Without proper supply chain management strategies in place, other efforts to enhance production efficiency and product quality will be significantly hampered. In most cases, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) don't have complete control over every stage of the supply chain, as this typically involves a number of different companies, making it difficult to keep the supply chain running as smoothly as possible. However, as technology grows more advanced, the ability for these companies to work together to achieve goals and meet deadlines improves as well.

A recent white paper from IDC Manufacturing Insights and OpenText, which offers enterprise information management solutions and services, revealed that business-to-business (B2B) communications are imperative beyond a shadow of a doubt to get the most out of the supply chain, and that the technologies available for these efforts can enhance numerous areas of operations.

Reasons behind B2B integration are shifting
Researchers from IDC studied more than 270 companies across eight countries in various manufacturing sectors – including automotive, consumer packaged goods and high technology – to get an overall idea of the industry as a whole. The study revealed that in many cases, businesses are not taking advantage of technology to better connect with the other companies in the supply chain, but for those who have, the main drivers behind such action have been pressure from customers and interest in improving return on investment. While these two factors are seen as equally important today, the survey found that the latter will begin to bear more weight in as little as three years. Pressure from competitors and suppliers is likely to also gain speed over this period. Compliance was the least important factor in this case, but will begin to become increasingly important in the near future as well.

Multitude of benefits stem from B2B integration
Using technology to better communicate with other companies in the supply chain can allow OEMs to better organize logistics, inventory deliveries and other factors, leading to more efficiency and reliability. Analyzing the results of the survey, OpenText highlighted the very real benefits of this strategy that can contribute to lean manufacturing efforts and bolster ROI. For instance, B2B integration can improve invoice processing time by as much as 156 percent. It can also help protect against unexpected problems like extreme weather events by 89 percent, reducing the chances of inventory stockouts that can slow or stop production. As a result of these perks, the source found there can be a 48 percent improvement in customer order delivery time as well. Happy customers are more likely to be repeat customers, so this is especially important to bear in mind.

Common issues to prepare for when integrating
The survey also examined the pitfalls and roadblocks respondents encountered when they were improving their B2B integration. Approximately 40 percent of enterprises indicated that this task was made more difficult when they were working to integrate and improve technology in other areas of their companies. The second biggest hindrance was dealing with all the working parts during integration, as the more complex a product was or the broader range of products a company offered increased the difficulty of rolling out integration for 39 percent of respondents. In that same vein, 38 percent said complicated supply chains presented similar problems.

Modern offerings to implement in the supply chain
To foster integration, companies within the supply chain need to have the right technology in place. The report pointed to three of the major technological players of late: big data, the cloud and mobility. Big data makes it easier to collect, store and analyze large amounts of information for more accurate and in-depth insights. The cloud can then provide multiple companies with this information quickly and from anywhere. This is where mobility comes in, as having access to big data through the cloud is even more lucrative if employees are able to pull data directly to their mobile devices whether they're on the road, in the factory or in a business meeting.