IntegrationThis week I wrote about how VANs have evolved, and in my conversations while researching the article one resounding theme kept surfacing: integration.

I intuitively knew that integration is critical to a successful business to business (B2B) endeavor; after all, islands of data and stand-alone applications have never proven otherwise. But Sterling Commerce sponsored a recent study, conducted by Forrester Research, that underscores just how important integration is, and how far still many companies need to go to get there.

Take, for example, the finding that about two thirds of respondents were exchanging EDI/B2B documents with 60 percent or less of their trading community. Not only that, but the study found that at least 64 percent of respondents had more than 500 trading partners with whom they need to regularly exchange EDI/B2B documents. Do the math. If the majority of companies have 500 trading partners with whom they *need* to regularly exchange EDI/B2B documents, and about 75 percent of respondents weren’t exchanging EDI/B2B documents with at least 40 percent of their trading community! That could mean that many companies aren’t exchanging EDI/B2B documents with as many as 200 of their partners.

The study also found that roughly 42 percent of respondents are still exchanging spreadsheets and other text documents with 40 to 100 percent of their trading community. By the way, the study queried 300 senior IT managers from North America, EMEA and Asia Pacific regions on their EDI/B2B use.

So what’s the hold up? Technical difficulties. At the top of that list? Integrating with other applications. Some 66 percent of respondents said integrating with other applications was the most important difficulty they needed to solve. Other issues included responding to new business requests, managing partner communities, supporting smaller, non-EDI capable partners, and effectively supporting process improvement efforts.

The survey found that 51 percent of respondents identified the need to reduce costs as an extremely important driver for improving how they work with their trading partners. Forty percent picked the need to exchange electronic documents with business partners and 43 percent identified the need for real-time visibility into business processes.

The majority of survey participants (78 percent) indicated that with improved, more comprehensive integration efforts, they’d be able to leverage existing integration investments, have better control over file transfers, more easily support process improvement efforts, and more easily link external partners to ERP systems.

Perhaps the brightest spot in the survey was that nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated they plan to upgrade their B2B systems within the next year. Forrester Research noted that this demonstrates that “it’s time for a change toward a more strategic approach to B2B integration.” I couldn’t agree more. And, by the way, it also indicates that organizations are thawing their ice grips on IT spending.

 

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