How can we beat the growing complexity of electronic business and procurement ?

For many years the main obstacles and impediments to the uptake of e-procurement, e-business and e-invoicing were divergent legislation and technical complexity. Although the European Commission devoted much effort to increase legal certainty and reduce technical complexity, companies are still reluctant to implement. Many decision-makers are concerned about the multiplicity of solutions available on the market, the cost of implementation and the number of business partners that can be connected. But most of all, they are overwhelmed by the data and process integration complexity.

Despite all standardization initiatives - this complexity is increasing, mainly due to:
- the growing number of platforms and networks which are not interoperable

- the existence and growth of more non-interoperable proprietary and national standards

- ERP systems that do not have a standardized process-aware interface

In my view - the lack of interoperability across the multitude of networks and the inability of providers to fully relieve clients from the complexity of implementation are to be regarded the main reasons for the loss of trust and confidence.

The main challenges to fight complexity are: more openness and insight; and more safeguards and guarantees for implementers.

- More openness and insight

Selecting the right solution and service provider from the variety of options available on the market is hard. Companies when asking providers, are told everything, - technology platform, data standards, network connections, integration tools and other resources - needed to establish these kind of services is readily available. In general providers estimate the cost and complexity of integration to be low and promise to fully relieve organizations from the burden of connecting trading partners. They often forget to indicate what precisely is understood and how much effort is required from the organization itself and its trading partners.

Moreover, we all know, the success of establishing inter-firm communication and collaboration processes depends a lot on the readiness of the industry or market sector in which a company operates and on the maturity of information processes and systems of enterprises. But providers neglect this critical aspect in their estimations and proposals, because their commitment does not cover repetitive effort to contact and convince partners nor does it include solving integration challenges.

It is my belief that companies should not rush into adventures without proper preparation and consultation of experts in the field. If you want a fair and unbiased opinion, start with executing a readiness assessment, get a clear view on the capabilities of your enterprise information system (ERP or CRM) and determine your short and long term business goals and strategy. Do not forget to develop your business case and remember it is not only about costs, but also sustainability, customer intimacy, competitive advantage, compliance with governmental regulations are factors to consider. Last but not least, consult your trading partners and investigate what is being done in the industry.

Providers, to prepare for success, should provide better and more detailed information about the characteristics of their systems such as: number of already connected partners, information flows and processes; number of operational network connections; and the required involvement of internal technical and business specialists. Too often communicated figures drop to lower levels after contracts are signed, which results in a lot of questions, frustration and disappointment.

More openness from both sides and insight in strengths and weaknesses are boundary conditions for making the right choices and realizing defined goals.

- Establishing more guarantees:

Interoperability is not about Interoperability Agreements between service providers but about delivering quality solutions and services. Nowadays the availability of Interoperability Agreements is the main argument to attest interoperability abilities. However demonstrated proof is the only key for a qualitative judgement about a given solution or service. When implementing e-procurement or e-business it is not about what is possible or supported in the (near) future but about what is available from the start.

In my opinion it is time to install a "European Standards and Interoperability Conformity Assessment System" to assure that solutions and services deliver what providers claim and to give confidence to decision-makers. Besides, conformity promotes fair competition and stimulates quality improvement.

The conformity assessment system should be managed by a European Organization for Technical Assessment of e-Procurement and e-Business systems.

This organization has to develop
- a set of clear principles that will allow interested parties to have confidence in the process of providing conformity assessment [USCAP 2011]

- a document describing the process of performing conformity assessment

- a technical specification describing interoperability requirements

- an operational infrastructure for performing interoperability tests

Much work has already been done within the first and second phases of the Global e-Business Interoperability Test Bed project (GITB).

The Global e-Business Interoperability Test Bed project (GITB) focuses on methodologies and architectures that support e-business standards assessment and testing activities from early stages of eBusiness standards implementation, to proof-of-concept demonstrations, to conformance and interoperability testing.

The main and long term objective of GITB is to develop, under EU support and guidance, a set up of a comprehensive and global eBusiness interoperability test bed system in a global collaboration of European, North American and Asian partners. GITB is a global initiative hosted by CEN and supported by ETSI, EIC, NIST, KorBIT and the industry associations AIAG and IAI.

It would be great if in the third phase time could be spent on establishing an assessment and certification system for interoperability. This would drive up confidence of decision-makers in the solutions and services available on the market.

Tags: e-Business, e-Procurement, e-Invoicing

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