APIs offer immense advantages for B2B integration. They enable high-frequency, real time transactions between business partners for granular business processes. They can take cross-company business processes to a new level, as discussed in the first blog in this API-led B2B integration series.
In the second part of this three-part blog series, SEEBURGER expert Thomas Kamper reports on the industries in which companies are already using APIs to integrate partners. He also looks at whether there are already industry standards for API-led B2B integration.
What makes an API scenario industry-specific?
There isn’t a standard answer to this question. However, there are two main features which are typically found in industry-specific API scenarios:
- Efficiency and
An efficient API scenario is characterised by non-dependent, extensive standardisation that has not been driven by the interests of an individual player. Ideally, a company in that industry only needs to set up that specific standard, and can then use it for all its partners in the industry. This network effect leads to sustainably more efficient collaborative processes.
This standardisation usually takes place via an industry-wide accepted standardisation body, such as an industry association. An example for the European automotive industry is the association ODETTE, which is known for the slogan on its website: “No effective digitalisation without standardisation1“.
A relevant API scenario maps one or more specific core processes between industry partners. The actual adoption, prevalence and level of use of the API scenario is essentially determined by the importance of a central actor or B2B platform within the industry. An example is AMAZON’s Selling Partner API (SP-API).
- Relevant API scenarios are typically characterised by a shorter definition phase. Efficient API scenarios tend to have a significantly higher adoption rate. The simple reason: more players simultaneously generate more adoption “push”. This leads to sustainable and higher efficiency gains for the industry (see Figure 1).
Are there already any efficient, industry-specific standardised API scenarios?
There are indeed. Three industries have already agreed on standardised, efficient API scenarios:
- The financial services industry, where we see various initiatives at global and regional level. Standardisation is organised through NACHA,
- The healthcare industry (the FHIR standard, currently mainly relevant for North America) and
- The German automotive industry. In July 2021, the umbrella industry association VDA published guideline VDA4998 REST-API for Transport Track and Trace.
The latter is the first industry recommendation for supply chain processes worldwide and ODETTE already recommend it for its members. This has meant that these standards have become very relevant for the European area within a very short time. As this industry is globally networked, the impact will go beyond Europe.
The VDA4998 guideline is characterised by a very high and well thought-out degree of standardisation: It uses the OPEN API V3.0 specification recommended in the UN/CEFACT API Design Rules. The data structures use the UN/CEFACT Reusable Data Model (RDM) artefacts. For the relevant standardisations, SEEBURGER is involved in both standardisation bodies: the relevant VDA working group and the relevant United Nations (UN) organisations.
This lets us quickly implement these standards into our B2B integration solutions at an early stage. And companies and industries benefit from rapid adoption.
Overview of industry-relevant API scenarios
There are already a number of relevant industry-specific API scenarios. As discussed above, it takes less time to define a standard for a relevant scenario as this is set by one actor. The rate at which the API scenario is adopted and used in the industry depends on the significance of that actor. Here are some examples:
- APIs in automotive manufacturing
OEMs use APIs to optimise their supply chain processes and VDA4998 will make this significantly more efficient. Some OEMs are already starting to use APIs for classic B2B integration processes. In these cases, they often continue to follow existing standards, such as the structure and content of EDI business documents. Tesla, however, are setting up new API supply chain processes.
Furthermore, automotive groups such as Volkswagen3 and BMW4 are developing comprehensive OEM platforms to which all players will be able to connect quickly and easily via APIs in the future. This will let them integrate collaborative processes throughout a vehicle‘s entire product life cycle.
Finally, the big topic of “connected cars” is set to be a catalyst for this data ecosystem. Did you know that you can already buy mobility data from BMW or Daimler vehicle users via their websites? Accessed, of course, by APIs.
- APIs in logistics
In times of extremely fragile supply chains, the ability to track deliveries and shipments is more important than ever for many companies. Using APIs, this information can be provided or accessed in real time by all parties involved. While the first ‘real’ standard has come with the publication of the guideline VDA4998, there are also a large number of relevant API scenarios. Furthermore, API integration with logistics platforms such as Project44, Tradelens, Freightos, Transporeon, Timocom and others offers a quick and easy connection of individual actors to entire transport ecosystems.
- APIs in discrete manufacturing, consumer goods industry and trade
Many manufacturers were early to offer their trading partners or customers customised APIs for real-time inventory queries and the retrieval of current or dynamic prices.
Providing API-based connectivity from online marketplaces enables the marketplace operator, together with sellers, payment service providers and logistics partners, to transparently handle each transaction of a marketplace customer for the entire purchase, delivery and payment process. The marketplace can present the entire cycle, from purchase to delivery, to the customer. The Amazon SP API has already been mentioned as an example of seller integration. It makes it possible to provide the customer with the “Amazon shopping experience” for independent sellers on the platform as well. Of course, other marketplaces such as those of Wayfair, BestBuy or OTTO also rely on API scenarios for B2B integration.
In addition, the API integration of standardised e-commerce applications offers potential for optimisation and differentiation across such B2B and B2C sales channels.
- APIs in the utilities industries
B2B processes between various players in these industries have been established for decades, and are continually being expanded. The processes are mainly mapped over EDI, and there are no signs of any moves to start using APIs for these.
However, trends related to billing, the widespread introduction of smart meters, electricity charging points for eMobility, etc. have been creating an increasingly large amount of data in the industry. This data is a valuable source of information for third-party companies. As with the automotive industry’s mobility data, it is a tradeable commodity. Integrating this data with data marketplaces such as UtilityAPI is done with APIs.
- Cross-sector APIs
A trend we have been noticing for a long time now is procurement platforms establishing themselves as cloud-based intermediary solutions for B2B processes. These are particularly popular in medium-sized companies. API integration increases the benefits of these platforms for buyers and sellers, letting them access daily updated prices for a product, or see orders on the platform. APIs are ideal for these fine grain transactions.
We can also recognise another trend. As mentioned above, banks have already invested in building an efficient API integration landscape. As well as being used to integrate companies within the banking sector, banks are also integrating their customers. What account holder wouldn’t benefit from real time information on their financial transactions? APIs help a bank offer better customer service.
How do you set up API-led B2B integration?
Take a look at the third part of this blog series to find out more!
2 cf. https://www.seeburger.com/de/news/pi/seeburger-erhaelt-zertifikat-von-den-vereinten-nationen-fuer-vorbildlichen-praxiseinsatz-von-unedifact/ from 27/09/2018 (accessed 24/01/2022)
3 cf. https://aws.amazon.com/de/solutions/case-studies/volkswagen-group/ (accessed 24/01/2022)
4 cf. https://www.bmwgroup.com/de/innovation/unternehmen/open-manufacturing-platform.html (accessed 24/01/2022)
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Written by: Thomas KamperThomas Kamper, SVP Strategic Product Management, is responsible for strategic product initiatives related to all SEEBURGER’s business integration technology and solutions. The focus is currently on API solutions and Big Data. In addition, he is responsible for solutions that enable organizations to master challenges of visibility and to control the proper execution of digitalized business processes. Thomas rejoined SEEBURGER December 2017. Before, he worked for many years as a hands-on interim manager and business advisor supporting C-level executives within software and cloud service providers to make their strategic product initiatives successful.