When is the last time you asked, “is it time for my organization to modernize our B2B Integration?” Has it been a year, a few years, or even longer. For most companies, I think it has been more than a few years because B2B works so well. For decades, B2B Integration has been successfully helping organizations to automate manual processes, reduce errors, speed up commerce, create visibility into the supply chain and many more benefits. B2B has increased close collaboration between customers and suppliers. Even EDI (electronic data interchange) has been around for more than 30 years and shows no signs of going away. Your B2B Integration works; it gets the job done, so why would you be thinking about investing in modernizing it?
The simple answer is because is “getting the job done” enough for your organization these days. Do you need more out of B2B Integration than you have been getting? Are you maximizing the benefits B2B Integration provides?
To answer that question, it helps to know what kind of benefits the market leaders are receiving from their B2B Integration. Bryan Ball, Vice President and Principal Analyst for Aberdeen's Supply Chain and Operations practices discusses the benefits that leaders are receiving while comparing them to the laggards. Watch the video B2B Collaboration: Driving the Return.
After listening to Bryan describe the range of benefits and advantages leaders have, it makes sense to be asking whether it is time for your organization to modernize their B2B Integration. The leaders regularly ask themselves if it is time to modernize their B2B. Leaders know that B2B Integration solutions continue to improve and what they can do now is greater than just a few years ago, and the options are always increasing. Today’s B2B solutions can work with your previous B2B investments, so instead of ripping and replacing you can build upon your prior investment to drive higher ROI. Cloud and managed services options for B2B Integration reduce upfront investment while limiting the burdens placed on IT. It is time you look into whether your need to modernize your B2B Integration.
For my first blog of the year, I am featuring a guest blog from my colleague Oliver Jaeger, Vice President Global Marketing & Communications for e-Spirit Inc.. This blog can also be read at the Smarter Commerce Blog.
With so many different ways to communicate with customers, companies have to work harder and smarter to build and maintain strong relationships. And that engagement must span not just the commerce phase, but the entire customer journey—from awareness, to purchase, to implementation and support—to create an outstanding customer experience at all touch points and channels.
Far from the old days of mailing lists and e-mail campaigns, the creation of personalized digital experiences requires knowledge of a customer’s buying history, demographics, website behaviors, contacts with support centers, social media habits, and e-commerce and financial systems used to complete a purchase. That covers a lot of dots that need to be connected in order to give your customer the smoothest journey possible.
Every journey needs a vehicle with a strong engine that can run effortlessly and reliably. In the case of the customer journey, a useful concept is what we like to call the Customer Experience Engine. This isn’t an actual engine, but a way for companies to visualize the many moving parts that must come together to power the customer journey including people, processes and content.
At the core of it all is, in fact, content. It’s what helps the customer see your company in a different light from your competitors. A simple term like content, however, masks a wealth of complexity. The content intended for potential customers is much different than the content intended for happy customers you hope will share experiences with their friends. Yet the brand promises, product messaging and look and feel need be consistent throughout the entire journey. Complicating matters are the large and growing number of dimensions that must be addressed including channels, devices, media and delivery models, timing of delivery, location, and task, to name a few.
So what can be done to solve this complex business problem? Let’s start with basics. At the heart of a fully functional Customer Experience Engine is a Web content management system (CMS) cohesively integrated with applications such as IBM WebSphere Commerce or IBM Tealeaf Customer Experience Management,among many others.
In this role, the CMS generates critical synergy effects by allowing teams to reuse content for different output channels and formats and to consolidate heterogeneous system environments with one central solution for multi-language or multi-project websites. It also makes it easy to maintain consistency across Web channels and projects by automatically providing a consistent look and feel that follows corporate design criteria.
While the design and implementation of a Customer Experience Engine may seem daunting, the complexity can and should be managed by first having a big picture view of what needs to be done, and second, a step-by-step approach to implementation based on a well-designed road map.
Here are six tips for creating a Customer Experience Engine that’s strong and reliable for the long haul:
Crystalize business goals. What do you want to achieve with respect to customer experiences? Hint: An enjoyable online experience for your visitors should be top of mind.
Never forget that content is king. Make sure your content is engaging, creates emotions and satisfies your customers’ needs for information. It is not advertising!
