With the right file transfer capabilities and processes in place, you can simplify and enhance your interactions with customers, suppliers, and other trading partners—to the point where the business benefits help to accelerate you past your competition.
At a high level, speeding partner onboarding, reducing the time and effort involved in partner management, improving security and compliance, and enabling greater visibility—all can play a key role in driving increased revenue and customer satisfaction.
Let’s take a closer look at how this works.
1. Quickly Add Trading Partners to Begin Generating Revenue Faster
Continuing to grow your business means adding and managing a constant stream of new partners and suppliers. You need to be able to begin sharing data and files with them quickly with an onboarding process that doesn’t take weeks. It’s a lot of manage—according to a 2017 report from IBM1 68% of organizations surveyed exchange important information with over 250 partners, customers, and suppliers.
Today, many companies have teams of people focused on onboarding, updating and maintaining information about B2B partners. They must capture and enter a great deal of information manually from phone calls, emails, faxes, and spreadsheets. Because this is so time-consuming, onboarding backlogs are common—as are errors that then require hands-on attention from support staff.
According to a recent report from Ovum2, the average partner onboarding time is about 23 days, with 40% of organizations reporting more than 30 days of onboarding time. At this pace, the typical onboarding process isn’t exactly meeting the need for speed in today’s supply chains.
Also, from a technology perspective, when companies don’t have a centralized system in place to manage the trading partner onboarding process, a hodgepodge of ad-hoc homegrown options tend proliferate in the organization—including email and consumer-grade file sharing services—that aren’t designed to support this process. This leads to inefficiencies and can open up the organization and partner data to security and compliance risks.
Companies that take a more efficient and secure approach to the onboarding process use a centralized system for managing information related to partner onboarding and ongoing interactions. Their system's interface is intuitive enough so that both business and technical users can initiate activities and requests with a few clicks. This can shear down trading partner onboarding from weeks to days—or even hours.
We see multiple ways that companies are accomplishing this. For example, to speed up the onboarding process, companies using the IBM File Gateway solution can offer their partners a self-service portal, event-driven notifications, and support for industry-standard security and communication protocols. Also, once onboarded, the solution enables both the company and its trading partner to have visibility and control over shared file transfer activity.
In addition, companies that also leverage a more advanced B2B partner onboarding solution like IBM Partner Engagement Manager (PEM) benefit from automation and a centralized point of control to manage and monitor onboarding and ongoing interactions with their B2B community. Using the PEM solution, companies can empower partners and customers with self-service—automatically notifying them whenever their input is required—and enable them to enter their own information directly into the system.
Furthermore, because PEM enables companies to design and direct the interaction experience for their partners, customers and suppliers in the system, it can guide partners through various tasks, activities and processes quickly and easily.
All of this helps to eliminate the need for complex and time-consuming processes to set up a new partner, reduces the time and effort required, provides a centralized system for managing important partner information, and facilitates faster and easier collaboration—allowing trading and revenue generation to begin faster.
> Learn more about the numerous benefits of optimizing trading partner onboarding in our previous blog post.
2. Boost Existing Services and Add New Ones that Help you Outshine the Competition
Most likely, your competition already is enhancing what they offer and releasing new services that improve relationships with partners and customers. To keep up, you need the flexibility to accommodate the needs of different business partners, support fast-growing volumes of files, and support new business process requirements, technologies, protocols, and standards.
However, the infrastructure used to support all of this typically consists of any number of servers using various tools (e.g., FTP) and applications for file transfers. This approach limits a company’s ability to monitor file transfers with the trading partner community effectively, and can result in frequent file transfer failures—disrupting critical business processes and revenue-generating opportunities.
Many companies are leveraging a centralized Enterprise File Gateway, such as IBM File Gateway, to overcome these challenges. It provides a scalable architecture to support the massive growth in file transfer volume, support for a wide variety of protocols and file types, and the capabilities necessary to monitor, administer, route and transform high volumes of inbound and outbound files—all in a single platform.
With these capabilities, you’re able to integrate your existing systems with partner systems, introduce new services, and modify existing offerings without needing to devote extensive time to custom programming, development, and testing. Again, it’s about speed, and MFT systems speed the time you can get a new offering or enhanced service to market.
> Is your organization ready for an Enterprise File Gateway? Find out in this ebook.
3. Improve Customer Service and Satisfaction with Enhanced Visibility
All of this speed and self-service means that business partners and customers can do business with you more easily. They can send files the way they want, rather than waiting on you or spending excessive time configuring their systems to work with yours. They can integrate your services with their processes, and vice versa. Also, they can leverage the self-service capabilities in IBM File Gateway view the status of their in-flight file transfers, and even receive notifications of exceptions.
