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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2015 Upgrade Priorities for B2B Integration

As the new year gets underway, what are the top priorities for enhancing existing B2B integration resources?

Several new technologies and methodologies are on that list of priorities, but three stand out: the event-driven gateway, Managed File Transfer, and Predictive Analytics.

The event-driven gateway is an advanced gateway model that naturally supercedes more traditional gateways. A typical B2B gateway passes information in files, routing by way of its metadata, according to a fixed workflow. The event-driven gateway is more sophisticated, with a workflow that is responsive to properties of actual logistics data and events in logistics that set tasks in motion beyond conventional workflow. Such gateways are highly robust, fault-tolerant, and improve efficiency at critical points in integrated processes.

Predictive analytics, now an industry buzzword, are becoming an indispensable competitive feature in B2B integrated processes. The interdependence of supply chain partners in leveraging analytics to anticipate fluctuations in consumer demand, logistical opportunity, and supply chain disruption increasingly require not just capability, but dexterity in the use of predictive analytics.

Managed File Transfer is likewise becoming indispensable in the sharing of data between supply chain partners as well as internally, between disparate in-house systems. MFT provides essential features of data management that conventional FTP does not, including detection of transfer failures, built-in authentication, a wide range of encryption/security options, and accommodation of multiple protocols.

Rapid evolution of supply chain methodology and marketplace performance are mandating a philosophy of perpetual upgrade in both systems and practices.

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How Does Modern B2B Infrastructure Evolve?

In a presentation on how B2B infrastructure is currently evolving, Chandana Gopal, Research Manager for IDC Research, identified three gateway classes now supported in the marketplace.

The first is the basic gateway, which Gopel characterized as a gateway that leaves files unopened, routing them based on their metadata. Such a gateway is friendly to integration with Managed File Transfer, and improves the quality of automation overall.

The second is the application-ready gateway, which can internally process semi-structured data (EDI, etc.) and enables data quality ownership entirely within the system. Such a gateway is capable of end-to-end processing of files, with improved visibility and fewer touchpoints, yielding greatly increased automation and less introduction of error.

Finally, Gopel defined the advanced gateway, which includes support of data streams for predictive analytics and the integration of trading data for predictive business initiatives. Partners with such gateways are sufficiently automated to participate in trading networks.

Gopel made the point that these three gateway classes represent a smooth progression for growth within the enterprise, adopting with the basic gateway and advancing, through uptake of increasingly advanced software and methodology, through the other two classes in as little as three to five years.

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Growing Traffic Makes Control of File Transfer Essential

The transfer of unstructured data (files) between business partners is growing at a brisk pace. This opens the door for potential error, compliance issues, and confusion.

According to a recent study by the Aberdeen Group, the number of end users requiring file transfer capability is growing rapidly, between 6% and 9% annually, as of 2013. The volume of file transfers per user is growing faster still, from 8% to 11% annually. Finally, the size of the average file to be transferred is also growing, from 6% to 7%.

The flip side is that IT staff to accommodate the increased traffic is not growing correspondingly.

A sensible solution for B2B partner companies needing to accommodate these increases is Managed File Transfer. MTF augments existing B2B data exchange mechanisms by off-loading the transfer of larger files to an independent mechanism, lessening resource consumption. It automates file transfers between B2B partners, incorporating detection and handling of transfer failures, which conventional file transfer does not; and it can authenticate users against AD/LDAP.

Industry uptake of MTF has been rapid, and it has taken up a permanent place in the B2B toolkit.

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