Supplier Networks: Are We Talking B2B Managed Services or Has the Definition Expanded?

The Stanford Graduate School of Business published a report earlier this summer titled B2B Managed Services: Business Value and Adoption Trends. Authored by two researchers in the program, Dr. Barchi Gillai and Tao Yu, the study looks at trends in the adoption of systems and data connectivity (and activity) between organizations, what the report refers to as “B2B Managed services.” GXS appears to have underwritten the research, as they’re pushing it out online and are acknowledged in the report for their support. If you’re in the procurement or supply chain sector and you’ve not gotten advertisements targeted at you about the study over the past couple of weeks, you’re probably the exception.

The study provides a useful data-driven view into the adoption of B2B network (or managed – take your pick) services. Many of the findings are worth a look in closer detail, which we’ll provide in the next couple of weeks. But before getting into the nuances of the study, it’s worth noting how the research defines B2B managed services, as the category really stands out as being a catch-up for a range of connectivity types between organizations in the post-EDI world that we operate in today. Specifically:

“B2B managed services are provided to trading partners with a variety of flexible hybrid features, including communications, integration and management applications. Through B2B managed services, companies can transfer to external B2B managed services providers the management of day-to-day B2B transaction activities and the coordination of B2B activities across different platforms and different parts of the supply chain. Managed services providers can deliver a broad array of value-added, cloud-based B2B services on a highly available global infrastructure in support of the mission-critical B2B processes, including data translation, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) integration, B2B communication, visibility and alerting, and community collaboration.

Does this sound like the tools provided by supplier networks such as Ariba/SAP, IBX, Hubwoo, Basware, Tradeshift, Perfect, OB10/Tungsten, IBM/Sterling, and yes, GXS? You betcha. But the key of this definition is that it is broader than simply connecting buyers and suppliers to enable the exchange of basic documents related to a transaction. Given this, and given GXS interest in the area (and significantly larger size than all of the other network providers historically focused on the indirect side of the market today), perhaps we’ll begin to see GXS and the other “post-EDI” providers step up and play a greater role in the supplier connectivity market for all spend types, including those dominated by a very different list of providers that initially focused more on connected P2P (eProcurement and e-invoicing) applications to supplier systems rather than buyer ERP tools. 

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