Author Archives: Foundational

  1. EDI or API or web services?  Yes, please.

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    EDI has been around for decades, and experts have been predicting its downfall for nearly as long.

    Many criticisms of traditional EDI are valid.  EDI software can be expensive and difficult to implement.  It can require specialists with a depth of experience in niche technology that is far removed from your company’s core competency.

    At the heart of the matter is that it’s really hard to get transactional data from one business system to another business system and behave as the first business system anticipated.  Those two systems use different naming conventions, support different types of data, and behave differently.  Furthermore, they were both configured to suit the needs of two different companies – also with different expectations about what data is meaningful, what is required, what things are called, and what their business processes should look like.

    This problem may never be truly solved.  Businesses and the software they use are too different, so there will always be the need for some service or tool to act as the mediator.  Thankfully, modern EDI services shield the end user from much of this pain.  Where it used to be necessary to purchase costly software and experts to make it work, many EDI users simply choose to outsource the whole thing to service providers like Foundational because we can manage EDI more cost effectively and smoothly than the end user.  In fact, for us, EDI is the core competency.

    However, there is one popular criticism of EDI that can be solved.  Traditionally, EDI is run in batches, on timed intervals.  Data is pulled from one system, and it sits until the EDI system translates it.  Then it sits until the receiving system is ready to pick it up, and so on.  In fact, sometimes data is only picked up and processed once a day.  These delays in movement could cause operational inefficiencies.  Removal of this limitation opens up a new world of opportunities for improvements.

    Real Time EDI?

    Traditionally, EDI has used flat file import/export functionality, or direct read/write with business system databases to integrate with ERP systems.  These are tried and true methods that are easy for the EDI expert to implement, but are inherently limited to batch-like processing.

    Modern tools such as APIs (Application Program Interfaces) and web services create new possibilities.  Think of these methods as ways for software systems to talk directly with one another.  For example, when Business System A needs to inject a sales order into Business System B it could make a “call” to the function in Business System B that facilitates order creation.  Similarly, Business System B could make a call to the function in Business System A when the invoice is ready.

    Many modern business systems support APIs and web services, and some see this as the death knell for EDI itself.  Why would anyone want to keep using an old batch-based EDI system when modern software can simply share data and eliminate the middle layer of EDI?  The reason is because, as stated above, different systems and users have different expectations of what data should look like, how it is used, what is required, etc.  It would be a daunting task for anyone to set up their ERP system to talk with the ERP systems of various trading partners – the number of connections quickly gets out of hand.  This is where the EDI translation service comes in.  The service gets data from your ERP system and formats it in whatever manner the trading partner wishes, and delivers it in whatever format the partner wishes.  If the EDI service as well as the sender and receiver can take advantage of modern integration tools such as APIs and web services, then real time (and universal) collaboration is possible.  In this scenario, Business System A makes a call to the EDI service and tells it to insert a given order to Vendor B’s system.  The EDI service instantaneously calls Business System B and inserts the order.  When Business System A makes a call to the EDI service and tells it to insert an order to Vendor C’s system, the EDI service knows that Business System C is a little different and manages that transaction accordingly.  When Business System A needs real time inventory status, shipping information, etc. from anyone in the supply chain it makes similar calls to the EDI service. The EDI service knows how to communicate with each vendor’s system and makes the appropriate call, query, data extraction, etc.

    What Does It All Mean?

    Real time e-business is incredibly meaningful in retail.  Consumer behavior is changing the way retailers need to interact with their supply chains.  Consumers may want to purchase products online, via their mobile devices, and sometimes in person.  Regardless, they want instant access to information about pricing and availability.  The need for instant information is fairly obvious when the consumer is online, but giving the retailer this type of functionality in the store is very powerful.  Imagine a consumer goes to a store and the product he or she wants to purchase isn’t available.  With real time collaboration between business systems, the retailer can instantly access current information about the item’s availability from various suppliers, pricing, when it can be shipped, etc.  The order can be placed immediately via the retailer’s system and instantaneously update the supplier’s system with an order.  The experience is seamless, and pleasant.  The consumer is happy.