Identify and document all customer touch points, both online and offline. Test the touch points, focusing on response times, consistency of answers and information, quality of interactions and follow through. Your Customer Experience Engine should run smoothly at all touch points.
Create “architectures” for the Customer Experience Engine. Architectures are documents that describe all of the component parts, their organization and interactions. This includes technology solutions as well as the people, organizations, content and processes that help provide the customer experiences.
Create and use a road map that defines the timing and sequence of technology starting with the CMS. Since the CMS is the hub from which other engine components will be connected, a CMS that fits with your strategy (and not the other way around) should be selected with care.
Have a formal process for evaluating the CMS and other technologies. Use the business goals and architecture documents to communicate with vendors and remember that the more the vendor knows about you and your needs, the better they can respond.
As a core element of the Customer Experience Engine, CMS selection is critical. A CMS that easily integrates with other solutions enables companies to have freedom in selecting just the right tool for a given job from the vast variety of tools and systems available, including those they already own. Those tools go far beyond sales and marketing automation to include e-commerce, analytics, social media, community management and many others that fuel marketing and sales campaigns for effectively attracting and serving customers.
About the Author: You can follow Oliver Jaeger at LinkedIn. Oliver Jaeger is Vice President Global Marketing & Communications for e-Spirit Inc., provider of the FirstSpirit CMS. FirstSpirit provides efficient creation, management, and publication of digital content aimed at specific target groups and for all relevant channels (corporate websites, e-commerce, intranet, extranet, mobile, enterprise portals, social media). The CMS is based on the principles of high usability and best-of-breed and seamlessly integrates into IBM Smarter Commerce environments and other third-party solutions to enable companies to improve the customer experience across the entire customer journey.
B2B communication has always been rife with complexity and complications. Industry standards were created to alleviate some of the complexity and as the adoption of industry data standards grows, they are becoming increasingly important. Earlier this year, we did a survey of 360 line of business (LoB) managers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Australia across a range of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, distribution, retail and healthcare; and the results shows that the LoB views B2B Integration as critical and industry data standards as increasingly important.
Line of business managers recognize the critical importance of effective B2B integration for business success. More than one-third (36 %) of line of business professionals surveyed by Vanson Bourne regard B2B integration as “strategic to the business”, while 45 % regard it as ”important for selected processes”. Only 14 % don’t feel B2B integration is integral to operations.
When asked “How important are industry data standards to your B2B community?”, 59% stated that they are important to the majority or all members, with an additional 27% saying that they are important to nearly half the members.
As the LoB looks to drive strategic benefits from B2B Integration, not only will the importance of B2B Integration increase, so will the adoption of industry data standards to reduce some of the existing complexity. However, it is not as simple as that. Although industry standards were designed to make business communications simpler, the specific and complex nature of the standards themselves can seem intimidating. To help you out, we have written the eBook, Demystifying Industry Standards, which discusses:
How Industry Standards came about and their role within business processes.
The fundamental differences between a variety of Industry Standards, and why complexities exist that prevent organizations from leveraging them to their full potential.
A breakdown of what a common standard format looks like and how, with the right technology and understanding, complexities can be readily solved.
How successful implementation of Industry Standards and B2B can synchronize value chains, create efficiencies and reveal opportunities to deliver new value to customers.
We are all familiar with the differences between our Line of Business (LoB) and IT departments. We have heard the jokes and anecdotes. They are oil and water, cats and dogs, Republicans and Democrats, Venus and Mars. While they are not natural enemies, they do tend to have an adversarial relationship. They each speak their own language and view issues from their own perspectives, which lead to misunderstandings, communication breakdowns and can have a negative impact on the organization. However, since they must work together to make B2B Integration successful, the organizations that figure out how to make that happen will have an advantage over those that don’t. Or cant.
The interesting thing is that they both agree on the importance of B2B Integration to their organization’s success, however, the LoB views IT as an obstacle to effective B2B integration, citing IT as the top two obstacles to success. In a study earlier this year we asked LoB what they is holding back B2B success.
