B2B integration - IBM Websphere

B2Bi describes e-commerce where the relationships between businesses are one-to-one.

Nowadays, business depends more and more on strategic relationships with suppliers and partners to establish value chains that provide a competitive advantage. B2B integration is application integration extended outside a single company. It is about companies that trade with partners and suppliers over the Internet in real time. It is about using middleware technologies, such as distributed objects, remote procedure calls, message queuing, data transformation, and publish/subscribe, to connect multiple applications with the added complication of getting through firewalls. It is about using the Internet to share data across company boundaries. It is about agreeing on a data structure (standards) and exchanging data electronically using these standards.

B2Bi is becoming extremely important in many business areas, for example:

  • Financial transactions, such as checking account balances, transferring payments, and obtaining credit information
  • Manufacturing activities, such as supply chain planning and execution
  • Retail activities, such as checking a supplier’s stock, placing replenishment orders, and paying suppliers automatically
  • Travel tasks, such as checking flight, car, or room availability, and making or changing reservations

An IT infrastructure for automating and coordinating B2B processes is clearly necessary for B2Bi. B2Bi improves performance by supporting key principles of business success:

  • Faster time-to-market with new products and services
  • Better sales process
  • Better service
  • Lower operational and production costs
  • Lower inventory costs

Implementing B2Bi solutions that span many and different independent organizations is
challenging due to the following considerations:

  • Heterogeneous data or information
    Various applications and users represent information in multiple ways or use various kinds of information for the same task. Bridging the associated syntactic and semantic gaps in information can require a mixture of transformation capabilities and neutral information representations.
  • Heterogeneous systems
    Information systems at various organizations within the enterprise are composed of various applications, which include Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, existing business applications, advanced planning, product data management, document management, and Web-based intranet applications. Organizations also use various middleware technologies, such as messaging and groupware systems, and distributed object frameworks, such as Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) and Common Object Request Broker Architecture(CORBA). B2Bi solutions mustinteroperate with these systems.
  • Heterogeneous business processes
    Businesses do things differently. The internal processes used for handling orders or managing production and planning are often unique to the organizations that deploy them. It is always a challenge to reach agreement on processes that involve multiple organizations.
  • Dynamic business and technology environment
    Besides heterogeneity, B2Bi is characterized by frequent change. Business processes and the internal systems environment change often. Inter-organizational agreements are also subject to change. Coordinating these changes across organizations is a difficult task.
  • Security and reliability of communications
    Before two systems between two separate organizations can interact, reliable, secure communications pathways must exist. When the pathway includes an open network, such as the Internet, security is even more important.
  • Organizational autonomy
    Approaches to inter-enterprise processes must respect organizational autonomy and minimize the complexity of mutual commitments among multiple organizations.

Types of B2B integration

The following sections distinguish the three major types of B2B integration:

  • Data/applications sharing
  • Document exchange
  • Process integration

Data/applications sharing

The data/applications sharing type of B2Bi solution makes a set of data/applications available for direct access by outside organizations. This access is usually done through an organization’s Web FTP server or messaging middleware, such as WebSphere MQ. Multiple URLs are dedicated for this purpose and let outside companies access information in the form of HTML or XML or an agreed proprietary form. Returned information can be static (come from the internal database) or invoke execution of the internal enterprise applications. This approach works well for simple interactions. The primary advantage is that it requires almost no specialized software or hardware investment from participants.

Data and information sharing B2Bi

Data and information sharing B2Bi

This approach provides simplicity and speed-to-market. These advantages stem from support of well-known Web technologies to access existing enterprise databases and applications.

Data/applications sharing is about exposing data through the Web. This data is defined by analyzing the existing information within the enterprise and deciding which part is of interest to business partners, providers, or suppliers.

It is also necessary to determine from where this data originates. It can come from either existing enterprise databases or applications. The data format is another important component, which needs to be identified. It determines how information is structured, including the properties of the data elements within that structure. When the enterprise is internally integrated, EAI is usually an application that has to be accessed.

Document exchange

The document exchange approach represents the most common current practice forinteractions between businesses. Each participant defines an entry point or entry points through which various types of documents(such as EDI documents or XML documents)can be delivered. The difference between this approach and data/ applications sharing is that this approach is a push as opposed to a pull communications style, providing more controlled timing for the information exchange. An enterprise with information “pushes” this information to all interested parties. There are two common implementations of thisapproach: EDI messaging and Web messaging.

