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I had a conversation with a large Oil and Gas company today about complexity in the areas of EDI and B2B processes. They have, like many large companies, acquired different subsidiaries which run different ERPs and have different EDI translators. A quick review of their IT infrastructure easily uncovered huge amounts of complexity and costs associated with operating, supporting and maintaining these multiple disparate systems.

Who can fix this complexity? Is it the EDI department? No, the EDI department usually is task oriented and rarely can say NO to the business. So where is the complexity, who owns it and who can fix it? The complexity is in the integrations of data with the multitude of database applications and ERPs, and supporting the various file formats that the business units agree to support. The challenge is in developing, managing and documenting all of these integration scripts. This is often outside of the responsibility of the EDI department, but never really embraced by the software development teams in IT either. It is a kind of NO-MANs land. No one wants to own it. Software developers will grudgingly develop an integration script, but only if they are promised it is a short term project. The second it mostly works, the developer moves on to sexier development projects – leaving an undocumented, and poorly supported integration script to be found and deciphered next year by the next unlucky soul. These undocumented integration scripts grow like weeds in July. After a few years, there are hundreds and thousands of these scripts just waiting to be broken by an upgrade or process improvement somewhere which will bring IT to its knees fast.

The complexity involved in supporting all the various business processes and data requirements of dozens of different database applications and ERPs can be enormous. Companies need to either develop specialized database applications to help manage all of the integration scripts or buy some specialized application (I have never seen an application that does exactly this, except one I wrote myself many years ago).

Added to the complexity of managing hundreds and even thousands of internal integration scripts is the data and file format requirements that the business units agree to support with customers and suppliers. One simple electronic purchase order which can easily be mapped and supported by an EDI expert, suddenly becomes a nightmare when the business unit agrees to support a different file format for every customers’ purchase order process. These kinds of complexities have a name – “combinatorial explosion!!!!” Multiply all of the different database systems and ERPs that all require different data and processes, with an understaffed EDI department and business units agreeing to support hundreds of different file formats for simple processes. HELP! No wonder EDI departments are often considered slow and unresponsive. They are shell shocked and buried alive in complexity!

SAP’s Business Network Transformation strategy and recent investment in an automated business exchange is designed, for the first time, to solve these problems – at least for SAP customers. It is a new and much simplified and standardized paradigm for SAP EDI and B2B.

SAP’s Netweaver PI can facilitate the internal enterprise integration of all of the various components of SAP and aggregate the integration of data into one set of standardized interfaces that can be pre-developed and stored in the ESR (enterprise services repository). These standardized sets of business processes and integration points, connected to the automated business exchange, eliminates the need for internal integration scripts, their development, maintenance and support. This greatly simplifies EDI and B2B projects and significantly reduces the costs of implementing EDI.

The automated business exchange runs an SAP-centric hub for SAP users. The automated business exchange utilizes SAP’s Netweaver and other solutions co-developed by SAP on its network which enables it to integrate with all other SAP customers through a Netweaver PI-to-PI connection. Once an SAP customer is connected to the automated business exchange, they gain access to the 40,000 plus companies that are already connected and supporting a huge library of B2B business processes for various SAP applications. The 40,000 are growing expoentially now as the network effect kicks-in.

SAP’s new paradigm for EDI and B2B removes the complexity of integrations, standardizes processes, reduces costs, enables rapid on-boarding of large numbers of trading partners and addresses the remaining issue that causes uncontrolled complexity which is supporting large varieties of different EDI standards and trading partner required custom file formats. In SAP’s new strategy, once an SAP customer connects to the automated business exchange through Netweaver PI, IDocs or tRFC, the exchange as a managed EDI/B2B service provider takes over the management of the infinite number of different file formats and communication protocols required by trading partner communities.

Let’s review – Integration complexity is now resolved as there is a simple and standardized way of integrating with an EDI/B2B system (operated by the automated business exchange co-owned by SAP) via Netweaver PI, IDocs or tRFC. Netweaver PI can also integrate all the back-office applications into an enterprise service bus architecture (eSOA) so data can be shared as well. The automated business exchange (operating in a cloud computing environment) already has over 40,000 connected companies that can be accessed by connecting once to the exchange.

Every new company that connects to the automated business exchange can be available, with permission, to exchange data with all other connected members. This SAP-centric network effect means that for the first time SAP EDI and B2B data exchanges are guaranteed to get easier, faster and simplier over time as the network expands and the library of pre-developed and pre-integrated business processes and data exchanges grows.

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