With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting global supply chains and throwing systems out of whack, IBM decided to step in, unveiling an updated suite of tools designed to help enterprises manage suppliers and digitize analog modes of business-to-business (B2B) communication.

Using AI and blockchain, the IBM Sterling Business Transaction Intelligence Enterprise Edition, IBM Sterling Transaction Manager and IBM Sterling Catalog Manager will not only simplify transactions, but also deepen the trust and transparency between trading partners who need it most, according to Jeanette Barlow, vice president of offering management for IBM Sterling.

In an interview, Barlow explained that the supply chain enhancements will minimize the complexity of supplier onboarding and collaboration while helping businesses of all sizes future-proof their logistics given the current disruptive landscape.

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“Supplier collaboration is so critical and, in this time period that we are all experiencing, having strong platforms to support supplier collaboration, visibility into what your supply base is, and where trouble hotspots could be is very important,” she said.

“A recent survey showed that two-thirds of companies still have to use email, phone, fax, and mail to conduct their order-to-cash and procure-to-pay processes with at least 30% of their partners. When you multiply all of those transactions done using analog processes, it adds up.”

Barlow said using legacy analog tools to conduct business in today’s environment is costly and can make conducting business increasingly difficult in the event of issues around purchase orders or invoices. These kinds of disruptions have taken on a new light since the outbreak of COVID-19, which forced millions of factories to either close down or reduce work.

IBM’s Lori Brofford wrote in a blog post that “the importance of enabling efficient, real-time supplier collaboration built on a foundation of transparency and trust has never been more critical to improve visibility into procure-to-ay or order-to-ash processes.”

Leveraging machine learning and AI, Business Transaction Intelligence gives enterprises alerts on delayed or late orders while also providing cycle time predictions which help determine the probability of events–like when an order acknowledgement will be received or when an order will be shipped.

The platform is also able to use blockchain to provide a secure, shared, single version of the truth for B2B transactions so that there is never a problem between enterprises, Barlow said, adding that it gives you discrepancy alerts and predicts completion of events to get ahead of potential issues.

Buyers and suppliers can provide each other with more information about transactions, delays, or potential changes to orders.

IBM Sterling Transaction Manager and IBM Sterling Catalog Manager make it easier for enterprises to improve collaboration by simplifying onboarding, digitizing, and automating business transactions with trading partners. Barlow explained that the platforms are particularly useful for companies with smaller partners that lack the technology and expertise to support EDI transactions.

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Sterling Transaction Manager provides a digital solution for procure-to-pay and order-to-cash cycles. Non-EDI partners simply log in to a web portal to receive purchase orders and send order acknowledgements, shipping notices, and invoices, she added. The Sterling Catalog Manager lets non-EDI suppliers and trading partners upload and maintain product information across multiple catalogs via the cloud-based web portal.

According to Barlow, a variety of enterprises in multiple industries have looked into using the platforms, including those involved in industrial services, automotive, logistics, and retailers.

“Retailers tend to have an extraordinary number of suppliers and they need to be as efficient as possible given the competitive margins. Spending money on inefficient processes or not having a good handle on the performance of your suppliers costs them money and takes away from their bottom line,” Barlow said.

“BTI can eliminate those blind spots for a lot of organizations looking to improve how they manage their supply or clients or how they become more efficient and effective in supporting their supply chain. When we see disruptions like this again, understanding your supply base and being able to act quickly are going to be key for competitive sustainability in times like this.”

Image: iStockphoto/B4LLS