    The consumer buying example can be useful to paint a general picture, but the principles involved can also be applied to other industries that rely heavily on EDI (think manufacturing, distribution and logistics).  When systems can share information and collaborate you gain insight to valuable information and streamline your processes.  For example:

    • Shipment tracking information could be accessed from your suppliers’ systems and displayed from within your ERP system
    • Real time inventory stock status could be accessed from your suppliers’ systems and displayed within your ERP system’s order entry screen, item inquiry, etc. Imagine the customer needs item X, and is on the phone.  Who has it?  How much does it cost?  When can it arrive?  Up to date information could be instantly accessible.
    • It could be as simple as real time order entry. When your customer creates a PO in their system, the transaction is automatically communicated to your ERP system.


    What Next?

    Getting various systems to talk with one another is usually not easy, and this is where the lessons learned in the world of EDI come into play.  For decades EDI translators have been gathering information from various sources, distilling the information and integrating it into ERP systems.  Now, many of those systems (and yes, you can count Foundational’s Managed EDI among them) can use flexible, real time integration options to change the e-business game.  How would this impact your business?

  2. Hats off to NEECOM…thanks for 25 years!

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    Years ago there were dozens of EDI and e-commerce user groups scattered around the country.  This ComputerWorld article from 1993 shows how vibrant the EDI user group community was back then – citing 32 local and regional user groups.  A list of groups purportedly from “EDI World” magazine in 2001 claims about 60 groups were active.  Today I’m aware of only a couple active groups – the Atlanta EC Forum and the New England E-Commerce User’s Group, or NEECOM.  I haven’t had the pleasure of attending an AECF event, but I did make it to a couple NEECOM events in the past 8 months and came away quite impressed.

    There are a number of reasons these groups have faded away.  Among them, the fact that it’s now easy to collaborate online with experts all over the world.  There needs to be real and tangible payback to warrant travelling off site to meet up with folks in person.  Perhaps equally important is that EDI and e-business is a lot easier today than it was twenty years ago.   E-business has become a ubiquitous part of the business technology landscape, and no longer warrants its own niche of user groups.  You can pretty much pick a solution off the shelf and run with it – or better yet, outsource it!

    In any event, I miss the group we had here in Pittsburgh (GPEP) so I look forward to my visits to Boston for NEECOM events.  In the fall I attended the 25th Anniversary Fall Conference and thought so highly of it that I went back last month for their annual Spring Conference.

    In order to attract a large enough base of attendees, such a group needs to go far beyond discussions of traditional EDI.  It needs to provide real insight to where e-business is going and how we can make the most of it.  At the fall NEECOM event much of the discussion was centered around multi-channel issues and opportunities.  I found it fascinating to discuss how changing consumer behaviors are impacting the supply chain, and how this creates enormous opportunity for real time e-business solutions.

    At the Spring Conference there were excellent presentations about more traditional EDI topics, like how the future is bright for growth in B2B commerce, as long as service providers make adoption easy and cost effective (Todd Gould of Loren Data – EDI and the Next 20,000 Hubs), and an informative overview of the landscape for e-business talent (Barbara Feldman of EDI Staffing – 2016 Job Market Overview).

    The spring event also explored topics outside the realm of traditional EDI with presentations related to how digital content and meaningful product information can drive online sales, and how to address the challenge of maintaining that content (Rob Gonzalez of Salsify).

    These are just a few examples.   Each of the presentations was valuable in its own right.  Overall, an informative and enjoyable event – and I came away with new business relationships that are already paying dividends.  These relationships don’t form as easily via online discussions so I hope the practice of meeting up with like-minded folks in person doesn’t completely fade away as digital collaboration grows!

    Furthermore, I came away with renewed excitement about the business we work in.  That alone is worth the price of admission!  Kudos to NEECOM, and here’s to 25 more years!

  3. Customer Case Study – McNeilus Steel

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    There is likely no better way to understand the benefits of e-business than learning about how other companies improve efficiency through the use of technology.  McNeilus Steel is one of Foundational’s longest tenured customers, and is a great example of the potential for improvement through EDI and e-business.

    McNeilus Steel is a family-owned full line steel distributor and processor dedicated to providing the best in material quality, responsive customer service, and on-time delivery. Serving the upper Midwest region since 1948, McNeilus Steel is comprised of over 450 employees and three warehouses located in Dodge Center, Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Each location sells and delivers hot roll and cold finish bar, tube, pipe, sheet, plate, flooring, grating, stainless, aluminum, rebar, and other miscellaneous ferrous and nonferrous metal products. McNeilus Steel also offers metal fabrication services, includ­ing shot blasting, laser and plasma cutting, bending, rolling, machining, rebar fabrication, sawing, and robotic beveling.

