Analyst Perspective: Strategies for Overcoming Common B2B Integration Hurdles

     

Overcome hurdles in B2B integrationWatching the amazing 1-2-3 sweep by the U.S. in the 100m women's hurdles—along with so many other tremendous athletic achievements during the 2016 Olympics—can inspire us to find ways to overcome challenges in our personal and professional lives.

Those responsible for the business to business processes and technologies that keep supply chain, manufacturing, healthcare, financial, logistics, and many other critical processes running smoothly face a growing number of challenges—along with a growing number of demands.  

Of course, you have plenty of your own challenges to worry about, so you may be wondering why you should care about theirs. It's because their success can have far-reaching impact on our companies and on us as individuals—including ensuring that the products we want are available when and where we need them, enabling deliveries to occur on time, and ensuring our healthcare claims are paid.

What it Takes to Win

The always-on, global nature of today's business, along with escalating customer expectations, requires business to business integration and collaboration to be as seamless and flawless as possible. This is far from easy. It requires tying diverse replenishment systems and fulfillment systems together, and developing the trust required to make those processes work across boundaries.

It also requires bringing together diverse companies with varying degrees of technical sophistication, and having all of the right technology pieces (and skills) in place to support it. Our team at Lightwell knows all too well that in B2B integration and collaboration initiatives, there can be so many unknowns, and when working outside of the four walls of an organization, there is a lack of control.

Bryan Ball Aberdeen GroupAn IBM survey found that 85% of organizations said their external business communities are vital to their success—yet 86% reported barriers that prevent full electronic automation with B2B partners. A majority of these companies continue to rely on email attachments to exchange business documents with some of their partners. A majority of them are concerned about the security of this approach—and for good reason.

Why Companies are Falling Behind

I recently interviewed Bryan Ball, Aberdeen Group's VP and Principal Analyst, Supply Chain Management, to explore the top challenges companies are facing with respect to their B2B Integration initiatives and what approaches he recommends for overcoming them.

You can view the entire interview with Bryan on demand in our video series, "B2B Integration and Collaboration: The Leader's Advantage."

Based on Bryan's extensive research on this topic, he shared that, across the board, the most common challenges include:

  • The lack of resources to implement and sustain B2B initiatives
  • Limited IT staff and resources
  • Insufficient internal knowledge for supporting modern B2B technology requirements
  • The cost of technology solutions

Bryan explained that in the face of a growing number of transactions, partners, formats, standards and regulatory mandates, companies are struggling to keep up. Hiring the specific skills required for today's B2B demands can be extremely costly.  

In addition, the talent required to onboard and integrate suppliers and customers can be a very different skillset—but a much needed one.  Many suppliers and customers are smaller in size and will need help and support. This can play a critical role in customer satisfaction and closer collaboration with partners.

Also, many companies have ERP and other legacy system customizations that make this even more challenging. Rather than relying on standard interfaces for integration, the interfaces themselves must be customized, which puts extra burden on already-limited IT resources.  

Add in the need to address transformational technology trends like big data, IoT, and cloud, and the complexity in managing B2B operations continues to increase. 

Evaluating Different Approaches

I asked Bryan what approaches he recommends for companies to overcome these challenges. He suggested that a key first step is to determine whether to:

  1. Solve these issues internally, which may involve "fighting" for resources
  2. Partner with a provider that already has these capabilities

There are a number of factors to consider in determining the right approach for a company, and there is no "one size fits all."  For example, with respect to a shortage of IT resources, if a company chooses to fight for resources internally, they face the challenge of picking the technology direction for the next year or more so they can bring on the right resources.

In terms of lacking the internal knowledge for onboarding and integrating partners, and then trying to fix this problem through hiring—these skills can be very difficult to hire.

Bryan suggested that by leveraging a trusted, experienced partner in their B2B initiatives, companies can can achieve a number of benefits, including:

  1. Rapid access to resources to address their talent gap, which can accelerate their B2B collaboration initiative
  2. Enabling their current IT team to concentrate on managing their business
  3. Access to an expert adviser when new technology becomes available
  4. Faster access to expert resources when another big project comes up
  5. Greater supplier and customer satisfaction: by working with a partner that has extensive experience onboarding and integrating partners and customers

He added that leveraging an external partner can enable greater agility and generate significant advantages in this manner. 

We'll explore what we learned from Bryan about these advantages in an upcoming blog post, based on our interview and the B2B Integration and Collaboration: The Leader's Advantage video series.

In the meantime, if you wish to learn more on this and related topics, check out the related white paper from the Aberdeen Group below. 

B2B Integration - The Time is Now