Solution Architecture to Suit B2B Integration Needs

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Today's big data explosion, increased business applications and cloud-based technologies have quickly marginalized older infrastructure and deployment architecture. What worked well for years can no longer keep up with increased processing speeds, proliferating mobile marketing demands, security concerns and thousands of potential APIs that integrate in a B2B operating system's API layer. Website architecture deals with three critical elements in today's B2B eCommerce platforms: aesthetic, functional and technical design. Site architecture is designed to focus on each website user's needs and deliver reliable connections and navigation while ensuring that the platform's business needs are also met.

 

Why Site Architecture Is Important in B2B Applications

Site architecture defines the site's ability to generate responsive layouts, provide access to search engines, connect with third-party integrations and process website visitors. When users arrive at a website, they typically have questions that the site's display should answer in just a few seconds. These include:

  • Is this the right place?
  • Does the site offer what I want?
  • Is this product or option better than what I had in mind?
  • Does the company appear to be reputable?
  • Does the site satisfy my sense of design and style?
  • Where do I go next?

Site architecture is designed to answer these questions, guide the visitor to website areas where they can find what they're looking for, get answers to questions, become intrigued by links, related products and user-friendly features and take actions to satisfy needs. Information layout is designed to assuage anxiety, convince people they're in the right place, build trust and elaborate on what the business can offer each visitor.


Why Your Deployment Architecture Needs Adjusting

B2B platforms no longer function as simple online business cards or static websites but empower an incredible array of user-friendly features such as adjusting to the device each visitor is using, personalizing displays for customer personas, suggesting intuitive navigation recommendations, providing targeted internal catalog searches, generating custom order forms and connecting to research and customized features. Menus and display content need to offer global site navigation, popular search buttons, quick-connect buttons and other simplified navigation tools and other functional features that are easy-to-find and clearly visible on small screens.

To Collect or Not to Collect

Many B2B companies have never collected sales tax while others collect it only if they have a physical location and business customers who regularly buy equipment, supplies and products used in business or offices. Although companies from out-of-state can can collect taxes for other states as required by law, there has been no legal mandate to do so except within the states where companies operate. That may soon change because of The Marketplace Fairness Act, which is pending in Congress in 2016. The new law would make collecting sales taxes mandatory in the 45 states that have sales taxes. B2C and B2B companies would be legally required to collect these taxes according to each state’s tax rates, and standard laws, fines and penalties would apply in cases of noncompliance. States can treat cases where companies collect the taxes but fail to forward them to the tax authorities as embezzlement.[1]

Deciding whether B2B companies should collect taxes could take up pages without coming to any hard-and-fast conclusions. The best answer depends on what B2B companies sell, how much of their inventory is generally for resale and how much of what they sell is strictly used in business operations. The short answer is that if a business operates within a state, then it must collect tax for items that aren't commonly resold. It seems likely that the Marketplace Fairness Act or some variation of it will eventually pass as states increasingly complain about tax loopholes in digital sales. Until such time as companies are legally mandated to collect sales taxes, B2B companies can choose to collect taxes or not on out-of-state orders. However, it's a good idea to prepare for the possibility, and since companies must collect taxes within the states where they operate, it's not much more difficult to customize software to handle taxes in all the states.


Determining How Much to Collect

Determining how much tax to collect manually would be a nightmare for the staff of a busy B2B eCommerce platform that commonly sells supplies, business equipment and items for resale in all the states. Generating invoices and fulfilling orders would languish until staff could examine orders and consult tax tables, connect for updates and determine which products fall into certain categories. Each state has its own regulations, exemptions and taxable items, which makes accurate manual calculations nearly impossible. For example, Texas, which has one of highest sales tax rates, normally taxes products at 8.25 percent but charges 66 percent of that rate for services. Every county in the state also has a different tax rate based on a local tax option, so companies would need to determine which county each customer is actually from, a daunting task when dealing with lots of Texas orders.

The problem becomes magnified when orders consist of taxable and nontaxable items, drop-shipping where items ship from different locations, some of which might be in the state and some of which might be outside its jurisdiction. Split-shipping introduces an entirely different level of uncertainty when bulk orders are shipped to hundreds of separate store addresses. These orders might go to different countries, states, cities and counties and have different product distributions that might or might not be taxable and other variables.

Custom tax calculating APIs are available as stand-alone applications and API additions that can be integrated into B2B websites to calculate taxes accurately. B2B platform customizations might be needed to route the information where it's most needed in ERP and CRM software, add special features like ZIP code and street address lookups and other customizations. Avalara is one of the most accurate and popular APIs because it calculates taxes precisely based on ZIP codes, verifies addresses and checks tax rates through real-time connections with the relevant taxing authorities.

Best Practices for B2B Site Architecture

Each B2B organization has different features, customer demands and data processing needs that are complicated by increased mobile access and the greater processing needs that increased Internet access generates at all hours of the day. Explosive growth in processing speeds for handling data from multiple databases, new applications, business services and cloud communications puts strain on aging service-oriented architecture or SOA. Data is time-sensitive and loses value after even minor delays. For example, delays are common when business applications search through social media or third-party databases for actionable insights. Multiply any slight delays due to inefficient architecture by all users, all website features, all internal process and all stakeholder activities. The result is real-time processing delays that slow page loads and produce other inefficiencies that cause users to migrate to different sites. Conducting an audit of B2B hosting, scalability and SOA issues is important when building any B2B eCommerce platform or planning a project to upgrade and expand business capabilities.