The most common operational issue preventing integration of your B2B Community mentioned by LoB Executives is having “to rely on IT to troubleshoot and resolve issues”, cited by 47%. Additionally, the top two issues cited by LoB as obstacles to B2B success are “IT’s inability to support the volume of B2B partners to onboard” (37%) and “IT cannot support member’s technical requirements” (33%). It is clear that a significant gap exists between IT and LoB. But in order to succeed with B2B Integration it becomes increasingly necessary for these two different groups to find a way to collaborate. Better communication and understanding of each other are just the first steps. Longer term more strategic solutions are required, like creating a liaison role between the two and really stepping into the other side’s shoes. Failure to bridge this divide will limit the success and ROI of your B2B investments. To learn more about how LoB and IT see each other and how they can begin to collaborate more effectively, check out this infographic and research report.
Recently I have been hearing more and more about PEPPOL (Pan-European Public Procurement Online project) from my colleagues in Europe. PEPPOL is an EU initiated and funded e-Procurement project to enable seamless cross-border e-Procurement, connecting communities through standards-based solutions. Specifically, it is designed to enable companies in any EU country to respond to any tender across the EU. I admit that I am just starting to learn about PEPPOL, so I wanted to introduce my colleague, Ger Clancy, who has written a series of blogs on PEPPOL and is moderating a discussion on the topic at Linkedin. Check out these insightful articles below.
This article discusses the recent announcement of the UK National Health Service plans to save approx £1.5 billion in the financial year 2015-2016 through the implementation of the EU PEPPOL standard for interoperability in electronic trade, must surely indicate a tipping point for the widescale adoption of PEPPOL in Europe and beyond.
Again I present a blog article written by my colleague Oliver Jaeger, Vice President, Global Marketing & Communication, e-Spirit Inc. an IBM Business Partner. Oliver draws an interesting parallel between physical supply chain management and the management of the digital user experience in eCommerce. Read on, I think that you will find it as interesting as I did.
When it comes to digital experience management, it’s often useful to look at your website, portal or e-commerce store as the end result of a supply chain. Behind every website (the front end) is a complex set of “suppliers” such as writers, editors, store managers, marketing campaign managers, artists, system integrators, software developers, security experts and system administrators, which, together comprise the backend.
When a visitor clicks within your website, the experience that results depends entirely on your supply chain’s ability to perform. The better and more efficient your supply chain, the better the experience will be for your customers. Unfortunately, what we see far too often is that site managers focus on the customer experience itself without considering ways to improve the efficiency and quality of their supply chain.
Take, for instance, social media. It’s been well proven that interaction with your customers through social channels can dramatically improve the performance of a campaign. But if the processes for integrating the latest and coolest social media tools are difficult, slow and time consuming, chances are you will miss out on what could be important opportunities. The ultimate result of an inefficient supply chain is that the digital experience for your customers is not what it could be.
Just as manufacturers are constantly looking for supply chain improvements, website producers should be constantly looking for ways to optimize the digital experience supply chain. A good place to start is by looking at the experience your Web content management system delivers to key “providers” including content creators, marketing professionals, developers and integrators.
For content creators, your CMS should provide an intuitive and highly efficient editing environment coupled with flexible workflow management. For marketing professionals it should provide integrated campaign support and analytics capabilities. For developers you’ll want to provide the flexibility to use familiar and best-of-breed tools with support for a variety of languages, databases and frameworks. For integrators, the CMS should offer out-of-the-box integration with leading e-commerce and portal systems such as IBM WebSphere Commerce and flexible integration with existing systems as well as cloud and third-party applications.
For us at e-Spirit, this is what we like to call the global user experience. What this means is that we are constantly looking for ways to give all the users of our FirstSpirit CMS a better experience. By removing the glitches and bottlenecks in the supply chain, companies can reap all kinds of benefits – not only is the experience delivered to customers dramatically improved, but costs are reduced as well.
Next week, from Monday May 12th through Thursday May 15th, is the annual Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Tampa Florida. The Summit is a great place to deepen your knowledge of B2B Integration. Starting Monday, with the IBM Business Partner day, you will have the opportunity to speak with solution experts, learn about new solutions, view demos and most importantly, interact with your peers who are using B2B Integration.
The highlight of Monday’s activities is the Business Partner forum, which, will be different than any other! It is a Business Partner Festival focused on the "Art of Growing Your Business". Business Partners will find themselves transported to a street-fair environment where interactive conversations and fun activities focused around SaaS, Mobile, Cloud will take place. Food, drinks, and artists will be interspersed among educational opportunities that will provide actionable ways to help grow business. If you want to meet with IBM Executives, make sure to be there between 4:30-5:00pm. Additionally, you can visit:
Social Connections: Get a New Headshot Taken. Learn How to Connect the Dots with LOB Executives. Discover new solutions and sales tools!
