Image: Loaded container ship in the Houston Ship Channel, by Louis Vest, CC license

There’s a debate going on in B2B commerce about “touchless” sales order processing. Touchless just means you don’t need a human to watch, review, check, or do anything else to an order when it’s received from the customer, like making sure product codes and pricing are correct.

On the one side are touchless believers and on the other, advocates of automated checks plus a quick review by human eyes, called “click and go.”

Many companies have already achieved touchless order processing on a very high percentage of their order volume, and you need to look no further than Amazon for a very simple example of completely automated order processing. On any given Saturday morning, you, along with thousands of others, made a one-click purchase on Amazon. That order made its way to a fulfilment center uninterrupted by human scanning because of software.

Getting there is not hard.

Touchless order processing in a B2B environment is best achieved with the right combination of order capture method and algorithmic checks based on your company’s business rules.

The key aspect of order capture is simple readability – a structured, typed form or an electronic form filled out via an internet portal, or the standard EDI purchase order.

Algorithmic checks can be written for just about anything – if customer order date is X, then send order to Y. Many companies, realizing they need these kinds of checks, start building them in their ERP systems using custom code.

But before long the DIY route can mean expensive software modifications as companies seek to automate more and more of their inbound order processing steps. I know of one company whose order checks are so complex that some of their large customer orders can take up to several hours to process.

It is much better, in my view, to outsource the order check process by streaming your orders through a 3rd party-hosted application. This allows almost unlimited creativity in order check logic because you don’t have to wrestle with your ERP code.

You can also buy packaged software to do order checks, but why would you want to license more expensive software, hire and train people to maintain it, buy a server for it to run on, and manage all the future modifications, upgrades, and integrations with your ERP system? If you’re thinking about using EDI services companies for this function, don’t. Outsourced EDI wasn’t built for this type of work.

While “click and go” may be suitable for a small universe of customers, adopting this method for all orders defeats the purpose of automation, which is in the end freeing up supply chain talent for more valuable work.