right hand, meet left hand… now… who’s doing what..?

In some recent readings on other websites – geez, you’d wonder if I actually have a job with all the reading and blogging I do – there have been recent posts, blogs, commends, entries and more, about how it seems like the old adage about the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing is still alive and well and with us today – no life support needed…

Over on the EDI-L board, one of our own forum members, Earl, was discussing – well – venting – about his current client and some issues with testing through one of those 3rd party EDI providers (won’t mention any names!)…  But if you read it, you know.  Anyway, part of this goes back to the trading partner of his client – we’ll call them ABC COMPANY, INC….  So, in good faith and in following with the concepts of implementation, Earl’s been working to complete the testing for his client to trade with ABC Company.  Now it turns out that the division at ABC Company that they’ve been testing for has been sold off to another company – XYZ, LLC.  And now testing is no longer needed.

Forget about the costs that the client has encountered in testing with the EDI provider.  Forget about the costs that have been incurred in paying for Earl and his services…  Forget about all the OTHER trading partners (like Earl’s client) that have also been testing…  And let’s not forget that mergers and acquisitions don’t happen overnight in the world of big business.

How does this relate?  Well, if the EDI department at ABC had KNOWN that this division was to be sold off, why where they so hot-n-heavy about testing and compliance…?  Why was ABC forcing all these possible trading partners – remember, the tale was from Earl – through this fairly expensive testing program…?  And, from what I’ve heard – this provider does have one of the most expensive testing programs out there.  But still, why was the EDI group forcing the testing when the division was in the process of being sold and testing would no longer be needed until XYZ, LLC, takes over and decides what THEY want to do…

It’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

On another site, a blogger was commenting on the differences between the “sides” of EDI – the Technical vs. the Business.  In other words, how, in days gone by, an EDI Coordinator – or manager or whatever – needed to grasp both the Technical side of EDI – how to format the data and make it get to the trading partner – and the Businessside of EDI – understanding how the different groups or departments would be using the data…  They had to attend business meetings with those departments to find out how the data was going to be used – in or outbound.

These days, our blogger contends, with the plethora of outsourcing of EDI functions, it seems that one side of the equation isn’t being met.  The technical aspect is being taken care of by the EDI outsourced provider, but the Business side of the equation is now being handled by … who?  Obviously, somebody at the company is handling it – but who?  An accounting clerk?  A buying clerk?  Some secretary..?  Or how about a shipping or warehouse manager or clerk?  There’s a point in there about the disconnect.

It’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Another blogger on that same site talks about the “800 lb gorilla” in EDI – generally, the “hub” or, in My case, the retailer, that’s calling the shots.  I’ve talked about that gorilla before.  But this blogger talked about how the company, a retailer, was requiring a specific EDI document – the 846 – and how they (the supplier – the company our blogger was working with/for) was getting hit with a ton of chargebacks because one data element was wrong.  We’re then told of the trials and tribulations – and 3 week timeframe – of trying to solve the issue and complete testing the fix.

What I don’t understand, however, was how the error was missed during the initial testing for the document to begin with.  But I’m digressing.

Turns out that our blogger finds a phone number (after hunting and searching through the wilderness of the hub) and gets in contact with an overseas (outsourcing!) “tech support” – and the 1st level support has no idea about what EDI is.  They finally get in contact with 2nd level support (which has some rudimentary EDI concepts and knowledge – and they’re given the contact information for the EDI testing coordinator.  They call this other person – only to find out that he/she is out of the office for “a few days”…  Now they are weeks into trying to get this resolved – and the supplier is STILL receiving and paying these chargebacks for a wrong format for a data element.

A case of the right hand and the left hand, not knowing what the other is doing.

Even in non-EDI concepts this can be true.  My own company is building some new offices… Or, rather, they’re tearing some out to build more.  But instead of – oh, I don’t know – scheduling the work for times when there would be a limited number of people around, it’s happening right now.  And a major connecting hallway is closed off for a few hours.  Which means that the employees need to go outside, through one door, come back in through another, only to bypass this hallway that has the work being done.

