Monday, March 2, 2009

Inovis Launches Social Network for Supply Chain EDI & B2B Collaboration - Is this the Right Strategy?

Inovis recently announced the launch of a social network site for retailers and suppliers involved in EDI and B2B exchanges to communicate and exchange organizational and contact information as the press release excerpt below describes. I have been pontificating the virtues of a database system to manage trading partner contact information and other meta data such as integration maps, XML schemas, EDI guidelines, etc, for over a decade, but have never got off of my soap box to do anything about it. Why do I agree with Inovis that this kind of data is important to manage? The articles below highlight the challenges and importance of managing trading partner information effectively. Any Professional EDI or B2B Manager will recognize and appreciate the need to effectively solve the issues listed below if they want to implement EDI or B2B with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of trading partners.
Inovis excerpt:

Atlanta, GA — February 10, 2009 — Inovis, a provider of business community management services, today announced general availability of a social networking service for supply chains modeled after popular consumer websites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The Inovis Social Network creates secure online communities for retailers and suppliers to communicate and exchange organization and contact information.

Users sign into the web site to access a secure view of their colleagues at trading partners and update their contact details and their company's trading profile, ensuring their latest data is available to their business community. When a supply chain manager finds an error or problem in a purchase order or shipment, they can use the Inovis Social Network application to identify and contact the right person at the supplier, third-party logistics (3PL) provider or contract manufacturer who can best resolve them before it causes delays and errors in the supply chain.

I am now going to climb back on my soap box and issue a proposal - EDI and B2B managed services hubs are now all starting to develop repositories to manage trading partner and EDI message related information. It would be in the best interest of the global EDI community to insist that EDI hubs, EDI software vendors and anyone else managing EDI services create a standard for sharing trading partner information across the industry. If not, EDI users will find themselves constantly needing to re-enter this kind of information in all the EDI hubs and B2B business networks used by their partners. Inovis has a repository, but what about market leaders like Crossgate, Sterling Commerce, Seeburger, Tie Commerce, GXS and all the rest?

The repository of EDI related contact and organizational information should really be held in a secure database by an objective third party that is managed by an EDI standards body like ANSI X12, GS1 or EDIFACT. The work of UCCnet and GS1 showed that repositories can be created and shared to provide a global benefit.

Another thought to ponder - Does it make more sense to manage your trading partner network from an EDI vendor centric view like Inovis, or from an ERP centric view? Where are your business processes, supply chains, customers and accounting system and processes managed? It seems to me that the ERP centric view makes more sense. You already have your trading partner's information in the ERP, now you just need to add-on all the EDI and B2B related information. So perhaps it is the ERP vendors that need to create a standard for exchanging EDI and B2B related information. I know that SAP is working on this strategy now with their Business Network Transformation initiatives.

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