A New — and Better — Way to Connect
Demand-side connectivity strengthens competitive advantage. Customers — whether retailers, distributors or end users — want real-time information, such as product availability, price and order status. When a manufacturer can deliver it directly to their business systems and competitors can't, the game is over. Salespeople will use this new ease-of-connectivity to close business with accounts that were previously unreceptive.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) benefits companies that want enterprise-class functionality without the headaches of license purchase, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. Now, a similar model, Integration-as-a-Service (IaaS), has emerged. Early attempts at cross-enterprise integration were relatively unsuccessful for a number of reasons. For example, they did not focus on integrating the legacy applications many organizations continue to use. In addition, it was challenging to stay current with maintenance and new versions of business software on either end. Now that a new service-oriented architecture (SOA)-based framework exists, organizations should evaluate IaaS for its ability to enable all value chain partners to work within existing IT and business process frameworks.
Today's IaaS transcends the limitations of conventional integration solutions, whether connecting to customers' systems or consolidating B2B processes within the enterprise. Like SaaS, IaaS drives down complexity and cost while decreasing time to market. It allows IT organizations to concentrate on core competencies rather than building and supporting cross-enterprise integration solutions.
When evaluating an IaaS solution, it may be helpful to examine the following four key elements:
- Comprehensive integration hub — A well-designed IaaS solution employs a hub that connects an enterprise to multiple trading partners without requiring them to change their internal systems and processes, allowing each trading partner to integrate in its preferred manner and use its existing infrastructure. This connection should mediate different validation methodologies, security protocols, routing arrangements and service level agreements. It should also guarantee transaction delivery, support audit trails, and mediate process differences between trading partners.
- Web-based, "subscription" model — A Web-based, "on demand" model does not require installation of any hardware or software. This accelerates partner on-boarding, achieves economies of scale and enables rapid trading partner on-boarding because a proven, scalable environment already exists. And, by delivering a 'multi-tenant' solution that enables data access based on rule-and role-based security, each participant is secure in knowing that other partners do not have access to private data. In addition, infrastructure costs are spread over a larger base of participants, making this an economically attractive proposition.
- Enterprise-level visibility — An ideal integration solution should provide an intuitive, browser-based control panel for centralized integration management across the enterprise. This portal should also provide process visibility and business analytics to properly monitor operations.
- Mission-critical support — Timely, accurate trading partner communication is imperative for continuity of operations. A solution partner should provide 24/7/365 live support on a global scale to ensure that information reaches its intended destination.