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Business Networks, Intellectual Assets & B2B / EDI Repositories

The assets of a company are not only found in their patents, products, brands, capital, customer databases, facilities, equipment, and inventories, but also in the intellectual assets they possess within their IT departments. These assets when managed appropriately can be a significant source of competitive advantage, especially when you depend on your business network to manufacture, market, sell and deliver your products.

Business processes and metadata (information about information) are a significant and important category of intellectual assets. They might include; processes for ordering supplies, processes for changing orders, processes for monitoring the delivery of orders, processes for generating and sending purchase orders and processes for accepting supplier invoices. Business processes are often executed by the purposeful movement of formatted data such as traditional EDI, XML schemas and other data formats in an organized, documented and repeatable manner. The big problem – rarely is this data easily found and available for efficient reuse across the enterprise. Often this exact process is being funded, designed, developed and deployed only once, in one location, with one product line in one division. This problem represents an enormous waste in most companies.

Business processes and their associated data requirements are often dispersed throughout the organization in different software applications, different spreadsheets, databases, technology platforms, physical locations and within the minds of different personnel. The lack of a centralized data repository to store and make searchable this information leads to the loss of thousands of hours of development time and accumulated intelligence, delayed projects and wasted money.

It is not just technical information that needs to be organized. The following list contains examples of other important information that must be gathered, documented, stored and organized specifically in the B2B/EDI arena:

1. What data does a particular business process require?
2. Where is this data located?
3. How is the data formatted?
4. What are the semantics of the data?
5. Are there existing scripts that have been written to import and export the data from the source?
6. Where are these scripts?
7. Are these scripts documented?
8. Who wrote these scripts and is this person available to debrief?
9. What are the mapping and transformation requirements for this data?
10. Does this data need to be transformed/converted into multiple formats?
11. Are there industry B2B / EDI standards involved?
12. Is there documentation concerning this particular business process?
13. Who are the business and technical owners of this business process both internal, and at your trading partner’s location? How can they be contacted?
14. Are there documented security requirements?
15. Who are the business and technical owners of each step in the business process?
16. How can you contact them?
17. Who owns the applications and hardware that runs this business process?
18. Is there an organized project team that is implementing this business process? Who are they? How can you contact them?
19. Is there a method in place to identify open issues and resolve them? Where is this documented?

As is demonstrated by the list above, there is a significant amount of knowledge and intelligence that needs to be collected and used to connect business networks and business processes together. Traditionally this information has not been aggregated, documented and organized in a reusable manner or repository. When consultants, developers, business analysts or architects leave the company or are made redundant, and there is not a centralized repository containing this information the very success and sustainability of the business is at risk.

Documented business processes, SOA and web services offer strategies, technologies and methodologies for reusing development work, but there also needs to be a strategy for locating non-technical information. These processes need to have the assignment of people’s names, contact information, physical locations, reporting structuring, servers, test data samples and documentation. A genius programmer is of little value if his/her work can not be found, reused, understood and exploited for the benefit of the company.

SAP’s Enterprise Service Repository, Netweaver XI/PI, composite applications, IDocs, workflow and other technologies are examples of reusable intellectual assets and methodologies. These same kinds of strategies now must be extended into the B2B / EDI space to facilitate the rapid and efficient connection of trading partners in your business network.

How would you know who to contact in the EDI department of your suppliers to facilitate electronic data exchanges? Who is their boss? Where would you find the owner of the JIT delivery business process of your key suppliers? How do you know if this process is already in use somewhere else in the company? Is another division of the company already using EDI standards, messages, APIs and business processes that you can reuse? How do you find them?

Reuse, and optimizing the value of all development projects is absolutely necessary in times of shrinking sales, profits and fewer IT resources. There needs to be an effective way of organizing, sorting, searching and reusing B2B maps, integration projects, previous connections, existing data exchanges, integrations, APIs etc. It is these very challenges that I believe are being addressed now by SAP’s Business Network Transformation strategies.

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