B2B Integration Trends: Message Formats
Alternatives Grow, But EDI Standards Remain The Leading Option For B2B Messaging
This is the first document in the “B2B Trends 2007” series.
Electronic data interchange (EDI) technology gained wide acceptance by providing basic electronic document exchange capability that was crucial to enterprises in many sectors. This technology was well suited to dealing with highly structured data that did not change frequently. However, today’s B2B scenarios require more flexibility, especially when dealing with growing demands for support for process improvement efforts across the entire value chain. This is leading to increased adoption of multiple XML-based B2B options. Enterprise architects should strive to create a B2B support infrastructure that is designed to take advantage of both old and new technology, as each can provide unique value in meeting the full range of external integration needs.
EDI Continues To Dominate The B2B Space
The current state of affairs in the B2B integration arena remains dominated by the huge volume of EDI transactions that occur on a daily basis. Discussions with leading B2B service providers indicate that the current volume of worldwide EDI transactions is more than 20 million per day and accounts for a significant amount of worldwide commercial activity. In fact, earlier studies determined that more than one-third of the US GDP is directly supported by EDI transaction exchanges in the retail, manufacturing, financial, healthcare, logistics, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical sectors. EDI transaction volume will continue to grow, though at a slower rate than the other major alternatives.
Stateful XML, stateless XML, and even flat file exchanges are all projected to grow at a faster rate than EDI over the next several years. Forrester has estimated transaction volume and growth by type of exchange based on interviews of several of the leading B2B service providers, including GXS, Inovis, and Sterling Commerce; integration vendors like TIBCO Software, webMethods, and Vitria Technology; and platform providers like BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsystems (see Figure 1).
But Process Interactions Will Be The Primary Growth Driver Moving Forward
EDI usage predates the other options by at least two decades, and that is the primary reason why this older technology has been so resistant to wholesale replacement by XML-based alternatives. EDI was able to grow and flourish in an environment where there were no other viable technology options. And now that other viable options do exist, few enterprises are willing to take on the risk of making a shift to a newer alternative when the old one still works. Consequently, EDI will continue to be the primary type of B2B interaction for many years to come.
However, that does not mean that newer alternatives do not have a vital role to play. EDI transactions are very structured and difficult to change. That’s fine for standard business documents, but it won’t suffice for meeting the increasingly diverse needs of agile organizations of the future. This is where a wide range of XML-based transactions (both stateful and stateless) will come to bear, supporting flexible transaction exchanges that represent an enhancement to, but not replacement of, the older EDI technology.
Use The B2B Alternative That Makes The Most Sense For Your Enterprise
One size does not fit all, and nowhere is that more true than in the current B2B world. Organizations have a wide range of B2B integration needs, and enterprise architects will find that a mix of old and new technology will represent their best alternative in most situations.
What It Means
A Rising Tide Is Lifting All Boats
Growth in the number and scope of B2B interactions is leading to increased volume across all major transaction types. EDI usage has a head start and therefore a large lead, but newer XMLbased solutions will provide increasing levels of support for more complex, process-improvementrelated transactions. The most important point is that both the older and newer technologies will coexist in most organizations, with each doing what it does best.
Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) is an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice to global leaders in business and technology. For more than 23 years, Forrester has been making leaders successful every day through its proprietary research, consulting, events, and peer-to-peer executive programs. For more information, visit www.forrester.com.
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