Benoit Lheureux

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Benoit J. Lheureux
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Benoit Lheureux is a research VP in Gartner Research and agenda manager for the Application Infrastructure group. He focuses on three areas: application integration, middleware and B2B e-commerce, with the emphasis on the latter. Read Full Bio

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Politics and Ignorance: No friends of B2B

by Benoit Lheureux  |  June 14, 2009  |  6 Comments

Ever since the financial services industry meltdown and the subsequent worldwide recession I’ve had frequent conversations with our clients and various B2B integration software and services companies i cover about the opportunities for B2B integration the next 18 to 36 months.

One take-away from all these discussions is that despite cautious spending in this economny companies across all industries are still investing in B2B modernization projects. Investments include simplifying and improving the way they do B2B integration — for example, using community management and visibility to drive B2B process improvements (to reduce costs and drive growth).

On Friday I was chatting with Greg Faubert – CEO of Messageway Solutions – about the barriers to successful implementation of B2B integration projects and – shooting from the hip – I claimed that “the only barriers to successful B2B projects are politics and ignorance”.

Pithy, indeed.

But my point was that technology itself isn’t usually a barrier anymore. It might have been five years ago, but not anymore. Whether you’re still using EDI or SOA, doing traditional ecommerce or Cloud computing, there are plenty of B2B products and services availabile to help. Rather than technology, the barriers to success for B2B projects are usually non-technical, such as internal politics (IT group in-fighting and no shared B2B strategy), unrealistic expectations (trying to force one method of B2B onto customers — good luck), or simply ignorance (unaware of innovations like Cloud governance or packaged integration).

Similar barriers to success impact higher-order IT initiatives such as SOA and BPM initiatives, so perhaps its no surprise that B2B integration projects have similar challenges. Yet I still have quite a few conversations with companies who aren’t aware of the opportunity to succeed in B2B. No, not every technical challenge has been resolve (e.g., ubiquitous authentication – *sigh*), but, really, your challenges are less likely technical and more likely politics and ignorance — no friends of B2B. :)

I welcome your comments.

6 Comments »

Category: BPM Cloud Computing Integration SaaS Integration     Tags:

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bryan Larkin   June 23, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Benoit,

    Great entry!

    You would love an ongoing thread (around 50 entries) on the EDI group on LinkedIn. More than a dozen of us have been discussing whether EDI gets any respect. I think your point about politics and ignorance are right on…and I think most of the rest of the group would agree.

    But I’ll go one step further in defining the ignorance. Most companies find themselves vertically siloed internally. Every department knows what they do but seem to have little knowledge regarding the “internal value chain” of the business process. They might know they get something from one department, do something to it and then hand it off to someone else. But they don’t know much about what is more than one step removed from their work.

    Unfortunately that isolation leads to running a business by departmental objectives while things like a well-run supply chain automation and B2B program require touchpoints across many of those departments. Not only – to your point – is there IT in-fighting but there is conflict between the departments. This makes it hard to coordinate a strong technical, functional and culturally relevant program.

    EDI teams can bounce from one department to the next (as director of B2B I reported to the CFO, CTO, and VP of Operations all within 12 or so months). It is hard to get traction like that. Harder still when IT shops replace automated B2B with portals because they can get unified reporting – never mind the extraordinary inefficiencies and never mind the fact that done right they can have similar reporting in real time from a robust and comprehensive automated solution – even with smaller trading partners.

    Numerous studies have shown that mature B2B programs have significant positive impacts to stakeholder equity. Yet, as one person on the LinkedIn discussion has noted, B2B is considered a “menial” task within most companies rather than a strategic tool. And it is irrelevant whether the B2B is traditional EDI, some variant of XML or something else entirely.

    I see a widening of the digital divide (and the corresponding improvements in stakeholder equity) between those that get it (a relative few) and those that don’t. And in tough economic times, I think the divide might just widen more quickly.

    Thanks for bringing this topic to the masses!

  • 2 Martijn Linssen   June 26, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I agree too, Benoit!

    EDI, or integration, suffers from its own success. If succesful, no one will even notice it’s there, and the old “out of sight, out of heart” saying becomes true once again
    Bryan’s siloes add to not only hiding the knowledge needed for B2B, but also spreading it – in come the politics on top of ignorance

    We’ve indeed gone from do-it-yourself point-to-point connections to packaged integration solutions where the only revolution now is that we wait for full, well-performing XSLT-driven transformation so we can just swap one vendor for another without even thinking about it. That would be the day!