Additionally, with even greater visibility into your file transfers, you’ll be able to know if you’re missing a file, an error has occurred, and if you’re not meeting SLAs. For example, some of our customers leverage IBM Control Center to continually monitor the flow of files with their partners, and alert key individuals when an issue occurs with a server, process or transfer that might impact SLA performance. This can be achieved through dashboards, notifications, and reports that can tell them what’s happening so they can quickly resolve the issue.
> Learn about the keys to effectively monitoring and controlling file transfer
Furthermore, some of our customers leverage the visibility and self-service capabilities of our B2B Framework to further empower business users and partners with information about file transfers. Through access to business-user-friendly, secure self-service portals—internal business users (managers, customer service, accounting, sales, and others) can view the status of files to address partner inquiries and help resolve issues they may identify—quickly without involving IT staff. Some of our customers extend this self-service capability to designated partners as well, where they can log in and see what’s going on with their files—and remediate issues on their own when needed.
In addition, through individualized dashboards and reports provided by our B2B Framework portal, both business and technical managers can quickly spot file transfer, transaction and partner trends, and proactively address issues that may impact the relationship. This level of visibility isn’t limited to file transfers flowing through IBM File Gateway—rather, some of our customers are leveraging our visibility and reporting portal across several B2B, file transfer, and integration solutions—including IBM B2B Integrator and IBM Integration Bus (now IBM App Connect Enterprise)—as well, helping them achieve end-to-to-end visibility across their files, transactions, and data.
With all of these capabilities, you’ll be proactively addressing problems rather than waiting for customers to point them out. Furthermore, you’ll be equipping customer-facing business users to help address customer needs and questions about their files, and empowering your partners with the details and control they need at their fingertips, 24x7. All of this helps to increase satisfaction and reduces the time it takes to provide direct support. This is a win for the customer, the IT team, management, and the bottom line.
4. Tighter Security to Protect Your Customers and Partners
Of all the things that could bring an organization to its knees, a security breach is a very real and ongoing threat. Given the numerous high-profile security incidents and plethora of regulations, locking down sensitive data is very necessary.
Many companies still rely on FTP to send files to partners. While FTP is very common, it brings with it a number of security risks and hidden costs for critical, production-level data movement. Having the capabilities to support multiple encryption standards and secure protocols—while avoiding the risks FTP use—is a critical part of protecting data in-flight and at rest.
> Learn more about FTP risks and how to overcome them in this white paper.
Another important aspect of B2B file transfer security is establishing and managing passwords, certificates, keys, and contact data—all of which take time and then soon become out-of-date or expire. Not only is this a hassle, but expired certificates frequently become targets for cybercriminals. In fact, recent major security breaches—such as the Equifax breach—have been associated with expired certificates. This can cost a global company millions of dollars to recover, not to mention the loss of productivity, brand damage, fines, and impact on the relationship with partners and customers.
With a Managed File Transfer solution such as IBM File Gateway, you can gain the required level of security and encryption capabilities and protect you and your partners’ data, as well as a clear audit trail to prove compliance. Having this in place increases your partners’ confidence level in your company and increases the likelihood of a long-term business relationship.
> How secure are your file transfer processes? View this handy checklist to assess your security readiness.
In addition, the Partner Engagement Manager solution I mentioned earlier helps to automate the process of ensuring that certificates are up to date. PEM has a scheduler-based process to automatically check for SSL certificates that are about to expire. Once these expiring certificates are identified, it can initiate an email campaign to those affected partners, and prompts them to upload new certificates. Then, with REST APIs, PEM can push the new certificates into IBM File Gateway. The B2B partner is empowered with an easy way to keep their certificates and contact data up-to-date while helping to reduce the burden on a company’s IT staff.
> You can learn more about how IBM Partner Engagement Manager simplifies onboarding and management in a report from Ovum.
These collective capabilities also help to protect your network, avoid data breaches, and proactively manage threats— all critical when staying on the right side of regulators and your business partners.
Optimizing B2B file transfers and partner management processes help to improve your partner relationships and more. Faster time-to-revenue, tighter data security, reduced risk, improved customer and partner satisfaction, increased revenue from new and enhanced services and even increased productivity all stem from having the right MFT and partner management capabilities in place.
Want to learn more about the business benefits of optimized file transfer? View the white paper below.
2. Saurabh Sharma, IBM Partner Engagement Manager simplifies trading partner onboarding, Ovum, 2017
About the Author
Lori Angalich is the VP of Marketing at Lightwell. She loves exploring new technologies and business models, learning how things work, solving problems, and developing new ideas with others. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and an MBA in Marketing, and she enjoys applying her knowledge from both each and every day. Lori has a passion for travel, art, wine, music, wildlife (including her two dogs, who are a bit on the "wild side"), and most of all, creating great memories with her family.