    McNeilus had been a long time satisfied user of Paragon’s Metalware ERP system. Metalware was designed to addresses the needs and challenges that are unique to steel processing, so it is a great fit for McNeilus.  One of these challenges is EDI.  Initially, McNeilus chose to use an in-house EDI software solution that integrated with Metalware.  While this solution was effective, the cost of maintenance and manpower to manage the EDI system was significant. EDI was limited to only the highest volume trading partners because it was difficult to cost justify expansion of the EDI implementation.

    In time, Paragon introduced McNeilus to their Managed EDI service – now a separate division of Paragon, called Foundational e-Business.  Foundational offers an outsourced EDI service that integrates seamlessly with most ERP systems, includ­ing Metalware. This service was a good fit for McNeilus, given its tight integration with the ERP system, ease of management, and the fact that Foundational’s team not only possessed deep EDI expertise, but they understood EDI for the steel processing industry.

    As a result of switching to the Managed EDI service, McNeilus found it cost effective to expand the scope of their EDI implementation by 500{5080e6b8eec03ac51702ada5b6897314ab7bc3a139127375f379f0820275a75a} and enjoy more widespread benefits.

    McNeilus now uses EDI in a number of different parts of the business, specifically:

    Material purchasing

    Prior to working with Foundational, McNeilus staff had to physically count and track down inventory in the warehouses, then create a “buy report” that showed what materials needed to be reordered, and orders were manually placed with the mills. Since integrating Metalware with Foundational e-Business, McNeilus has been able to use vendor managed inventory to dramatically streamline the ordering process. Metalware’s inventory system tracks inventory levels and keeps suppliers informed via EDI. Suppliers monitor this information and create fulfillment orders based on pre-determined inventory levels. McNeilus is able to keep inventory levels low and know that they’ll have the materials they need when they are needed. Inventory now turns very quickly and smoothly.

    Material Receiving

    A majority of all inventory receipts are now processed with EDI; and EDI receipt processing is simple.  The mill sends a ship notice transaction with details about the material being received, so the ERP system knows what’s coming as soon as the mill ships it.  When the material is received to the warehouse, the user simply scans a bar code label on the items and the ERP system is alerted that the material has been received to the warehouse. Both manual entry and human error are virtually eliminated.

    Sales Order Processing

    Some customers send orders via EDI, resulting in significant time savings. The sales reps simply need to look over and accept the orders.  The sales rep can take the time that was once spent manu­ally processing orders and spend that time generating new business and servicing existing customers.


    A capable ERP system such as Metalware, when combined with an effective and efficient e-business platform, such as Foundational, creates a powerful synergy. Dramatic business process improvements are the result when ERP can communicate seamlessly with customers and suppliers. McNeilus does not need to keep EDI experts on staff – Foundational acts as their EDI department. All EDI inquiries and modifications are addressed by the staff of experts at Foundational, so McNeilus knows their system will run smoothly without fail, enabling them to focus on providing excellent products for their customers!

    To download the complete McNeilus Steel case study in printable format, click here.

  4. Foundational Year in Review…and a look ahead

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    I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about some of the great new things we’re working on at Foundational for 2016, but as I collected my thoughts, I decided to first review how we got to where we are at the beginning of this New Year.

    2015 was a transitional year for us.  We started out as Paragon B2B, and ended as Foundational e-Business.  The reason for this change was that we saw the opportunity, and need, to refine and clarify our message.  For nearly 15 years Paragon’s outsourced EDI service provided a stable, cost effective alternative to traditional EDI, and in 2014 we decided to invest in the service, and the brand, to take it to the proverbial “next level”.

    This “next level” consisted of a fresh brand, crisper message, more defined strategy, and the creation of the next generation of our technology so that Foundational will continue to prosper and solve a new generation of e-commerce issues for the supply chain.

