When you are getting started on your B2B integration project, your first step must be network documentation. There is no getting around it; network documentation is crucial.
Why does it matter so much for B2B integration? Network documentation enables you to assess integration needs, troubleshoot networking issues, and spot areas for potential improvement in the EDI environment.
What Is Network Documentation?
As the name implies, network documentation refers to the act of documenting everything in your network. In a small network, you might have a diagram that describes all of the pieces within it. However, in today’s world, with IoT sensors, cloud computing, and other inflows of information, network documentation is rarely that simple. Documenting a more complex network is even more crucial.
The advantages of proper network documentation are numerous. How do they apply to the field of B2B integration?
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The Network Documentation Process
When it comes to network documentation for B2B integration, there are two goals: to understand what assets exist in your networks and how these assets work together.
The first step in network documentation is taking a detailed inventory of your software and hardware. Make sure you write down what platform or server you’re using, including the brand, model, and processor. You should also record what operating system is in place as well as the version, and which database and version you have.
“The first step in network documentation is taking a detailed inventory of your assets.”
Your next question is whether you have completed an ERP integration. If yes, take note of the ERP platform and version.
Once you have completed those steps, your focus will shift to EDI and B2B integration. What EDI or B2B integration software are you using, and what version is it? Make sure to write down all of your EDI trading partners, including customers, suppliers, carriers, banks, and others. Do not forget to include any other integrations you have, such as warehouse management systems or financial systems.
“What EDI or B2B integration software are you using?”
On the topic of EDI and B2B integration, this is the point at which you record the following details:
- Your EDI document common codes (for customers, suppliers, carriers, banks, and others)
- What EDI standards you use (X12, EDIFACT, SWIFT, or something else)
- Which non-EDI files you use to transmit information (such as XML, cXML, flat files, .xls, .csv, email, or other)
- Which integrations are in place (adapters such as ODBC, API/Rest, web services, JSON, or anything else, as well as any eCommerce activity)
- The communications that are in use (VAN, AS2, sFTP, FTP, or something else)
- Your selection of protocol adapters (FTP, FTP-SSL, SFTP, HTTP, HTTP-SSL, CDSA, CDSA Secure+, FTE, or other)
- Information about VAN/AS2/(S)FTP (such the number of documents per day, number of bytes per document, the average amount of documents per file, number of documents at their peak on a daily basis, how many days the data retention period is, etc.)
Other details you should document are specifications or agreements with your trading partners (including but not limited to SLAs, compliance requirements, and fines/penalties), the average amount of fines/penalties on a monthly or yearly basis, and any additional or supplementary systems (such as EG visibility, shipping/barcoding, etc.).
Assess Your Integration Needs
Network documentation gives you the information you require to assess your B2B integration needs. Every aspect of your network is laid-out before you, so you can see what needs to be integrated.
Why is that important? As mentioned in the previous section, today’s enterprise technology landscape is significantly more complex than ever before. Even smaller companies are connecting to the cloud (as well as to other, newer technologies).
“Network documentation gives you the requisite information for assessing your B2B integration needs.”
You need to know what network assets you possess for the purposes of B2B integration. Some of them might be legacy technologies, which might require APIs or other approaches to share their information. Other network assets might not be compatible with your B2B integration platform. Network documentation allows you to determine those things before making any costly, time-consuming mistakes.
Remember that network documentation is not a one-and-done process. As you add more assets to your network, your network documentation must evolve accordingly.
“Network documentation is not a one-and-done process.”
B2B integration is not exactly a one-and-done process either. Once you invest in a B2B integration platform, you might find there are new technologies with which you have to integrate in the future. Knowing what those new technologies are is easier thanks to network documentation. Moreover, network documentation gives you a sense of whether those new network assets can actually be integrated into your B2B integration platform.
Troubleshoot Networking Issues
Another reason that network documentation is so vital to the B2B integration process is that it helps you troubleshoot networking issues. How so?
Suppose that after the B2B integration, you realize that information is not flowing through the B2B integration platform. With network documentation, you can figure out which system of record is not communicating with the B2B integration platform.
“With network documentation, you can figure out which system of record is not communicating with the B2B integration platform.”
When you do not have adequate network documentation, making those determinations becomes more difficult. You might have a rough idea of what is connected to what, but without clear documentation, you will not know exactly. That will make it significantly more difficult to fix the problem.
Troubleshooting networking issues is one of those things that is not one-and-done, either. Networking issues can crop up time and again, especially when you add new assets to the network. That is why it is crucial to continue to document changes to your network.
"Troubleshooting network issues is not a one-and-done process."
You also need to update your network documentation when you remove network assets at the end of their lifecycle. If they are no longer part of your infrastructure, you do not want them being a part of your documentation; that will simply confuse you and your staff.
Spotting Areas of Potential Improvement to Your EDI Environment
Another advantage to network documentation vis-à-vis B2B integration is that it allows you to spot areas of potential improvement in your EDI environment. How can it do that?
Suppose that flows of information are moving slower than they should, which prevents your B2B integration solution from working at its optimal peak. Reviewing the network documentation gives you a sense of what assets are in the network, and which ones might not be playing as nicely as they should be. With that in mind, you can start figuring out how to bring them up to speed, literally.
“Reviewing network documentation gives you a sense of what assets are in the network, and which are not working as they should.”
We cannot over-emphasize the need for ongoing network documentation, especially as it applies to a B2B integration project. You might integrate to new systems of record, and if you want those systems to work at their absolute peak as a part of your B2B integration platform, you have to know where they fit into your network. That means that you must document them as you add them.
Additionally, maintaining your network documentation might open your eyes to outdated network assets (see the section above). These assets might be slowing down your B2B integration project, so knowing what they are, what they do, and the impact they have is crucial.
Can You Undertake Network Documentation on Your Own?
You want to ensure that your B2B integration process is successful, and you understand that you need complete, accurate, timely network documentation to do so. Can you undertake that process yourself?
The answer to that question will depend on your individual situation. Do you have personnel that has the time and resources to engage in such a project (and do they have the time and resources to ensure that the project is completed successfully)? If the answer is yes, then you should feel confident about network documentation, especially as it relates to B2B integration.
“The answer to whether you should document your own network depends on your time and resources.”
However, not every company out there has the time or resources to embark on this kind of project. That is not a problem; you do not have to go it alone. You need to find the right partner to help you.
Here are some traits that the right partner has:
- Extensive B2B integration experience
- Experience with other firms in your industry
- Experience with other firms of your size
- The right number of staff members to complete the job
- A desire to forge a long-term relationship with you
- A mindset that keeps your best interests in mind
“You do not have to undergo the B2B integration or network documentation process alone.”
B2B integration helps your organization make the most of its valuable information, and it allows you to connect to your trading partners efficiently and effectively. Network documentation is essential; it is one of the first steps in the process. When you do not get it right, your B2B integration process could be unsuccessful. Learn more by talking to REMEDI's trusted experts.
Free Network Documentation Template
To help you get started on your documentation project, REMEDI is pleased to provide a template for your use. Once you download it, you can fill out the template internally, or, if you prefer, you can contact the REMEDI team for help. Get your free B2B Integration and EDI Architecture Documentation template right now!