Best Practices – B2B Setup

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This is part 8 of my Best Practices in SAP PI/PO series. You can read more about the full series on best practices here.

 

B2B

B2B

One of the important things that can be done in the SAP landscape is connecting with business partners, in order to make your business transactions run smoothly. You want to make it easy for people to use your tools, and you want to be able to send them various documents directly, without needing to use a fax machine or other methods of communication. This way, your customers can place larger orders, and they can do it more frequently. Furthermore, you can also make purchases faster, without additional efforts or workarounds.

 

Let’s take a look at the challenges you might encounter:

  • there are multiple different formats that need to be supported, such as X12 or EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport); for each of these, you have multiple documents, like invoices or orders; you also have different versions of these, which contain different information that is needed by the users
  • around 90% of the content of the mappings is the same for all partners; therefore, when sending invoices, 90% of the data would be identical – all of this seems simple, but you also have to figure out the last 10%
  • you have to keep up with adding new partners as your business grows – you want to be able to add the partners as they get on board
  • in some places, there is a standard followed by all businesses that share a common sector or business type; in this case, you only have to complete one connection – it is easier to add partners in this situation because you only have one system and one document type, yet you can connect to several different systems
  • there are also XML (Extensible Markup Language) standards that are growing, e.g. UBL (Universal Business Language) – the largest one at the moment – you don’t have a full subset, but you have different variants
  • connections can also be challenging; you have a connection with each customer, vendor or partner – maintaining all these connections is not always easy; you have to maintain the system, while making sure that certificates and passwords are up-to-date;

 

You can move an EDI connection to either Ariba, Tradeshift (which seems to be a quite useful platform), or other cloud providers that allow you to send in documents in your chosen format, then provide the same documents in all the existing formats; this way, sending an invoice to a partner or a broker becomes easier, as the mapping of all the other formats is performed by the cloud provider. Obviously, there are some costs you need to take into consideration. For high-volume processes, you might wish to have an on-premises EDI converter, e.g. for your top 5 vendors.

 

Mappings

Mappings are very important in the context of SAP. As I mentioned above, 90% of a message is identical (to other messages), but 10% is different per partner. You need to figure out how to limit this.

  • The first option is to have one mapping per partner. This is a bit challenging because if you realize there’s something wrong with the mapping, you have 10 mappings to update, and that’s a lot of work.
  • I think the second option is better. It involves having one canonical (standard) mapping, into which you map all the information. After having created the standard mapping that contains 90% (or more) of the needed information, you can create partner-specific mappings, which may remove some of the initial information, e.g. some partners don’t want your company name or other info to appear in the mapping.
  • You can also have a one-to-one, common, 100% complete mapping. You need lookup values to support the different properties, so you can determine which settings to activate, and which to stop, depending on the business partner.  

 

I definitely consider using a standard mapping better than using different mappings for every partner.

 

Connections

If you have connections with many partners, you need to use either many SAP channels or AS2 (Applicability Statement 2), which is a great protocol that helps you share information with your partners directly. So what’s the challenge in this case? The organization will need some time to get used to it – opening all the right connections and making sure everything is up and running. In return, you will be able to successfully monitor every message.

 

You might be hosting an SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) or FTPS (FTP server with SSL) server, which is secure, and allows your business partners to both send and pull messages; this way, they can also have all the messages you have. Most organizations running SAP would be able to run SFTP/FTPS servers, as it is quite simple.

 

The other option is to have a VAN (Value-Added Network) provider. The architecture of VANs is a bit too old-school in my opinion; it is also a bit expensive, but you don’t have many other options if you do not want direct connections. You could also save some consulting time.

 

Monitoring

Companies need to be sure that their monitoring activities are carried out correctly. They need to be able to monitor the messages, and receive technical acknowledgements regarding their status (delivered or not).

I have seen that the Solution Manager and the B2B  (Business-to-Business) add-on from SAP provide some tools for monitoring – you definitely need to look into this. Otherwise, IDocs can be updated to different statuses; however, if you want more information, the B2B add-on and Solution Manager monitoring are better options.

You need to able to trigger alerts if, for some reason, messages from a specific vendor or customer are not received. If you are expecting an order that is not coming at the right time, there might be something wrong with your system – or theirs. Either way, you have to investigate the issue.

 

What is your opinion regarding best practices in the area of B2B? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

For the previous posts in the Best Practices series, do not forget to check out the following links:

 

Part 1: http://picourse.com/best-practices-reasons-behind-the-concept/

Part 2: http://picourse.com/the-concept-of-best-practices-is-dead/

Part 3: http://picourse.com/best-practices-naming-conventions/

Part 4: http://picourse.com/best-practices-mapping/   

Part 5: http://picourse.com/best-practice-skills-for-sap-popi-integration/

Part 6: http://picourse.com/best-practices-development-patterns/

Part 7: http://picourse.com/best-practices-sap-documentation/

 

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