Many Axway enterprise customers use a VAN (value-added network), and there’s good reason for that. They remain a valuable resource in simplifying the secure exchange of data and documents between businesses.
While paying homage to the benefits that gave rise to value-added networks in the first place (as well as how it works), it’s important to understand how the VANs conversation has evolved over time — specifically how they fit into the overall business infrastructure.
With a better understanding of these VAN-related terms, you’ll have a better idea of how to approach the use of VANs in your own business infrastructure to drive growth.
1. Electronic data interchange
Electronic data interchange (EDI) refers to the electronic transfer of structured data and documents, based on established standards, between businesses.
Often facilitated by VANs or point-to-point connections, EDI allows for the secure exchange of invoices, shipping statuses, and purchase orders, among other examples of B2B communications.
2. B2B integration
B2B integration is a digital integration that automates key business processes and communications between two or more organizations. It can take many forms, but two typical configurations are point-to-point EDI and EDI VANs.
A VAN offers the convenience of plugging into a pre-built network, and it may be a requirement for participation in some ecosystems. Point-to-point EDI offers greater agility, making it possible to connect with multiple partners of all kinds, but demands more customization.
Both are important technology frameworks that help fulfill different business objectives.
3. Data mapping
Data mapping is the process by which data fields from two different sources are connected so the two can effectively talk to one another. It is often necessary when exchanging data between different systems or organizations that use different data formats, schemas, or standards.
For example, if one business uses a specific EDI format (let’s say, EDIFACT) for their data, while another uses a different EDI schema (such as X12), data mapping would be required to translate the data from EDIFACT to X12, and vice versa. This also typically involves some data analysis and validation to verify the accuracy and completeness of the mapped data.
Usually, point-to-point B2B integration solutions, such as Axway B2Bi, support this data mapping practice. VAN’s mission, on other hand, is providing a secure and reliable transport layer for data exchange across a network of pre-connected partners.
Data mapping capabilities are out of scope for VANs in most cases, and, if needed, the process is typically handled by the trading partners themselves before transmitting or after receiving data from the VAN.
4. Data security
Data security simply refers to the process of safeguarding data from unauthorized access and corruption at every stage of its lifecycle.
The VAN model is designed to protect business data and documents as they are transmitted within a closed network. It takes a perimeter-level approach to data security with stringent access controls and authentication mechanisms, intended to ensure that only authorized trading partners can exchange data within the network.
Point-to-point EDI takes more of an individualized end-to-end view of security, allowing you to leverage stringent security protocols and supporting data integrity checks for visibility and control at any moment.
In short, both VAN and point-to-point approaches allow you to leverage modern security standards: VAN does it on a network level, thereby simplifying security certification management, and point-to-point applies it at a message level – allowing you to apply your preferred security measures.
5. Data integration
Data integration is the process of bringing together data from multiple sources into one centralized, convenient view. The goal is to eliminate data silos and empower organizations to gain valuable insights, make informed decisions, and support various business processes.
In the case of organizations using multiple VANs – due to various trading partner requirements, M&As, or geographic coverage restrictions, for example – consolidating to a single EDI/VAN vendor can give a clearer view of EDI flows. VAN consolidation offers better consistency, flexibility, and efficiency – and it’s a lot more cost-effective.
That said, VANs do not support data integration in its purest sense, especially since most organizations have to juggle a mix of point-to-point EDI, API, e-Invoicing, and potentially multiple VANs. Rather, this is the value of a B2B integration solution, which can bring together all of these processes for a more holistic, unified view of a company’s data.
IPaaS solutions further extend data integration capabilities with low-code/no-code tools to help recombine data wherever it is, whatever form it takes.
6. B2B digitalization
B2B digitalization represents a shift in business processes where digital solutions are leveraged to boost efficiencies and enhance the customer experience. (For example, moving from paper-based customs forms to digital processes.)
VANs were an early pioneer in B2B digitalization, with origins dating back to the 1970s. As B2B digitalization became more prominent in the late 2000s, adjacent solutions such as e-invoicing networks like PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement Online) began to pop up.
PEPPOL is a framework that enables cross-border e-procurement by providing a standardized infrastructure and specifications for electronic document exchange between businesses and government entities.
Both network types will continue to co-exist, and organizations typically need both if they do business in the many countries now requiring PEPPOL even outside of the EU.
We see a sustained focus on digitalization with B2G (Business-to-Government) and B2B e-invoicing, and a notable emphasis on Continuous Transaction Control (CTC).
7. B2B integration platform
Acting as a bridge to connect various technologies, a B2B integration platform is a system that gives a business the tools it needs to automate key operational workflows.
B2B integration platforms are essential to just about any industry these days. Below are just a few use cases:
- Automotive supply chain
- Healthcare management
- Banking and finance
The modern vision of a B2B integration platform streamlines a great variety of EDI, modern APIs, API-driven VAN, iPaaS connectors, ERP, and cloud-driven flows in one consistent platform experience.
8. API-enabled VAN
An API-enabled VAN is a modern B2B integration approach where, in addition to traditional EDI communication, a VAN offers the option to send and receive messages via APIs.
API-based VAN communication reduces operational efforts tremendously. For example, a lean API can securely send and receive the EDI payloads instead of using a classic file transfer protocol.
VAN users can also build their own applications to manage the mailbox instead of using a VAN’s predefined web UI, allowing them to create new partners, verify transmission status, access statistics, or automate tasks.
At Axway, we offer a consistent B2B integration platform experience that connects any type of business network to quickly deliver convergence and compliance on a technical and business level.
Enforce traditional communication thanks to a wide variety of EDI protocols, trade with modern processes via APIs and native connections to SaaS-based ERPs (such as SAP S/4HANA), and connect to any business network with modern API-driven VAN, e-invoicing, French PDP and PPF, PEPPOL, and more.
Combining all these variables in one integrated solution helps minimize operational complexity while giving you the flexibility to choose the way you communicate with others in a cost-effective, agile, and secure manner.
Grappling with B2B integration complexity? Here’s why the timing has never been better to consolidate to a single EDI/VAN vendor.