Or the issue of printers – taking them down for repairs or maintenance – or even changing printer servers – and not letting anybody know.  Instead, an employee prints out some important document – an e-mail, a 200 page report his boss needs, something – only to find that the printer he was printing too is no longer online and is now installed on a different server.  Now he’s got to go back and re-create that report or e-mail and print to the new printer – only after, of course, it’s been mapped to be used by his system…

More cases of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

We can see this concept in everyday living, too, just by reading/watching/hearing the news or driving down the road, or shopping in a store and more.  We can see many times when somebody doesn’t know what somebody else is doing…  Or how, through somebody’s in-action – lack of action – causes somebody else to have problems and negative impacts abound.  Somebody forgets to clean up a spilled soda and somebody else slips and falls…  Somebody is yakking on a cell phone and doesn’t realize the light is red and slams into somebody else… 

All cases of not knowing what’s being done by the other.

How can we help to solve these issues?  Maybe by communication?  Maybe by sending messages to each other – right hand to left hand – letting somebody know what somebody else is doing.   Maybe by paying attention to what’s going on, as well.  Taking some of that responsibility of knowing what that somebody is doing – or observing that situation – and not blindly walking (driving) into that situation…

Maybe, in Earl’s case, it could have helped if he’d been reading the news about ABC Company and read that they were selling that division to XYZ, LLC….  That might have helped him….    Maybe if our blogger’s companies were paying more attention to the concepts of Business and Technical sides of the argument, or were making sure that they were not using a wrong format – maybe that could have helped them?

Sometimes, in life, we have to think outside of the box – think outside the bubble we’re in – and realize that there are others out there and we may have to interact with them outside of the scope of our box or bubble…  We have to take off the blinders of a project and look at the broader impact of our actions – or reactions – and how they’re going to affect what’s going on.

If our left hand is wildly wielding a hammer, it’s probably a good idea for the right hand to pay attention to the path of that hammer and stay out of the way – lest the right hand gets a smashed thumb…

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/

I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today…

On another one of My readling places – the EDI-L group on Yahoo – and the topic came up about “who pays” for what…  The topic-starter was looking for some kind of “best practices” in the EDI world when it comes to new implementations.  I think a lot of the people are viewing this from the “dating” point of view – that the person who asks for the date is the one that pays for the date…  Basically, if I was to call you up and ask you to go out with Me to dinner and a movie – or drinks and dancing – or supper and se…  wait, keep that one quiet… anyway, if I’m doing the asking, I should be doing the paying…

But that’s not truly the case when you’re talking about EDI.  When it comes to EDI, I’m doing the asking – “Hey!  I’d like to send you our PO and get an ASN and an Invoice back, electronically.  Are you game?” – but you’re doing the paying…  At least in My world – the world of retail trade.  I’m requesting you to change the way that we do business and accept My orders for your products electronically – instead of via fax or mail or carrier pigeon or crazy, downtown bike messenger – which will, in turn, save us both money (money, money, money… it’s a rich man’s world!), because we’ll be able to get rid of some of those leased phone lines (for the fax) and cut down on postage (the mail), nearly eliminate our budgets for bird seed (the pigeons) and harrowing clean-up expenses from those sweaty Lycra clad bikers…  It will also save us money because we won’t have nearly the same kinds of expenses for error resulotion when an order is keyed in wrong by that pretty – but dense – eye-candy and boss’ kid data entry operator over in customer service…   

Now I’m not saying that all (or even most) data entry people in customer service are dense – or lack-luster kids of bosses – but you know what I mean…

All it can take is just one key-stroke to completely alter an order.  I’m ordering, for example, 1000 Widget A (style W-A1) in blue (color 001) and it gets keyed as 10000 Widget 1 (style W-1A) in black (color 010).  You can see how easy it is to muck up an order with just an extra ZERO (10,000 instead of 1,000) or transposed data (style A1 vs 1A – or color 001 vs 010)…  We NEVER sell your black Widget 1, as nobody orders that from us.  And even if we sold a few – just because they’re new and novel – we still have over 9000 of ’em in stock and what-the-hell-are-we-gonna-do-with-’em…?  So we submit an RTV request and you pay for shipment of the goods back and you credit us the difference and so on and so forth….  It’s all on your side of things.

If the order had been sent via EDI, the order goes in as we sent it – 1000 qty W-A1 in 001 – no muss, no fuss, no errors… unless they’re on OUR end.

But I’ve gotten a bit far afield in the details again.  Back to “who pays” for EDI….

