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B2B integration: Now on your smartphone?

Analysts and B2B managers say the willingness to handle B2B integration via mobile is there, but it just may not be time yet.

What purpose, if any, does mobile technology play in B2B integration? Those working in and studying the B2B integration space claim that mobile is proving useful for monitoring purposes, helping businesses achieve more visibility into transactions and trigger transactions from their mobile devices. However, the nature of mobile itself limits its ability to act as a fully-functional B2B integration tool.

“At least for logistics we know that mobile is playing a huge role in geolocation and geo-fencing based automation, document management and even taking pictures of cargo and managing claims,” said Eric Rempel, CIO at Redwood logistics, a data-driven enterprise logistics service provider. Rempel’s company is using mobile to assist in B2B integration when it comes to receiving information from remote areas like the road or certain warehouses, and also said that they depend heavily on receiving that mobile confirmation in order to track deliveries.

“We integrate with barcode scanners all the time to act as messaging confirmation, to make sure that someone really is where he says,” said Rempel. “We might get a GPS message from their dispatch. But until we get a scan that they’ve actually unloaded the product — and we get that on our API — we don’t care if they say it’s delivered or not. We need our confirmation.”

Ann Grackin, CEO of ChainLink research, agrees that mobile plays an important role for companies when it comes to monitoring transactions from even the most unlikely of places.

“I think mobile is good from a monitoring perspective in these environments — did my transactions go through, etc.,” said Grackin. “If I’m out on the golf course with another customer, I want to be able to pull out my phone and see if [a transaction] happened.”

Ken Yagen, vice president of products at Mulesoft, said that mobile is even making its way into monitoring EDI transactions specifically. Yagen said that if companies can “unlock” data from their EDI systems, they can use this data to create business-centric mobile applications that manage product supplies, orders, refill requests and other essential transactions.

“Actually that’s something we see a lot [with] our customers — they’re trying to build these applications, but they need the data and the visibility into the [EDI] systems,” said Yagen.

However, Rempel admitted that the mobile device space is so fragmented between different carriers, device types and technologies that creating a federated policy for managing paperwork over mobile would be difficult, especially when it comes to managing updates and security protocols.

Because of issues like these, analysts like Grackin say that while there is a legitimate value proposition when it comes to using mobile devices for B2B integration, it may just not be time yet.

“All of the hooks are there — let’s put it that way — for mobile to play a greater role,” said Grackin. “But I think in the future it will play a big role because people have just turned to their tablets and their Androids and their iPhones to do more and more.”