File based integrations have dominated B2B integration and related interactions, keeping the data between a business and its partners in sync. The new buzz word, API (application programming interfaces) will be a disruptive game changer. It will augment B2B capabilities by letting Trading partners discover APIs and connect to enterprises themselves quickly and easily. This translates to partners being able to write their own information onto enterprises' data stores directly, enabling faster on-boarding and hence quicker time to value. Naturally, this raises a question - will this web API model put an end to file based integrations? The answer is probably NO.
Files have been around and seen everywhere as a basic component, and is handled at an operating system level. B2B transactions are typically exchanged between partners via B2B gateways. These include EDI, XML, flat-files etc. which are structured in nature.
Managed File Transfer (MFT), which enables secure and reliable file transfers between systems and organizations, helps in the transmission of unstructured files like JPEG, MPEG etc. It fills the gap of B2B transmissions of very large file transfers in a secure, reliable, and visible manner. However, holistic collaboration of enterprise and its extension is still a missing link. API tries to address this issue and bridge the gap of seamless liaison of business partners to collaborate effectively.
In essence, API will only bridge the gap between file-based B2B integrations. It has to be deployed in conjunction with integration technologies, forming a larger part of SOA (Service-oriented Architecture) infrastructure and services. That means API is an asset which has to be managed and governed.
Some of the benefits of API adoption in B2B that I have seen are:
- API enables two or more businesses to come together and seamlessly service their consumers. In effect, for an enterprise, the business processes can be automated & orchestrated by directly invoking partner APIs. This is a paradigm shift in the BPM (Business Process Management) space, where enterprises have extended their end-to-end capabilities to include even their partners in business.
- Improves responsiveness and agility by providing access to partner API. Business need not wait for the response to know if order is fulfilled, but can access vendor API to initiate the Order, and will be able to see the outcome of fulfillment.
- Enterprises can truly converge internal and external integration points. We can control the access types to broad base the users. For instance same API can be used both by internal users and external partners, but the behavior can vary.
- API governance and monitoring is easy. These provide abstraction so that the behavior or functionality of API can be altered without impacting partners.
- Businesses can expose APIs to widen the reach of partners through social, mobile and cloud platforms. This enables multi-channel communications in a multi-enterprise.
B2B vendors have started leveraging this capability in modules and we will see this as the next big wave in tandem with social, mobile and cloud growth.
How do you think APIs will shape up? What other benefits do you see directly or indirectly?