Not to sound opportunistic, but the whole COVID-19 situation is leading online businesses to boom like never before (source: BBC). With this, inevitably, the value of computerized trading and automated, secure trade document exchange comes boldly into the picture; and this is also the part where we say, “you should have adopted a MFT solution last year… but it’s not yet too late!”
Let’s take the best path to learning - by example.
Assume you need to send a long list of order items to your vendor. You and your vendor have decided to use the world-famous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to exchange these docs. It’s all very simple:
ftp open your.partners.host port cd incoming-orders/your-orders-folder put your-orders-file-yyyy-MM-dd-HH-mm-ss.csv exit
Done. The file is transferred.
And now, it’s time for the questions.
COVID is snarling, and ironically your business is literally exploding. Now, each day, you have to send dozens of these files, to different FTP servers across your vendors - yes, it recently became plural when you decided to expand your online storefront.
Running a hundred
ftp command scripts each day by hand, is not exactly a pleasant experience. Plus, you learned the lesson when you mistakenly uploaded file order-A to partner B’s server. So you set up a cool program, and script it to automagically send each file to the correct partner - as soon as you drop them into a monitored folder.
Now the script is doing the job - like a boss. But is it doing the job right? Are you sure?
Say the file was in a CSV (spreadsheet-like) format. Do all the rows get transferred? What if the last hundred rows get dropped during the transfer (say, a network glitch) and nobody notices - not your script, not the
ftp command, not your vendor?
Worse… what if a few bits got flipped, and a 10000-crate order got changed into a 90000 one?
Yes, we need to get a file “summary” from the vendor (trading partner) - and ensure it matches with the “summary” on our end. We need to compare the digest (hash; like MD5, SHA-1, SHA-256 etc.) of the final file on both ends, to make sure nothing got corrupted or tampered.
Phone taps are still fairly common, and computer network taps are no exception - especially when unprotected, plain-text protocols like FTP are in play.
You could encrypt the traffic by switching to FTP/S or SFTP so that the thief trying to tap your file would get just the encrypted (gibberish) blurb.
But… read along.
There are easy techniques (like DNS spoofing) even to trick your system into connecting directly to an attacker’s system - especially if you’re not careful and attentive enough. You would use end-to-end encryption and stuff, but would be sending the data right into the fox’s den.
So we need a mechanism to ensure that only our vendor would be able to make sense of (decrypt) the data we send. Perhaps by encrypting it with a public key whose private key part is owned by him and him alone.
Your script happily uploads hundreds of files each day; but does it guarantee that those vendors are even looking at those files? If you don’t receive back a confirmation, how can you know if the file got to the wrong system - or got lost in the crowd - or some other nasty thing happened?
Yes, we need an acknowledgement (receipt) from the vendor that he got our file.
Sadly, that’s not the end of the story; your vendor-partner is even more skeptical - almost paranoid, to say the least.
The imposter thing could work the other way too. Somebody impersonating you, could send a funny order to your vendor; and the next thing you know is, opening your door to a thousand crates of icky goo.
So your partner needs your unique signature at the bottom of that file - to ensure that it came from you.
Already covered this from your own perspective - digest. Moving on.
Also covered - public-key encryption.
Yes. Your partner needs to seriously think of automating the whole thing. Like you did.
Say you hired a whole development team, worked day and night, and implemented a solution that covers all of the above concerns:
You just wrote your own “managed” file transfer solution!
If you check out the features of AS2, for example, you would be surprised (or maybe not?) - it already covers all of those concerns you painfully scratched your brow over!
And it already implements everything that your hired dev team had to go through, day and night!
If you check any other protocol (AS4, OFTP, ??, and the like), the observation will be more or less the same. But AS2 is the most sought-after MFT protocol in the business world (heck, Wal-Mart enforces it!), and going with the trend always has its benefits.
It covers the end-to-end delivery and acknowledgement/reporting of files; so once you hand over a file to your MFT system, rest assured that:
No more staring at
ftp folder listings or long dashboards, the whole flow is fully automated and streamlined.
Most MFT platforms also offer value added services (VAS) on top of the basic MFT protocol; such as document (usu. EDI) translation, validation, auto-generation of response documents, and various integrations with third-party systems like CRMs, warehousing and BPMSs.
Meanwhile others give further flexibility by offering intuitive low-level interfacing/integration options; like SFTP- or AWS S3-based triggering of file send-outs, REST APIs for fully automating the management and monitoring of the send/receive process, email-based instant notifications, and so forth.
Now, before you go back to uploading those files via FTP, you have a choice to make:
I guess now you know the answer.
Good luck! And we’re also waiting eagerly for your queries!