Today, the effectiveness of your ERP strategy is dependent on the quality and timeliness of information you receive from customers, suppliers and trading partners. At the same time, many organizations are attempting to create a single real-time view of enterprise information by consolidating numerous ERP instances or systems that are currently located throughout the globe. Effective integration of your B2B and ERP systems is essential to the successful implementation of these strategies.
There are a number of key drivers as to why companies decide to integrate SAP and B2B systems together:
SAP Data is Sourced both Internally and Externally—SAP systems use information from a variety of sources such as customers, suppliers, distributors, logistics providers and financial services institutions. External data from advance ship notices, commercial invoices, customs declaration forms and bank statements need to be highly available otherwise this will prevent the SAP platform from running efficiently.
Poor Data Quality Compromises the Value of an SAP system—As SAP systems receive information from a variety of external sources there is an increased chance that unchecked, in-accurate data could enter an SAP system. Quite often, information from external sources is not clean enough to be processed correctly by the ERP system. Expensive manual efforts are required to cleanse the data. Bad data which does pass through SAP could spread into other business systems corrupting data across the extended enterprise. A simple mismatch of part numbers or incorrect unit of measure could lead to inaccurate order fulfillment or delayed payments to suppliers.
Poor B2B Integration Limits Visibility—A fully integrated SAP and B2B environment needs straight through processing from various internal and external sources. Business decisions, especially in tough economic times, need to ideally be made in real time. Rapid decision making cannot be achieved if data has to be re-worked and re-entered into the system. Without data about demand, inventory, logistics and payments flowing real-time into SAP, executives are challenged to gauge the true pulse of how a company is operating. It is very difficult to take any corrective action once the impact of data quality issues has already occurred.
High Availability in B2B is Critical—For many companies, ensuring that B2B platforms are available 24×7 is crucial to the operation of their business. B2B platforms ensure that information from outside the organization can be used efficiently by SAP systems. For example many manufacturers insist that their B2B infrastructure does not go down near the end of a quarter so as not to affect the processing of sales related information. In another example, if a car manufacturer does not receive an advance ship notice from their supplier to notify them that parts are on their way to a factory then this could have downstream implications as well, for example, shutting down a production line. Many companies need to make business critical decisions in near real time and therefore ensuring that transactions from external business partners gets through to an SAP system without delay or interruption is extremely important.
A B2B Managed Services provider can help companies improve the management of their SAP/B2B integration projects in a number of different ways:
Implementing Document Maps—Document mapping is one of the most complex tasks to undertake during an SAP to B2B integration project. Mapping experts must understand the relationships between data structures used by external business partners and the information needed in SAP. For example, a mapping expert may need to extract shipping information from an advance ship notice to populate the appropriate SHPMNT01 IDOC document. With the possibility of having to create hundreds of maps, ensuring that maps can be created on schedule is one of the most important aspects of an integration project. Creating these maps internally is not a very efficient use of expensive IT resources. Delegating the mapping process to a third party vendor would be beneficial for any company undertaking such an integration project.
B2B Managed Services providers enable you to integrate B2B messaging across multiple instances of SAP and with business partners around the world. These providers maintain Mapping Centers of Excellence with over 175 mapping professionals. Business analysts and map developers can quickly and effectively deliver high quality maps. B2B Managed Services providers have extensive experience mapping into and out of SAP IDOCs. Some of the more common IDOCs that providers have put into production are:
|Message Type||IDOC Type|
|Motor Carrier Shipment Information||SHPMNT03|
|Transportation Carrier Shipment Status Message||TRXSTA01|
|Remittance Advice||PEXR2001, PEXR2002|
|Lockbox or Bank Statement||FINSTA01|
|Purchase Order||ORDERS01 to ORDERS04|
|Stock and Sale Data||PROACT01|
|Transport and Shipping Notification (Advance Ship Notice – ASN)||SHPMNT01 to SHPMNT03; DELVRY01 and DELVRY02|
A B2B Managed Services provider’s mapping services can support over 200 different document types in production today. Providers have experience across a broad range of B2B formats and protocols. EDI standards such as EDIFACT, ANSI.X12 and Tradacoms. XML based standards include SWIFT, RosettaNet, CIDX and PIDX. Providers can also map file formats to and from any third-party vendor application or proprietary file format.
