Regardless of a business’s products and services, B2B transactions are central to operations — whether communications with suppliers, customers, distributors, or even end consumers. These data transactions can come in the form of purchase orders, invoices, and notices of shipments, to name a few examples. But these EDI transactions represent only a small part of a B2B integration platform.
At its most basic level, a B2B integration platform is designed to automate key supply chain workflows, allowing two or more businesses to work together more effectively and efficiently – for example, shifting from a linear supply chain workflow to a modern partner ecosystem.
The platform acts as a bridge between disparate technologies that don’t naturally communicate and provides a fast, reliable way for businesses to connect with customers, suppliers, trading partners, and service vendors.
But a modern vision for a B2B integration platform encompasses so much more: it streamlines operations into a central, consistent user experience (UX) – B2B/EDI, API capabilities, compliance, monitoring, e-invoicing… It can include a Value-Added Network (VAN), it is flexibly deployed on-premises or in a managed cloud, and most importantly, it must evolve to fit enterprise needs as the market shifts.
It’s a tall order, but it’s the foundation we at Axway are building to serve B2B needs today and for the future. Here’s a look at the specifics of how a B2B integration platform works, how B2B integrations are evolving, and why B2B is so much more than just EDI flows.
Why are B2B integration platforms a necessity?
In today’s digital-centric world, a B2B integration platform isn’t an advantage; it’s a need. Many businesses are struggling to support a growing number of transactions and navigate evolving security and policy regulations. They need to ensure convergency with modern cloud-based ERPs and partner ecosystems: a lack of agility in maintaining and onboarding partners can be a showstopper when they can’t effectively answer to new API-driven demands.
Just look at modern supply chains and logistics: we’ve always worked within larger systems of partners, but the EDI and proprietary integrations of the past have evolved into a more streamlined combination of EDI + API-based integrations, for a more interconnected ecosystem.
Consider the types of applications a business uses versus those its vendors use. Odds are there is variance between them, and when that’s the case, they don’t innately talk to each other. The same can be said for the systems the companies use and where various data is stored, whether on premises, in the cloud, or a combination of the two.
All this goes to say that B2B transactions are not simple relationships. With built-in variety from a technology standpoint — and variance in formats, protocols, and security/compliance requirements to address — there must be a way to bridge this gap so businesses can seamlessly exchange data and stay agile for the future.
This approach is especially critical when partners and customers expect speed and reliability that they can’t achieve by relying on legacy B2B integration solutions. While driving automation and more efficient processes, modern B2B integration platforms give businesses a leg up on getting new products and services to the market faster.
They can help stem the constant growth of costs and efforts to maintain traditional EDI infrastructure and adapt modern API-driven solutions in a consistent, seamless manner.
How does a B2B integration platform work?
A B2B integration platform takes data from disparate sources and transforms it into a format that is acceptable on the end of customers, suppliers, partners, and vendors. Classic B2B integration is based on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and in fact the two terms have often been used interchangeably in the past.
With EDI, computer-to-computer communication replaced postal mail, fax, and email. But EDI can have its limitations, which is why a modern B2B solution is also API-enabled to allow real-time access and data sharing directly into business applications – allowing you to enforce traditional EDI communication and trade with modern API processes.
(This article dives more into the future of EDI and how it is evolving to integrate with newer technologies)
Whether it’s a matter of connecting legacy on-premises or modern cloud-based solutions, a B2B integration platform digitizes information in a way that makes data accessible via a single gateway, thus streamlining the flow of data between businesses.
From a process standpoint, we can think of B2B integration this way:
- Data is pulled from a business application via API or another middleware technology and prepared for transmission to external parties.
- Data is automatically translated into an acceptable format (usually EDI), with the relationship between data fields visualized.
- Data is sent to external parties using the appropriate transport protocol based on the sensitivity of the data, file size, and the speed at which the information needs to arrive (among other variables).
- External parties receive and process the data through a target application that allows it to be integrated into core business processes.
- A B2B integration platform layers onto this process centralized visibility, constant monitoring to ensure security and meet SLAs, API integration capabilities, and value-added services like PEPPOL & e-invoicing.
What are some examples of B2B integration in practice?
The easiest way to understand the value of a B2B integration platform is to consider real-world examples of how it fits into business operations and makes a difference.
Let’s say you’re an automobile manufacturer that deals with multiple suppliers, from tire manufacturers to aluminum material suppliers. As part of these supply chain operations, files like purchase orders and receipts are sent between the businesses on a routine basis. With the help of B2B gateways, this information can be exchanged in a standard format, so it’s easily understood and interpreted by various parties regardless of the systems they use.
Case in point: one major U.S. auto parts distributor uses Axway B2B Integration to enable a highly automated approach to EDI, helping it to identify potential issues rapidly while reducing the need for repetitive management tasks. This distributor is able to process most client orders with minimal human involvement — freeing employees to focus on strategic planning and helping the organization mitigate the risk of pandemic-related supply chain issues.
Now let’s think about this in the context of a medical product manufacturer with retail providers across the country. Just one of these retailers can have up to 1,500 locations, which translates into thousands of hours of onboarding work for the manufacturer. With a B2B integration platform, the manufacturer can create automated onboarding patterns that save hours of manual work and expedite significant launches.
For example, AmerisourceBergen operates one of the largest healthcare supply chains in thep U.S., partnering with global manufacturers, providers, and pharmacies. Each day, the company exchanges more than 200,000 EDI messages with its partners. AmerisourceBergen does this by using B2B Integration to deliver a scalable, highly available digital front door for all business units — enabling it to rapidly identify and resolve EDI issues and meet demanding service-level agreements.
What does modern B2B integration look like?
B2B integration started as a means to electronically exchange data between businesses, and while this remains an essential function, their scope has evolved. Alongside saving time and costs, and improving service levels, modern B2B integration platforms strive to create a collaborative ecosystem with partners that drive modern supply chain practices.
Consider self-service capabilities as an example. Designed for scalability, self-service onboarding and enrollment capabilities save significant time for internal teams while giving partners more of the control and convenience they crave in business relationships.
This same level of flexibility should be present from a security and visibility perspective. A modern B2B integration platform should support a wide range of messaging protocols while providing an end-to-end view of business transactions so you can easily monitor issues and improve response times to meet SLAs.
Alongside these factors, as mentioned earlier, today’s B2B integration platforms should also be API-enabled. With greater demands for API connectivity capabilities and the rapid growth that APIs enable, an API-first approach to B2B integration makes it easier to deploy and replicate APIs across ecosystems while delivering a reliable and consistent partner experience.
Choose Axway as your B2B integration platform
Available as software or managed cloud services, Axway’s API-first B2B Integration Platform modernizes your infrastructure to meet today’s needs — with the flexibility and elasticity to scale for future demands.
Backed by 24/7 reliability and rich in capabilities, Axway B2B Integration supports partner and community management through self-service features while offering real-time EDI visibility into all applications, so you can anticipate SLA risks and make adjustments as needed. Together, these elements help you respond faster to partners and enable new revenue streams.
See how other companies are succeeding with a modern B2B integration platform.