How you integrate your applications and data flows with your suppliers, customers, partners and regulators is more than an IT issue. It is also a critical business issue, since B2B processes (such as order fulfillment, delivery, invoicing and payments) affect everything from revenue and expenses, to risk management and compliance, to growth strategies and multi-national M&A.
What is AS4?
AS4 is a state-of-the-art interoperability protocol that simplifies and standardizes the use of web services for B2B data exchange and integration. It is gaining wide adoption, and you should therefore consider it for your future integration projects.
AS4 is not created from scratch. It is the latest of a series of B2B standards that started in 2002 with ebXML, and became Oasis standard in 2013, and ISO standard now.
Being an open standard, it ensures that there will be no vendor locking. You can procure solutions in a competitive environment where vendors are encouraged to innovate continuously.
AS4 meets all the requirements that are expected of any B2B protocol:
Automation: Exchange of structured and unstructured payloads as well as metadata that allows receiver to reroute messages, and be able to correlate messages with previous or future messages.
Security: ensures i) integrity of message content, which cannot be modified in transit without it being detected ii) confidentiality, so that 3rd parties do not access to your sensitive data, and iii) non-repudiation, so sender and receiver cannot deny having sent or received a message.
Reliability: in case of temporary network disturbance, message is resent. AS4 further ensures that a message is only received once, which means that received duplicates are detected and eliminated.
AS4 is based on SOAP and Web Services, which makes it different from AS2. It is therefore more compatible with standard environments because many organizations use these technologies for their internal integration. Extending the use of these technologies for external integration becomes a very natural and seamless operation.
AS4 provides rich support for metadata. It is not only a protocol for data exchanges. You can transport any type of payload: legacy EDI, binary, XML, JSON or so on. You can also carry multiple payloads if needed.
Security is based on WS-Security and allows for a whole range of crypting algorithms. You can agree on the quality of service with your partners, that allows you to define for example whether you need encryption or not etc.
AS4 is layered over HTTP only, and transport security can be achieved with TLS.
AS4 differentiators and business drivers
AS4 is a next generation protocol. From a functional point of view it is similar to available EDIINT protocols. There are however a number of differences:
AS4 is based on latest technology standards that are aligned with the IT landscape of organizations: SOAP, Web Services etc.
AS4 allows for service-oriented architecture exchanges, not only document interchange. This means you can extend your SOA to reach out to your ecosystem.
AS4 allows for push, as well as for pull. This means that applications that are not always online, that do not have a permanent IP address, or that are behind a firewall to occasionally connect and pull available messages.
AS4 is a superset of AS2, but with modern technologies. It enables you to roll-out Web-Services to large communities. You will only need a single platform for all your partner connectivity, via legacy EDI as well as via more interactive transactions. You can reach out to small and large partners. Those who do not, or cannot afford to have an application running 24/7.
AS4 is state of the art, most modern B2B standard. If you are starting anew, you can use AS4 safely, because it is there to last for at least two decades.
Even though it is a rather recent standard, AS4 gains more and more interest from organizations that want to expand their B2B/B2C capabilities. The following is a non-exhaustive list of communities, excluding individual private enterprises, who are adopting AS4:
- Europe: ENTSOG(European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas)
- Europe: EESSI(Electronic Exchange of Social Security Information)
- Europe: PEPPOL(Pan-European Public Procurement Online)
- Europe: e-CODEX(e-Justice Communication via Online Data Exchange)
- Japan: JEITA(Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association)
- Australia: Superstream(Australian pensions declaration and payment)
- Global: IATA(International Air Transport Association) for e-Cargo e-Business.
The European initiatives are in production use in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, at least.
If you want to choose a vendor for AS4, you should look for one who is Drummond certified, preferably with a long and proven record in AS2 and ebXML.