Ive been doing a little research recently about the B2B capabilities of BizTalk. Based on the content currently available I thought it might be useful to have a B2B 101 style article with some background information and links to useful resources. so here goes!
BizTalk is an integration and business process platform which can help you develop different kinds of solutions (BPM, EAI, ESB etc). One of the key scenarios which BizTalk allows you to develop solutions for is B2B. BizTalk can act as an integration hub between your internal applications and systems at your trading partners. This can help you to develop business processes that seamlessly flow across your organisation and those partners you work with.
A simple example of this would be an organisation who sells products would gain obvious benefits by being to incorporate their delivery partners electronically into their sales processes.
Effective B2B integration is build upon industry standards and BizTalk has a number of components which help you to work with these.
B2B Integration Patterns
As advised in the BizTalk documentation, the most common patterns you will encounter in B2B solutions are as follows:
Combines messages from multiple partners into one message. (e.g. Query for a list of prices from partners)
Selects messages for processing based on a specific criteria. (e.g. Sends messages to special delivery partner if value over £50)
Identification By Location Pattern:
Identifies the sender of a message based on the location of its sender. Common pattern in EDI solutions where messages do not support signatures
Message Broker Pattern:
Enables the solution to determine the destination of a message.
Role Links Pattern:
A Role Link is an abstraction between your orchestration and your trading partners. This allows you to dynamically determine which partner to interact with.
This is usually implemented with a BizTalk map which translates messages from one form to another
Business Activity Services
Business Activity Services (BAS) is one of the optional components in BizTalk and it is aimed at organisations wanting to implement B2B solutions.
BAS is a feature which allows business users to interact with trading partners and business processes in a common environment (Microsoft Office)
The BAS interface uses a combination of Windows Sharepoint Services, Infopath and Microsoft Office templates to allow users to work with the BAS component.
BAS is also exposed as web services which can give an organisation the opportunity to develop custom applications to work with BAS.
The following diagram (linked from the BizTalk documentation) shows the architecture of BAS:
From the architecture diagram you can see the components I mentioned above.
Integrating BAS into your Processes
A Role Link is the abstraction between an orchestration and a trading partner. A business user can configure the attributes of a trading partner which can affect the execution of an orchestration when that particular partner is associated with the orchestration instance through a Role Link. The business user does not directly change the orchestration.
The following diagram illustrated that abstraction:
There are three main security levels I would like to mention in relation the roles for business users for BAS:
The BAS User group can perform tasks such as creating a trading partner, but they can not publish them to BizTalk or take actions which would invoke a BizTalk service
The BAS Manager group is for users who can publish trading partners to BizTalk and activate agreements.
The BAS Administrator group is for users who can perform complex operations between BizTalk and BAS. An example of this would be registering a BizTalk server with BAS or synchronizing the Trading Partner Management database.
This is quite a simplistic overview of the groups for BAS, there is a fair bit more to this but this should get you started and show that user restrictions and security are quite an important aspect of BAS.
Other BAS Resources
Below are some other resources for BAS which may be useful. Obviously the BizTalk documentation has an extensive section about BAS also:
Note some of these resources are not the latest version of BizTalk, but most of the concepts will still apply.
EDI is important to BizTalk because it is probably the most common B2B standard. Some highlights of EDI are:
- Messages are implemented as flat files which can contain batches of transactions
- The primary EDI standards are:
- X12 - Used in USA
- EDIFACT - Used in most of rest of world
- Other standards which are derived from the above (e.g. HIPAA)
- The EDI standard prescribes:
- Formats, Character Sets and data elements within an EDI Document
- Envelope Details
- Acknowledgements to confirm delive
The EDI standard sets out the structure of documents but there must be agreement between trading partners on the data to be exchanged and what will be done with it.
Some highlights of EDI in BizTalk are:
- EDI is a core part of BizTalk 2006 R2. It is not an accelerator.
- Interchange Processing Features (available in send and receive pipelines):
- Validate incoming messages
- Generate acknowledgements
- Generate outgoing EDI messages
- Processing Acknowledgements
- Batch Processing
- Received batches can be split into individual transactions
- Individual transactions can be batched before sending
- Sending a copy of batch to each interested party (pub/sub)
- Trading Partner Agreements
- Trading partners can have specific points to their agreement which can affect their subscribed EDI processing
- Interchange Status Reports allowing you to see the progress of an interchange
BizTalk EDI Features
The following components and features of BizTalk help with implementing EDI solutions:
BizTalk EDI Application
The BizTalk EDI application contains reusable schema, orchestrations and pipelines that custom applications can reference and then use.
