Three Steps to Success in Cross-Business Interactions

Coordination and Trust Will Enable You to Seize Web Service and Portal Opportunities, Reaping the Value While Containing the Risks

September 18, 2003

Executives are attracted to the streamlining potential of connecting customers, suppliers and partners via Web Services and portals. While technologists are exploring these new capabilities, business executives need to explore the impact on relationships. We offer a framework you can use with key customers and trading partners to synchronize your interaction expectations, commit to new levels of trust and responsibility, and strategize on timeframes for closing gaps in current capabilities.


Web Service and portal interactions offer new opportunities to streamline processes and get closer to customers. With their increasing acceptance comes the increasing feasibility of automating certain time critical or error prone interactions. Portals allow you to connect your partners’ and customers’ employees to your applications. Web Services allow you to connect your partners’ and customers’ applications to your applications. Before you embark on wholesale investments in automation capability to seize these new opportunities, you need to get in sync with your trading partners’ plans. You need to establish a new level of trust, identify relationship managers, and make sure you are all clear on expectations, timeframes, capabilities, and, most importantly, the value to all parties inherent in new interaction styles.

We recommend you use this framework to step through internal assessments of opportunity and capability. Then, with your customer or trading partner, engage in joint assessments of opportunity, capability, responsibility, and plans. We outline three steps to success:

1. Identify Opportunity, Value, and Risk
2. Detailed Assessment of Capabilities
3. Establish Relationship Structure


Automating Key Interactions with Trading Partners

Business executives are increasingly attracted to the streamlining, cost-cutting, relationship-strengthening opportunities offered by more automated cross-business (cross-company) interactions. Web Service and portal technologies have the potential to make it easier to do business with customers, suppliers, and partners. Portals are a great early step in connecting our trading circle with our systems, but they require users to go from portal to portal to do business. Web Services can bring your trading partners even closer by merging your application functions with your customer’s business process, allowing greater automation and simplicity. Web Services also have the potential to connect a company’s portal to the application functions of multiple trading partners, improving the value of the portal.

But, before you go very far with your Web Service and portal projects, we suggest you make sure all your ducks are lined up. You need to be in sync with your key trading partners (customers, suppliers, and partners), not only in timing, but in value propositions, requirements, and capabilities.

Do you know what your trading partners’ Web Services plans are? Do you know what their capabilities are? For that matter, do you know your own plans and capabilities? Do you know what degree of protection you need for various information and services? Do you know if your systems are capable of providing that protection? In other words, can you secure your side of an interaction, and can your trading partner secure his side? How much employee (user) information are you willing to share with partners, so that you can use their systems; and how much partner and customer employee information do you want to manage in your own directory, so they can use your systems?

The honest answers most executives give to these questions are, “Hmmm. No. I think so. Maybe. No. Not much.” The executives we talk to are worried about the risks of automating interactions that involve humans and paper today. They clump their concerns under the general topic of security, though perhaps the real issues are trust, responsibility, and control.

We’ve seen Web Services and portal projects flounder–or founder--when technologists discovered that key policies and decisions weren’t set--or couldn’t be met. Too often, the fallback in such a situation is to throw good money after bad: rather than admit the blunder, the project limps to conclusion and produces what’s possible, even if it’s nothing particularly useful.

The painful truth is that most companies don’t have the right security capabilities in place, and it will take one to three years to build up their security to the point where they are ready to support any trading partner interaction. But you don’t have to be ready for everything; you just have to be ready for some of the most important things. And you have to be clear on the degree of trust you are prepared to grant, and the responsibilities you are willing to accept (the trust your partners will grant to you), in seizing a few valuable opportunities.

If you would like to make progress in modernizing your trading partner interactions, supporting important Customer Scenarios by offering Web Services and/or portal access, we offer a framework for you to use to document the issues, find the answers, and make your plans for Web Services- or portal-based automated cross-business interactions.


You can’t plan out your automated interactions with your customers and trading partners all on your lonesome. Plans for Web Services and portals should be made jointly with your key strategic relationship partners. There are three major steps in this process, each of which is detailed in its own section following this overview.

Step 1: Identify Opportunity, Value, and Risks

Your goals in this step are to identify the top opportunities in terms of streamlining the time or effort involved, reducing errors, and increasing responsiveness to events in your interactions with key customers and trading partners. When you complete this step, you will have ...

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