Value-Added Networks (VANs) have been around for more than 30 years. But today’s VAN is definitely not your father’s VAN. VANs have evolved from simply being a managed network on which to exchange EDI information and documents between a company and its trading partners to a more robust service that includes not only the network but also a variety of services aimed at facilitating more effective commerce amongst numerous organizations.
Today’s more advanced offerings – which are more often being referred to as business to business (B2B) integration or even simply business integration services – that include hosted document exchange and managed services offerings. Among the services are combined EDI/XML B2B integration (B2Bi), enterprise application integration (EAI), business process management (BPM), and managed file transfer (MFT) capabilities.
According to Gartner, in its “Market Trends: Multienterprise/B2B Infrastructure Market, Worldwide, 2009-2014” report, B2B integration requires the integration of more than just two applications. Today there is demand for much deeper and broader levels of integration that span companies and involves numeours organizations. Coming soon… cloud applications will be included in this fray. Gartner writes in its report: “The "dumb" network that used to only transfer bulk files between applications and trading partners is turning into a "smart" network that incorporates diverse integration functionality, including communications, translation and workflow, increasingly implemented by application vendors and users using an SOA. The B2B discipline also now must include cloud services integration — for example, how to link services from solutions such as salesforce.com to on-premises applications.”
Vendors have evolved their VAN offerings to provide customers with layered services. The traditional VAN was a big building in which packages of information moved through, but now they are really a logistics provider of information.
Granted, the vendors still offer the core features – their portfolios of services include the ability to support hosted document exchanges of EDI, XML, flat files, spreadsheets and other types of data. But they’ve layered on top of those services new features including application and process capabilities, embedded translation services that mediate the differences between the various data and file formats of trading partners and applications, analytics, increased visibility into all the data that passes to and fro, and even services that trigger actions based on real-time data and transactions, rules-based engines, and knowledge accumulated from historical data. Vendors are even adding layered services to help companies handle globalization and regulatory matters.
Companies are working with more partners, have more platforms to support, and operate across a much broader geographic area. That means that timing is even more critical than it was before. And integration between the EDI data and ERP systems has become a requirement more than just a good option.