Understanding Product Segmentation in B2B Communications

I salute those who take ownership of an IT sector, committing the time and effort to monitor a select cohort of vendors.  A pithy and succinct briefing can illuminate a bizarre acquisition (SAP + Ariba ??),   while providing the informed commentary required to comprehend a product ‘s maturity cycle. The B2B IT sector of late is  especially ripe for some unbiased research outside  of the big two, so I was fortunate to discover an unbiased agency on the LinkedIn forums. And we sure need some sanity in the B2B comms sector.

B2B communications – it’s a term of art that formerly referred exclusively to EDI over VAN communications. Now, B2B Communications cover the gamut of MFT (managed file transfer), EDI via As2 peer connections (EDIINT, an obsolete term, as IP Transit is the norm ), and other transactional systems, software, and protocols that have come and gone; all have been variously pressed into the service of B2B communications).

It’s great, therefore, to have an experienced, cogent, and no-nonsense guide to the B2B Comms maze. Ann Grackin of ChainLink, (an independent B2B Product Research Shop), is an ex-AMR VP, so she wears the “no-bullshit‘ logo on her virtual epaulets; I covet that insignia dearly, and I strive to maintain a ‘No BS Zone’ in my work as a retained product advocate / evangelist.

Analyst Grackin recently released a sector overview of B2B Communications, and it’s fantastically well done. The brief includes a few lesser-known vendors and service providers, such as Loren Data Corp*.   This underscores her expansive purview in covering the sector.  Ann does not require my paltry linkage; her briefings are extremely well researched and widely circulated, so I am referencing this particular article.

B2B communications, particularly EDI messaging in supply chain communities, is undergoing a triple whammy of PE driven consolidation (by GXS and lesser others), momentum shifting (a VAN exodus), and changes in infrastructure (Cloud Computing). The whole game is changing, and I’m fortunate to work in the shadow of a leading architect in EDI Communications services (Todd Gould, President of Loren Data Corp). As an observer of B2B enabling services – how they affect the mid-market – this is my time to make some piquant observations.

Short analysis: Closed B2B Communications Architectures, or those without a “platform vision” = bad for mid market business. Without the ability to differentiate, verticalize,  or support the creative efforts of   developers, comms architecture becomes an obstruction, rather than a catalyst.

Good B2B Comms Architectures that are developer friendly, extensible via well-engineered APIs, providing a cohesive platform upon which to BUILD applications  = Good for the Mid Market Businesses, because they foster creativity and innovation.   

API’s that empower the developers – these are the first element in reducing friction. Driving out costs, eliminating false obstacles, eschewing institutionalized complexity – this is the spectrum of challenges that will set the stage for a mid-market renaissance beyond the supply chain. Meanwhile, I am on a sharp lookout for any innovation, or partnerships, that are complementary to this vision of “B2B Communications as Platform Services”.

Stay tuned for a follow-up article on the elimination of “institutionalized complexity” in B2B Communications systems.  B2B communications seem to be under siege,  and a battle is being waged by solitary “warriors.” They should be working together. Yet, it is poetic nonetheless. , that a sector’s salvation resides on rather slight, but psychically strong shoulders. For the moment, I shall state the following:

Asking B2B market participants to willingly abandon (or to never have) a fully addressable, global communications system and supporting services (directory services, ID portability, etc.), is …… “madness”.

*(I have a relationship with Loren Data Corp as an internal product analyst and industry relations advocate).