Modern EDI is EDI, B2B, EAI and MFT

Back in the good old days when I first stated in the world of EDI, EDI was just EDI.  The world has changed, so has technology, business and the software and tools available.   EDI morphed from supporting your standard transaction sets onto XML, CSV, Application files, API’s via Web Services,  Cloud services / SaaS, and eventually on to application to application integration within the organization. When you look for software and services today you have to consider a solid B2B middleware that will support all of your integration needs.  Modern integration suites support everything such as FTP, FTPS, SFTP, AS2 via MFT  (managed file transfer) as well as Web Services (Rest and SOAP), Cloud service integration, and File system monitoring (folders). In addition, if not obvious, Any-To-Any translation and having the ability to build business processes with complex business logic support are absolutely essential.

Long story short EDI is not just EDI and it hasn’t been for some time.

Over the next few months we hope to dive into a few options, some of the industry leaders (depending on time & company participation) such as:

  • Extol Business Integrator – EBI
  • IBM Sterling B2B Integrator – SI / SBI
  • Liaison’s Delta and Contivo with ECS
  • OpenText TrustedLink (Inovis)
  • OpenText BizManager (GXS)
  • Informatica B2B Data Exchange and Data Transformation

What are you using for your modern EDI / B2B Integration Software and what is your strategy? (Tools / Software / Managed Services)

IBM to buy AT&T’s Sterling unit for $1.4B

More Info And Full Story Here , Here, and Here.

NEW YORK (AP) — IBM Corp. said Monday that it is buying AT&T Inc.’s Sterling Commerce unit, which makes software that helps businesses buy and sell to each other, for $1.4 billion.

The deal would be IBM Corp.’s largest acquisition since it bought business software maker Cognos in 2008.

Sterling runs “collaboration networks” where companies can interact with vendors. It has 18,000 clients worldwide and enables more than 1 billion deals per year, IBM and AT&T said. Customers include H.J. Heinz Co., Motorola Inc., Boise Cascade LLC and Boston Market Corp. The parties would not provide a figure for the unit’s annual revenue.

This should be interesting to follow…

FYI – Sterling Commerce makes Gentran, Gentran Integration Suite and Sterling Integrator.

Breaking News: GXS and Inovis Sign Definitive Merger Agreement

GAITHERSBURG, MD and ATLANTA, GA — 12/08/09 — GXS and Inovis, leading providers of business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce services and software solutions, today announced that they have signed a definitive agreement to merge. Inovis brings with it approximately 16,000 customers from a range of industries including retail and consumer products, financial services, transportation/logistics and automotive. The combined company creates a leading global provider of B2B e-commerce services and gives the company an even greater global presence.The merger of GXS and Inovis will further streamline customers’ global B2B deployments and provide them with a comprehensive range of B2B integration software and services-based solutions. GXS is a leading B2B e-commerce services provider with a strong focus on helping customers optimize their global supply chains through its software-as-a-service (SaaS) and software-based portfolio that includes B2B messaging services, supply chain visibility, product master data management and B2B Gateway software. Inovis is a leader among B2B Gateway software providers and has a strong portfolio of complementary software and services including managed file transfer, supply chain visibility, product catalog, B2B Gateway and multi-enterprise master data management software.

“Today’s merger announcement marks a turning-point in the B2B e-commerce industry,” said Bob Segert, president and CEO of GXS. “GXS sees strong potential for further growth in B2B managed services and B2B integration software. This demand must be met by a company with a diversified portfolio and global scalability. The combined company will bring together a leading provider of B2B services, GXS, and a leading provider of B2B software, Inovis, into one, giving customers an invaluable portfolio for all of their global B2B e-commerce needs. Over the next few months, we will be focused on supporting our customers, reviewing our broad portfolio and providing the most reliable and scalable B2B platform available.”

GXS and Inovis expect to close the merger in early 2010, subject to regulatory review. During the merger closing process, all services and solutions will continue to be supported and sold. The goal of any integration activity will be to provide customers with a well-informed, seamless, managed transition with no business interruption. The company’s goal is to give customers capable, reliable, high-performance solutions for all their B2B e-commerce needs.

“Both GXS and Inovis are industry pioneers with proven abilities to serve world-class customers,” said Sean Feeney, president and CEO of Inovis. “The complementary products of these two companies create significant value for customers that are seeking a single global provider for B2B e-commerce. Both companies share a passion for raising the bar on innovation and operational excellence and have the specific industry knowledge needed to help our customers achieve true, seamless integration with business partners located anywhere in the world. This merger is a big step forward in the evolution of the B2B e-commerce industry.”

