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Business-to-Anything: The Foundation for a Digital Future
Seize the opportunity to establish digital information flows
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By Stan Gibson
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disruptive event in many dimensions, and for IT teams it has both disrupted and accelerated the process of digital transformation. And it’s not the only disruptive force afoot across IT. New regulatory pressures have raised the bar for both sustainability and data privacy. When combined with the impact of the pandemic, IT leaders need to scrutinize their operations closely, with an eye to streamlining workflows and cutting costs.
But in many cases, those IT leaders are not liking what they see. Too often, they are finding information sprawl – different silos of data for different processes that have grown up over time. And in many cases, they can’t actually see the problem because they lack visibility into the flow of information.
If that weren’t bad enough, many companies are still using manual, paper-based processes.
Clearly, there’s integration work to be done. But where to begin? Most organizations have two different digital ecosystems, both in need of integration.
The Internal ecosystem—sometimes called application-to-application (A2A)—consists of such elements as ERP, CRM, and human capital management (HCM). These can be integrated through middleware and APIs.
And the external ecosystem—known as business-to-business (B2B) —consists of things like data services, devices, and partners, ranging from banks to contractors, to customers, suppliers, distributors, and logistics providers. The B2B side of things can be integrated with tools like EDI and IoT gateways.
An easy way to visualize this is to review the diagram below, paying close attention to the left (internal, A2A) and right (external, B2B) sides:
The importance of unified integration
While integrating either A2A or B2B is worthwhile, what if you could integrate both A2A and B2B? The result would be fully unified integration, or Business to Anything (B2A).
It might sound ambitious, but this integration is possible today. Central to a fully unified integration approach is a single digital backbone, or business network.
This digital backbone includes several aspects, both internal and external to the organization, including partner connectivity, cloud applications, IoT and API capabilities, secure ecosystem management and data visibility.
Achieving B2A cannot happen simply by flipping a switch. Because most organizations don’t have the skilled staff to carry out this level of frictionless and agile integration, external consultancy and managed services are needed. But the payback is real. Companies that have adopted such a cloud-based approach to integration have seen 20% to 40% return on investment.
COVID-19 may have delivered a shock, but it has also served as a catalyst for re-examination, integration, and optimization. Now is the time for organizations to seize the opportunity to transform paper-based processes into digital information flows; to integrate the A2A and the B2B of your organization.
With a digital backbone or business network in place, you’ll be able to bring about the unified integration of B2A as well.
And most important, you and your organization will be ready for whatever the digital future may bring.