Existing and new clients come to us from time to time exclaiming: “A big customer of ours is insisting we need to get Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) going now if we want to keep their business!” Boy, are they motivated.
This obviously stands for big dollars, so naturally the fire is set and the client is ready for action. The problem? They expect EDI to be up and running in a couple of days.
For those of you who don’t know, EDI is a nitpicky, slow, painstaking thing to implement, requiring specific knowledge and experience to avoid making a dog’s breakfast out of it. Don’t know the difference between an 810, 835 or 855? Have no idea what mapping means, in this context? You’re not going to get anywhere.
EDI implementation sounds like a fairly straightforward process. Two organizations are going to make it so that they can automatically and quickly send purchase orders, acknowledgments, invoices and other information to each via computer. They each need to know what they’re buying, selling, and making. All they have to do is agree.
The microscopic level of that agreement, unfortunately, is what causes all the problems in becoming EDI capable.
First, there’s the agreement on the back-and-forth of standardized EDI documents (remember those 810s and 855s?). Which forms and what process are you both going to use? Then there’s the mapping. What you call a 469A2 is a SKU#269945J to your client. Send your part number into the other guy’s system, and you’ll be talking nonsense to them. It won’t work. They want to buy the widgets in bushels of 1000, but you sell them in packages of 100? Problem. Somebody has to program tables that create these equivalencies. After that, what happens to the “extra” data? Your customer sends in 25 fields of information, but your system only needs 18—until it’s time to send the acknowledgment form back, at which time all 25 fields need to be reproduced.
And who has the responsibility for all of these steps? Purchasing staff at your client’s may have demanded EDI, but their Accounts Receivable people could be glacially slow in providing the profile information you need to proceed. Then, after the programmers set it all up, the system has to be tested. This can be like throwing a football over a ten-foot high wall. Did they get it on the other side? Did anyone see it? Is the data right??
At every stage in the process of implementing EDI there are a bunch of ways to fall down. Without energetic people made clearly responsible for a part of that implementation, things will drag on and on—and your customer will get more and more frustrated with you. Every day you don’t have EDI you’ll be losing business, and you might even get penalized for continuing to fax over order acknowledgments.
When you’re implementing EDI, you need professional guides who have been through this all before to give you the best chance for a timely project completion. You also need appropriate people who want to get the system in place at both your company and your customer’s. Otherwise, it’ll be one miserable project.
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