New-look EDI apps reach out to SMEs

Business integration vendor webMethods has unveiled Solution Suite for Collaborative EDI. The new software aims to leverage...

Business integration vendor webMethods has unveiled Solution Suite for Collaborative EDI. The new software aims to leverage business process management functionality to enhance EDI document exchange by allowing more complex business interactions between trading partners.

For example, a customer sending an EDI-based order request to a supplier might also want to implement a business process dubbed "availability to promise," which asks the supplier to provide a response about when it can ship the product. Batch-mode EDI does not enable a real time response without manual intervention. Using webMethods, the business process would execute automatically, pulling data from back-end inventory systems to gauge shipping time, and then transforming the response into an EDI format to send back to the customer, according to Pat Condon, senior manager of strategic planning for webMethods.

"For new business processes, the challenge in doing EDI is that documents are complicated technically or in batch systems that don't support real time," Condon said. "Our integration platform co-exists with EDI to support those documents through the business process."

WebMethods appears to be "moving back to its roots" of B2B integration, after nearly a year of focusing on internal enterprise integration, according to Jon Derome, an analyst at Yankee Group. However he said webMethods' new EDI solution only addresses one aspect - improved process management - of the current EDI conundrum. "It's not clear to me how this technology overcomes the investment hurdle that has inhibited EDI adoption by smaller partners," said Derome.

Indeed, the high fees associated with tapping into multiple EDI networks have prevented many SMEs from reaping the benefits of e-business trading relationships.

In related news, Computer Associates International subsidiary ACCPAC has announced a partnership with IBM Global Services to address this same problem with a partnership aimed at helping ACCPAC applications users circumvent the EDI cost hurdle. ACCPAC makes enterprise applications for the mid-tier companies, including software and ASP services in accounting, financial, warehouse management and CRM.

ACCPAC Exchange uses the Internet as the transportation medium for EDI processing, allowing smaller players to transmit EDI documents but without the need to link into costly EDI value added networks.

Instead, ACCPAC users route documents to IBM's data centres, which handles re-routing them to specific EDI value added networks, according to Craig Downing, vice-president of product management at ACCPAC.

The cost of ACCPAC Exchange is about $100 (£66) per month versus a typical $1,000 (£655) per month fee in value added network charges, which should help smaller suppliers meet their large customers' demand for EDI compliance.

"Let's face it, no one voluntarily does EDI, they do it because Wal-Mart tells them to," Downing said.

Both EDI initiatives indicate a renewed interest in B2B technologies, according to analysts. "It's a market that rose too quickly in '98 and '99 and probably fell further than it should have in 2001 and 2002," said Derome. "We might be seeing a right-sizing of the market where companies invest in technologies to improve communication between companies."

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