Setting up of integrated trading relationships—“onboarding” in EDI lingo—requires a special brand of diligence and patience. Once implemented, changes that require skilled maintenance are inevitable. Here are some of the factors.
- Multiple Parties
At least two entities, the buyer’s and seller’s EDI departments, must be involved in establishing electronic connections for trade. Often there are more, including IT consultants, EDI service providers, third-party testers, commerce brokers, third-party logistics companies, and transportation carriers. As the number of players increases, delays occur while busy people respond according to their own availabilities. Rarely is everyone working with identical priorities and deadlines. Natural work flows and habits, not intentional impedance, are at work here.
- Esoteric Translation Skills
Electronic trade is conceptually simple but technically diabolical. Familiar business documents such as orders and invoices get code names like “EDI 850” or “EDI 810.” In order for automation to work, information within the business transaction—items, quantities, ship-to, etc.—must be translated to and from EDI format. EDI code is text that is barely intelligible to humans, so translators are used. EDI translation happens through software systems, but they must be trained how to do it through “mapping” exercises that are not easy for the uninitiated.
- Tricky Mapping and Translation Tools
EDI translators and document mapping tools require special talent and knowledge to operate effectively. That’s why specialists are usually employed to create and maintain document maps. Not only must the mapper understand EDI syntax, but also the business requirements of the buyer, seller, and third parties so that documents mesh correctly. It’s the kind of thing you forget quickly if not a dedicated practitioner, and re-learning each time can be a big time sink. More importantly, mistakes can be costly when non-compliant documents result in delays and chargebacks.
If your company is just getting started with EDI, look carefully at the process for launching trading relationships when selecting EDI vendors. If you already use EDI software, consider keeping your ERP integration layers and outsourcing the translation and mapping chores—especially if adding trading partners is a bottleneck to increasing sales.