GXS was advised by Barclays Capital and Citibank on the transaction. Inovis was advised by Kirkland & Ellis and BofA Merrill Lynch on the transaction. Further details on the merger of GXS and Inovis can be found here: and

About Inovis

Inovis offers software and services that enable companies to do business electronically across their entire trading community. Each day, over 16,000 companies across the globe rely on the Inovis platform to reliably send and receive purchase orders, synchronize data and manage exceptions in order to lower supply chain costs and get products to customers faster. Founded in 1983, the company is based in Alpharetta, Georgia and has offices around the globe. For more information, please visit, read our blog at, send an email to, or follow us on Twitter at

About GXS

GXS is a leading global provider of B2B e-commerce solutions that simplify and enhance business process integration and collaboration among trading partners. Organizations worldwide, including more than 70 percent of the Fortune 500, leverage the on-demand services on GXS Trading Grid® to extend supply chain networks, optimize product launches, automate warehouse receiving, manage electronic payments and gain supply chain visibility. GXS Managed Services, GXS’ B2B outsourcing solution, empowers customers with the expertise, technical infrastructure and program support to conduct B2B e-commerce with trading partners globally.

Based in Gaithersburg, Md., GXS has an extensive global network and has local offices in the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions. GXS can be found on the Web at, and

All products and services mentioned are trademarks of their respective companies.

Slow down, you move too fast…

… or something like that…  The title comes from an old song by Simon & Garfunkle, a “folk-pop” duo from the 60s and 70s…  They gave us a LOT of hit records in their years together – and Paul Simon certainly had a string of hits after they split.  Art Garfunkle didn’t do as well, but he still stayed busy and active in the recording industry.

I always think of the old adage about “stopping and smelling the roses” when I think of that old song (BTW, it’s “FEELING GROOVY”)…  Which then leads to thinking about “tunnel vision”…  And all of this came up today because of a comment made to a previous post that fairly SCREAMS “sales pitch!” and … well, I’ve never been a fan of the heavy-hitting sales pitch.

Years ago, I actually was in sales – I was selling new (and used) Chrysler and Plymouths for a dealer in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This was in the late 80s and I only did it for a few months.  I had to get out of there because, while I love cars – I’m a certifiable car nut – I couldn’t deal with all of the high-pressure tactics that so many sales people used.  It actually kind of shocks me to think about how many of the same sales tactics and ploys are still being used in 2009 – over 20 years later!

It’s these “hard sell” tactics that got under my skin today.  Somebody read a blog and thought it would be a great opportunity to use a comment back on the blog to push their product – which is a service, really – as an outsourced EDI program.  Software As A Service (SaaS) has been buzzing around for the past few years and is really taking hold in any MIS/IT environment you can think of…  And it’s also always being pushed in the EDI world, for sure.  So many companies have been making many dollars on offering outsourced EDI processes….

And please don’t misunderstand me with this blog – I certainly know the value of SaaS – especially when it pertains to EDI – but what got to me was more of how some people don’t seem to think of how EDI is being used (or has been used) by a company when they “sales pitch” their solutions.

As I said, there are a great many companies out there that offer “outsourced” EDI solutions.  Some may be known to you, others may not.  There’s companies like SPS Commerce, DI Central, Red Tail Solutions, EDI Direct, Direct EDI, ACT, and more and more and more.  Even many of the “big VANs” offer some kind of SaaS EDI solution…  Inovis has their webforms product which, in a minor way, can compete with their own VAN services AND their software (TrustedLink)…

Outsourced EDI (aka SaaS) can be highly beneficial to many a company when it comes to EDI processes.  You could be a small supplier of (dare I use it again?) Widgets to a bunch of retailers – big and small.  By having a way to process EDI documents, you can sell to the big retailers (WalMart, Target, and so on) and also to the smaller and medium sized retailers (local chains and single outlets) that also are EDI capable.  Having an outsourced EDI program (SaaS) can elevate you up to play with the big boys, but still keep your overhead low and complexity down at your “small boy” level.

Take a look at normal  VAN services, for example.  Depending on your volume of data being transmitted, you can pay (easily) thousands of dollars a month for your VAN connection – to be able to send and receive your data.  Costs can range from just a few cents per KC (Kilo-Character) to maybe as high as 25 cents per KC…

Then there are the costs of buying and implementing an application.  A simple and yet exceedingly effective product like Inovis’ TrustedLink can cost you thousands of dollars – tens of thousands – to purchase and put into place.  Then there’s the aspect of yearly maintenance and licensing agreements and support – again, thousands to tens of thousands of dollars…  So, for a small business, that can be a BIG chunk of change… 

Based on just these two costs alone, SaaS EDI is making a lot of sense.