For EDI messaging, a VAN service provider delivers messages to entry points into the enterprise and mediates interactions. Bandwidth for EDI networks is expensive, even today, which is why the creators of EDI were mainly concerned about the size of their messages. EDI messages are compressed and use codes to represent complex values. All the metadata is stripped from an EDI message, which makes it difficult to read and debug. The complexity of EDI makes EDI programmers hard to train and expensive to keep, which makes EDI applications expensive to buy and maintain.

An alternative approach to building document exchange is to use XML-based message formats. The communication occurs through the public Internet, rather than VANs, using HTTP or some proprietary messaging protocol, such as WebSphere MQ, to achieve assured message delivery. Because the public Internet is essentially free, message size is not a factor, which is why XML messages are rich in metadata, making them easy to read and
debug.

The simplicity of XML makes XML programmers easy to train and less expensive to keep, making XML applications less expensive to buy and maintain. Additional non-functional requirements, such as security, must also be factored into the design.

For internal support of document data collection, we can use an internal EAI (message-level)or Business Process Integration (BPI;process-level) implementation. If the integration backbone is not in place, the point-to-point integration between B2B applications and applications, which need to interact, must be in place.

Document exchange can be implemented using either a standard Web server or aspecialized B2Bi server. The advantage of the first approach is cost savings. Although this approach can be a good starting point for the implementation, it is usually not a viable solution for the final system. The amount of code necessary to implement features, such as guaranteed document delivery and document data transformation, which are part of any modern B2Bi server, is too great. We recommend that you implement document exchange using specialized B2Bi servers. And if EAI is in place, you can reuse its capabilities of connecting to existing applications and transforming and routing data to a B2Bi server.

Using an internal EAI with B2Bi server

Using an internal EAI with B2Bi server

Now, think about application integration. Each time that you add a new application to the existing integration infrastructure, its complexity grows. To avoid the inter-application spaghetti phenomenon, in this case, we implement an integration broker. Each application talks with only one integration broker, and it is unaware of other applications. That is the transition from point-to-point to hub-and-spoke architecture.

We can make similar conclusions about B2Bi servers. You can solve point-to-point communications problems, where each company needs to make communication links with suppliers and partners, with a B2Bi hub.

Figure B2Bi hub

Figure B2Bi hub

Process integration

This type of B2Bi solution deals with building inter-enterprise business processes, whichincorporate existing internal enterprise processes. Process integration is an extension of the document exchange. The communications are still done through document exchange, but this exchange happens within the context of the business process. This approach is the most advanced B2Bi implementation. It transforms existing, disparate enterprises into a cohesive system of business processes, supporting all the functions required by the extended virtual enterprise.

Process-based B2Bi manages the interaction between multiple enterprises under the umbrella of integrated B2Bi and internal business workflow. Business applications or internal business processes execute major steps in the B2B workflow. On this basis, we can divide business processes into private and public. We recommend that you use a two-level implementation of process-based B2Bi. With this approach, public processes are implemented using a B2Bi server and private processes are implemented using an internal integration broker, such as WebSphere Process Server.

B2Bi on a business process level

B2Bi on a business process level

The advantages of the proposed B2B integration infrastructure are:

  • There is a clean separation of private and public business processes, althoughprivate processes support public ones.
  • The B2Bi server is responsible for all public processes, business rules, datatransformation, and routing between partners and internal systems.
  • The integration broker is responsible for all private processes, business rules, datatransformation, and routing, which provides a central point of control.
  • Built-in GUI tools allow for process definitions, data transformation definitions, andbusiness rules definitions.
  • B2Bi servers usually have built-in security and support for assured message delivery.

The use of process-based B2Bi addresses B2B integration in virtually all areas. It includes agreed message formats, message sequencing, communications and security protocols, work flow steps, and business rules. It also reduces the application code that is required to execute business processes.

In a Business Process Management solution, workflow management provides flexibility in changing the sequence of actions, while message routing and transformation provide the same kind of flexibility in changing the flow and format of communications.


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