No matter how simple any business is in the beginning, there comes a time when exchanging information with the outside world is needed. It might be that you’re merging with another business, integrating a few branch offices or, most often of all, you’ve landed that first big customer and need B2B/EDI capabilities to accept and process their orders. It sounds daunting, but it can be made quite easy.
Securing big orders is exciting, and a bit of preparation saves a lot of heartache. The order will typically be placed via a VAN (Value Added Network), which acts like a virtual post office, distributing transaction files such as purchase orders from one subscriber to another. The order will come with conditions, such as delivery time and date, or packaging instructions. You collect the order, and in return, confirm your acceptance of all terms.
Transitioning from your customer’s file format to yours is essential if you are to fulfil the orders accurately and on-time. To attempt this manually would be, at best, hazardous – and you may get one chance to show you are ready to deal with big orders. The more you can automate, the lower the possibility of error, and the faster you can work.
The standout leading tool to perform this business-to-business integration function is IBM Sterling B2B Integrator. But, if you’re not quite at that level yet, or just testing the water, we work with a very handy entry level tool called QuickTrans.
QuickTrans is a B2B gateway that can perform communications with VANs, as well as FTP or SFTP sites. It allows for translation of file systems from one format to another, and for users to perform functions such as copying, inserting or deleting data, and archiving files. It is very simple to understand – when we train users, it doesn’t take long before they are confidently performing all functions independently.
As you might expect, the set-up of any B2B tool is what largely dictates its success. When our specialists work with customers to get started, they ask a lot of questions about the intricate web of user functions. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details, and this is where their investigation skills can be as important as their technical know-how. Generally, the fewer manual functions the better – we can often suggest very simple ways to prepare your processes and systems.
The other critical success factor is the readiness of users. It is far better to take the time to show how their daily work can be made easier, because user buy-in allows you to get more from QuickTrans. Once they see that it is simple, and won’t involve major upheaval, most are happy to get some of their manual processes automised. Still, new systems do require some adjustment, and it is worth factoring that into your plans by making sure skilled users or trainers are on-hand to support everyone on day one.
Once QuickTrans is integrated, it can run unattended when you are logged off, so that you don’t have to be available 24/7. You can also control what transactions to run on what days, then leave it to do its job. On occasion, customers have asked for something new, such as inserting translated data into a SQL server database or Google BigQuery, and we have developed new functionality to suit their needs. That feedback is invaluable to increase capabilities.
Your ability to handle communication with other businesses will form part of your reputation, and presenting a professional face to the world of big business can come with a surprisingly small price tag. There may be a few hiccups, where your business finds it hard to meet all the criteria of a big order. Thanks to building strong relationships with many major purchasers and financial institutions over many years, our team often ends up acting as a go-between, helping support our customers to develop closer bonds with buyers in the process. When you know the right person, sometimes a little more flexibility is possible, oiling the wheels for your big break.
To learn more about how B2B communication is possible for your organisation, or about QuickTrans and IBM Sterling B2B, call our friendly specialists for a chat.