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How is a network-centric approach to EDI different from traditional EDI systems and methodologies? A network-centric approach looks at a group of companies that share something in common and then seeks ways to improve EDI and B2B processes for all participating members. Commonalities may be business processes, industries or a common technology platform that tie this group together into a network. An example of a network could be a community of SAP users.

Since late in 2008, SAP has taken a network-centric approach to EDI and B2B for their network of users. As the author of the SAP applications, technologies and supported business processes, they know what electronic data can be both produced and consumed by the various supported business processes in their applications. They also understand the best methodologies for integrating EDI and B2B message data into their systems.

Traditionally all SAP users were required to independently purchase, development, operate and support their own third party EDI environments, even if they were all using the same business processes and sharing many of the same suppliers and customers. This resulted in work redundancies, high costs and inefficiencies in the network. Let me provide a scenario:

  • 50 companies are all SAP customers
  • 50 companies write and send out RFPs for EDI translators and implementations
  • 50 companies purchase 4 new servers (development, testing, production and failover)
  • 50 companies hire EDI consultants
  • 50 companies hire SAP IDoc and integration developers
  • 50 companies hire EDI specialists
  • 50 companies write EDI implementation guides for each process that describe their EDI specifications
  • 50 companies negotiate with their suppliers, banks and customers about what electronic message formats will be used
  • 50 companies begin development and testing cycles with each trading partner and each electronic EDI message

All of the above listed tasks and expenses were repeated for each of the 50 companies. That represents a huge level of redundant work and expense in the network. SAP has taken a look at this real-life scenario and developed a network-centric strategy for SAP customers. SAP invested in and became a co-owner of an SAP-centric EDI/B2B exchange that was developed using SAP technology, that centralizes these tasks, stores the content in a central repository and is designed for reuse by other SAP customers. This exchange provides EDI and B2B managed services that delivers efficiencies and reusability to the network of SAP users.

SAP users often share a common technology platform. They share common business processes. They may use NetWeaver PI, they may even connect with many of the same transportation carriers, customers and suppliers. Under this new network-centric approach, all of these connections, mappings, testings, etc, can be saved and reused again and again by others. Only one global SAP-centric EDI/B2B hub, operated in a cloud computing environment, is required to support the entire community or network of SAP users. The work is reused, and the efficiencies are recognized by all connected network members through quicker implementations, simplier integrations, reusable mappings and reduced costs.

Now that this network-centric approach to EDI and B2B support is available for SAP customers, it will be interesting to understand why a company would still choose to build,  support and self-fund their own EDI system internally.  I am sure there are reasons to remain outside the network, but I would suggest there are fewer now than before.

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