Many companies now have their internal automation well organized and under control. But is that also the case through the wider supply chain? Business are not stand alone operators – they are a part of something much bigger. Producers, traders, wholesalers and logistic operators – they all add value to the product arriving at the end consumer. If that’s going to be enough value to protect a profit for those involved, optimal communication between them is essential.

Many administrative processes are a waste of resources
There’s still a lot of communication within businesses happening on paper. Orders, for example, can be entered at company A, printed and sent (by e-mail) to company B. The supplier enters the sales order in his ERP system. After doing his calculations the supplier may or may not be able to confirm the delivery date and quantities involved. When it can be confirmed, it’s done again by e-mail. Surely this can be done more efficiently?

Benefits of automation
And indeed it is. By automating the flow of information between the parties involved, it’s possible to realize several significant benefits:

Fewer mistakes, fewer costs
The manual transference of information can easily lead to data being lost or doubled up. This leads to mistakes that quickly rack up unnecessary costs and lead to strained relationships.

Faster processing of information
Automating the information stream means the administration around the various orders can be completed much quicker. Compare it with the traditional scenario when an e-mail is sent confirming a delivery date. That e-mail can quite easily spend time lying unopened in someone’s inbox, waiting to be acknowledged and processed. The knock on effect of this can be that administration is done based on outdated information. With the end result being mistakes, unhappy customers, rush orders, poorer service, too much stock, and unnecessary stress.

More focus on strategic activities
Less administration and less manual entry saves you time. Time that can then be spent on more strategic activities, managing risk, preparing for the future and considering operational changes that can really deliver additional value.

EDI or B2B-portals
Automating the information stream between businesses is thus becoming more and more important for the creation of optimal supply chains. Years ago, the process first became popular during the rise of EDI – Electronic Data Interchange. This standardized format for sharing transaction data was often pushed by the chain director towards the various suppliers involved. The use of EDI for high volumes of relatively standard products has now become commonplace.

But are the options then regarding the ordering and delivering of non-standard products or lower volumes? Western manufacturers are focusing more and more on developing and delivering high quality goods, complex and innovative products with the possibility to accept and manage customer specific requirements.

In these chains in particular, getting the communication involved in delivering the right, customer-specific items right is crucial. The use of B2B portals rather than EDI points to the future. These portals combine item data and purchase orders and offer a number of possibilities for the communication of relevant data for the transactions.

Combine Social, Mobile and Cloud
The IT-trends for 2014 are dominated by Social, Mobile en Cloud. What are the consequences for the supply chain if we combine all three in a B2B portal?

– By making use of Cloud, portals can be simply offered to both customers and suppliers. Cloud lowers the barriers to using this approach, making the technology accessible for smaller businesses with less dedicated IT budget.

– The new generation B2B-portal is no longer a static website, but an interactive tool. Mobile solutions allow us to access them just as easily as the webshop apps we already place so much trust in as consumers.

– The supplier can use the portal to quickly and easily confirm orders, but real added value is created when the customer and supplier can communicate around orders. By integrating Social functionality, the platform can really be brought to life, stimulating the kind of interaction we know from Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

In sum, the automation of information streams between businesses is getting more and more important. The ambition can be achieved with help from EDI and B2B sales portals, with the latter offering more product and customer specific functionality.

Taking this a step further and leveraging the benefits of social, mobile and cloud technology makes the B2B portal a genuinely interactive, low barrier commerce platform finely tuned to the customers’ needs. It can help achieve that optimal communication pathway between all supply chain stakeholders, and lead to more value for both the end product and end user.