Integrated Business Networks Increasingly a Counterweight to Disruption

By connecting all trading partners via digital business networks, all participants benefit from enhanced intelligence, greater efficiencies and improved resilience.

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More than any singular event in modern history, the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought into sharp relief the vulnerabilities to which supply chains are prone. To strengthen the links connecting global commerce, businesses need to broaden visibility not only across their own operations, but also those of their trading partners, with the dual objectives of reducing risk and instilling resilience. To achieve this level of transparency, businesses are turning increasingly to digital networks to capture the widest possible view into the interconnected operations of buyers, suppliers and partners specializing in logistics, finance and contingent labor. Meanwhile, these digital business networks – previously discrete according to function – are beginning to converge through cloud-based technologies, unlocking exponential value in the process.

As these technologies take hold, digital applications have given rise to unified, collaborative, intelligent business networks of buyers and suppliers. These networks set business-to-business commerce in motion, extending visibility across both organizational and geographic boundaries. The global economy has transformed into a networked economy, where resilient, responsive ecosystems replace value chains that were once fragmented or opaque.

The widespread disruption associated with COVID-19 is only the latest reminder of the acute need for visibility across supply chains. Yet even that level of transparency can prove insufficient in times of uncertainty. Visibility via multiple networks goes a long way. Of course, what businesses truly require is visibility across all their connected commerce, extending beyond procurement and supply chain to include logistics, asset intelligence, enterprise resource planning, payments and finance, contingent labor and other core business processes.

Cloud-based networks bring cohesion, clarity and connectedness to otherwise disparate sets of vital, ever-changing information that businesses rely on to maintain continuity, manage risk and maximize competitive advantage. That advantage rests on data -- its quality, breadth and timeliness. By unifying all the operational points of interaction and integration across the value chain, businesses can unlock newfound efficiencies from collaborative product development, shared data and workflows, flexible workforce management solutions, supple logistics capabilities, real-time communication across organizational and geographic boundaries, efforts toward achieving common environmental and social objectives and network-wide intelligence to guide mutual decision-making for adapting and improving processes large and small.

The goal of a “network of networks,” long a dream in the enterprise software business, is rapidly becoming a reality. In fact, business networks stand poised to become a category all their own, driving differentiation not only in the technology sector but across industries. As businesses differentiate themselves in the marketplace, they’ll increasingly need to share data with buyers, suppliers and other trusted partners on whom they rely to create mutual value.

To set themselves apart in the marketplace, businesses must simultaneously embrace transparency and collaboration with trading partners. Therein lies the irony, but also the immense promise, held by cloud-based networks to propel businesses forward, even in anxious times.

Someday hopefully soon, quarantines and lockdowns will fade into memory as vaccines deter the spread of coronavirus. Yet even as illness recedes and businesses take steps toward recovery, the next disruption is never far behind. Though it rarely grips the world all at once as has COVID-19, it can be just as unpredictable, from trade wars and natural disasters to public health emergencies and even armed conflict. Any of these events can throw off global supply chains, resulting in shortages or stockouts for customers in need.

For businesses, operational resilience involves taking all such contingencies into account. It requires connecting an organization’s critical partners through unified networks and breaking down siloed systems to widen visibility and invite collaboration. By connecting all trading partners via digital business networks, all participants benefit from enhanced intelligence, greater efficiencies and improved resilience. Business networks also overcome the challenges associated with disconnected, enterprise-centric systems and fragmented operational processes, driving scalability and speed throughout global supply chains.