In the retail world, I’m a HUB.  I’m the guy sending the orders and receiving the product and selling the Widgets on to the wide and wildly waiting world of Widget wovers…  LOVERS…  I’m the guy in the driver’s seat.  I’m telling you (via My 850 PO spec) that I’m going to send you an order and it’s going to contain this information and this other information and, oh-yeah, that other information over there.  And I’m going to request – no, REQUIRE – that you send Me an 856 ASN when the order is ready to be shipped.  AND I’ll accept your 810 Invoice electronically – again, all in the name of ease and cost reductions and error management.

Basically, it’s a cost of doing business… for YOU.  My costs of doing business are having a chain or stores (ok, maybe just 1 – Wally’s World of Widgets for Widget Lovers – hey!  got it right!) and hiring employees and buying cash registers and store fixtures and paying for ads in the local paper and rent on a location and all the other things that go along with it…  Sure, you could justify that it’s a cost of doing business for Me, too, but you need to think of it differently… You need to put yourself into My shoes…

So you’re Willy’s Wacky Widgets – and you make and sell a wonderful array of widgets… different colors, sizes and shapes… and you sell those widgets to your customer base – Widget retailers.  You sell them to Wally, Wayne, Wanda, Wu, Wendy, Weaver and Bill…  That’s William.  Then it’s the job of Wayne, Wally, Wanda, Wendy, Wu, Weaver and William (Bill) to sell the widgets to the final customer – Wilma, the world’s most well known and renowned Widget owner, who lives in Walla-Walla, Washington. 

Now, in this, you’ll notice something – we’re both selling a product (widgets) to a consumer (you to Me and Me to Wilma).  Of course, you’re a wholesaler of widgets and I’m a retailer.   The only difference is the price.  But, see, I’m your customer.  Without Me, who would you sell your widgets to?  You don’t sell them directly to Wilma (although, of course, you could!), but without Me – you’ve got no customer base.  So you sell to Me – your CUSTOMER.

And the fact that I’m your customer means a lot.  In the retail trade, there’s an old axiom:

1 – the customer is always right.

2 – when in doubt, see rule #1 (above).

Basically, it means that the customer – Wilma to Me and Me to you – is the one that is truly driving the transaction.  Wilma has the cash to buy the widgets from Me and I’ve got the cash to buy them from you.  You, on the other hand, have the knowledge, equipment and supplies to create and provide those widgets to Me so that I, in turn, can provide them to Wilma in Walla-Walla and make her wonderfully happy.

The cost of the EDI – the testing, compliance, implementation – are yours.  At least for your side of things.  I wouldn’t expect you to pay for My set-up fees and implementation costs – as they’re a cost of doing business for Me.

Let’s spin this off in a slightly different direction – you package the widgets 50 to a carton.  That carton is a cost of doing business for you.  Are you going to charge Me for that carton?  Don’t think so.  Instead, you’ve figured a way to build that cost of the carton into your overhead – into your manufacturing costs – so that you’re covered for those costs. 

But you say “Hey!  Hold on now!  Wait a minute!” and you tell Me how I’m still paying for those cartons – in that I pay 1/10th of a cent for each widget to cover your costs of the cardboard cartons.  And, sure, you have a point – but it’s not truly a cost of doing business for Me.  It’s just part of the cost of the goods I’m buying – just like My overhead for the chain of widget stores is figured into the price I’m selling that widget to Wilma for in Walla-Walla.

So in the “who pays for what” equation, YOU pay for the costs of implementing and doing EDI with Me – just as I pay My side of those same costs of doing EDI with all of My suppliers and vendors.  I’m the 800lb gorilla in the room – I’m the one that has the control- or at least more of it – in this deal.  I’m the hub, I call the shots, I’m the driver.

At least that’s how it is in the world of widget retail.  But, as I’d posted over on the EDI-L group, it’s probably more of an “industry specific” kind of thing – that healthcare has different practices (best or not!) than retail has and they’re different from banking/finance which is different from universities and eduction which is different from … well, you get the idea, right?

So, on to your side – who pays for what…?  And where are we going to dinner…?

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/

It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.