Status Reporting—A B2B Managed Service provider offers business process visibility and exception-based monitoring for both you and your customers. Visibility is delivered through a simple web based interface that provides tools such as related document queries, role based views and proactive monitoring/alerting capabilities. For example, upon completion of the translation process, providers will automatically generate a STATUS IDOC (Status = 5 or 6) back to the client’s SAP environment to indicate whether the IDOC translation failed or succeeded. Exceptions are indicated in the web-based interface and trigger an automated email alert to the B2B Managed Services provider’s Production Control team and to the customer concerned.
Monitoring Data Quality—One of the major problems with SAP systems is that much of the information entering SAP actually comes from outside the organization. This information will have been created in different systems, using different standards. However, many companies think that there is no reason to clean this data before it enters an SAP system. Companies can spend millions of dollars implementing an SAP system, which only provides ROI if it is fed with clean and accurate information.
B2B Managed Services providers utilize robust business rules engine based on over 150 of the most common supply chain-related SAP business rules. Providers ensure data is accurate before entering back office systems, which eliminates the need for investigating data mismatches, reprocessing inaccurate data, or calling business partners to resolve data quality issues. This pre-processing of externally sourced information before it enters an SAP system effectively places a “firewall” around your SAP applications. The aim of the firewall is to protect your SAP system from poor quality data being sent in by customers, suppliers, distributors, logistics providers or financial institutions. Automated data quality enforcement helps to lower your cost of operations. The firewall will also ensure that any mapping processes can run without interruption. More importantly it will ensure that any downstream systems that are fed by the SAP system receive clean and accurate information.
SAP Connectivity—B2B integration platforms must be connected to the numerous different instances of SAP running at local manufacturing plants, retail stores, shared service centers and headquarters locations. A B2B Managed Services provider can support a broad range of communications protocols to connect with SAP including ALE, AS2, PI and FTP. You can use a combination of communication technologies to meet all your business partner needs. The most popular option for exchanging IDOCs is the native SAP Application Link Enabling (ALE) technology. For those companies deploying SAP PI (Process Integration) based environments, Providers can offer communications support for both AS2 and FTP based communications or via web services and HTTPs connection methods. This allows external business partners to be able to send SAP related information via a secure internet based connection.
High Availability—Ensuring that your external connections to business partners are highly available is critical to the smooth running of your integrated SAP/B2B environment. If external connectivity is lost for any reason then this will interrupt the flow of information going into your SAP environment and any downstream business systems.
A B2B Managed Services provider environment runs on a highly available, 99.995%, infrastructure across two primary data centers located in Ohio, North America and Amstelveen, Holland in Europe. The two data centers are connected via high speed OC12 connections and each center uses the latest network routers, server and storage devices from leading hardware manufacturers. Data is replicated between both data centers on a regular basis and in the event of a catastrophic failure in one data center, the infrastructure will fail across to the other data center thus maintaining availability of your B2B environment.
Managing Business Partner Communities—Most ERP upgrades are not purely technical in nature. Functionality upgrades are usually the justification for investment. With new modules or expanded user-communities comes the need to connect to a broader range of supply chain partners. With larger companies having globalized their operations, the onboarding and integration of business partners across different time zones can be difficult to manage. In many cases, companies simply do not have the resources to manage the onboarding of business partners in different geographical regions.
B2B Managed Services provides a comprehensive onboarding service to both recruit and enable your business partners. A B2B Managed Services provider offers a range of options for business partners to connect to our Managed Services platform including web forms, Microsoft Excel adapters, VAN interconnects and ERP adapters.
Program Management—SAP projects require an immense amount of co-ordination across the extended enterprise. B2B integration managers must ensure that maps are created correctly, business partners are connected properly and data validation rules are reflected within the B2B system as well. If companies are looking to introduce further SAP functionality, for example implementing a transport management system, then the project management challenge becomes even further complex.
A B2B Managed Services provider allows a company to leverage highly-experienced project managers to manage the implementation process. A provider will provide a dedicated program manager who will undertake a number of roles to ensure that SAP to B2B integration projects go as smoothly as possible. Their role will include looking after the day to day communication with a community of business partners and ensuring that business partners can support new transaction types, data quality rules or KPIs to measure performance. Finally, they also offer support for testing and looking after the overall release and deployment of the newly integrated platform with the customer.
Providing Global Support—Many companies have globalized their operations and have manufacturing plants and business partners around the world. As a result, all users of an SAP/B2B integration platform must have access to a global support infrastructure so that if any problems arise they can be resolved as quickly as possible.
B2B Managed Services provides 24×7, multi-lingual, support coverage. This helps users across an extended enterprise receive the help they need, in any language or any time zone around the world. With many companies establishing manufacturing operations in low cost countries such as China, India, Eastern Europe and Latin America, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to support business partners within these particular regions of the world.