    Much of the first phase of this evolution is apparent in the revamped web site, name, marketing materials and so forth.  The work behind the scenes in upgrading the technology isn’t obvious outside our four walls yet, so I’ll summarize here.  We’ve grown very quickly over the past few years, and that rate of growth is expected to continue.  In order to continue to provide an excellent customer experience we needed to solidify our internal systems and infrastructure.

    For example:

    • We implemented a new CRM system in order to better track customer activities, implementation, and support. This system is based on the Reveal CRM system sold by our parent company, Paragon Consulting.
    • Our entire IT infrastructure was moved to an Expedient data center. Previously we had internally managed IT systems and used a data center that had become outdated.  With Expedient virtualizing many of our servers and managing the environment, it enables us to focus on what we do best (which is not managing email servers and the like), and provides us with far more robust, secure and reliable infrastructure in an SSAE-16 / SOC certified data center.
    • We reaffirmed our technology roadmap and created an exciting new direction for our service that will be the foundation of our next generation platform.

    This last point is what I alluded to in the title as “a look ahead”.  2016 will be the year that we continue our evolution, and our next generation platform is a huge part of this year’s roadmap.  Since the start, our service has been based upon the premise that EDI (and e-business) should be easy, cost effective, and flexible.  As I’ve said many times before, we act as the outsourced EDI department for our customers.  Our next generation platform will expand upon this notion, and offer our customers a new level of insight to data, more robust & flexible error checking, self service capabilities and real time integration with their business systems and their trading partners’ business systems.  While all of this is very exciting for 2016, what I’m most excited about is that this new platform will position Foundational e-Business to be an excellent full service e-business solution even as changing consumer behaviors result in new demands on the supply chain.

    Finally, for those of you that are customer service geeks (like myself) I’ll note that the interface we’re building will adhere to the principles detailed in one of my favorite business books – The Best Service is No Service by Bill Price and David Jaffe.  In fact, I’ll write a review in an upcoming blog…stay tuned.

  5. Exploring the world of e-commerce…and landing on omni channel strategies

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    One of the things I enjoy most is visiting e-business users and community in person, learning what is most important to them, and what is trending in the industry.  October was a busy month for us at Foundational, with two conferences, a user group meeting and numerous customer visits, so we had plenty of opportunity to see what is going on outside our office walls.  This is always a treat, and especially important to Foundational as we build upon our technology roadmap.

    We walked away from October with a handful of key insights to where the world of e-business is headed.  None of these are a big surprise, but some are important enough to warrant discussion.  First, at the Metalware user conference in South Carolina, new mobile technologies were a hot topic, enabling steel processors to service their customers more effectively with on demand delivery data.  At the NEECOM Conference in Boston, omni channel e-business garnered most of the spotlight, with discussions centered around how business to business e-commerce will need to evolve as changing consumer behavior & expectations result in changing demands on the supply chain.  During several customer visits much of the conversation was about how to continue to gain ground on that last part of the supply chain that cannot or will not participate in traditional EDI, but generate a large volume of activity.

    Over the past twenty years I’ve seen plenty of technology breakthroughs that promised to change EDI or replace EDI, many of them focused on that last insight, the ever elusive last mile of the supply chain.  This is, and will continue to be important, but looking forward I think most exciting and revolutionary trend in e-business is omni-channel.  There’s no shortage of buzz in the industry (and other industries) on this topic, but this time I don’t think we can overstate the impact because real change is being driven by the consumer, not corporate initiatives (although corporate initiatives are and will continue to be put in place to keep up with changing consumer behaviors).

    The next twenty years in e-business promise to be much more disruptive (and fun!) than the last twenty.  I’m excited to see (and contribute to) how EDI will adapt and participate in omni channel strategies.  Imagine a scenario where a consumer walks into a store and wishes to purchase something that is out of stock.   Current options are limited – buy it somewhere else, don’t buy it, or order it online.  What if the retailer had real time insight to the supply chain’s available inventory, pricing, and delivery capabilities?  The retailer could, while the customer waits, place an order for the customer from the most capable & cost effective supplier and have the product delivered to the customer’s door.  This is hard to achieve with traditional EDI because the data transmissions typically not real time, and the data is more transactional than collaborative.  However, the EDI provider has the advantage of built in relationships with the supply chain.  If the EDI provider can take advantage of modern API’s and web services, in conjunction with existing EDI infrastructure and data models, then we have the foundation for a powerful platform that will be right in line with where the world of e-business needs to be in order to play a part in the changing supply chain landscape.  Now that’s an exciting vision for the future and the perfect core of a technology roadmap.  Stay tuned…

    What would you like to do with e-business?

