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If your company depends on Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or other business-to-business (B2B) integration methods for transmitting orders, invoices, catalogs, and other electronic business documents, the chances are good that you're using or have considered using B2B managed services.

B2B managed services is an umbrella term that refers to a range of third-party service offerings, including EDI outsourcing, Integration-as-a-Service, on-network translation, and specialty areas like outsourced customer portals and online catalog synchronization services.

Many vendors in the B2B integration market have offered managed services for years, but cost-cutting measures and a shrinking economy are pushing managed services to the fore. Demand for self-managed B2B integration remains strong, but battered budgets, scarce IT resources, and shifting business priorities make managed services especially attractive to small companies and other businesses focused on resource optimization and cost-cutting.

B2B managed services composition

The services rendered by Managed Services Providers (MSPs) may include needs assessment, system design, implementation, system operation, and ongoing maintenance and enhancement, in any combination. For example, in a typical EDI managed services arrangement, the MSP might provide hosted infrastructure, trading partner mediation services, EDI mapping services, EDI operations, and regular activity reporting to the client.

The business value of B2B managed services comprises two main parts: the expertise, B2B process deliverables, and services provided by the MSP, and the computing infrastructure on which the process deliverables (translation maps, scripts, transport interfaces, etc.) execute. Most buyers of B2B managed services see these two parts as inseparable, and assume that managed services are, by definition, delivered on hosted infrastructure.

This assumption rests on an outdated view of computing cost structure. Early B2B managed services were almost exclusively hosted, because the cost of hardware, software, and network management dominated the cost of services. It made sense for managed services clients to exploit sunk investments in computing infrastructure made by the MSP, especially when internal computing resources ran close to capacity. Today, many MSPs continue to operate exclusively on hosted infrastructures, due to business models established many years ago.


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