June 13, 2018

The Process of B2B Communications

by Kent Brown in B2B/EDI , IT Management 0 comments

Communication between organizations and their trading partners is what drives business today. Companies no longer have the time, energy, or talent base to do it all, and must rely on their partners to provide materials, for transport, logistics, and more.

Communication with partners doesn’t stop there. Bills of lading, invoices, receipts, and other communication require solid connections between you and your partners. When a part of the network breaks down, everyone is impacted.

It’s why the instantiation and maintenance of B2B communications – using EDI, HL7, EDIFACT, Rosettanet, FTPS, or any of the other standard protocols – should be viewed as more than just an implementation task. It’s a process that involves both IT and the larger business. We view it as more than just a process, but as a 6-step cyclical lifecycle.

Find, Establish, and Manage Partner Relationships

Choosing the right partners is critically important to business success and customer satisfaction. Finding these partners can be a challenge, as are the contract negotiations and agreement to terms to reach a mutually equitable relationship.

Organizations need to spend their time on the specifics of the relationship and the quality of the partnership. Instead trading partners can get ruled out because of resource availability for integrations, technology choices, and even expected onboarding time.

B2B integration solutions shouldn’t limit your potential partner pool or force you to face the choice between an increased load on your B2B communication resources or the partner that can offer the best results.

Onboard and Implement

Onboarding and implementation of trading partner connections can be one of the most time consuming and difficult pieces of the lifecycle.

Without the ability to onboard partners quickly, organizations are left with either handling communication manually or enduring long onboarding processes before they can gain the benefits of working with their new partner.

Even when electronic communications are possible, the process historically has involved a series of manual steps to configure communication. Partner setup requires a lot of back and forth, meaning some step might wait until your trading partner’s team has time, and others until you have resources available.

Once you are done, you have added… one partner. For the next you’ll need to start the process over again.

With the right tools, partner onboarding should be quick with reusable components that prevent B2B/EDI teams from reinventing the wheel every time a new partner is added. Equally important is offering partners self-service options, so that they can configure their pieces independently and concurrently.

Test Connections

Testing connections between you and your partner to ensure that they are correct, that messages are sent and received without error, and that messages meet any and all requirements and regulations is an important step in the B2B communication lifecycle.

For instance, even if test messages appear to send and be received without errors, healthcare providers and medical suppliers may need to take extra steps to ensure that communications are secure and meet HIPPA standards.

Typically, testing has required intensive work on both sides to ensure communications are smooth. Tools that offer automated testing and partner self-service testing are key to speeding the B2B integration process.

Technical Operations

Changes occur and issues happen. With B2B integrations, that can mean migrating to a new standard, changes in message formats, alterations or additions to data sent, and security certificate updates.

Monitoring messages has also historically fallen on the IT team, who then must alert the proper business owners. If the IT team isn’t proactive, the business may only notice an issue with partner communications once an issue has been ongoing.

Instead of fixing a single message error, IT teams may be faced with correcting a standing issue that requires immediate attention. This diverts resources away from other B2B integration tasks, like onboarding and testing.

The data flow between you and your trading partners should be smooth and issues should be identified and remediated quickly. Tools that provide message monitoring and alerting promote proactive responses to problems.

Business Operations

When B2B communications are disrupted, it may take some time or several missed messages and even phone calls from partners before the business notices. Without visibility into message performance, business teams may be taken off-guard when messages aren’t received or fail to get sent.

The business also has other needs for visibility into messaging performance. In some instances the business needs end-to-end message identity information, and receipts to know that data is getting where it needs to go.

Without a tool that provides self-service to line-of-business analysts, visibility into message performance and correction of issues lies with IT. With self-service tools, business teams are empowered to understand and act on messages and changes without adding burden to IT resources.

Business Intelligence

Just because B2B messages are making it to your trading partners and back to you doesn’t mean that your integrations and operations are running optimally.

Do you have messages that make it through, but are slow? Do you have specific partners whose messages experience high rates of errors?

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. That’s why an important part of the B2B communication lifecycle are the analytics around message performance. Issues with partners can be quickly addressed, and partners with frequent problems can be worked with to identify and remediate problems.

As companies grow and focus on improvements, the cycle repeats. Partner relationships are further managed and evolve, changes occur to data, communications and formats need to be tested. Data gained throughout the lifecycle feeds decisions that start the process again.

When looking for a solution to accelerate and automate your B2B communications, don’t stop with a product that only addresses simplifying one part of the trading partner lifecycle. Your business participates in every part of the process – choose tools that improve your entire B2B integrations process.

Interested in more information on PortX, or a free trial? Let us know.