Implementing an Integrated B2B/SAP Environment
There are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration when trying to integrate B2B and SAP systems together. B2B Managed Services simplifies integration with your partner community as you only need to be concerned with the integration between your SAP system and your B2B Managed Services provider. However, there are still a number of integration options to be considered.
Integrating Using SAP Application Link Enabling (ALE)
SAP ALE can provide very tight integration between your B2B Managed Services provider and your SAP system. With a provider’s SAP certified ALE adapter, you will establish a secure socket layer connection to B2B Managed Services. A provider then performs a Remote Function Call (RFC) to exchange IDOCS with your SAP system.
Integrating Using SAP PI or Other B2B Connectivity
Many companies use SAP’s PI integration broker to integrate multiple SAP systems and to integrate SAP to other back-end applications. If you already have SAP PI in place, you can use it to connect to B2B Managed Services. One option would be to leverage an ALE connection from SAP PI to your B2B Managed Services provider. This will provide you with the benefits of tight ALE integration, but instead of connecting to a single SAP implementation the connection would be through your PI integration broker.
SAP PI also supports add-ons for a number of connectors for B2B protocols such as AS2 and SFTP. If you have existing B2B integration capabilities, whether through SAP PI or some other integration broker software, you can connect into your provider’s B2B Managed Services environment using any of these standard B2B protocols.
North American Automotive Supplier
Company Overview: This Tier 1 Automotive supplier is one of the largest in the industry, they supply all the major OEMs and have nearly 3,000 business partners around the world including the emerging markets such as Brazil, China and Eastern Europe. After being divested from their parent company they had a requirement to establish their own B2B environment as soon as possible.
Business Issues: This company needed to reduce operational costs across their global business due to being divested and they were competing in a tough economic environment. To improve operational efficiencies they wanted to integrate their B2B platform to a new e-payments solution and an SAP based ERP system which was being deployed globally. It was important for this company to have one common view of information as it flowed across their extended enterprise.
SAP/B2B Project Description: This company deployed a B2B Managed Services provider to implement just over 600 maps and provide connectivity to 3,000 business partners around the world. Following divestiture they had limited internal IT resources and they wanted a provider to offer full integration to SAP to allow the publication of IDOCs. As with many other companies their IT resources were focused on rolling out their new SAP environment and they needed additional resources to maintain the day to day management of their B2B environment. A B2B Managed Services provider was considered an extension to this company’s own IT department. Finally, the provider offered a dedicated program manager to look after the Managed Services project and ensure that it was deployed on time and to budget.
North American Clothing Manufacturer
Company Overview: This company is one of the world’s leading apparel manufacturers. They design, source and manufacture a range of leading clothing brands. Their company consists of six major apparel divisions and their products are distributed and sold via a network of over 200 leading retailers around the world.
Business Issues: This company had limited resources to manage the implementation of a new global SAP environment and at the same time manage their existing B2B platform. They were working with a diverse range of leading global retailers and as a result they wanted to try and improve the integration and efficiency of their global supply chain.
SAP/B2B Project Description: A B2B Managed Services provider helped to integrate their B2B and SAP platforms across six divisions of their business. This project was complicated due to the fact that it was truly global in nature. The provider offered mapping resources to create 280 maps and they also had a requirement to convert a number of EDI documents into SAP IDOC format. In addition to mapping resources, the provider implemented AS2 connectivity to major customers around the world and managed the migration of EDI transactions from their incumbent VAN provider.
Australian Automotive Aftermarket Parts Retailer
Company Overview: This company is a non-franchised retailer of national and own brand automotive products. They operate 200 retail stores in Australia and New Zealand, offering nearly 10,000 products. They have nearly 700 suppliers and ten agents in China representing 300 factories.
Business Issues: They needed to find a cost effective way to manage their ever expanding supply chain and product offerings. They wanted all documents to be transmitted electronically across their supply chain and to improve integration to their SAP based ERP system.
SAP/B2B Project Description: A B2B Managed Services provider was deployed to manage the onboarding of 700 suppliers and an Intelligent Web Forms service was rolled out to their business partner community to help automate their manual based processes. Integration to their SAP environment allows them to transmit purchase orders and other forms of IDOC documents. The SAP IDOCs are then translated to XML format for transmission to Chinese shipping agents. XML is widely used across Chinese based companies and for their onboarding project to be a success they had to ensure a seamless interface between their SAP and B2B systems. A B2B Managed Services provider has not only helped to automate this company’s many manual based processes but has also helped to improve how they work with their Chinese business partners on a daily basis.