Synopsis: Retail is notorious for taking weeks and months to set up data exchange integrations between trading partners. Why are we still putting up with it?
You’ve done it! The contracts are signed, the lawyers are appeased, and you are finally ready to start selling/buying with your new trading partner. There is just one last hurdle to get over…
Data integration and compliance.
Those words alone are enough to make your eyes go wide with fear. Connecting your supply chain data system to new trading partners is a painful experience for many companies.
There are several reasons why making a new data integration is difficult:
- Learning the nuances and quirks of a new solution can be a time intensive and frustrating experience.
- Trading partners often use the platform move to introduce new data and compliance standards – this in addition to keeping their previous requirements intact.
- Testing can be a nightmare! Contacts from both parties have to wait on each other to send test data back and forth. Put a middleman in-between, such as an EDI provider or VAN, and you essentially double the time it takes to onboard.
But does it have to be this way?
Business to consumer technology companies make it a top priority to get their customers using their product as quickly and efficiently as possible. Take Google and Amazon’s smart home technology as examples. Within minutes you can have your home device connected to your wifi network and integrated with your Google or Amazon account. Beyond that, can you imagine if it took you weeks of back and forth calling Netflix support, just to set up your account and watch the latest episode of your favorite baking show?
Consumers don’t put up with difficult technology transitions, and suppliers and retailers in the ecommerce industry shouldn’t have to either.
How to Onboard with Style
Every company needs to improve and innovate their processes when it comes to bringing on or connecting to a new trading partner.
Here are three things I have learned through supporting the onboarding of over a thousand new trading partners:
- Establish Expectations: Set a “Go Live” deadline for your trading partner and be hawkish about achieving it. Realistic benchmarks and consistent follow up are key to move the process along.
- Automate and Innovate: Take advantage of new technology to save cost and time in your supply chain. Don’t assume that there is only one way to send and receive data. For example, many companies automatically yield to third party data providers that charge additional transmission fees without realizing their system can integrate directly, cutting out the middleman altogether and saving a lot of time.
- Take (or Give) Ownership: A new trading partner shouldn’t have to badger your company with emails asking for basic tasks that a computer can do. Preferably, trading partners should be able to move through a “self serve” environment that can send test orders as well as process and validate your data before going live.
Of course there are many other things to consider when coming on to a new platform, but with those three principles you are setting a foundation for success.
We Crushed it During the Holidays
How powerful are these principles?
Last year, my company, Dsco, was talking with a potential retailer about the possibilities of using our solution for their dropship data problems. Of course, one of their main concerns was migrating and onboarding suppliers to our platform.
“How long will it take to bring on our vendors?” the retailer asked tentatively. “Do you think you could handle a hundred in say . . . a year?”
What the retailer didn’t know is that Dsco had just onboarded about 400 suppliers to the platform in less than four weeks, during the holidays. We had some companies complete their testing in just a few hours, and go live with their trading partner by the next day.
The reason we were able to do so is because of the three guidelines I highlighted above. (1) All the brands and suppliers had a hard deadline for when they needed to go live on our platform. (2) Most of them were able to exchange data directly with the Dsco platform rather than integrate to a legacy third party provider. (3) Finally, our innovative onboarding tech offered flexible “choose-your-own” data connections and a streamlined automated onboarding process, allowing IT departments to cruise through and test their integrations in our self-serve environment.
The result was one of the most impressive onboarding sprints I’ve ever seen.
A Thousand Reasons, but No Excuses
There are a thousand reasons to avoid and delay improving your trading partner onboarding process, but none of them are a real excuse for how slow and antiquated current solutions are. In this age it shouldn’t be hard to set up an integrated data relationship with another company. My experiences show the extraordinary results that can be achieved by improving, streamlining, and modernizing how the supply chain handles new trading partner integrations. I see no reason why everyone in the industry can’t do the same.
Let’s face it. Retail is behind when it comes to data technology. Way behind. It’s time to demand seamless technology transitions from ourselves and the partners that we deal with. If we don’t make the change, who will?