  6. Don’t get caught up in the three letters (E, D, and I)

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    This month one of my customers is in the early stages of a migration from JD Edwards to Dynamics.  In planning they were sure to clarify that they needed to be able to import and export certain types of transactions in order to facilitate their streamlined interface with our service.  No problem.  Later, as the project was kicking off, someone mentioned that they use EDI and the software consultant panicked.   The mention of these three letters suggested the need for additional software modules, mapping, configuration, and a whole host of testing procedures.  What they didn’t realize is that Foundational handles all that stuff so EDI migration doesn’t need to be a major undertaking.  Once I explained to the consultant how we operate and told the customer to not call it EDI (half kidding, because it certainly is EDI) then the project proceeded smoothly.

    For years I’ve struggled with what to call the services and software that I promote, simply because in the world of enterprise technology, EDI is often looked upon with disdain as a necessary evil.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Furthermore, in the world of innovative and hip technology, when I tell people I work with EDI they ask “isn’t that the 40 year old technology that companies still have to use?”  My answer is that yes, it has been around a while, but at its core the technology is all about moving data.  And furthermore, I’m not picky about how that data looks or how it moves.  While some file formats and communication methods are traditionally associated with EDI, as long as the data is accurate and its movement streamlines the business process on all sides then translation/movement of this data as “e-business” has real merit.

    In the spirit of moving data, I’m in favor of the “any to any” model.  If you would benefit from receiving data from someone you do business with, and they can provide it in some format, let’s connect those two dots.  Call it EDI if you want, call it e-business, but let’s do it as effectively, as simply, and in a manner that’s as scalable as possible.  Whether you need to process data that’s received in a database, via XML, http, or PDF, you can use the same foundational technology that is used in traditional EDI in order to process that data and make it useful to you.  Regardless of what you like to call it, the end result is streamlined process with no errors.

    Here are a few examples of nontraditional EDI that we’ve facilitated seen in recent months.

    • Extract data from incoming PDF files to create machine readable files
    • Combine incoming material test reports with a bill of lading so that the outgoing bill of lading automatically contains the data requested by your customer
    • Facilitate transactions between broker, customer and vendor where data needs to be pulled in from each source to make a complete transaction.

    Each of these examples resulted in streamlined process, eliminated data entry errors, and happy trading partners (i.e. our customers’ customers).  Call it what you like, when you can move data automatically, quickly, consistently and cost effectively it is a win for you and your organization!

    Foundational e-Business offers a variety of business to business e-commerce services, including cost effective EDI (and all manners of e-business) services and consulting.

    What would you like to do with e-business?


  7. Maybe the VANs got it right?

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    When I started working with EDI nearly 20 years ago I saw the opportunity (and need) to radically change the way businesses communicate.  My plan was to revolutionize B2B communication by overhauling the stodgy old EDI methods and technology.  In some ways I, and others with similar ideas, were successful.  E-commerce is now approachable for many small businesses with less costly translators and competitive services.  However, if you had told me 20 years ago that in 2015 VANs (Value Added Networks) would still be relevant I would not have believed you.   The Internet was the way to go; it would disrupt everything and the VANs would go away.  That’s why I think it’s interesting to compare Internet challenges, centered on the net neutrality debate, with the world of proprietary VANs.

    I’ve heard many sides of the net neutrality debate – it seems everyone has different take-aways from the same set of proposed guidelines.  Most revolve around fear of perceived “fast lanes” and benefits of “unfettered access” where all traffic gets the same priority.  By the way, there are already “fast lanes” on the Internet.

    At the root of the problem is the struggle over finite bandwidth resources.  This makes me wonder what the Internet would be like if it behaved more like a VAN, at least in terms of pricing.  I’m not proposing that ISPs hone their already formidable talents with respect to hidden charges and nonsensical billing, which most VANs are also very good at (Foundational notwithstanding, of course). Rather, I’m suggesting that the Internet would be more efficient – and net neutrality would largely become a non-issue – if the standard billing practice was for users to pay for what they consume.

