Are Value-Added Networks the Way to go for B2B Communication?

‘The advantage of the network is the network itself.’

You are probably familiar with this claim – oft repeated by the champions of value-added networks (VANs). However, like all wide-ranging quotes, this statement too is only relatively true. To a large extent, its validity depends upon who you are connecting with and how actively you are linking up with your trading partners. A close scrutiny of the flow of goods and information within your business network will possibly reveal that no single network or VAN can address all your B2B communication needs.

EDI does help you connect with almost all of your trading partners, which, in turn, translates into a significantly higher ROI. It supports multiple standards, formats, and transactions like X12, UN/EDIFACT, and GS1 XML trade messages, along with non-EDI formats such as JSON, flat files, text files, and proprietary XML message formats. It also follows a diverse set of communication methodologies like AS2, MFTO, FTP, SFTP, and APIs – each with their own set of variants. While this makes EDI more versatile, the complexity of handling such varied data formats and communication methodologies creates its own set of challenges. Also, all members in your value chain will not be available on the same network or VAN as yours. This makes a VAN interconnect an imperative for your supply chain network.

The Significance of Interconnects

A VAN interconnect is a tool that helps your network interact with other VANs. Its helps the exchange of EDI transaction documents between connected pairs of trade partners. And more the number of partners you connect with, the bigger the benefits from your communication network. Interconnects effectively reduce the need for new VANs. They reduce all VAN-related confusion within the partner network and highlight the characteristics of the EDI such partners are operating with.

The Synergy

For an EDI to be effective, it needs to leverage the ‘VAN Solution’. Architecturally, such a solution is actually made up of three component solution layers – transportation, transformation, and integration. Similar to how your mobile phone functions by combining the services provided by a manufacturer, a network infrastructure provider, and a telecom company, an EDI leverages the synergy of these component layers to work as a synchronous whole.

Components of the ‘VAN Solution’

  • Transportation. Along with VANs, this layer works using many other methodologies such as AS2, MFTP, FTP, SFTP, and APIs. Most of these methodologies have been around for more than a couple of decades now. Your VAN may still be using FTP to connect with your VAN mailbox. Get in touch with your EDI representative to find out.
  • Transformation. This layer facilitates translation between different EDI formats. Formats like X12, UN/EDIFACT, GS1 XML trade messages, JSON, flat files, text files, or proprietary XML messages are transformed into formats that your ERP systems can easily understand and use.
  • Integration. In the final layer, the transformed message is at last available for use. This layer can be an API or a connector like ODBC or ODATA. Here, the main emphasis lies in finding a route that requires the least manual input.

Do More Connections Provide More Benefits?

Having more network connections is always a better option. If one network has the potential to provide you a competitive advantage, multiple networks will offer you even greater benefits. However, the quantity of available networks is not the only criteria that determines how effective your network connections are. You will also need to keep in mind the connections that are available at your partners’ end and the methodologies they are implementing. While methodologies like AS2, MFTP, FTP, SFTP, and APIs have no associated costs, VANs comprise subscription and transaction fees that need to be paid monthly.

The AS2 Effect

Application Statement 2 (AS2) is used for a reliable and secure transfer of data over the Internet. It provides a direct, unhindered connection with a trading partner and delivers document receipts and real-time tracking without requiring a VAN or an interconnect.

AS2 uses the Internet as a payload-agnostic mechanism to deliver EDI transaction documents. It also reduces chances of transaction failure and, unlike VANs, does not require transaction charges.

PartnerLinQ Puts It All Together

So to exchange documents with trading partners, your EDI solution must provide more than one communication channel. It also has to be capable of handling a wide range of EDI formats and integrate smoothly with your enterprise systems without the need for regular maintenance and manual intervention. In short, features that a regular VAN cannot provide.

PartnerLinQ is not a VAN; rather, it is a highly scalable, dependable, and configurable EDI and B2B communication solution that supports integration with Microsoft Dynamics 365 and other ERP systems. With an AS2 solution, PartnerLinQ can connect with all major VANs, making it the perfect tool for B2B communication for both EDI and non-EDI partners.

PartnerLinQ supports API-based eCommerce platforms like Shopify and Magento, providing your organization a seamless shift between EDI and API integrations. It also helps communication with non-EDI organizations, dealing with X12, UN/EDIFACT, and GS1 XML trade messages, as well as non-EDI formats like XML and JSON. All of these factors make PartnerLinQ your holistic EDI, B2B, and API solution for smooth communication across your entire value chain.

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