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Q&A: Can APIs neutralize B2B integration pain points?

B2B integration is necessary for a huge number of today's companies, but interacting with partner systems and data is not always simple. Ken Yagen discusses how the use of APIs can help.

What does it take to manage B2B integration today? As technology changes, so, too, does the way in which companies...

manage their interactions with partners. In this first of two Q&As, Ken Yagen, vice president of products at MuleSoft talks about the biggest challenges organizations still face when dealing with B2B integration and how the use of APIs may help. The San Francisco company makes integration platforms for APIs.

What are the most common B2B integration pain points that you see?

Ken Yagen: One is traditionally B2B exchanges are very expensive for customers to maintain. Maybe the approaches they've taken in the past maybe are a little overkill or the technology has not kept pace with their customers.

Ken YagenKen Yagen

There are also situations where often not all the trading partners that you work with may have the capability to [work with] an [electronic data interchange] (EDI) standard. You might have partners that are not able to put the investment on their side to support that EDI standard.

[The final challenge is] working with those documents, incorporating them into your internal systems and processes -- [including] your applications -- and [making the] translation between an [event driven architecture] document and your internal applications, especially as you build out new applications.

Could you maybe give me an example of what you mean by 'overkill?'

Yagen: I think that if you look at some of the traditional [B2B management] platforms, there's a lot of capability built into that that overlaps with other capabilities that they already have in the enterprise, so they're paying twice for the same capability: once from a B2B platform and once from an integration platform like an [enterprise service bus]. They don't need two ways to do data mapping and transformation, two ways to do orchestration and so on.

How do you think using an API for B2B integration can help these pain points?

Yagen: I think that it can reduce the complexity and effort to onboard. The time for a partner to onboard [still] can be months. If you have hundreds or thousands of partners [to onboard], you can make that a self-service effort [and make it] simpler for them. APIs have the ability to do that: They're compatible with a broader set of tools.

What does that technology typically look like when implementing these APIs for B2B integration?

Yagen: You need some sort of partner portal where the trading partners can register and request to be part of your trading partner network. You need in that portal ... the contract, the [service-level agreements], the requirements on the format of the data that's been exchanged and how that data will be represented in an API form verses an EDI document form. And then you [might also have a way to] download documentation, sandbox environments for testing before the onboard into the productions system.

[You also need] the ability to monitor the transactions that are being performed and know what transactions have been sent. And on the back end ... you might need some transformation tools to transfer and work with the data, and then to [connect] that information.

Learn about the use of RESTful APIs for B2B integration in the second part of our interview

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