Modernize your approach to EDI and B2B integration
EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is a series of messaging standards that allow B2B communication between businesses. It was designed to replace paper communication of documents like purchase orders, invoices, advance ship notices, etc., and has been adopted by numerous industries from retail to transportation logistics, to medicine. Because these messages are so crucial to business processes, it’s important that EDI documents are considered as part of an B2B integration approach.
EDI messages and traditional B2B integration approaches
Organizations have approached B2B integration in numerous ways. They might use costly and complex EDI VANs or they might build a series of B2B interfaces for each trading partner with a variety of custom rules. This can create a thicket of point-to-point integrations, which are challenging for traditional B2B integration tools. These hardcoded integrations serve prove difficult to companies as they scale and are unable to adjust to changes in business requirements. For example, adding new partners, suppliers and distributors to this tightly coupled, complicated environment can be time-consuming. It results in slow delivery against strategic initiatives, such as launching a new product or expanding into a new geographical market.
"The accelerated pace of digitally enabled new product introduction and multiplicative complexity of winning, serving, and retaining highly empowered consumers results in intolerable levels of stress,” according to Forrester Research. Companies are finding that if they don’t speed up the time it takes to get new products and services to market, they may well fall behind the competition. Slow partner onboarding processes and drawn-out document transfer do not help companies achieve the nimbleness and agility they need in today’s market.
We see these challenges regularly with our customers. How can they extract data housed in EDI documents that they might want to persist to other systems? How do they transform that data into a format that's easy to work with? How do they get the data from systems that are 20-30 years old and connect them to newer technologies that work and operate in different ways?
An API-led approach to EDI and B2B integration
Our approach to integration, API-led connectivity, allows organizations to unlock the value of existing systems with APIs and innovate rapidly without losing security or control of critical enterprise data. It also allows businesses to innovate on top of EDI document standards. Using the power of API-led connectivity for EDI/B2B communications, organizations can tie together new SaaS and mobile applications with traditional B2B protocols and standards Companies can now build reusable services across multiple B2B trading partners and B2B processes on a single connectivity platform. This enables increased agility and decreased time for partner onboarding, while reducing cost and risk.
There are three components to an API-led solution for EDI and B2B integration.
- Sending and receiving EDI messages by EDI specific types of protocols. In addition to receiving messages by HTTP and MTP, etc., there are on a case by case basis EDI specific transfer protocols as well. Having support for those is an important part of any solution.
- Being able to translate and transform EDI messages. All EDI messages must be encoded in a standard way. The ability to transform those messages into different formats is critical to enabling these new B2B use cases. Perhaps a company might receive an EDI message that they want to transform to XML so that it's easy to work with. Perhaps they might want to pull out paths and value and save it to a database which is a customer order detail. That's going to be a lot easier to do if there’s an easy way to transform the message.
- Being able to manage trading partners. In theory, EDI is supposed to be an industry standard, i.e., everyone sending EDI messages should send and receive messages that look exactly the same. What happens in practice is that different companies will choose to expand or customize the EDI messages to their own specific needs. When someone is receiving an EDI message in that regard, they need to understand or have some understanding of what these additional fields mean and they need to maybe also have partner specific validation rules over and above the standard validation rules. A trading partner management solution allows companies to define the validation rules.
Business scenarios benefitting from improved EDI and B2B integration
Because the enterprise is changing quite dramatically, there are several scenarios in which improved EDI and B2B integration could provide quite dramatic outcomes.
- New companies or business units being formed and that are looking to build out supply chain and distribution systems. If a new business unit is created, the parent organization certainly doesn’t want it to sit idle while waiting for supply chain partners to onboard. Better integration with B2B processes allows the new unit to be up and running much faster.
- Migrating from legacy systems that are reaching end of life, or significantly onerous in terms of making the costs to keep up and running. Because EDI is a rather old form of technology, the systems that serve it are decades old as well. Companies might want to use new SaaS applications and they certainly will want to provide mobile solutions for their employees, partners, and customers. Developing those solutions alongside EDI experts can be complex and costly.
- Migrating control of systems from VANS to in-house. Companies in the past may have used what are called EDI networks or Value Added Networks (VANS), which are third-party companies that allow their customers to outsource their EDI operations to them and handle all that work of receiving EDI messages, scrubbing them, and attracting the key information from them. Many companies that look to grow and scale want more control over their EDI processes and therefore want to bring that operation in-house.
MuleSoft brings API-led connectivity to B2B integration, allowing organizations to drive innovation in their business by applying a modern connectivity framework to legacy technologies. This means that if an organization wanted to create a mobile app, it can expose and share the data from the app through a modern API layer and over traditional EDI protocols out to the partner. The API-led approach enables powerful hybrid connectivity that allows real-time business transactions and more efficient business processes.
Take a look at more resources on how a modern approach to EDI and B2B integration could create positive outcomes for your business.