Enablement Café: Grab a Cup of Java. Build Your Personal Enablement Plan. Learn how to find the latest sales tools quickly, discuss ways to build and improve your marketing plans. Create a Custom Postcard!
Cloud / SaaS Lounge: Have Your Caricature Drawn. Be Inspired to Build Your Cloud Model with IBM. Get a Cloud/SaaS Market Opportunity Kit!
Revenue Gallery: Take a 'Selfie' with a New Friend and Send to Mobile Central! Get Tips On: Live Events, Digital Campaigns and Working with Agencies. Update Your Profile on PartnerWorld. Learn about Content Syndication. Enjoy a Smoothie!
Mobile Central: Take the Mobile Web Push Challenge. Get Your Mobile Solar Charger and Roll Your Own Cigar!
During the rest of the week, you can discover what’s new with B2B Integration. There are 40 breakout sessions feat (Download Session Roadmap here) featuring content from market leaders like Whirlpool, Ryder Logistics, CVS Caremark, Jabil Circuit, Sony, Commerce Bankshares, Reynolds American, CEVA Logistics, Watts Water and more. Listen and interact with your peers.
The first B2B Integration keynote discusses the new IBM Sterling B2B Services Analytics and Reporting offering as well as key offerings from Aspera, such as Aspera Drive. We’ll also hear from Aspera client, Sony Pictures Entertainment on how Aspera technology is revolutionizing their digital value chain and aided in expediting the delivery of new movies like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Our second keynote; Inspired Leadership – The Heart and the Fist, is delivered by a former Navy SEAL, award-winning author, Rhodes Scholar, humanitarian and Founder and CEO of The Mission Continues, Eric Greitjens. Eric discusses his work a as a humanitarian volunteer, documentary photographer, and researcher and how his work as a social entrepreneur is transforming how America views our veterans, under the theme on living with resilience and leading with strength and compassion through adverse circumstances.
There is so much more for attendees to do and learn, I have just touched on the highpoints.
When I speak with IT professionals and hear about the conversations my colleagues have with IT professionals, there is a consistent theme that IT is always being asked to do more with less, for many years. From my16 years in the tech industry I believe that this in part stems from most companies not valuing IT accurately and not viewing IT as “strategic”, but rather as a cost of doing business. And we all know that companies are constantly trying to reduce costs, so if your functional area is seen as a cost of doing business, you will constantly face reductions.
There are many causes that contribute to this “conventional wisdom”, which would probably fill a book, but what I want to discuss is one method IT can use to chip away at that mindset and begin to show the true value that IT delivers to companies through B2B automation. And I happen to have a simple to use tool to get you started.
IBM has just updated its B2B Automation Savings Calculator, which is generally to show the potential annual savings you can expect if you reduce your manual processes by automating more transactions and/or trading partners. However, it can also be used to show the value that IT is currently and has already provided to your organization. By simple altering the inputs to the calculator a little, you can use it to do something else: quantify the specific contribution that using the IBM Sterling Collaboration Network (SCN) of IBM Sterling B2B Integrator has delivered in the past year.
You’ll need to input the data in a slightly different way than described in the questions. For example, in response to the question, “How many total trading partners do you have?” instead of entering the total number of partners, you would enter just the number of currently automated trading partners you have. Then, in response to “What percentage of those are you still trading with manually?” you would answer 100%.
By changing these inputs, the calculator is now computing the manual processing costs your company would incur if your trading partners were not automated. With these modified inputs, your report will show a range of your current cost savings based on a high, average, or conservative processing cost estimates. That is useful data to point to when you need to justify and communicate the value your department is currently delivering to the bottom line.
The calculator was built using industry average data compiled by leading analyst firms Aberdeen Group, AMR Research, and Forrester Consulting. Additionally, you can enter your own figures or use the third-party industry averages. When you reach the executive summary page, the calculator then generates an eight-page PDF report you can download. The potential savings based on industry averages from analyst research are a great starting point for showing the IT department’s contribution; however, using your company’s real costs are more compelling. The report has instructions to help you calculate actual costs for your organization, increasing the accuracy of your estimates.