EDI Receive Pipeline
The EDI Receive Pipeline does the following:
- Parses EDI messages
- Splits batches
- Converts EDI into XML
- Performs validation
EDI Send Pipeline
The EDI Send Pipeline does the following:
- Converts XML to X12 or EDIFACT
- Performs EDI and XML validation
Partner Agreement Manager
The Partner Agreement Manager allows you to set partner specific properties.
The Batching Orchestration as you might expect batches related EDI transactions
Status Reporting User Interface
The status reporting user interface -rovides information about the status and acknowledgements of interchanges
Visual Studio Design-time tools
The normal Visual Studio design time tools you use for developing BizTalk solutions also have some specific EDI features which help you to develop EDI solutions. An example is the schema extension for EDI.
BizTalk has a repository of common X12 and EDIFACT schema which you can use.
Migration tools from BizTalk 2006 to 2006 R2
In the migration from BizTalk 2006 to BizTalk 2006 R2 the EDI features have been significantly enhanced with EDI now being a native part of BizTalk rather than an Add On. There are some tools which help you to migrate your BizTalk 2006 implementation into R2.
The following diagram shows how EDI features have evolved over the last couple of versions of BizTalk:
The following resources will be useful in helping you learn more about EDI in BizTalk:
As dicsussed earlier in this article effective B2B solutions should where possible be build on established standards. There are a bunch of accelerators which can help you develop solutions for some of the common industry standards.
HIPAA is a standard for the health care industry. There is a BizTalk accelorator for this standard. Some resources which may help you with HIPAA are:
The BizTalk SWIFT accelerator helps you develop solutions for the financial industry. Some resources which will help you with this are:
The BizTalk HL7 accelerator provides a comprehensive HL7 messaging solution to help develop solutions for health care providers. Some resources to help you get started with this accelerator and HL7 solutions are:
Cactus GDS is an industry wide approach to standards for open e-business which helps to align the processes of supply chain partners on a global basis. There is a BizTalk accelerator to help implement solutions based on this standard. Some resources to help you get started with this are:
RosettaNet is an industry wide standard for open e-business. There is a BizTalk accelerator for this standard. Some resources to help you get started with this standard are:
As a side note there is a case study about the manufacturing and supply chain process used for the XBox 360 which was implemented using BizTalk and the RoesttaNet accelerator.
Enhancing B2B Solutions with Partner Offerings
So from the above hopefully you can see BizTalk has a number of features available to help you develop B2B solutions. Although these components have great value there are also a number of offerings available from Microsoft partners which can be used in conjunction with BizTalk to enhance your B2B solution. Some of these partner offerings are:
Covast used to provide an EDI adapter for BizTalk 2006, but I believe a lot of this functionality was included in the core native functionality enhancements in BizTalk 2006 R2. Microsoft and Covast seem to have a long standing partnership in the EDI area with Covast providing an EDI accelerator.
Covast also have a product called BBot which seems to be a piece of hardware which you would install in your company and with minimal configuration you would have a ready built EDI solution which internally is build on an instance of BizTalk 2006 R2 within the hardware you get.
Covast is a well known name in the EDI area, but from the information I have seen it seems a little unclear at present how their offering has evolved with the changes for Biztalk 2006 R2. Is their accelerator still relevant?
GXS seem to have a number of offerings in the B2B space, but their main product/service is the GXS Trading Grid. The trading grid offers a number of services to an organisation who wishes to integrate with partners via the GXS Trading Grid.
The GXS Trading Grid integrates well with BizTalk 2006 R2 to integrate your internal applications with your business partners via the Grid
Some resources about GXS include:
Covast & GSX
Covast, BizTalk and GXS can all be combined to provide a good B2B solution based on EDI standards. Some resources about this include:
So if you got this far well done. That was a pretty big post. Hopefully you now have a good high level understanding of how BizTalk and some partner offerings can help you to deliver quality B2B solutions and plenty of pointers to dig into the areas which caught your interest.