In search of a true Business Network


holygrail.jpg“He says he’s already got one.”

The above quote comes from Monty Python, when the King asks a French soldier to join the quest for the Holy Grail. The French soldier says he is not interested as he’s already got one. James Marland, Vice President of Network Strategy for Ariba, an SAP Company, sometimes gets a similar reaction when he talks about the business network: “We’ve already got one,” although not usually in a cod-French accent.

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This “other solution” often takes the form of a portal, an EDI connection, an industry marketplace, an outsourced scanning solution or some combination. In this month’s SmartProcurement, Marland identifies the ten key characteristics of a business network.

1. Innovative
A business network needs to embrace a next-generation platform for better business performance and bring innovations into your business. Automating what you already do is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

2. Open
With personal networks, you can connect and interact from anywhere, at any time, using any device. You should expect the same simplicity and connectedness from your business network. Such a network needs to eliminate the burdens of business-to-business connectivity by giving you a single, standard integration point to better collaborate with all of your trading partners – regardless of back end systems.

Connect all systems. All functions. All industries. All companies.

3. Comprehensive
Drive end-to-end process collaboration across the entire value chain: big or small, banking or manufacturing, supply chain or finance. You should look for a comprehensive platform to automate and improve your complete buying, selling, and other processes with all of your trading partners.

4. Global
You conduct business in all parts of the world, so too should your business network. It should support local languages, currencies, and tax requirements – so you can focus on finding and collaborating with partners from Paris to Peru.

This means compliance with country-specific business practices and local government policies and taxes. Of course, it should be multi-lingual, and multi-currency, but additionally you and your trading partners will need the comfort of technical support provided in local languages and in local time zones.

5. Non-disruptive
You can improve your performance – and ultimately, profits – using your existing processes and systems. A network should make it easier for you and your trading partners to leverage the power of the network with preconfigured adapters and flexible connectivity options from your most-used ERP applications.

6. Intelligent
Work smarter and faster.

Digitising business-to-business documents and transactions is a good start, but considering that one in five business documents is incomplete or erroneous, many networks end up just automating bad processes.

What you need is a smart business network with built-in business logic and workflow. Only accurate, validated transactions should reach your systems – increasing order accuracy, transparency, and efficiency.

7. Scalable
Size matters. You want to begin automating interactions with your customers, suppliers, and other partners immediately – without the hassles of recruitment, change management or big integration projects. How many trading partners does the network have? What kind of volumes?

8. Trustworthy
Do business on a secure, reliable network which has always-on performance and secure information and process management so that you can collaborate with confidence. In order to meet your security standards, it must be fully audited and endorsed by industry security standards; for example, WebTrust certified and SAS 70 Type II compliant. Also, how big is the company behind the network? Will they be there in ten years’ time?

9. Insightful
A network has the possibility of harnessing the power of network-derived intelligence for better decisions. Using years of transaction, relationship, and community data, you can gain real-time insights in supply chain performance, risks, rates, market trends, and more.

10. Successful
Even if you can’t evaluate all of the other nine, you should look at the success of the network. Growth, stability, and longevity are indicators, but you should also evaluate the business model of a network. Only networks with a fundamentally sound business model can sustain growth for the long term. If companies keep leaving, then something is probably wrong. However, if the network keeps growing, then how much longer are you going to wait on the sidelines?

So, you may think you already have a network, but when you assess it against the above list, it might turn out that you are still seeking the Holy Grail.

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