no partner left behind IBM Supply Chain and Blockchain Blog

September 14, 2022 | Written by: Gerard Clancy

Categorized: Supply chain

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At an IBM event few years ago, I watched a customer present on the great benefit he was experiencing from his Document Conversion Services (fax and email to EDI) solution. I was coming from a global, standards-driven, high-automation point of view and was surprised that he was so effusive about a solution that sounded to my idealist ears to be a step backwards. After the presentation, I followed up with some questions on his experience.

His response was that in his customer base, good spelling or math are not necessarily commonplace, and quality internet access is even less so. Still, most folks could send a fax, and while the revenue from individual business contributions was typically small, collectively they represented a very large income stream that his competitors would happily serve if he was unwilling.

The challenges of staying responsive and relevant

Fast forward to 2022. Economic, social, geopolitical and health disruptions have fundamentally changed today’s business environment. The advent of same-day and next-day logistics from internet-based vendors has increased the demand for excellent customer service. When a business doesn’t respond fast enough to manually submitted orders, the buyer will find other vendors who are more responsive, and the business may lose that customer forever.

In our electronic data interchange (EDI) world, there is more urgency than ever to achieve full automation. This is usually based on a mix of traditional EDI and API, but it still leaves the “long tail” of manually administered low-volume trade underserved. Low-wage staff, often located offshore, manually load or retype these documents into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Interactions between trading partners and sales operations, customer fulfillment and order management are riddled with manually introduced errors.

Further, cost of living, salary inflation and the so-called “Great Resignation” make it difficult to staff manual data-entry roles at low pay rates. This means the pile of unprocessed orders is growing.

Processing solutions that transform performance

All of this had led to a huge upswing in demand and relevance for IBM Sterling® Document Conversion Services, which allows enterprises to receive documents originally sent by fax or email as clean, business-rules-checked, validated EDI, regardless of the sophistication of the original sender. In parallel, IBM Sterling® Transaction Manager provides a webform-based frontend to generate EDI documents in the purchase order to invoice range.

These two IBM services overlap to effectively cover the breadth of small-partner use cases, from inbound-only low individual document volumes to complex inbound and outbound highly correlated trade flows. To get to full EDI automation on the enterprise side, it’s likely that a business will need both services.

“No trading partner left behind” is the new mantra of enterprises who invest in solutions to automate their own data processing and strive to give their trading partners a higher level of service.

Contact your IBM sustainability software sales rep or IBM business partner, or reach out to me directly.

Build a smarter supply chain with the IBM Sterling Transaction Manager »

Eliminate manual transactions with IBM Sterling Document Conversion Services »