Finding solutions for EDI B2B communication

Solutions for EDI B2B Communication

The need for change is forcing enterprises to find EDI B2B solutions

Whenever we speak with CIOs and IT leaders, they tell us that their number one priority is that they to move faster. But there’s a key challenge to moving faster - the delivery gap in what IT is asked to deliver and what it actually can deliver. And that is something which is growing exponentially at every business.

The reality of IT is it hasn't been invested in as heavily in the previous ten years as it has in the last two or three years. IT delivery capacity is actually at a constant in most organizations, yet demands from the business keep going up. There’s cloud and SaaS applications, big data analytics, mobile experiences, which are often a key application platform.

And then there’s dealing with competition. The unknown. Not knowing where the next competition is going to come from. The term "I don't want to be ubered" is uttered quietly behind closed doors. That is the reality for many different industries now. All of this is Most CIOs I speak to will actually say that they are behind what they need to deliver on and there are more demands down the pipe. That is why change is so important.

These problems are compounded by organizations working with EDI for B2B communications. EDI has had many benefits for businesses, but it can be notoriously difficult to work with, and as there are numerous EDI messaging standards (what is EDI?), it’s quite difficult for businesses to communicate with other businesses using different standards. Let’s take a look at one customer that is facing these issues and how they were able to find a solution.

The need for a new B2B EDI solution

This business is a large international manufacturer, and the problems they were facing are resonant with a lot of other organizations we work with. They had a legacy system, tightly tied to their ERP, that was being used for B2B EDI but supported only a limited number of message standards. It was controlled and gated by central IT teams, so anytime changes were needed, a request had to be made of the central IT team and it had to be added to the IT project backlog. Because of all of the increasing demands, not just into the EDI messaging systems but across a widening portfolio of initiatives, central IT was becoming increasingly a bottleneck for bringing on new partners, or even making changes to configurations for existing partners. Clearly something needed to happen to make the EDI solutions for B2B communication more streamline.

The problems compounded to the point that the time it took to onboard a new partner had reached an excess of 6 months. It was becoming a real pain point, and a risk factor for go live of important business initiatives like new product launches, and particularly crucially for this customer, expanding into new geographical markets. This customer needed to find a new solution for EDI B2B functions like decreasing partner onboarding time and having some of their business analysts in the Line of Business teams to be able to drive some of the partner onboarding tasks, particularly configuration around how partner messages were validated, and particularly mapped into other standards. This was a task that the line of business IT teams felt they could handle within their groups, and wanted to have the opportunity to do so without having to send the request into central IT.

A Modern EDI B2B Solution

In order to create an EDI B2B solution that could accommodate the agility that this business needed, they decided to employ an API-led connectivity approach. To understand why this approach was so effective for this business, let’s consider why it is so difficult to onboard new trading partners using EDI.

Organizations have typically solved this problem, in terms of thinking about building out the logic to receive and validate and transfer messages as well as what to do with the downstream data, in isolated silo fashion, so that for each trading partner a business works with , that logic building has to then be redone. A manufacturer, for example, might work with a number of downstream retail partners who are sending in purchase orders and invoices and to whom they want to send purchase orders in return. As this manufacturer expands the number of trading partners, the work that needs to be done to process these messages to work with the downstream requests has to be redone each time.  When an invoice comes in, how do they input that data into their ERP? Have you tried the resulting documentation of that invoice, how do they ensure or GR accounting system is updated? This work has to be done for each business process, and it’s slow and cumbersome. And, as the number of trading partners has expanded, as well as the number of channels has expanded, so maybe this customer, this cost of duplicating assets has increased exponentially. Hence the delays in partner on-boarding that we see. 

An API-led connectivity approach to B2B EDI, however, works on the principle of reuse. API-led connectivity is a platform approach to integration, rather than a point-to-point approach, driving a much more services oriented approach that separates out the actual message processing concern from the business processing. The idea is to decouple message processing from business processing. For example, passing an EDI message from the resulting purchase order business process, and thereby driving much greater reuse of that logic across trading partners. What we've seen is by separating these concerns, these business and technical concerns in terms of how messages are mapped, and then secondly how the underlying data is processed at a business level.

In the EDI context, an API-led connectivity approach provides both flexibility to serve different partners as well as tight control over core ERP systems:

  • Experience API layer: Different experience APIs by channel, perhaps e-commerce, or SaaS application, or data interface
  • Orchestration API layer: Different process APIs by business process e.g. executing a purchase order, checking inventory level
  • Data Access API layer: Different data access APIs to wrap key key systems of record

The architectural benefits of this approach are: a decoupled architecture that abstracts away complexity, and a more agile response to change. All of your channels are able to reuse the same process logic, so as you on-board new partners, you only need to manage the logic of receiving messages and the purchase order processing logic is already baked in, thus allowing you to move quicker.

Here’s how it works in an EDI B2B scenario. A set of services might receive EDI messages. There is some processing logic that is specific to the message type and then there's some message processing is specific to the partner itself. There is also some partner specific work that needs to be captured. It is completely separate from the downstream business process logic. As you receive your 850 and you're working with your purchase orders, you are receiving your 810s, you are working with the invoice, how you think about the downstream processing that is extracted and separated.

The idea is to have a single set of flows that can be reused across trading partners, abstracting away the pure partner specific aspects which, for most organizations, are specific to the mappings of the messages themselves. As you add trading partners, the only incremental work that is now required is that trading partner specific processing as it pertains to message mapping. That means once these foundational elements are in place, the actual act of bringing on trading partners is greatly reduced. Because you've distilled partner specific message mapping in most parts, that's how you can delegate or bring in other teams to drive that work rather than having it being gated through central IT.

It’s this approach that has allowed our customers, such as the one referenced above, to significantly reduce trading partner on boarding time. This approach to B2B EDI solutions will have very significant follow-on effect will allow organizations to deliver on their key strategic business initiatives more quickly.

Take a look at more resources to learn how an API-led approach to connectivity can help your business create B2B EDI solutions.

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