Use the B2B Automation Savings Calculator to begin to quantify the value IT is delivering your organization. While this is not going to change a conventional mindset that has been solidified over decades, you can begin to change the perspective of the line of business executives at your company by showing the quantifiable value that IT delivers to the bottom line.
Last blog I talked about how tying B2B projects to corporate goals and objectives can raise them to become strategic. As an example, I looked at how the more partners and more transactions that are automated with B2B Integration the more information is available digitally, which opens up a lot of possibilities for using that information. As I wrote that, I didn’t expect that I would be experiencing it first hand as a consumer.
In December I was in the market for a new car, I have driven the same brand ever since I could afford to buy/lease a new car and not just purchase a hand-me-down from my parents. But my old car has served me faithfully for over a decade and it was time to retire it and find a new one. While I could write a lot about how the car buying experience has changed in the past decade, since I was last in the market as an active buyer, that is a story for another day; however, I will say that living in the “age of the empowered customer” really saved me money and the dealership that was willing to work with me as a 21st century consumer had gained brand loyalty from me and those that still operated like they always did never stood a chance of getting my business. But I digress….
I knew exactly what features I wanted, the color, specs, etc, which meant that I had to order my new vehicle from the manufacturer because there wasn’t one that met my expectations in a 5 state area. While it is great to get exactly one I wanted, I had to wait up to 8 weeks for the vehicle to be built from the date I placed the order deposit. After the excitement of the search, delaying gratification for up to two months is not the ideal outcome. But here is where the auto manufacturer surprised me. During the wait, they regularly updated me via email of the progress of my car, through the major stages, order placed, staging, production starting, assembly, painting …. all the way through delivery to my dealership. I received emails with links to a page for my car. My webpage had all the production staged listed, it told me where my car was being assembled, identified the current stage, and included pictures of the process (I would have loved to have a live webcam stream or recording of my car going through assembly instead of stock photos). Tracking my vehicle made the wait feel a lot shorter than if I had just been waiting for a call or email telling me it was at the dealer.
My point here is that because the auto manufacturer uses B2B integration to automate their processes and transactions across their supplier community and inside their organization, they had the digital information to keep me up to date on the progress of my new automobile. I loved it and I knew that it was only possible because they were using EDI transactions. Once a company has the digital information, it isn’t a lot of work to use it to improve the customer experience, but I can tell you that I was delighted by how I was kept informed of my new car’s journey to me.
Happy New Year to everyone! Now that we are all back at work and the holiday season is behind us, most of us are in the last phases of the planning process for 2014, where plans are being socialized and tweaked before they are finalized. So with that in mind I wanted to share two pieces of advice that can help you ensure your projects are funded, approved and started on the right foot. This advice applies to B2B Integration, Managed File Transfer, Commerce or any IT project.
The first piece of advice is to make a rock solid case for your budget to ensure funding. Two of my colleagues have recently written excellent pieces on making the case for funding B2B Integration projects, which you can access below.
I don’t want to cover the same ground as those insightful blogs, you can read them for yourselves, but the ideas mentioned can be applied beyond B2B Integration to any project.
The second piece of advice is to tie your project to the corporate goals. This may seem obvious and basic, but you would be surprised at how many times it is overlooked. IT projects today, unless they fall under mobile, analytics or cloud, are not very sexy and therefore risk being marginalized or pushed down the priority list. Your job is to show the strategic value of your project and one way to do that is to tie your project to a top three corporate goal. The connection may not be obvious at first, but if you work at it, you will find one.
A good place to start is by examining the benefits of the project, beyond cost savings, particularly the benefits that tie to information. The more automation in a business process the more information is available digitally. Likewise, the more partners and more transactions that are automated the more information is available digitally. When information is digital, it opens up many possibilities, which are good ways to tie into corporate goals. Digital information can be made available to customers or partners for order tracking and status. Digital information improves your decision making by giving a more complete, accurate and faster view of the supply chain. The more digital information, the more effective your data analytics initiatives will be, which is a hot topic now. Increasing digital information can be the link between your project and a top corporate goal. Look at who benefits from that additional information and how does it relate to your company’s strategic goals? If you don’t know, ask your colleagues in the lines of business how the additional information would be valuable or tie into their priorities.