Omnichannel marketplaces for B2C commerce continue to drive big changes for B2B suppliers – not just in fulfillment quantities and processes, but also in meeting trade compliance demands. Keeping a competitive edge demands more and faster access to supply chain information. It isn’t just what you know, but when and how you find out. In fact, the experiences we all have as consumers – the same ones that have disrupted retail and distribution – are now influencing our expectations for business-to-business interaction.
As individuals, we are accustomed to buying goods online, in stores, online for in-store delivery, for regular periodic delivery, or by new ways that seem to be minted weekly. We get updates on availability, delivery status, and pricing via email, text message, social media, smartphone app, and website. Have you noticed how electronic messaging has displaced the paper receipt in retail stores; how a barcode scan on a returned item identifies you as the purchaser without even needing a receipt? Why, you may ask, can’t my workday include such easy interaction with customers and suppliers?
It can, and it does. But we’re not all the way there yet. Think about how EDI, process automation, and outsourcing have streamlined B2B commerce. We can accept POs, create orders, fulfill, and invoice without a keystroke. We can reduce labor cost and cut error rates using barcodes in the warehouse. We have third party logistics companies that can expand geographic reach and save capital. The ability to see – to monitor – processes has lagged behind data and material handling, however. That’s changing.
New, consumer-style experiences that are being rolled out for the B2B world are aimed squarely at improving visibility. No more digging through multiple systems to find critical information. Integrated cloud EDI services can already show real-time status of every customer and vendor document – right through to ERP – in an Amazon-like “subway map” view. Messaging and mobile app access are next. Queries and alerts will happen on the devices and at the times you prefer.
Adoption of friendlier ways to see what’s happening in the B2B order-to-cash cycle does depend on tight integration of formerly disconnected systems. Your ERP, EDI, and other systems must be able to pass both data and transaction status automatically. After all, interconnecting the invisible-to-the-buyer pieces – order, point-of-sale, inventory, warehouse, and shipping – enabled changes in B2C commerce to a far greater extent than the fancier, user-facing stuff.
B2B companies will be able to satisfy customers and improve vendor relationships more easily than ever as the techniques used in our personal lives become commonplace at work. You won’t have to wait long.