After years of wrangling, business-to-business software companies are still working toward a key goal: to connect smaller suppliers with their global, often much larger, supply chain partners.
The issue? While most big buyers—think Toyota or Honda—have massive IT departments to facilitate backend integrations to suppliers, smaller "mom and pop" shops are lacking in those facilities.
Business-to-business e-commerce company GXS and Microsoft are out to fix that. The two companies announced May 8 a partnership that will have GXS, which has arguably one of the largest electronic B2B trading hubs in the world, and Microsoft, which has some of the most ubiquitous collaboration technology on the face of the planet (if you consider e-mail) combining forces.
The companies announced an agreement to embed Microsofts BizTalk Server 2006 and SQL Server 2005 into GXS Trading Grid. At the same time, Microsoft announced GXS Trading Grid is its "preferred" B2B network.
"Were providing direct integration between BizTalk and the Trading Grid —its one feed," said Eddie Amos, senior director in the developer and platform evangelism group at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.
"Trading Grid will map to all your partners and how they do business. Adding a partner, take out a trading partner, [were making it] easy to happen."
Currently, if a smaller supplier has to get electronically connected with a large buyer, they typically have to go to a Web site, download specifications for mapping to that buyers technology platform, and code the mappings, said Amos.
"Weve done that already," said Amos. "They can leverage all pre-existing maps," to GXS Trading Grid.
A BizTalk Server 2006-based Grid Ready application will be made available to GXS customer base—some 40,000 global users—that will enable integration to a hundreds of business partners, officials said.
While selling each others related products, the two companies are also planning further integrations at the product level—specifically, GXS supplier processes to Microsofts Dynamics suite of ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, and the upcoming Office 2007 release.
GXS plans to simplify the integration of standards and protocols, in effect enabling Office 2007and Dynamics users to automate their processes with customers and suppliers.
Microsoft, for its part, is big into process orchestration and integration. Its Dynamics suite—currently in the first wave of a two-wave development cycle that will culminate around 2008 with its four ERP suites brought together under a single code base—is largely being built around enabling process scenarios.
The idea with GXS is to enable suppliers (who are also Dynamics users) to be able to automate specific processes—purchase order remittance, for example—with partners.
There is a similar concept around Office.
"Office 2007, coming out a little later on this year, will have XML formatting and new programmable ribbons that GXS will be able to program right into its applications ... for example, to take Excel and hook it into the trading grid," said Amos.
GXS Trading Grid embedded with Microsofts BizTalk and SQL Server components will be available in June.
It is undetermined when the Office 2007 and Dynamics process integration will be completed.