    This is a big concept that has also been widely debated and I’m not going to end the debate in this 500 word blog post.   However, I do think that with the right level of competition – and that’s the real challenge – it could work more effectively than one price unfettered access, and would not require the government to regulate the Internet.  Despite my predictions of 20 years ago, VANs are still relevant and doing well with a model where the price to the end users is commensurate with the volume they consume.  VANs have plenty of customers that accept the concept of metered traffic, and recognize the value they receive in terms of reliability, security, etc.  Naturally, the customers are free to seek out the most competitive price and take their business to the provider that brings them the best value proposition.  This is what’s necessary when selling and consuming a finite resource.

    Foundational e-Business offers a variety of business to business e-commerce services, including reliable and cost effective VAN services.

  8. The Three Stages of EDI Implementation Part 3 – Extensive Use EDI

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    This blog post is the last of a 3 part series describing the various types of EDI implementations (Initial, Limited Use, and Extensive). The prior posts can be found here: Intro, Part 1 and Part 2.

    Stage 3: The Extensive Use EDI Implementation

    Once the limited EDI use organization becomes very effective at implementing new trading partners their perspective may begin to change, and many will transition to an organization that uses EDI extensively. At this point they’ve figured out how to more effectively utilize their EDI systems, expertise and resources – and are able to recognize specific and measurable benefits of their e-business systems. The priority now becomes maximizing their investment in e-business by bringing the majority of their supply chain on board. In order to bring a larger segment of their supply chain in to trading relationships, sometimes companies embark on programs called “partner onboarding” which are meant to engage current non-EDI partners and bring them in to an electronic trading relationship.

    When expanding their EDI utilization, an extensive use EDI company will want to pay particular attention to areas where cost reduction and efficiency can be achieved. One area where cost savings can often be found is in the area of alternative communication methods for the EDI data. Direct communications methods, such as AS2, can yield significant savings over traditional VAN communications, particularly for high data volume partners. Efficiency in implementation times and associated labor cost reductions can often be found as implementations grow by leveraging existing partner configurations (EDI maps) and using copied and modified versions for new partners. I’ve heard it said that there was only ever one computer program written from scratch and every other one since is a copied and modified version of that one. By using the same sort of copy/modify approach for EDI mapping, implementations can be accelerated and implementation costs reduced dramatically.

    In my experience, companies that fall into this category can often times use help with the outliers – those trading partners that like to transmit data in formats or via communication methods that are not commonly used in traditional EDI implementations. For example, some trading partners may like to exchange XML data, or CSV files. These formats may not be (easily) supported by the traditional EDI solution and can be a roadblock to more extensive use of e-business. The expertise needed to support communications solutions such as the already mentioned AS2 or FTP may not be present within the company, and hiring to acquire those skills may not be a desirable approach. The solution here is to find an e-business partner that can work within the confines of your existing system, but add the flexibility you need to handle these types of requests.

    If you would like to get more from your existing system, either by handling the outliers more effectively, reducing communications costs, or simply examining your e-business processes with a fresh pair of eyes, Foundational would love to hear from you.

    This concludes the three part series exploring the stages and evolution of an EDI implementation. Please feel free to comment with thoughts and feedback!

  9. The Three Stages of EDI Implementation Part 2 – Limited Use EDI

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    This blog post is part 2 of a 3 part series describing the various types of EDI implementations (Initial, Limited Use, and Extensive).  The prior posts can be found here:  Intro, and Part 1.

    Stage 2: The Limited Use EDI Implementation

    It doesn’t take long to see the benefits of EDI when it works well.  Whether you measure the gains in terms of your ability to sell to customers with EDI requirements, or if you look internally to your own streamlined process and error reduction. However, it is easy (and common) to get to the point that you can see the benefits of EDI, but don’t know how to expand or improve your implementation.

    Frequently when I ask companies if they use EDI the answer I get is something like “yes, but not well”, or “yes, but we want to do more and we’re not sure how”.  These are the responses common to those that I categorize as being in the “limited use” stage.

    For these companies they have made the initial investment and data is flowing.  However, making EDI work well consistently and efficiently is the challenge – especially for the IT department that is already being pulled in a number of directions and may have little real EDI expertise on the staff.

