Overcoming the complexity challenge in B2B integration


Conventional wisdom instructs business leaders to invest in more robust software so that their organizations can benefit from feature-packed solutions. It is important to make sure that enterprise applications provide the functionality employees need to do their jobs effectively, but those feature-rich programs may also create complexity in other areas.

iStock 000013983584Large resized 600For example, a recent article from CFO Insight highlighted several challenges associated with application integration. In many cases, applications with more functionality are difficult to integrate with a company's existing software. While the news source explored the related challenges from the perspective of a treasurer, the issue is also a prominent concern for B2B integration projects.

"The demand for higher visibility means a greater focus on integrated systems that can talk to each other and eliminate data silos," the article stated. "An ERP system that has a treasury module offers the prospect of lower costs of integration. This explains why CIOs, always averse to disruption, tend to favor this choice."

It is similarly helpful to look for a B2B integration platform with numerous modules for various systems to ensure that highly diverse software environments can be integrated successfully. This is especially true for organizations with large partner networks, since each business may leverage numerous systems and unique platforms Features such as the back-end connectivity adapters in IBM Sterling B2B integrator are useful for streamlining the integration process, since connections for commonly used enterprise software packages are included. 

Integrating applications: Features or feasibility?
Along with the numerous business processes that must be united, B2B integration requires enterprise software to communicate. As CFO Insight noted, this leads many organizations to choose simple applications for some tasks to avoid the complexity of connecting separate systems. Meanwhile, internal-use-only software benefits from more robust functionality. This strategy is likely to create frustration as employees accustomed to the expanded features of the software they use for daily tasks would find the applications used to share information among partners to be lacking. 

The good news is that the enterprise application market may be shifting toward interoperability in response to these demands. CFO Insight noted that packaged software vendors are building solutions that work efficiently with internal business processes as well as external data.

Application integration is likely to grow in importance as businesses adopt larger software portfolios and must connect their technology with that of their partners. A November 2012 Gartner report predicted mid-sized and large organizations would spend 33 percent more on application integration in 2016 than they will by the end of 2013.

"The explosion of information being generated, routed and shared is creating new demands on integration infrastructures, particularly to share and synchronize data among applications, SaaS, etc. This includes the Internet of Things, such of RFID tags to track the movement of devices, goods and people," Gartner stated

In areas such as supply chain management, the focus will be on connecting inventory and point-of-sale data with numerous companies. Analysts warned that the growing volume of information would likely result in new infrastructure demands as well as create more need for efficient information exchange processes.

A look at the B2B e-commerce sector
One example of huge data growth comes from the e-commerce market. Gartner predicted that B2B sales traffic will have increased by a factor of 10 between 2008 and 2013. Furthermore, half of all application integration projects will involve a mix of on-premise software, trading partner solutions and cloud services. Researchers suggested that this would create new demands across several areas, including:

  • Process automation
  • Process complexity
  • Demand forecasting
  • E-invoicing

This traffic growth, combined with the adoption of more applications, ultimately means that organizations will contend with significantly more data than in years past. Gartner suggested this would lead many to find value in managed file transfer services to reduce the burden of orchestrating these tasks while lowering risk to the business.

Can complexity be avoided?
Given the difficulty involved in these projects and the fact that integration is only going to become harder, it may be tempting to limit integration only to essential enterprise software. Although this strategy may reduce IT spending and be successful in the short term, it will not be a sustainable option in an increasingly connected world. Rather than sacrifice functionality, Gartner recommended the following items for IT leaders:

  • Leave room in the IT budget for increased integration spending over the next five years
  • Prepare for operational models that are focused on agility
  • Build competency with integration products and services 
  • Identify core requirements for completing integration within an organization's unique environment

Although it may cost more to successfully integrate complex systems and processes, organizations may gain the advantage of improved collaboration as well as a deeper pool from which to draw analytics data. As Gartner noted, there has been some interest in activities such as point-of-sale analysis, and this trend has created demand for many more systems to be connected. 

Think B2B integration isn't for your business? Many people are surprised to find that B2Bi has a full range of scalable options for companies with different budgets, needs and sizes. See what options are available with our complimentary solution kit below: