Seamless B2B integration: A journey to the center of the cloud


cloud and b2b integrationIt is perfectly understandable that B2B integration can seem daunting. It involves a technology-driven transformation that theoretically affects every person and practice in a supply chain to some extent. As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and most supply chains weren't either. Dismantling current supply chain architecture and starting from scratch likely isn't an option as the world keeps turning. Companies are worried about taking several steps back for every step forward. So how can companies facilitate a seamless B2B integration without compromising the efficiency of the current model? 

The answer lies in the cloud. B2B cloud services offer a simple and cost-effective way to become and remain adaptable. Over the past few years, each successive major technological innovation - big data, IT consumerization, bring your own device and the Internet of Things among them, as well as the cloud itself - has further democratized the IT sector. Traditional hierarchies melt away as companies large and small see that the key to higher efficiency and lower overhead lies in convergence. New businesses may have an easier time adopting a cloud-first strategy for IT decisions because they are not burdened with legacy systems. However, the financial and productivity gains available in the cloud are too numerous and beneficial to ignore. But the question remains: How can businesses adapt to the new order without putting their current processes at risk?

B2B integration: Reducing traditional middleware
Unless a business infrastructure model is irreparably flawed (and likely would not be successful much longer anyway), a business can retain stasis during B2B integration by building from the inside out. This process starts with middleware, commonly referred to as the "glue" for software. As InformationWeek contributor Chris McNabb recently pointed out, middleware has a "hub-and-spoke" architecture designed for pre-cloud environments that does not translate well to the cloud. The middleware model involves data transmission from application spokes to a central bus hub.

For a small set of applications with granular IT oversight, this approach is a functional, if expensive, one. Over time, large businesses can build up many layers and offshoots of this architecture. They are resource intensive, resistant to change and have to be managed in silos. Additionally, as McNabb pointed out, hybrid IT environments are already revealing middleware's shortcomings. A partial cloud implementation can accelerate some aspects of the business supply chain while keeping others frustratingly sluggish. As the sum of its parts, supply chains and B2B relationships are only as fast as their slowest contributors.

Hybrid IT as a stepping stone
For companies upgrading on the fly, an incremental implementation is a must. While the cloud can offer incredible benefits, an organization that attempts B2B integration without a detailed road map could find itself suffering from some major growing pains. A hybrid B2B integration enables a company to address certain areas of need or processes less central to core functionality in order to dip its toe in the cloud.

In a recent interview with TechTarget, IT analyst Saurabh Sharma spoke to the benefits of a hybrid integration strategy. This approach enables the organization to rely in part on its practiced, traditional approaches while it discovers what the cloud has to offer. It can then address its architecture in a more piecemeal fashion, paying more attention to each aspect of its B2B processes and its corresponding long-term strategy.

"A well-planned integration strategy that involves the selection of an approach best suited to each individual integration scenario will ensure that integration projects deliver the desired end-to-end functionality in the most cost-effective and time-efficient way," Sharma stated.

Companies can also work with a dedicated B2B integration services provider that offers a cloud-based model for a rapid build. IBM B2B cloud services, for example, offer different levels of management and infrastructure support that match to a company's current needs. From on-demand IT Support to fully managed service packages, IBM's cloud services provide scalability to facilitate the transition and support B2B challenges.

Going full throttle for cloud
The ultimate goal of maximum profitability and productivity will likely involve coming full circle to the cloud. A hybrid IT environment mapped onto a large scale can create data integrity and security risks. If information and communications are moving at different speeds through separate architectures, even within the same business chain, they are at a higher risk of compromise or mismanagement. Eliminating middleware completely can increase overall efficiency. It also centralizes management, releasing IT members from the cumbersome task of only overseeing small pockets of the business transaction and application framework.

"Designed for the realities of today's highly distributed IT infrastructure, cloud-based integration supports common transport methods, standards-based web services, and universal translation capabilities for non-standard data formats," McNabb wrote. "By considering an application integration strategy that was specifically designed for the cloud, you stand a much better chance of arriving at your destination on time, intact, and in solid financial shape."

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