    There is a gap though, between the old ways of doing integration, and “the new ways”. We have gone from relatively low profile operation to visibility, thus drawing attention from all departments – which is not necessarily bad
    Fortunately, we now have a good and solid business driver for possibly the next 1-2 years to come: doing business against lower cost. For that, we all have to focus externally, to see where and what the demand is; after that, we must focus internally, and see how we can adjust our supply to meet that demand. Mutual enemies unite ;-)

  • 3 Roy Wright   June 26, 2009 at 1:30 am

    A short and provocative article Benoit, but an entirely valid point that needs to be made loud and clear if we are to see clear improvements in this field over the next decade.

    It is an interesting point that Bryan makes concerning “isolationism”; some 20 years ago when B2B was essentially represented by traditional EDI systems, it was usually implemented in medium-large enterprises via a “Gateway” team. The team took sole responsibility for driving the necessary business and technical changes and became versed in all aspects of B2B BPM – subject matter experts within an entire enterprise.

    Governance, business and technical issues were dealt with in a cohesive fashion since the gateway teams were pre-eminent in the deployment of B2B solutions.

    This has changed as a result of the segregation of functions, sometimes based on technical tools and sometimes based on business processes. The result is that a disparate morass of technology solutions tend to develop within their own bubble leading to political wrangling and ignorance of the enterprise-wide effect.

    As you make clear, the issues we face in the industry are not technical per se. The largest issue can, perhaps, be best described as one of “ownership” – ownership based on a partisan approach rather than an enterprise-wide benefit.

    Can this be turned about? Clearly, yes! History has shown, time and time again that forthright leadership is key; leadership to provide clear strategy, cohesive planning and innovative deployment.

  • 4 Benoit Lheureux   June 26, 2009 at 4:18 am

    Bryan, Martijn, Roy,…

    Thank you for your comments. Your comments regarding those tenacious “Silos” of responsibility within companies (which artificially chop up holistic cross-company processes into fragments) was a particularly good insight into *why* these problems persist.

    More importantly though I also agree that B2B visibility — i.e., instrumenting, monitoring and improving B2B processes — is one way to help break down such barriers. Could it be that B2B projects — rather than internal initiatives — could become a leading driver for an “outside / in” approach to breaking down internal politics and application silos? :)

  • 5 Roy Wright   June 26, 2009 at 7:30 am

    True integration is achieved by managing the entire B2B relationship chain and recognising that it represents an entire logical and physical network of potential and realised trading relationships. This is the ideal object of focus rather than just specific nodes or paths. Let us not forget that B2C, B2B and F2B are all part of the same chain in any number of combinations.

    Clearly, the whole thing is ideal “real estate” for vendors and service providers since they can build empires but in the process they will construct borders. This represents a partisan approach since even with the best will in the world we would be creating alpha-2-omega service providers whose own strategic goals may (would?) be against the best interests of open B2B.

    However, your phrase “outside/in” triggers a response of “governance” in me. I truly believe that the industry can no longer govern itself to achieve the best benefit from B2B solutions – primarily due to the focus on technology rather than strategy.

    Leadership and a derived strategy has to flow from Government itself. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but, the economic climate and the vision of environmental (i.e. green) constraints on the supply chain make the importance of JIT manufacturing and “on-demand” principles ever more important; successful VMR and VMI can only be built around B2B practises.

    Leadership in this field, sponsored by Government, could provide the clear strategies for cohesive solutions to provide our B2B infrastructure in the years to come. It will not be too long before “green” constraints will no longer simply be pursued in “good will”, they will be mandated by law and experienced by every industry, in fact, it has already started. The internal issues of today will be the pan-industry issues of tomorrow.

    Vendors and service providers will provide the technology, of course, it is in their financial interest to do so. However, an open B2B strategy must come from the top down to truly motivate business.

  • 6 B2B portals   October 7, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Unfortunately that isolation leads to running a business by departmental objectives while things like a well-run supply chain automation and B2B program require touchpoints across many of those departments. Not only – to your point – is there IT in-fighting but there is conflict between the departments. This makes it hard to coordinate a strong technical, functional and culturally relevant program.
    Leadership and a derived strategy has to flow from Government itself. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but, the economic climate and the vision of environmental (i.e. green) constraints on the supply chain make the importance of JIT manufacturing and “on-demand” principles ever more important; successful VMR and VMI can only be built around B2B practises.