertaking.

A step forward in 2016 would be the emergence of the local consortium – centralized data hubs for shared analytics and process coordination, sponsored by participating partners in the supply chain – with both the expense and the benefits shared by all.

Easier data-sharing among the clouds

The natural choice for such shared data resources is the cloud. But those currently using cloud service providers for analytics have often found that many of the major platforms don’t play very well with others, when it comes to import and export of data, in the volumes necessary for effective analytics. This leads to turf war, with the more powerful supply chain partner imposing his own cloud provider preference on weaker partners (Walmart indulged in strong-arm tactics of this nature in the early industry uptake of RFID).

We can look for progress among the cloud service providers in this area, but it’s unlikely that any progress will be pervasive by the end of the upcoming year.

Shared data transfer standards

One important objective for trading partners in many industries is the advent of shared data transfer standards. The sharing of data between partners – and, in particular, shared access to partner data sources – is now ubiquitous. But the technologies used to achieve this sharing of data remain a hodgepodge. And beyond a technology standard for data transfer, common administrative and security models, agreed upon between partners, are increasingly necessary.

One technology that holds promise is Managed File Transfer (MFT), which improves on its precursor technology ftps by offering the security, administration and rollback features of most database technologies. But industry uptake has been slow, owing to the expense and the hands-on cost of ownership.

On the other hand, both of the imperatives mentioned above – lack of partner data facility in cloud platforms and the need for partner data consortia – can, and should, become drivers in increasing the use of MFT and technologies like it, as 2016 commences.

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Government is a Major Driver of B2B Commerce

While organizations of all kinds the world over benefit from B2B technology and practices, one of the most prominent is government, according to Bob Cohen, North American vice-president for Basware.

“Governments are forerunners in pushing connected commerce,” he wrote in his column Paythink recently. “More than fifty governments around the world are in the process of implementing e-invoicing mandates and are pushing for a supportive infrastructure to enable agile e-commerce.”

He cited tax compliance and fraud reduction as significant drivers in the push, noting that efficiency and savings were major factors domestically, with the U.S. multi-agency Invoice Processing Platform resulting in a $20 processing cost reduction on federal invoice processing.

For the European Union, borderless commerce has been the goal, he said, with an interoperable e-invoicing standard. Government suppliers must now conform to the standard, which is causing it to proliferate within private industry as well.

Other benefits emanating from government e-commerce include the untethering of financial process, he added, through the exploitation of cloud technology and mobile platforms. Business and supplier networks, experiencing rapid growth, are simplifying and accelerating governmental requisition processes in turn.

Finally, he noted, the increasing demand for real-time payment and financing options by businesses in general have made government uptake of B2B prudent in any case. And the analytics that modern B2B methodologies and systems enable are causing both governmental purchasing systems and suppliers to grow ever more efficient over time.

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Some Common Misconceptions about Managed File Transfer

Though the adoption of Managed File Transfer within B2B-integrated partnerships has been significant, a number of misconceptions about the technology remain pervasive, and can inspire reluctance in some partners to implement it – to the detriment of all.

The average employee sends/receives fifteen email attachments a day, for a total of over 5,000 attachments a year, per person – and even if that seems a little high, it does confirm that a great deal of ad hoc data transfer is occurring, much of it informal, yet in support of formal B2B processes. This compromises the security and robustness of those processes, while diminishing data integrity.

Managed File Transfer is the technology of choice for dealing with this maverick data handling; but its effectiveness depends upon its adoption throughout the supply chain.

IT Business Edge cited several misconceptions about MTF that could hinder its adoption:

1. MTF is only about moving data from Point A to Point B. No, it is also about implementing consistent security; reducing user error; and achieving deeper integration with the systems handling the data;
2. It is redundant; employees use IT-approved company email and systems for data transfer. In fact, almost two-thirds of employees surveyed said they have used personal email for storage and transfer of company data, so email should be eliminated as a data transfer method altogether;
3. Existing FTP and other methods are fine; employees know what they’re doing. No, nearly half of employees surveyed are unaware of their companies’ data transfer policies, and a third said that no such policies existed;
4. The existing data transfer policy is effective. How is it possible to be certain of this, when un-managed file transfer by definition cannot be monitored?
5. MFT is too expensive to implement. While it is true that MTF is more costly than conventional file transfer solutions, it is easy to see that it pays for itself in recovered downtime in supply chain operations, which are costly throughout the supply chain.

An obvious means of mitigating the reluctance of a B2B partner to adopt MTF is to offer incentive for adoption throughout the supply chain, making it a standard throughout, and sharing the costs of implementation and maintenance. This approach in itself can satisfy many of the objections and make for a smoother adoption.

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