B2B managed services: The power of automation


iStock 000005323292LargeWhen France's initiative to outlaw answering work emails between 6 P.M. and 9 A.M. makes headlines, it's a reminder of how much times have changed. Before the days of smartphones and Web-based applications - an era that wasn't really all that long ago - the expectation that workers remain in communication at all hours of the day was unrealistic. The Internet changed all of that. So did investment in areas as disparate as big data analytics, social media marketing and always-on Web-connected machines. Initiatives like Amazon's Prime Air program and the slew of 24/7 app-based delivery services promise to further blur the formally regimented lines of the average workday.

Companies aren't currently expected to operate at workday capacity during off-hours, but it's not hard to imagine those days aren't far off. Of course, supply chain stakeholders are more accustomed to dealing with differences in time zones, geography and operations strategies than organizations in most industries. They've had to navigate these (sometimes literal) waters since the dawn of the supply chain. However, businesses have to become faster, sleeker and more adaptable in order to contend with cultural changes in the way enterprises operate.

Automation of key processes is one the most effective ways companies can cost-efficiently speed things up. B2B managed services providers offer many options for companies to automate the tasks that can benefit most from accurate acceleration.

The advantages of automation: 3 examples
Automation of certain supply chain, ordering and customer-facing activities can help companies better allocate resources and avoid impeding their own progress. Efficiency gains realized through automation continue to build as organizations more quickly respond to emerging challenges and opportunities. These three examples illustrate the ways that automation can benefit commerce processes:

  1. Order managementMaintaining accurate and up-to-date information on all orders is critical, especially in a commerce environment where customer demand has accelerated the need to become more responsive across a wider range of fulfillment channels. Disconnects between B2B partnerships can quickly decelerate delivery times, create gaps in the cross-channel shopping experience and leave customers feeling unfulfilled. By automating order management processes, companies can achieve the benefits of connecting order management systems across the supply chain, product sourcing improves and inventory is more visible across the chain. Automation also produces data, which can be used to understand how processes function across stakeholders and locations. It offers holistic improvement for a process- and metric-driven order management system
  2. Payments: As Bank Systems & Technology contributor Ed Glassman pointed out, B2B payments have lagged behind B2C and personal payments, retaining paper-based and digital methods that rely on manual calculations. These processes are costly, prone to error and can take a long time to complete. Payments can take months to complete, affecting customer relationship management and resource provisioning decisions in the process. By automating payment systems, companies can streamline purchasing programs, increase transparency and bring more data insights to supplier negotiations. It can also be integrated with virtual  payment card applications and account workflows to speed up and simplify transactions.​​
  3. ShipmentsShipping systems require a complex web of data entries, tracking tools and logistics considerations. Drop shipping contains many hidden hurdles, including missing or inaccurate order status information, a lack of interoperability across supply chains and IT issues that prolong fixing problems in order processing systems. By automating shipment processes with IBM Sterling Drop Ship, organizations can leverage a Web-based supplier portal that can be used even by trading partners with less technical acumen. Businesses can better configure shipping routes and order management based on real-time visibility into availability, shipping requirements and order status information.

Why companies need B2B managed services
Many enterprises that stand to benefit from automation are dragging their feet on investing. One B2B Fortune 500 survey offered two reasons that drive reticence: available capital and amount of red tape. To many firms, automation can represent a significant investment with many unknowns. It doesn't have to be this way. B2B managed services can alleviate concerns and provide expert management for adoption of process automation technologies.

Automation can be a big step. Many companies don't have the time, resources or technical expertise to oversee the deployment of automation. They prefer to stick to the status quo and avoid any possible disruption. This is why it pays to work with a B2B managed services provider. The provider can pilot a seamless integration of automation technologies, using a customized process that operates according to the company's specific needs and requirements. It means that the B2B managed services provider like Lightwell can offer significant upfront assistance, if that is what is required, before handing the keys over to the company. An enterprise with more significant challenges can use the service provider as a source of ongoing technical support, so that the gains realized through automation technologies aren't lost due to system snafus or incompatible components.

B2B managed services providers like Lightwell want organizations to get the full value out of their automation investment. This means that fully-fledged tech support should be as automatic as the tools themselves. Ensuring backup, failover mechanisms and IT assistance are just part of the service provider's toolbox. Although France's effort to keep email at the office is certainly admirable, it's not likely to be adopted everywhere. In an increasingly 24/7 workday, process automation is vital to remaining competitive.

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