EDI 101-B – Standards and Syntax

EDI 101 – part II – The Basics of Standards and Syntax

So, you’ve decided to come back for more, eh?  Glutton for punishment, I guess.

This time around, we’re going to cover the concepts of the “STANDARDS” and also the SYNTAX and the Content of your EDI Document.  Now, again, I’m coming from a background in retail and using the ANSI/ASC-X12 standard.  And we use version 4010, which is, arguably, a few versions behind, but that’s not truly important.  I know that UN/EDIFACT and TRADACOMS have their own standards and documents, but, again, I’m just dealing with what I know – X12.

For each industry that uses EDI and the standards, there are different forms that can be used.  The book on My desk for the X12, v 4010, is the size of a dictionary.  And it’s printed on that same super thin paper in tiny little type-face.  And it’s almost 1800 pages of that tiny type.  But not every document is used in every industry that may use EDI and use the X12 standard.  Some are strictly for retailers; some for real estate; some for insurance, for banking, for hospitals.  Some of the documents MAY be used across the industrial lines, but some are very specific and specialized.

 Within that X12 standard, there are literally HUNDREDS (at least 300 by My count) of documents that can be traded – from the 850 Purchase Order, the 810 Invoice, the 860 PO Change, the 852 Activity Data to the 262 Real Estate Information Report, the 255 Underwriting Information Services and 249 Animal Toxicological Data.

Wow…  Who knew?

With TRADACOMS (the Standard used in the United Kingdom for most retailers), there are a couple of dozen.  I’m not sure how many documents are in use for the UN/EDIFACT standards, but I’m sure there are a few.

For each document, there are then a series of hierarchy loops – levels, basically – of the information structure.  These levels – the hierarchies – lay the data out in a defined pattern, so that you can have similar data “grouped” with similar data.  Within those levels, you will have the SEGMENTS and the ELEMENTS we touched on last time.  And you can have segments in multiple levels and even repeated within a level, as needs require.

Still there and with Me?   Good.

When you come to the hierarchies, they’re going to – GENERALLY – follow a structure or a pattern.  Kind of like the e-mail analogy I used last time, where we had a TO, FROM, SUBJECT, BODY and CLOSE, the hierarchies will follow a similar kind of pattern.   For example, an 856, the ADVANCED SHIP NOTICE – or ASN – will follow a particular pattern.  A very common pattern is called SOPI.   SOPI stands for SHIPMENT, ORDER, PACK, and ITEM.

The SHIPMENT hierarchy is all about just what it says – the SHIPMENT information and data.  In this hierarchy loop (or level), you’ll find information about the ASN Number, shipment date information, some ship to or ship from information, a bill of lading or tracking number and more.  You can specify the kind of container that is being used (corrugated cardboard) and the name of the shipping company, the weight of the shipment, the number of cartons, and so much more information about the SHIPMENT.

Following SHIPMENT, you’ll generally find the ORDER hierarchy loop.  This contains information and data, as it pertains to the order information.  You’ll find some date references – order date, ship date, arrival/anticipate date, the Purchase Order Number, maybe vendor identification (number, etc.).  Again, this hierarchy loop is all about the ORDER information.

Next up, you’ll generally have a PACK loop.  Most times, this is a pretty small bit of data.  In the ASN spec I use, it’s all about the marks and numbers – the carton label number – for that box.  That’s pretty much it.  In here, however, there could be any data that refers to the packaging of the products ordered.

Then we’ll see the ITEM hierarchy loop.  This is where you’ll find all the data, as you guessed, about the ITEM being shipped in the ASN.  Widgets…  Shoes…  Apples…  Whatever…  This is all about the goods being ordered and shipped.  Everything that’s in that shipment should be listed on the ASN and this is where the item specific detail goes: colors, sizes, quantities, UPCs, SKUs, the works.

Within each hierarchy loop, there are a number of SEGMENTS that contain the elements and the data.  Each segment has a name – an identity.  Within the ASC X12 standards, it’s generally a 2 or 3 character code that identifies what data should be contained in the SEGMENT.  For example, there’s the TD1, TD3, TD4 and TD5 segments.  This is where you would – generally – find the information pertaining to the CARRIER DETAIL.  Things like who the trucking company is, any routing transit time, special handling, hazardous materials information and more.  Or there can be the SN1 segment.  This is all about the item detail – the shipment.  This segment is where you put in the information – the details – about the item being shipped.  Here’s where you can have UPCs, Item Numbers, SKU numbers, Item Descriptions and more – as long as it’s all about the item being shipped.

The SEGMENTS are further split up into DATA ELEMENTS.  This is the nitty-gritty detail of the shipment.  This is where your content really comes into play.  And the STANDARDS also come in here, as the STANDARD lays out what SEGMENTS fall into which hierarchy loops or levels and what elements and data can be included in the segment. 

The ELEMENTS are all about the actual detail of the shipment: quantities, PO numbers, costs, UPCs, item numbers, carton sizes, and more, are all displayed in the ELEMENTS in the SEGMENTS.  This is the level where you really need to have a keen eye for details, as there may be any one of a dozen possible elements to use to identify the data being sent.

Let’s assume you’re working at the ITEM level and the LIN (Line Item Detail) segment.  And you’re trying to get across a VENDORS STYLE NUMBER or designation.  There are a number of choices – looks like 4 in the copy of the X12 Standard I use.  You can use VA (Vendor’s Style Number) or you can use VC (Vendor’s Catalog Number); or how about VP (Vendor’s Part Number), VN (Vendor’s Item Number) or even VU (Vendor’s Basic Unit Number).  Hey!  That’s five!  Of course, then I also see XA (Preferred Part Number), the MG (Manufacturer’s Part Number) and more and more and more.