But here’s where the sales pitch can rub the wrong way.  Let’s say that, instead of being a small fry, you’re a really big fish in the world.  You don’t just make widgets, but you also make all sorts of other products and have multiple locations and divisions around the country … or even around the world.  THIS is where SaaS EDI can be less of a benefit for you.

To a major retailer – like a WalMart or Target – or to a major manufacturer/supplier – like Mattel or Nike – these costs are very small potatoes.  They already have good sized MIS/IT departments and can easily afford that big outlay for the EDI platform AND the monthly VAN costs AND whatever other costs come along.  Oh, and they can easily manage it all “in-house” and have it all easily integrated into their ordering and accounting and warehousing (and whatever other) applications they use.  It’s more direct-connect EDI – retailer to supplier – with just the VAN service in between. 

This is not to say that SaaS can’t be used in the same way.  But it can surely slow down the process just a bit and it also takes a lot of control away from you – as a big guy.  As a big guy, you’ve got more at stake and more reasons to keep it in-house and not oursource your EDI.

A few years ago, a good pal of mine that works for Disney, related to me how Disney decided to “outsource” their internal help desk/tech support functions.  Now, for those not in-tune with “the House of Mouse”, Disney will generally make a lot of changes to their applications – including naming them after Disney characters – and train their people how to use “their” systems, their way.  So instead of using, say TrustedLink, the EDI person knows it as “Minnie” … or “Daisy” … And their version of Oracle or SAP may be called “Goofy” and “Pluto”.  Imagine the trouble when tech support guy Bob at “TechSupport R Us” gets a call from Walt at Disney, telling Bob that he’s got a problem with “Mickey” or “Donald”…


When I first started with the retailer I was working for, I started off in the tech support office, helping users do what they  needed to do – use the system.  And it would often amaze and bewilder me how many of those users didn’t actually KNOW what they were using.  They’d submit a job or run a process with some variables.  But, when they were trained to use the process, they were told “oh, don’t worry about those questions, just hit enter” and they’d page through a number of variables and parameters that were defaulting to the proper response for the job.

But, just like Walt at Disney having issues with Mickey, the users didn’t know how to answer the questions that Bob may have asked.  Because Walt didn’t know the answers.  And Bob didn’t know how Walt used the program.

This can also happen when you start working with SaaS and outsourced EDI – and other applications.  You can save some money and maybe even some hassle, but you then may get into a situation where the company you’re getting that Software as a Service from doesn’t really know or understand how you’re using it.  And you may not understand exactly what that software is doing.

With that retailer I was working with expanded the EDI program to include the 810 invoice, there were a number of vendors and suppliers that used “outsourced EDI” to receive the PO and send back the ASN.  And now they’ve got a new document to send – the invoice.

Where the trouble came from, however, was in how that SaaS solution was packaged and maybe – just maybe – some of the users didn’t understand about what they needed to put into a certain field so that the retailer would be able to process the inbound 810 properly.  Maybe in the field marked “description” – they’d put a description of the product they were shipping instead of realizing that they were on a page devoted to “terms” and should have (instead) put a description of the terms of payment of the invoice.  So you saw “widgets” instead of “Net 60″….

This is where SaaS solutions can fall apart and not be right for everybody.

And that’s really what my problem with the sales pitch was about – that here’s an offer being pushed and yet the pusher doesn’t even know what the problem really is.

When I was selling Chryslers all those years ago – I made it a priority to know what the customer was looking for – an economical commuter – and steer them towards a Plymouth Colt or Sundance, rather than trying to push them into a fully loaded (and quite the gas guzzling) Chrysler 5th Avenue. 

It’s also kind of like what I do here – when I’m writing and blogging – in that I kind of know the target audience – people that are in the EDI world – and I talk about EDI issues and problems and concerns, rather than trying to talk to you about how to grow perfect Peonies or resplendant roses or telling you how to bait that hook to catch the biggest mackeral or trout in the lake.

It’s all about knowing your audience and not making some wild pitch and moving way too fast for your intended…

The Times They Are A Changin’

Another EDI Blog from this guy…?  Geez!  Why are we all feeling so special?!?

When I’d first written this blog – back in June – I was still working and “gainfully employed” and the change – just about a week ago – is something I could (obviously) plan for and anticipate – but you can only plan so much for this kind of eventuality in life…  But I’m doing OK and have been working on some possibilites to come…  

OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit with that lead-in, right?  But truly, if you’ve read the blogs I write, you may very well have noticed that sometimes I’m kicking ‘em out daily.  Sometimes, well… not so much…  Months may pass between writings…  A lot of it happens when an idea – INSPIRATION! – rears its head and other times, well, it’s just when maybe I’m not so busy and I’ve got free time to think.

