Interview with Tony Harris, of SAP Business Network

Tony Harris of SAP Business Network on why many-to-many networks are vital for SMBs to achieve resilience through stability and visibility

What is SAP Business Network?

Many people use the term ‘business network’ loosely, but it does not mean the same as the traditional ways of communicating like phone, fax, email, or EDI. These are one-way channels, not true networks. 

To be more competitive, businesses need to connect their internal digital systems with their external partners through a real, many-to-many network. That’s what SAP Business Network offers. 

It’s a platform that lets you collaborate with other businesses across different domains, such as procurement, supply chain, logistics, finance, people, and asset management. 

You can share data, manage workflows, and use network-wide intelligence to make better decisions. For suppliers, SAP Business Network helps you reach more buyers and grow your business.

Explain your role there

I lead solution management and marketing teams that form a bridge between SAP solutions and our customers. I joined SAP in 2006, and in my role, I focus on capturing market trends, customer challenges, and insights from the field teams to create an outside-in view of the market that helps to drive innovation within SAP Business Network.

Why is a business network important for SMBs?

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) tend to be more vulnerable to major disruptions, especially risks associated with depending heavily on a handful of major suppliers. 

To address this, SMBs – in collaboration with their technology partners – are seeking to adopt diversified networks and leverage digitalisation to become more resilient and agile.

A business network connects people, processes, and systems across multiple enterprises, digitalising transactions and creating transparent, resilient and sustainable supply chains. 

A network fosters partner collaboration across procurement, supply chain, people, logistics, finance, and asset management, enabling data exchange and intelligent decision making.  

This approach not only helps expand buyer networks but also improves productivity and efficiency throughout supply chain operations. 

What benefits do networks bring SMBs?

By joining a business network, SMBs have access to a digital platform that connects millions of buyers and suppliers, unlocking opportunities to venture into new markets and dip into untapped revenue streams. 

SMBs also have access to more-flexible payment options and a fully digital transaction process, allowing them to streamline payments and improve their cash flow. 

Business networks also give them increased transparency around invoices, thanks to self-service portals, and enables buyers to place orders automatically, expediting the buying process. 

This is particularly important for smaller suppliers who don’t have the capital of larger players and are not able to sustain their business without continuous cash flow.

It is essential SMBs embrace business networks to diversify their supply chains and become more adaptive to unexpected changes in their market environment. If they do this successfully, they won’t just survive. They’ll emerge even stronger on the other side.

How do networks help supplier relationships?

By simplifying onboarding, order fulfilment, and logistics management, business networks make it possible to strengthen the customer and partner relationship. 

They also provide real-time updates on orders, shipping, and stock availability, creating a proactive and transparent communication channel that boosts customer and partner loyalty and drives sustainable growth. 

Improving visibility throughout the supply chain across multiple tiers not only creates greater operational efficiency but also establishes a foundation for stronger and more profitable buyer/supplier relationships. 

Do networks help with ESG initiatives?

It is essential for SMBs to commit to sustainable sourcing now, embracing it as a long-term strategy and a critical step in future-proofing supply chains and financial stability.

To make this process as efficient as possible, some business networks enable suppliers to upload their diversity, governance, and sustainability qualifications directly to a partner directory for any buyer to access. 

This simplifies ESG compliance for buyers and suppliers alike. 

Advice to your younger self?

Don’t allow yourself to be constrained by conventional thinking and processes. The status quo is there to be challenged, not simply accepted.


Featured Articles

DP World joins key shipping net zero group, FMC

DP World CEO Sultan Bin Sulayem sets target of 5% of short-sea shipping to be powered by zero-emission fuels by 2030, as it joins First Movers Coalition

Global logistics news roundup: DP World, Lineage, Kaufland

DP World in green power India move; Lineage helping decarbonise global food cold chains; Kaufland to deploy Einride e-trucks

Tech 'will take supply chain to next level' - Molex CSCO

Don Hnatyshin is Chief Supply Chain Officer at US-based electronics manufacturer Molex, and predicts that tech will drive value chain reliability in 2024

Nestlé strikes 'interim' green sea-shipping fuels deal


Clothes manufacturers 'strategic over suppliers' - McKinsey

Supply Chain Risk Management

Data, visibility and the path to a resilient supply chain