Before you can move forward with any of the four steps above to exchange data with your business partners, you need to purchase the appropriate B2B integration technology. The B2B technology will collect data from source applications, translate the data into standardized payload formats and then send the documents to the business partner using the appropriate transport protocol.
Historically, companies would license B2B integration software to run in their corporate data centers. However, as cloud computing has become more popular, an increasing number of organizations are utilizing hosted integration services for B2B. The basic features of B2B integration are similar whether you choose to manage software in-house or utilize cloud services.
In this section we will refer to the technology—whether it is software or cloud-based—as a B2B integration platform.
Transport Protocols— Integration platforms typically come with a library of communications adapters that support all the popular Internet transport protocols—AS2, FTP, MQ and others. Of course, it is important to ensure that the platform you are choosing supports all the transport protocols that your customers and vendors require.
Application Integration— Integration platforms also include adapters to import and export data from popular enterprise applications such as SAP, Oracle, Infor and Microsoft Dynamics. As SaaS applications have become more popular, libraries of adapters for Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Workday and other cloud services have become available. Of course, the list of adapters that you will require will vary based upon the applications you use.
Mapping and Translation— A critical component of an integration platform is the translation server. The translator converts documents from one format to another. For example, an SAP iDoc can be converted into RosettaNet XML. An ANSI X.12 EDI transaction could be converted into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Before the translation can occur, the data fields of the source and target must be “mapped” to one another. Mapping software allows you to visualize the data fields and create the relationships between the two documents.
Tracking and Reporting— If you are sending hundreds or thousands of messages a day to various business partners, it is critical that you be able to track the status of each. Reporting features of integration platforms will ensure that you can identify which messages transmitted, which are in process, and which failed due to errors.
Additional Features— B2B integration platforms can come with a wide variety of additional options, some of which may be appropriate for your needs. For example, you may want encryption capabilities to protect sensitive financial data during transmission. You may want compression capabilities to enable big files can be sent faster. You may want data validation capabilities that can apply business rules to the information you are sending to identify any errors.
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