Effectively Implementing e-Business Integrations
In the first installment in this 4-part blog series, we explored the best-practice organization of a B2B group in a well-run company using a Supply Chain Operating Network (SCON). We also described how a new B2B integration request comes into this kind of organization, and how it is processed initially. In this second installment, we will explore what happens next with the integration request, as it enters into the design and implementation phases.
Often with the initial request, the customer will send along the file formats and example files (EDI, XML, or other) that the customer wants to use for integration. The customer normally expects the supplier to adapt to the customer’s desired formats and layouts, although the customer may be willing to make some tweaks in its formats if absolutely required to work with a specific supplier. Who adapts to whom is a matter of negotiation between the customer and the supplier.
At this point, if a supplier is working with a B2B integration service provider such as Elemica, the next step after receiving the customer’s specs is to forward them to the vendor and ask for a Statement of Work (SOW) to provide the integration service. The service provider will then determine what effort it will take to complete and test the integration, and come back to the supplier with a quotation. As described in the first installment, the SOW will normally be approved and shepherded through the Procurement signature process by a central contact in the Project Management Office (PMO).
In the Elemica environment, then the real work begins! Elemica Professional Services resources go to work on the design and mapping required to integrate this particular customer. Those maps and any required custom processing are created in the Elemica Test environment, then tested working with the supplier’s Test environment. The supplier’s B2B team gets involved in facilitating the testing on the supplier’s end, checking that the messages are flowing properly and are correctly populating the Test ERP environment.
In a best-practice B2B organization, all of the IT work up to this point can be handled by the B2B team. The B2B team provides the necessary setups in the various control tables in the Test environment, and they can push out messages manually and receive messages. IT support is required only at the end of the implementation process, to enable these setups in the Production environment, since under corporate IT governance and security rules, only IT can make these updates in Production ERP. In a best-practice B2B organization, these changes can be effected very quickly and efficiently using a simple email request to IT.
The B2B group also handles the kick-off of the new process with the Customer Service Rep (CSR) if required, for instance if the CSR is new to B2B orders, or if a new B2B process such as Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) or Delivery Schedule (DelSched) is being implemented for this particular customer. The B2B team handles any necessary training on the new integrations or new processes, and also manages their hypercare. At this point, the new integration would be operational, and it would stay up and running smoothly for years, unless any updates are required (due to an ERP update or similar activity).
Even in more complex scenarios such as DelSched, best-practice B2B teams are able to do all of the necessary setup work in Test, and they may not even require help from IT at the very end of the process as the work is enabled in Production ERP. For DelSched, many ERPs require that Scheduling Agreements for each DelSched customer be set up before the process can work. When customer forecast orders arrive via the B2B connection, the ERP looks for the Scheduling Agreements and matches them up against the forecast to determine what action to take. Since Scheduling Agreements are not considered Master Data in most ERPs, many best-practice B2B teams are able to create this information both in Test as well as in Production. Again, this saves precious time and IT resources.
So, now we have reached the end of the process, with a live, operational B2B document flow. The graphic below illustrates how the B2B integration request moves from the customer through the B2B organization, all the way to go-live, showing the various parts of the organization that get involved.
This is the way that the B2B integration process works inside many of Elemica’s clients. In the next installment in this blog series, we will explore some differences in this process when the technology being deployed is Elemica’s QuickLink Email.