    Options at this stage: in house EDI or outsourced EDI.  Either one will enable integration, which is key.  The method you choose should depend on what kind of expertise you have on hand and how involved you want to be with your EDI translation and mapping.  If you have EDI expertise readily available you may be in good shape, but it can be very effective to rely on a third party to manage your implementation.

    For those companies in this stage there are a handful of things you can do to streamline and enhance your EDI implementation.   A few suggestions include:

    • Automate EDI jobs and transaction processing. The fewer manual steps the better, so it will be in your best interest to schedule jobs that kick off the movement and processing of data.
    • Look for ways to improve error checking and reporting. If you can identify and trap issues with data before it goes to your translator you can make trouble shooting that much easier.
    • Make sure everything is well documented. This includes EDI specifications and procedures, but it also includes maintaining a database of good contact information.  Eliminate time wasted trying to look up the right person to call at a trading partner in order to get EDI questions answered.
    • For transactions that you control, create implementation and data requirement guidelines. These may be as simple as a list of data points that you require.  Often times, the hardest thing to do is to add trading partners.  By ensuring that all processes and data requirements are well documented you can bring new partners on more efficiently.
    • Consider outsourcing EDI to a third party and the above suggestions will be managed for you!

    In general, my advice to those that are in the “Limited Use EDI” stage is to keep it simple and keep the costs down.  Naturally, I recommend outsourced EDI for many companies in this stage.  This is what I do for a living and there’s a reason I chose this path after 20 years’ experience with EDI!  Handing the keys over to a partner that can work with you to expand your implantation can be extremely effective and economical.  In fact, even if you are large enough to have EDI experts on staff, you will still likely find that outsourcing is more cost effective than your own team.

    If you’re not ready to outsource, hopefully the above tips come in handy.  By the way, Foundational offers EDI consulting to help if you’re not ready to outsource.

    Stay tuned for part 3 – the “extended use” EDI implementation.


  10. The Three Stages of EDI Implementation Part 1 – Initial Stage EDI User

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    This blog post is part 1 of a 3 part series describing the various types of EDI implementations (Initial, Limited Use, and Extensive).  Please read yesterday’s post for a more detailed introduction.


    Stage 1: The Initial Stage EDI User

    EDI is a technology that is often times implemented simply to comply with the requirements of one’s trading partners.  Try telling Walmart or Target that you plan to send them paper invoices and you’ll soon learn their thoughts about EDI.

    I categorize companies that are fairly new to EDI and use it mostly to stay in compliance with the requirements of their trading partners as “Initial Stage”.  The world of e-business can be confusing and overwhelming – especially since many IT experts have limited experience with EDI and business to business e-commerce, so getting started can be tricky, especially for the Initial Stage EDI user.

    When you explore options, you’re sure to learn about various services, software solutions and portals that can help you comply.  The terminology (X12, XML, ISA, VAN, AS2, EDIFACT, etc.) and components (communications, integration, translation) that work their way into the conversation can be mind-numbing… and the price tags can be intimidating!

    Since the main benefit at this stage is usually to comply with the EDI requirements of a larger business customer, integration and streamlined processes may take a back seat to simply getting something implemented so you can check the box that says “EDI capable”.  For this reason, web EDI or portals are popular at this stage.

    I’ve made no secret that I believe e-business portals are a poor solution – most just transfer the data entry responsibilities (and opportunity for data entry errors) from one organization to the other.  Paying for the privilege of performing data entry functions for your trading partners doesn’t sit well with me, especially when there are real opportunities to improve processing within your own organization.  Having said that, I recognize that using an e-commerce portal is the path of least resistance for many that are just getting their feet wet with EDI.

    However, if you’re going to go down this path please don’t consider the e-business issue closed…starting with a portal should just be the first step to implementing real e-business within your organization!  In fact, I submit that using a real EDI solution and enjoying the benefits of integration with your ERP system – even on a small scale – is a real option for the Initial Stage EDI user.  Given recent advances in technology and a number of innovative new options (such as outsourced EDI), you can now dip your toes in the EDI water without investing thousands of dollars and countless man-hours.  By doing so you’ll satisfy your immediate compliance needs while laying the foundation for e-commerce within your organization that will be an effective long term solution.

    The next stage is the “Limited Use” organization, which is where many companies in the initial stage graduate to.  Stay tuned for a new post in the next couple days with additional details.