Wait… Free time for an EDI Guy?  How can THAT be?  It’s not possible!! (now I’ve got even MORE free time!).

But I tell you, it is!  And there’s a reason that any EDI Guy (or Gal) can have some … free time … here and there to work on other issues and projects.  It’s all about planning and executing your plans and taking care of problems as they happen.  But more importantly, it may be that part of your planning process should be to anticipate some of the problems that you may encounter.

Some of you may know that I live in the Southern California desert communities; I live around the Palm Springs area.  Now, the job I do (well, was doing) is located about 60 miles away in Riverside, California.  Riverside is probably the most “eastern” part of the urban sprawl that surrounds Los Angeles.  Riverside (quick geography lesson here) is right up against some mountains and foothills in Southern California that are known as (I think) the San Bernardino Mountains.  I cross these hills and low mountains – up to about 2400 feet in elevation – twice a day.

Along the route I take (took) – Interstate 10 – I often see a lot of … stuff; a lot of debris litters the road.  Some of it is just bits and pieces of rubber from truck tires that have fallen apart or blown out, some that are from cars and SUVs.  But it always seems that after a long holiday weekend – like the recent Memorial Day weekend – I see a lot of “personal property” in the road side debris I see.  Things like cooler lids – and sometimes, complete coolers! – clothing, towels, tents, tarps, plastic chairs, and more, litter the shoulders (and the lanes – of the freeway.

On the drive in on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, I was really surprised by the amount of stuff I saw.  I saw rubber tubing, at least half a dozen lids from coolers/ice chests, and more.  But the best had to have been the two different water ski boots (one gray, one pink) and the ski tow rope that littered the road.

OK, what the heck is this guy talking about?  Well, it’s simple.

Somebody had spent the long weekend at the Colorado River or at some lake in the area – maybe even into Arizona.  I-10 stretches from downtown Los Angeles and heads all the way through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and keeps going until it ends in Florida at Jacksonville.  So it’s a long, long, LONG trip.  But, still, there are a lot of waterways to “play” on close to Interstate 10.

Now, bringing it back full circle – somebody didn’t pack up their gear too well for the trip home from wherever they spent the weekend.  They didn’t secure everything in the boat or in the back of the truck or on the roof or wherever and they’ve lost some expensive stuff…  I’m pretty sure the boots are probably 50 bucks a pair and the ski rope is probably at least 40 bucks…  And the cooler is probably another 20 bucks… And it’s all because somebody didn’t plan their trip right and didn’t think of the possible problems that could come up along the way – like windy conditions, bumpy roads, and the like.

EDI is a lot the same.  We can plan for all sorts of things – but it’s how well we plan for those bumps in the road ahead – those windy conditions – that will affect the end of our trip into EDI.  Those anticipated events – whether they do or do not happen – affect the outcome and the success of our endeavors – whether it’s a long weekend trip to the river or a new document being rolled out.  It can mean whether we need to spend money we hadn’t budgeted for or anticipated (like buying two new pairs of water ski boots and a tow rope) or whether we end up with everything we started off with and we have a successful journey behind us.

And there are a lot of issues that can pop up in an EDI roll-out – whether it is an entirely new program or just a single document; maybe it’s even simpler – just a change to an existing document. How well we can anticipate the questions and problems we may (or may not!) encounter will go a long way in keeping it a smooth trip.

Last year, we made a change to our 850 PO document and added a segment (or two) and some elements and additional data.  As part of the run-up to this revised document, I contacted as many of our trading partners as possible about the new information and data.  However, in some cases, maybe I didn’t have the correct e-mail address for the vendor and the notification bounced back.  Then I get an e-mail a week or two later from the same vendor, but a different person, asking about that new data and what it’s all about.

Now, a person leaving the company or changing positions is something I can anticipate for – and I was expecting at least some of these kinds of issues – but it’s nothing I could do much about, as I didn’t get a notification that Joe Smythe was no longer there and Janet Dough was now the contact.  To equate that to the road trip return, it’s like knowing the possibility exists that you could have a tire blow out, but there’s not a lot you can do until after it happens.

But there are things I can plan for and anticipate.  I can plan for a vendor using different codes in the SAC02 element than what I send and I can anticipate what they’re going to use and set up the mapping spec of the 810 to populate the data into the correct fields in the AP system I’m using.  I can prepare for additional information that they may send that I don’t use and include it in the mapping spec, even if I only ignore the data based upon that information (like a PID segment in the 810).

So by planning for more than just what we want; planning for what we may encounter and some problems or issues that may arise; by doing this extra checking and preparation, I may be able to not have to come up against some expensive changes later on.  If I was that boat owner, I won’t have to spend a couple of hundred dollars to replace things that I hadn’t put away properly because they got lost on the way home.