One of the things you may have noticed about Me when I blog, is that I tend to find a quote or a saying or a song lyric or a … something … that makes sense and drives My thinking.  The title of this blog comes from the 1995 film by (and starring) Mel Gibson called “BRAVEHEART“.  For those that don’t know, it’s the story about fighting for freedom in Scotland in the … 1500s?  One of the more “famous” quotes is when Mel Gibson yells out something about how they may kill them (the Scots) but they’ll never take their freedom!

Freedom, however, in something as strict and regimented as EDI may seem like a far fetched notion, but it’s there.  Sure, we’ve got those lovely guides – those HUGE books – of standards and “rules” for the data we’re sending – depending on the document – that tell us what we can send and how it should be formatted and all the rest.  Those standards tell us we should send this information in this loop in this segment in this element and it should be between 2 and 30 characters in length.

But in that rigidity – in that structure – there’s still some freedom.  Just look at the last sentence in the above paragraph – we’re given some freedom in the data – that it can be between 2 and 30 characters.  So there’s some freedom right there.  Then there’s is such a plethora of data and information we can include – information and data that just may not seem like it belongs in the document we’re using.  But we can include it.

We can even have some freedom in what we use to separate our data – whether an element seperator, a segment terminator or whatever.  We have a choice of characters we can use and put into the data flow to show where this piece of data ends and the next begins.

Then, of course, we have a wonderful MSG segment – in which we can include all sorts of “free form” data that can be anything we want to include.  Again, more freedom.  More abilities and places to put information that doesn’t “fit” any one of the stricter and defined elements and segments of the document.  We can send anything – and I mean ANYTHING – in an MSG segment that may be of use to us (as the sender) or to them (our trading partner – the receiver)…  It could be a “please pack in pretty pink boxes” or “have a happy Friday” or “this information is solely for the use of the receiver” or … well, you get the idea. 

And that freedom is an important part of EDI.  Just as freedom is an important part of nearly every aspect of our lives – from where we live, what we do for a living, who we love, what we drive, what we wear and so on.  However, there are times that those freedoms can be curtailed.

Maybe your employer enforces a dress code – you can only wear dark colored slacks, white shirts and simple, mono-chromatic ties.  You can’t have facial hair.  You have to wear black shoes.  You can’t have any personal stuff on your desktop.  Shades of “9 To 5” – an 80’s-era gem of a movie with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton…  Where the workers rebel against their boss and take control of the division and suddenly life is good and it’s a better place to work!  Ties back into that freedom that William Wallace (Gibson’s character in “Braveheart“) wanted so desperately for his fellow Scots.

These attempts at conformity can truly alter – and not always for the best – the way that the job can function.  If, for example, that MSG segment wasn’t allowed in EDI – and if it was confining and restrictive – we wouldn’t be able to send some of the information to our trading partners that ARE important.  For example – we request that many of our vendors apply pricing stickers to our products.  And we request a certain format and that they include certain information – such as our internal CLASS of the item – on that price tag.  And we use a MSG segment to get that information across to them.  We send, in the PO Item loop a MSG segment with that class number as the data – and we even use another MSG segment to let them (our trading partners) what that MSG segment contains – the data needed for “TICKET ID”.

Sure, I could probably find something in the PO1 line item that I could use to get that data transmitted from My side to theirs, but it’s just … easier … to use the MSG segments, instead.  Maybe there’s not a perfect fit in the existing standards that will “match” up to our CLASS code.  There may be similar things – but maybe I’d rather have the freedom to use that element or data code later on.  Maybe I’ll suddenly have to start sending some other piece of data that the “similar” element was originally intended for.  Where’s the freedom in that?

By putting forward too many restrictions – too many rules – too many standards – you limit what you’re able to do.  You limit what can be done with the data or what you’re sending.  You limit your ability to effectively communicate – and to effectively work – and to effectively get your ideas and points across.  What if I wasn’t able to use movie quotes and song lyrics in My thought process?  You’d not be reading this blog – or – worse yet – it would be boring, dry and as exciting as a textbook on “Analyzing Algorithms about Data Trends in Modern Day Accounting” or something just as … exciting.

Some people have claimed that XML is the “NEW FUTURE” for EDI and that we don’t need standards and we don’t need rules and governing … committees … to tell us what we can and can’t send and how to format it.  They see EDI standards as … constricting … and they can’t see the freedom that is allowed them.

There is freedom all around us in EDI.  The trick is to find it and take it.

“It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom!”

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/