Which of these business integration challenges is your enterprise dealing with? Your B2B platform does not scale easily you must exchange information with hundreds or even thousands of incompatible systems IT lacks core expertise in deploying and managing large-scale integration efforts you ve missed revenue opportunities because you can t connect to your customers quickly customer service metrics are declining, because customers find doing business with you inconvenient. Frankly, most companies have already pushed the cross-enterprise integration envelope on the supplier side. Despite some rough patches, suppliers have signed on, and the value chain is, for the most part, working. The biggest challenges are on the customer side, and, going forward, that s exactly where the biggest return on investments will be, as well as direct positive impact on revenue. The Limitations of Conventional Solutions Integrating information seems to have fallen off the customer service bandwagon. Companies simply cannot expect customers to be pleased about dealing with conventional point-to-point and hard-wired connections, which are increasingly ineffective. Similarly, software solutions are expensive, frequently unscalable, and often uncustomizable. Making them work with your business partners systems consumes expensive resources, requires a serious maintenance budget, and yields less than optimal results. At the end of the day, companies cannot force the typical cumbersome, unfriendly business integration solution on customers--and the pain involved in the attempt would offset any hope of ROI. You may be able to convince suppliers to do business your way, but that s not the case with customers. They want fast delivery, rapid response to queries, and better overall service. And they want to work with you from within their own systems. They want integration their way. Customer Integration: No Longer Optional Conceptually, customer integration can be a little slippery. When most companies talk about CI, they are referring to little more than applying supply chain cost reduction benefits to the demand chain--rather than dramatically easing the burden of connection. Ultimately, a better way to think about customer integration, by far, is to see it in terms of the loyalty-building effect that occurs when your customers are able to do business without inconveniencing themselves. One company using this approach today has seen a 29% revenue uptick in integrated vs. non-integrated customer accounts. That s value you can take to the bank. A New Way to Connect Connecting more easily with your customers means immediately providing the kind of information they care about, for example, order status and product availability. If competitors are struggling in this area, this ability will strengthen your own competitive advantage. And, in many cases, companies leveraging a new ease-of-connectivity are able to approach and close accounts which had been previously out of reach. Integration-as-a-Service We are all familiar with Software-as-a-Service and the benefits it offers to companies who want enterprise-class functionality without the headaches of license purchase, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. Now a similar model, Integration-as-a-Service IaaS- is emerging for business integration. Early attempts at a concept similar to IaaS were less than successful--partially because they focused scant attention on integrating the legacy applications so many companies are still using. With a new, customer-friendly framework for IaaS emerging, your organization should--at a minimum--evaluate IaaS and strongly consider how it can allow you to leverage you and your customers existing IT and business process frameworks. Today s IaaS transcends the limitation of traditional solutions, whether connecting to customers systems or consolidating B2B processes within the supply chain. Like SaaS, IaaS significantly reduces complexity and cost. It allows IT to concentrate on core competencies rather than on attempting to build or maintain cross-enterprise integration solutions. When evaluating IaaS solutions, here are four key elements: The Technology Platform Integration Hub: A well-designed IaaS solution has a single hub that connects your enterprise to multiple trading partners--regardless of how many you have--without requiring them to change their internal systems and processes. This connection should mediate different validation methodologies, security protocols, routing arrangements, and service level agreements. It should also guarantee transaction delivery, support audit trails, and easily translate data from one format to another. SOA: To accelerate transactions across multiple enterprises, an effective IaaS solution uses loosely-coupled SOA integration techniques. These techniques permit the hub to unify documents such as purchase requisitions and tasks such as transfers of product custody into request-response transactions across multiple firewalls. B2B gateway management: Ideally delivered through an intuitive, browser-based dashboard, gateway management offers process visibility and business analytics. It should allow you to manage events and business rules and to support asynchronous, synchronous, batch, and request-response transmission as well as popular transport protocols such as HTTPS, S-FTP, NDM, SMTP, and SOAP. File Management: Secure File Transfer SFT- management provides central, secure support for transmitting files to business partners or storing them for retrieval--and vice-versa. SFT management should be able to transmit files of all data types and sizes, track their movement, verify delivery, and generate custom reports from the system s data warehouse. B2B Consolidation Given thousands of global suppliers, unique business systems, and more than 12 million procurement and financial transactions a year, a major commercial and military aerospace manufacturer decided that standardizing business integration would save millions of dollars annually. The company deployed an online trading hub designed to automate a wide range of financial and supply chain business procedures while reducing IT infrastructure costs. The manufacturer decided to build support for e-business integration in-house. However, despite a massive investment in hardware, software, and dedicated IT teams, it was able to integrate only a handful of trading partners after 18 months of effort. Realizing the enormous complexity and cost of external integration, the company re-evaluated its approach and decided to outsource a solution. IaaS delivered the secure, seamless information exchange the manufacturer sought. A single connection links all the company s trading partners, whatever their technological sophistication, IT systems, or data models. Real-time transmission delivers the fast transaction turns the company requires. The company deployed its trading hub in less than four months, connected with 100% of its business partners, and saved millions of dollars annually through dramatically reduced hardware and software costs as well as more efficient financial and supply chain processes. Customer Integration The B2B division of a major online and brick-and-mortar bookseller saw an opportunity to grow annual sales--but not without significantly improving customer integration. During a several-year period, division salespeople had called on a number of large accounts who commented that the company was too difficult to do business with. On other occasions, the group actually had to turn business away. The division s small IT group had done a few customer integration projects but lacked the resources to handle more work. In addition, some of these projects turned out to be wasted effort, because the integrated systems disappeared from the market. The IT group championed the selection of an out-sourced solution. With the twin goals of large account business development and cost savings firmly in mind, the company chose IaaS. Decision makers were impressed by its easy-to-understand pricing model and rapid deployment as well as by their ability to amortize costs over a growing customer base. Since deploying the IaaS solution, the company has closed deals with most of the large accounts it has targeted, automated almost 95% of its orders, and dramatically improved customer service. Customer Integration The B2B strategy of a major provider of products and services to research institutes and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies includes three components: Drive more sales to its website Make it easier for its customers to do business with it Drive the company s brand and sharpen competitive differentiation A key element in this strategy is to decrease the ᄡhuman interventionᄡ required to process an order and simultaneously increase customer satisfaction. Because the company lacked the in-house resources to develop a solution and also has a Web-savvy customer base, it looked to IaaS to help it meet its business goals. Results have been gratifying. Web orders have grown 20 to 30% per account. Of $12 billion in annual sales, 40% of orders now come via the web, enabling the company to manage a 10 to 15% increase in orders with the same employee footprint. Revenues per order are up, because the company can consolidate orders from larger customers, and the average order from smaller customers has increased 5%. A Long Journey Cross-enterprise integration has come a long way from EDI and the transmission of flat files from one company to another. Customer demands for better service, the proliferation of incompatible systems and file formats, and the need for competitive differentiation is leading to a new, service-based business integration solution. Companies who have adopted IaaS are enjoying substantial increases in top-line revenue. Their customers find it easier to work with them than with their competitors, and their sales teams can focus on selling rather than on taking and expediting orders. Customer service and accuracy improve. Operating costs decrease, because companies pay for what they use, rather than for large, inflexible solutions. It s time to include integration in your customer service plan. Source: line56.com

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