Hosting Capabilities

Each B2B platform has many parts, and any upgrade, project or new implementation begins by examining the underlying deployment architecture and its many related elements. Performance and security issues need to be considered when reviewing site architecture and hosting issues. Older SOA configurations and inadequate designs become increasingly vulnerable to processing delays and leaks of confidential data that could result in legal issues. When adding new B2B capabilities, these risks increase, so decision-makers should review where their site is hosted because location can have critical performance and security implications. Most companies locate servers or site hosting based on budgetary concerns or their IT teams' preferences, but they shouldn't. The following issues are more important when determining hosting location and other details like architecture configuration:

  • Proximity to areas where most site visitors are located
  • Daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal traffic patterns
  • Type of user experience that the company wants to offer
  • Number and types of associated files that visitors will access and download such as graphics, videos, brochures and price lists
  • International marketing and shipping requirements
  • Where companies store their operational systems such as CRM, ERP, back-office applications and Inventory Management systems
  • Plans for backing up data and disaster recovery

Decision-makers need to consider whether their hosting choices support many processes, faster customer access and steadily growing customer volume and new applications and customer support services such as content delivery networks or CDNs, which are a series of servers used to deliver content based on each user's geographic location.


Expandability

Consider where the business and explosive growth might take the company in just five years. Once a hosting location is determined, the architectural decisions can be enhanced, modified and upgraded if the hosting location supports expandability, but other issues should be considered. Decisions made due to costs could easily backfire in this scenario because expanding the platform's capabilities becomes impossible or cost-prohibitive. Even those companies that choose a relatively expensive solution with many licensing and transactional fees face issues. Company decision-makers might learn to live with high transaction costs and eventually forget about what they’re paying. However, when those companies want to expand or add a load balancer, they find that they must pay an additional $50,000 license fee. It's critical to understand the performance, expandability and security implications of choosing a hosting location, but it's equally important to know what future expansion will cost.


Other B2B Platform Concerns

Some companies begin business operations by hosting their internal systems on-premises such as ERP and CRM. If hosting CRM applications in-house, it's common to migrate to the cloud later as the business grows. Unfortunately, this change compromises site architecture and can seriously affect integration issues when the CRM system is online and the company’s operating ERP system is on-premises. That's why it's so important to choose a B2B platform that's capable of handling the company's current infrastructure needs and is easy to expand for business growth and increased processing needs as they develop. Get things right now, and companies can build a platform primed for growth and expansion.

Functional Architecture Design

How companies choose to configure deployment architecture for better functional design affects everything that a B2B platform does. Upgrades, modifications and platform rebuilds can disrupt business instead of enhancing it, but the right solution architecture generates a fluid process for development and carrying out regular business operations, launching new projects, integrating new features, handling routine maintenance and other B2B platform responsibilities.


Does Functional Architecture Design Pass the Smell Test?

Today's enterprise-level eCommerce platforms serve many stakeholder, internal staff and customer needs, but many companies are dealing with these issues from a weakened position and a big handicap -- inadequate functional architecture design. B2B eCommerce has evolved beyond what Internet developers ever envisaged when computer technology first came online for common usage, and technology advances, exponential increases in databases, evolving marketing needs and increased mobile access have created an environment where companies can feel that they’re stuck with old infrastructure because they don't want to risk going offline to upgrade their capabilities. One Forrester Research survey found that 66 percent of B2B IT managers had difficulties exchanging information and that 63 percent reported problems when trying to add new trading partners.[1]

There are many potential solutions based on SOA strategies that segregate and consolidate functions for local functions, development environments, staging and testing. The following configuration, which was designed by Clarity Connect, is well-conceived and designed to optimize B2B processes:[2]

  • Clarity Connect designed architecture that allows its API layer to reside behind the firewall at MCI and simultaneously within the staging area.
  • This configuration supports expanded staging options and integrations with external connections simultaneously.
  • Clarity Development and Local Environments can access the Connector securely for security-driven operations.
  • Data is continuously synced between the CEF and CRN/AX by using the connector to queue this interaction.
  • MCI business rules apply within the Connector for business logic, mappings, etc.

That's one example of how custom architecture design can create a platform that supports business processes, external integrations, security concerns and a range of B2B eCommerce needs with a common toolset while incorporating modern solutions for onboarding business associates, adding new transaction sets and validating and confirming data without interrupting the regular flow of business.

Tips on Deployment Architecture from B2B eCommerce & Integrations

Enterprise architecture offers B2B companies an extraordinary degree of latitude in their operations to conduct regular business, expand and develop new features for the rapidly evolving technological and social trends and best practices that eCommerce companies need to adopt to stay competitive. B2B eCommerce & Integrations can help you build the kind of business that can boldly go where others are forced to follow. Our experience will guide you in configuring an architecture solution that supports a multilevel platform, trading partner requirements, new B2B protocols, noninvasive integrations and multichannel interoperability. We'll work with your team to develop an architecture solution that fits your needs precisely today while supporting easy future expansions. Call or contact us today for a consultation on deployment architecture or a price quote.


 

References:

[1] Wispubs.com: Does Your B2B Architecture Pass the Test? sapinsider.wispubs.com/Assets/Articles/2013/January/Does-Your-B2B-Architecture-Pass-The-Test

[2] Clarity Connect: JPG of Functional Architecture Design cvilnk.com/media/source_control_process_diagram.jpg