November 23, 2020

Where EDI falls short, APIs and ArcESB fill the gap

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For years, EDI (electronic document interchange) has allowed businesses to exchange documents with their partners from computer to computer in a standardized format. And this has worked well.

With the explosion of APIs that now are used for data and document exchange, some companies are finding that their EDI solutions are coming up short, lacking the ability to leverage those APIs.

“Historically, EDI … is a way to send purchase orders and invoices electronically between companies,” explained Mike Albritton, managing director at ArcESB, a CData company specializing in modernizing B2B connectivity. “Companies would use flat files, CSV and lots of different ways to get information into the back-end system. Today, everything is API-driven. Today, you’ve got your ERP system in the cloud with an API, your shipping system has an API, your warehouse system has an API. And, while EDI is still a big part of the process, you’ve still got to integrate with APIs. That’s where we’ve tried to fit in and make it easy for customers to do.”

ArcESB is the latest iteration of RSSBus, a B2B integration solution for Managed File Transfer and EDI launched in 2006 and renamed in September 2019. “The name RSSBus is rooted in the early days of Web 2.0 and was based on the simple pub-sub messaging that drives the platform.” Albritton said. “We’ve added a lot of capabilities since those days and ultimately the product outgrew its brand. ArcESB is still designed around simple integration and loose coupling, but now includes more of the features of a modern low-code service bus, including modern drag & drop integration and an agile microservices design. We’ve leveraged the CData team and all the connectors they’re building, really to provide a solution that’s very much a message-driven workflow solution that takes data from one place — whether a business partner or trading partner — and transform that to push it into your back-end system.”

Many companies today use SaaS applications to manage their accounting and ERP systems, he said. These SaaS applications expose APIs, Webhooks and the like. to integrate B2B processes with them, so those companies need an EDI platform that is capable of integrating their EDI processes into those systems.  “Modern EDI software must leverage APIs to integrate with all of their business systems,” he said.

For many small- and medium-size businesses without an EDI process in place, adopting APIs to exchange data is an easier, more agile solution. With APIs, there are no virtual area networks, no document transaction fees and no portals to deal with, Albritton explained. 

A couple of use cases shine light on what ArcESB provides. For companies with EDI solutions that find themselves needing to leverage APIs — which many EDi solutions do not do — they have to do a lot of custom coding, which falls to developers with particular expertise. ArcESB offers a drag-and-drop, visual interface that enables other members of the team to create the integrations. 

Another case is when companies are looking to sell products in e-commerce platforms such as Shopify or Amazon Marketplace, which use APIS and don’t have an EDI process for that in some places. Albritton said, “And so, they came to us and said, ‘Look, our EDI provider doesn’t have any kind integration with APIs,’ and that’s where we were easily able to take the EDI process they had and convert that to integrate with other APIs from e-commerce tools.”

ArcESB is a modern spin on the enterprise service bus, an architecture for busing messages from one place to another. “ESB traditionally is a big heavyweight application; you need an army of people to install it and set it up,” Albritton said. “Ours is a very lightweight, easy to use, drag-and-drop interface, browser-based interface, where you can do this easily. 

The company recently released a form connector with which you can dynamically build a custom form that kicks off messages and workflows. 

ArcESB is an on-premises solution, but it does have instances of it running in the Microsoft Azure and AWS marketplaces as preconfigured VMs. “It’s an application you can run anywhere,” he said. “That differentiates us from a lot of the iPaaS solutions; your data is all in their cloud and you don’t have control of that, whereas with us, you do.”

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