In this new era where data is the new gold and constant evolution is part of the daily routine, it is no surprise that business strategies and opportunities change every day. A crucial question to ask is whether your organization is embarking on Digital Transformation or has moved past it to focus on digital evolution. Your Business-to-Business (B2B) enablement strategy can make a huge difference in the success and growth of your organization.In a previous article, we learned How to do B2B integrations using MuleSoft EDI X12 Module. In this one, we will look more at what B2B is and some common challenges in enabling an organization for B2B transactions. In the end, we will learn how MuleSoft Anypoint Partner Manager V2 helps organizations to accelerate their digital evolution.
What is B2B?
Business is a concept that has existed since the beginning of human time. It took various forms from the stone age to the present day. In current times, a business may refer to an establishment or organization that trades some commodity or provides services.
Some businesses provide goods or services with the end-user or consumer directly i.e. Business-To-Consumers (B2C). These may be simpler from a system interaction point of view. In a traditional setup, it might look like you have a physical store where people can walk-in, buy the product, and walk out. There may not be much of a need to know a lot about consumers. And particular legal prerequisites are not needed to conduct business, such as a contract between a customer and a vendor to buy clothes at a retail shop.
There is a distinct part of the business world where businesses sell goods and services to each other which we have previously referred to as B2B.) Establishing a B2B relationship is more complicated than B2C. In B2B, each involved party needs to know the other well, agree on the business terms, and most importantly choose how the business will be executed.
For the purpose of this article and examples discussed, we will assume that the legal processes and procedures needed for B2B transactions to take place exist. Those topics are out of scope for this article.
When it comes to execution, there are several approaches and these approaches constantly evolve. The spectrum ranges from a fully manual B2B process to some that are more evolved as well as digitized. New and improved ways of doing business are a routine change in today’s economy. In fact, there would be many businesses that simply fail if they couldn’t keep up with the pace of evolution. Therefore, business automation for e-commerce legacy systems is very important.
In a digitized setup, you will have more systems involved. These systems interact with each other to keep businesses running, probably more efficiently than any manual alternatives.
B2B Opens Up New Revenue Streams
Let’s consider an imaginary retail store - XYZ Mart that has many physical stores in different locations. Office Things Inc. is an office stationery supplier (also imaginary), which is selling products through their online site only. To make their products more reachable, they recently entered an agreement (The legal setup) with XYZ Mart. This opportunity will allow Office Things to sell their products through XYZ Mart stores, hence B2B trading between Office Things and XYZ Mart. Consumers will be able to buy office stationery in XYZ Mart which will be B2C for XYZ Mart and its end customers.
Challenges in connecting B2B dots
XYZ Mart is a well established and fully digitized organization. They use the ASC X12 EDI data format for their integrations with other vendors. XYZ Mart also uses AS2 specification to securely and reliably transfer any B2B data over the internet.
This means Office Things Inc. will have to build integrations for XYZ Mart systems. As this is the first B2B Integration for Office Things, there can be many challenges in these integrations. Let’s look at some of those challenges.
EDI Format support
A typical order to delivery flow can include sending multiple X12 documents back and forth between involved organizations a.k.a partners. At the minimum, a Purchase Order X12 850, Purchase Order Acknowledgement X12 855, Delivery - Ship Notice X12 856, Invoice X12 810, and Payment Order X12 820 documents will be involved.
X12 Data transformation support will be one of the challenges that Office Things will have to solve.
AS2 Specification Support
XYZ Mart uses AS2 specification to securely and reliably transfer any B2B data over the internet. AS2 helps trading partners to securely send encrypted data over the internet. But it requires AS2 Connector support with partner identifier management. Encryption requires certificates and private-public keys to be maintained. This AS2 enabled data transfer is another challenge that Office Things, Inc. will need to solve.
Every transaction requires some form of identifiers to help involved partners to identify each other. An identifier can be any mutually agreed, unique name for both organizations. For example, Office Things Inc. can choose to add “OfficeThings” as its identifier in every transaction related to them. When dealing with multiple vendors, then XYZ Mart can identify all transactions executed with Office Things Inc. Think of this as you writing your name and postal address when sending mails.
EDI standards usually define where and how these identifiers should be specified. X12 format defines specific segments at X12 Interchange (ISA) and Group (GS) levels to add Identifiers. Similarly, AS2 has its own identifier definitions (AS2-From and AS2-To in the HTTP headers). Whatever integration Office Things, Inc. builds, it needs to manage and support these identifiers. This also holds true for all industry financial services government bodies.
Integration is one challenge and transactions reporting is another. Once transactions start flowing through the system, a transactions reporting system is required for visibility and support. Sometimes, transactions fail and thus a retry or replay mechanism is required. Thus, the omnichannel SaaS integration single solution must take care of this reporting aspect too.
Integration with other systems
Office Things might be using other internal systems for inventory management (eg. SAP), order fulfillment, or event for shipment management. All these internal systems should be able to easily integrate with whichever B2B solution is used. The legacy system modernization mobile approach will help in easy integration with other systems.
Time to Market
Office Things, Inc. leadership wants to open this new B2B channel as soon as possible. Time to market for this solution is another challenging task. Building a custom-coded system that can tackle all the above challenges and any other that might come during implementation is a time-consuming job because technology API management in B2B is not an easy job.
What Anypoint Partner Manager Offers
With all those challenges in mind, it is no brainer that a product specially built to tackle B2B transactions is a good choice here.
MuleSoft’s Anypoint platform is a widely used integration platform for connecting data, applications, and devices in the cloud. MuleSoft Anypoint platform including CloudHub is a reliable and proven software that has been successfully used in financial services, government, healthcare, and other industries.
MuleSoft’s Anypoint Partner Manager (APM) V2 is a specially built solution to enable bi-directional business-to-business transactions.
Some core features of the MuleSoft Anypoint Partner Manager are -
- APM simplifies the partner onboarding process by allowing you to set partner profile details such as identifiers, contacts, addresses, etc.
- APM supports different data formats such as X12, JSON, and XML.
- APM supports transactions sent over different transports such as HTTPS, SFTP, etc. Configuring any receive or send endpoint between trading partners doesn’t require any special coding skills but just configuring required fields in the application.
- APM can secure bi-directional transmissions by allowing AS2 specified configuration, including AS2 identifiers. Certificates, private-public keys can be managed and applied through a simple configuration change in the application.
- Activity reporting allows to track and monitor B2B transactions flowing through the system. This includes any metadata or error information about transactions.
- Enabling a transaction flow between two partners can fully be done by configuring message flows in the UI. Depending on the deployment strategies, time to market can be significantly low.
- APM supports multiple deployment strategies - OnPrem and Cloudhub.
- Configuration-driven experience of Anypoint Partner Manager makes it suitable to use by all stakeholders like CIO, CDO, Architects, as well as developers.
Anypoint Partner Manager V2 can help your organization accelerate your digital evolution by leveraging modern technology and solutions to increase the efficiency of your B2B transactions. It can simplify B2B processes and let you focus on your core business for growth and benefits. If you are new to Anypoint Platform, you may sign up for a free 30 day trial and experience the on-premise as well as cloudhub solutions provided by MuleSoft.
This article is the first part of a series titled “Employing Anypoint Partner Manager to Solve Problems and Realize Opportunities”. In the next article, we will dig deeper into how to set up partners and configure your message flows to receive EDI documents. Stay tuned and subscribe to get notified.
Considering to re-evaluate your current B2B system or Anypoint Partner Manager as a new solution? Reach out to us, we can help you evaluate and recommend the right strategy for your business.