The strategic role of APIs with EDI
in modern B2B collaboration


“Pivot” has been the watchword since 2020. With it comes implications of a 180-degree shift – moving in a completely different direction and leaving the familiar, which has served us well, behind. Seemingly overnight:

Supply chains were also affected. Some companies experienced a massive surge in demand, while others experienced severe downturns. B2B infrastructure operating behind the scenes had to adapt to quickly changing workloads and agility became the key to resilience.

While we continue to see the statistic from 2015 that 85% of supply chain transactions are still managed through EDI, Gartner estimates that by 2023, over 50% of B2B transactions will be performed through real-time application programming interfaces (APIs).2 If they are both correct, then the industry is moving towards a hybrid model that includes legacy infrastructure and business formats working side by side with more modern transactional approaches. Obviously EDI will remain essential for batch processing of mission-critical transactions like financial documents and periodic updates. Yet, for net-new B2B use cases and time critical transactions, companies need more flexible trading approaches with partners. Approaches that blend usage of both EDI and APIs will lower the barrier to entry into the network, allow all participants to be up and running faster, and help with supply chain resiliency. We call this the hybrid B2B collaboration approach, which is essential to allow your enterprise to modernize and nuture new business opportunities while preserving existing trading partner relationships. 

To continue to enable seamless B2B transactions and integration with partners and customers to keep supply chains moving forward, it’s clear that pivoting isn’t the answer; augmenting is. Augmenting the power of EDI integration with API capabilities within the same system helps to mitigate risk and capture new opportunities. Over a period of decades, EDI has facilitated frictionless commerce, helped eliminate manual paper processes, and delivered significant, persistent, and broad supply chain efficiencies through automation. APIs have emerged as a complementary way to further extend B2B transactions and this hybrid approach is ideally suited to drive additional business value in certain situations. Creating a separate isolated system just to manage B2B APIs creates gaps in the over all business process and value.

APIs figure prominently in almost every IT modernization project, a perpetual journey for every enterprise. Using APIs to connect directly to a transactional system, like an ERP system, makes the data transfer path simpler since the intermediary file transfer server and associated processes are eliminated. API-driven transactions also require fewer resources (storage, memory, compute) to manage the exchange of data, can be secured using a variety of encryption and authentication mechanisms, are simpler to set up and manage, and are faster to execute in real time.

1. Use cases

The following are common industry use cases that illustrate the importance of APIs in supply chain-oriented business transactions.

2. APIs in IBM Sterling

Among clients of IBM Sterling B2B Collaboration solutions, API usage continues to advance, and developing an “API first” strategy is imperative. However, APIs take many forms, and it is important to be clear what the expectations are for APIs in B2B networking.

In the context of B2B transaction processing, it is assumed that APIs are implemented using the HTTPS protocol, the same protocol used for the World Wide Web, sharing many of its benefits of simplicity, statelessness, client-side cacheability and error handling. Many will also assume that APIs will be RESTful, where REST stands for REpresentational State  Transfer, which imposes additional behaviors such as only supporting JSON or XML payloads and having a prescriptive URL schema (pattern).

Both IBM Sterling B2B Integator (enterprise software) as well as IBM Sterling Supply Chain Business Network (cloud solution), support HTTPS-based APIs. While not necessarily having all of the additional characteristics of RESTful APIs, the Sterling HTTPS support approach allows IBM clients to define the URL schema and payload of any arbitrary data type that meets the needs of the business. In almost all cases, the straight HTTPS support in the IBM Sterling B2B Collaboration suite is all that is required. However, you will see later how Sterling HTTPS support can be combined with IBM API Connect and IBM App Connect to provide even richer API capabilities and system interconnectivity options.

3. Implementing APIs

APIs are designed to be readily and easily used with a variety of programming languages and automation tools, much more easily and flexibly than traditional file transfer protocols. Just about any HTTPenabled tool can invoke an API and process the results. So, the natural first inclination on how to leverage APIs is to use them directly.

4. Crafting a hybrid strategy for b2b transactions

Here are three things to know as you review your B2B integration strategy for supply chain resiliency with APIs.

Pragma Edge, IBM, Pragmaedge, Gold partner, AI, Artificial Intelligence,
The strategic role of APIs with EDI
in modern B2B collaboration

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On April 21 2021, 11 AM CT