Digitalization calls for an agile and holistic approach to B2B integration

May 6, 2016

This is a guest post by Saurabh Sharma, a Senior Analyst in Ovum Software group

Digital supply chains continue to evolve, with enterprises realizing the necessity to interact and provide services to partners and customers via digital channels to maintain and strengthen competitive positioning in an increasingly competitive and digital business ecosystem. Given the rate at which digitalization is driving changes in business processes and customer engagement models, IT just cannot afford to follow archaic approaches for resolving new B2B integration issues. Change is inevitable and IT needs to adapt and effectively respond to B2B integration challenges created by the rapid rise of digitalization. Legacy electronic data interchange (EDI) solutions offer limited flexibility and are inadequate for meeting increasingly critical business requirements, such as rapid trading partner onboarding, end-to-end visibility and monitoring, and API-led extension of B2B integration capabilities.

A recent Ovum primary research survey revealed some interesting trends and figures:

  • Non-compliance of data security and privacy regulations, lack of end-to-end visibility and monitoring, support for rapid trading partner onboarding, and integration with other middleware platforms and backend systems figure amongst ‘top five’ concerns with the features and capabilities of existing B2B integration solutions.
  • On average, enterprises take around 23 days to onboard a new trading partner.
  • Integration between B2B processes and third-party cloud-based/SaaS applications is a key requirement for about a fourth of respondent enterprises.
  • About a sixth of respondent enterprises have considered replacing existing B2B integration solution due to high cost of ownership and inability to respond quickly to production issues, and for supporting business growth and/or entering new markets.
  • 46% of respondent enterprises currently have a digital business initiative that requires use of APIs. This includes digital business initiatives involving mobile trading, partner management/connectivity, digital marketing, data-as-a-service provisions, and use of self-service portals. This figure is expected to increase by another 18% over the next two to three years.

Digital transformation is not only about providing access to the desired services, information, and functionality via mobile and other channels, but also about providing a compelling user experience and optimizing B2B e-commerce collaboration across the trading partner ecosystem. No enterprise can dictate terms regarding the means/approaches to be used by trading partners and customers for B2B e-commerce collaboration. Likewise, enterprises need to implement/support a wide range of updates/changes in an agile manner to effectively meet the requirements of trading partner and customer communities.

We see “x+API” as the new mantra for innovation in an increasingly digital world, where enterprises need to respond to new market opportunities at a pace that cannot be supported by traditional approaches. The component “x” in “x+API” equation can range from a specific data set, service, application, or an API, to an integration flow allowing mobile enablement of existing business processes. For example, an EDI platform can expose integration, monitoring, and governance capabilities via APIs for consumption by external applications.

While EDI remains the most robust approach to B2B integration, APIs are gaining ground, thanks to the simplicity and flexibility of implementation and mobile-friendly nature. An “EDI+API” combination can be used to extend B2B processes to mobile channels, thereby allowing mobile applications to participate in and support specific sub-processes, such as placing, receiving, and acknowledging orders via mobile devices and access to and monitoring of data transfer-related information.

There are several core characteristics positioning APIs as an appropriate means to B2B integration involving digital channels. In particular, lightweight and developer-friendly representational state transfer (REST) APIs can support realtime (synchronous) B2B information exchange across a range of applications, devices and networks. With digital channels increasingly becoming an integral part of multi-enterprise process automations, enterprises need a more agile approach enabling realtime data transfer, as well as simplifying onboarding and implementation processes.  Enterprises can exploit APIs for developing capabilities that would be otherwise difficult to implement with an “EDI-only” approach. However, what enterprises need is a combination of EDI- and API-led approaches enabling secure and agile B2B integration to support digital business initiatives.

For more information, please visit: www.axway.com/ovumresearch2016

Saurabh is a Senior Analyst in the Ovum Software group and a member of Ovum’s Infrastructure Solutions team. He leads Ovum’s research in the integration and middleware space, including integration infrastructure and enterprise integration strategies that span across on-premise, B2B, cloud, and mobile application integration and Internet of Things (IoT) middleware. He also focuses on associated disciplines such as API management, integration and solution architectures, communications integration, and data security and governance imperatives for enterprise integration. 

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