[From iSource Business, April 2001] As the initial euphoria around the promise of B2B e-commerce gives way to more practical matters namely, "How do we do it?" it's evident that many companies embracing B2B underestimate the importance of enablement, which is the necessary set of processes and relationships that a company and its trading partners must establish to ready their B2B community for transactions and growth management.
In fact, enablement is a major obstacle in companies' move to B2B e-commerce. In a recent Edifecs survey of nearly 350 e-commerce professionals, enablement is identified as a bottleneck of some magnitude by 90 percent of participants who have at least considered the issue. Furthermore, the study reveals that the average company takes more than three months to ramp up just one process with one trading partner, and six months to lay the initial groundwork for B2B largely because most enablement activities are still completed manually.
Many people believe that XML (eXtensible Markup Language) will finally make widespread B2B e-commerce a reality. But, though XML can help ease the electronic flow of data and business documents among trading partners, it has nothing to do with enablement. Indeed, most companies participating in the study that have used XML said the technology did not help them ramp up for B2B.
What Is Enablement?
To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider all that must be done as part of enablement. The enablement process consists of nine principal steps that are grouped into three distinct phases: B2B Preparation, B2B Ramp-up and Community Extension.
B2B Preparation relates to the one-time, basic accommodations any company must make when deciding to embrace B2B e-commerce. This includes Internal Program Definition, which involves developing a business case for B2B and understanding how well the company's existing business processes and information systems can accommodate e-commerce; and External Collaborative Program Definition, which focuses on the identification of trading partners that should be included in the B2B initiative and in the creation of the B2B implementation plan.
B2B Ramp-up incorporates five major steps, each of which must be performed for every single process being conducted electronically between two companies (such as purchasing or accounts payable):
- Trading Partner Agreement Definition defines the myriad of operational details that govern the relationship, including the business processes and documents involved.
- Internal Set-up configures the respective trading partners' information systems to accept and transmit information.
- Specification Development creates the specifications, such as operational "maps" and Web forms, necessary for conducting electronic trading.
- Testing ensures that the business processes of each company can operate together effectively.
- Production makes the transition to executing business transactions online.
The Problem: Lack of Automation
Sunny Singh is the CEO of Edifecs, a B2B-software solutions provider in Bellevue, Wash.