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B2B still to fulfil promise

Manage, communicate, automate, integrate

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Business to Business (B2B) was meant to revolutionise the way that organisations did business. The development of marketplaces meant that products and services could be bought and sold with massively reduced effort in terms of both time and money.

Unlike many of the so-called advances of the new economy, the B2B model isn't flawed - the opportunity to save costs by improving the effectiveness and efficiencies of the procurement operation as well as reducing the number of pen-pushers and bean-counters is attractive to every organisation.

So, it should be good news - but not every organisation is finding the benefits. One of the main problems faced, like the adoption of many of the new technologies, is the need for integration - registering on an exchange is one thing but getting the information flowing through the rest of the IT systems is another.

Added to that is the need for content management, not content management in the usual sense of the word but the ability to maintain company catalogues on line. Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, is that many companies are simply surprised by the amount of cooperation needed to operate in an exchange environment.

An effective B2B implementation has several key components. First is the ability to manage information; this may come as a surprise as that is the fundamental function of IT systems. We all know that there is far more information around these days than ever before, and today's ever increasingly complex business environment requires the most effective and efficient management of this information possible.

Communication is another key to success. Obviously, entry into a trading exchange requires communication with other participants and with the globalisation of business enabled by the Internet it is important to consider that third parties will be in a number of locations around the world.

After that it's down to automation, again another basic IT function, and in order to get the best of your B2B exchange you need to look at the automation of areas over and above where you might usually consider, such as automation of workflow approval.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it all comes back to integration. In order to get the full benefits of B2B, organisations must be linked up fully internally before linking themselves up with third parties. Eventually organisations will integrate and will gain the full benefits offered by B2B, and many other technologies. Until then, they and their systems will continue to exist as islands.

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