For years the benefits of electronic integration of supply chain integration documents have been clearly identified by businesses, consultants and acknowledged in academic studies. However, achieving overall and seamless data exchange has often been troublesome. First B2B have developed a software service that can extract the data from PDF documents and turn it in to a truly electronic data stream. This opens up Business to Business electronic document exchange to a much wider audience.
For years the benefits of electronic integration of supply chain integration documents have been clearly identified by businesses, consultants and acknowledged in academic studies. Whether you are integrating documents from the procurement, finance or physical supply chain, the benefits of reducing human effort and error retyping information from one computer system to another are clear for all to see.
Depending upon the studies you believe, the benefits can be anywhere from €3 to €15 per transaction and when you multiply out the number of transactions by those amounts the potential savings are significant. Furthermore, this is before you include the more esoteric factors such as improved customer service, less erroneous data entry, shortened lead times and better payment terms.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
Slow Uptakes on e-business
The benefits are not disputed, however achieving overall and seamless data exchange has often been troublesome. Issues arise due to differing business requirements of different organisations: some organisations require more data, or different data, from others. You may well integrate successfully with one business partner only to find your next business partner requires different information. Standards for data formats may help, but they only solve the formatting issues, not the content issues. An additional issue is that some existing IT Systems have little or no concept or flexibility to exchange data electronically. Some have restricted ability and others are ultimately flexible, but only for those with deep pockets to pay.
All of the preceding issues lead to a slow uptake on what is loosely termed e-business. Even the much-hyped e-invoicing, the current flavour of the month within e-business, has suffered slow adoption. This is not helped by some vendors forcing suppliers to pay to exchange data with their customers. This is often coupled with overblown claims of free hubs and then over promising and under delivering on the true savings and possibilities.
In the past there were only really two options for supply chain integration; true electronic document exchange, with one system generating data in a particular format, that was converted to the format required by the recipient and sent electronically. Or some form of manual data entry system (euphemistically named document portals), which is effectively getting the sender of the document to retype the data they had already entered in their own system, in to another system. The latter solution is an impossible solution for large data volumes, leading to high costs and error levels. The former solution requires a system that can produce an electronic form of the data, or an investment of time and money in the software to produce such data.
Most systems however can produce paper versions of the data, and more up to date systems can produce the same documents in PDF format. First B2B have developed a software service that can extract the data from such PDF documents and turn it in to a truly electronic data stream that can be used in the same way as electronic data produced directly by the senders system. This now opens up Business to Business electronic document exchange to a much wider audience as a number of our clients have found.
Walter GB, the UK arm of the Global engineering group Walter AG. Walter GB saw benefits for their customers and themselves in having customer orders sent electronically and automatically loaded in to their system. This reduces time to enter the data, removes the margin for human error and potentially allows for improved service levels for customers.
The first integration went well, with the customer able to send orders directly and the benefits were there for all to see. However, when other customers were approached they could not produce electronic versions of the purchase order. So Walter GB turned to the First B2B PDF solution. This allowed their customers who send PDF orders to email them directly to an email address provided and hosted by First B2B.
The First B2B servers then automatically strips the data from the PDF file, validates it, converts it to the format required by Walter GB and sends to the Walter GB servers, where it is loaded and the order appears on the order processing screens ready for picking and dispatch. All within 30 seconds from the email being sent.
Mark Slater, Office Manger at Walter GB says ‘A number of key distributors are now live with this: saving data input at a crucial point in our working day as we approach our deadline for same day dispatch is a valuable resource’.
Another company that has utilised this enhancement is the COINS-etc construction industry hub. One of the biggest suppliers to the UK construction industry for vehicle hire is Northgate plc. Northgate needed to send invoices to one of their largest customers and required a solution whilst waiting for developments to allow electronic documents to be produced directly from their existing IS System.
First B2B provides the technology behind the COINS-etc document exchange and were able to bring the benefits of their PDF technology to help Northgate and their customer. Northgate send a large variety of invoices for various items and so the solutions had to be both reliable and flexible, which First B2B and COINS-etc were able to provide.
The First B2B service now downloads a zipped file of invoices from a secure server. The PDF invoices are extracted from the zip file, split between the Northgate customer’s various divisions, validated, converted to their customer requirements and sent to the customers back office system. Using the First B2B PDF solution, in conjunction with COINS-etc, Northgate have been able to successfully exchange high volumes of invoices, over 20,000 per annum, with their customer.
The added option of using PDF data to enhance Business to Business electronic document exchange means First B2B can offer their customers and partners more options to extend the benefits and savings that can be achieved from supply chain integration and lowers barriers to entry for all. The more businesses can stop using resource for mundane tasks such as data entry, the more they can focus on the areas of their business where they can really add value, increase profits and turnover!
About the Author
Steve Hill is Business Development Manager at First B2B Limited a UK business specialising in Business Process Integration As A Service throughout Europe. Established in 2001, First B2B clients range from small to large businesses including companies such as MARS UK plc, AGI World, Antalis and Walter GB. First B2B is also the major technology partner for COINS-etc the largest construction document exchange in the UK and the partner of choice for eBECS Limited, Prophet Plc and Lakeview Limited.