In this same SEGMENT, you can also have all the information related to OTHER numbers and information related to the item being shipped – the UPC, the SKU, and so forth.  Truly, however, this qualifier (known as the Product/Service ID Qualifier) could be for use in many documents and many segments.  It could be used for financial records, medical records, educational records… 

This can be where many people who create EDI translation documents have to be really careful.  Since there are a lot of codes and qualifiers that could be used to relay the data and information you’re trying to get across, you need to be sure of what you and your trading partners will recognize.

In a previous blog, I talked about the concepts of EDI being replaced by XML; how there’s the DTD/Schema that tells you want the data being transmitted is.  Well, that DTD/Schema basically functions as the formal “STANDARD” of the document, even though there isn’t any formal STANDARD with XML…  The only “RULE” in XML is that you have a set of tags around each bit of data you’re sending.  The DTD/Schema then tells the receiver what it is that this TAG means.  Think of the TAG as the ELEMENT QUALIFIER in the SEGMENT of an X12 document.

Even with all of the potential for confusion that can be found in any of the standards, having that standard and set of rules makes EDI something that’s not exceptionally difficult.  It can be easy to master, as long as you pay attention to the details and work with your trading partners on the documents you’re trading – from syntax to content – to be sure that the data you’re trading – sending back and forth – is clean, reliable and usable.

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
Read more about Craig here:

arrr, matey. prepare to be boarded…!

Ahoy, Me swarthy mateys and hearty wenches…  Avast and bear to smartly and prepare to be boarded.

Earlier today, I was talking with one of our EDITalk founders (John B) and somehow, I got stuck into “pirate speak”…  Did you know that there is actually an “INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY“…?  There is..!  So, arr, Me hearties and Me beauties, let’s search for some buried booty and find our fortunes and leave our lives to the fickle finger of fate…  So get your first mate into the crow’s nest and set sail for the South Seas to find our treasure trove of EDI booty!  Shiver Me timbers and set sail!

But wow… how about we start the “Talk Like an EDI Geek” day…?  Or the “Speak EDI-ese” day..?  Now how well would THAT go over…?  About as well as the grog coming from the bung hole…! 

What..?  You don’t know what a bung-hole is…?  Well, no, it’s not THAT…  On a ship, it used to be that stuff – food, drink, supplies – were stored in wooden casks or barrels.  The “cork” – or stopper – in the barrel was called a BUNG and then it went into a hole – called the BUNG HOLE.  I know it sounds worse, but it’s not.

Aye, Me hearties…  Get yer mind from the bilge gutter!

But  back to “EDI Guru” day.  Imagine what it would be like if you didnt’ have to explain EDI to people.  You know, give them the “basics” and tell them what it all means.  Imagine if you didn’t have to describe what it is we do – day in and day out – to those that don’t know…  no having to “dumb it down” to the level of a newbie user…  no having to break it to the level of a 2nd grader…

Ah, that would be nice, eh..?

And to have a day when EDI was … well … sexy.  Not boring, dull and plain.  And not confusing and overly technical and complicated.  A day of fun and frivolity and festive fanciful shenanigans.

Imagine how nice is would be to not have to explain what an 850 is; what the 856 does; how to use the 810 or the 832 or even the benefits of the 860 or the 820…  Imagine no posessions.. It’s easy if you try…  Sorry… Now the Beatles are fighting with the vast Pirate hoard for the booty of knowlege in Me noggin’…!  But the treasure and beauty of the EDI booty could be well understood by the EDI-novice.  No more having to walk the plank of EDI.

But – wow – think of it.  Simplifying the EDI process – and the entire SUPPLY CHAIN in the process.  Making it easy to “sell” EDI to the higher up muckety-mucks that pay the bills.  No justification of ROI or any of that.  Just simple understanding.

Of course, the next day, we’d be back to explaining what it is we do and what it is that EDI can do for our businesses – our supply chain.  We’d be back to being Poindexter – in the geeky get-up, complete with the broken-and-taped-together-glasses (think “Revenge of the Nerds“), giving details and data of what the 850 (and all the other documents we use!) can and will do for us. 


Probably easier to get people to drop their land-lubber status, grab a Jolly Roger and be a pirate for a day.

Arr, mateys, pass Me a tankard of grog and prepare to pillage and plunder with Cap’n Craig Redbeard on the great ship, the EDI Pearl, scourge of the seven seas!

Author: Cap’n Craig “Redbeard” Dunham – EDI Coordinator, Pirate Ship Captain & Grog Inspector
Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/

Don’t Let One Bad Apple Spoil The Whole Bunch…

Ah, yes, another song, another title, and another blog for your reading pleasure. 

Maybe what the Jackson Five were to sing back in the 70s (but the song was released by The Osmonds, instead) – when they were dominating the charts – much like young Michael would do many years later until he got too … eccentric … and started with skin-lightening, reclusive living, sequined gloves and nose-jobs – doesn’t seem like it would have too much to do with EDI, but stay with Me; you know I can deliver on the goods…

Or, maybe better yet, I could have used Queen’sAnother One Bites the Dust”… There’s another fitting analogy.

What got Me started on this concept was a simple breakdown of a simple part.  Or, rather, the simple part’s interaction with another part…

If you don’t know (or even don’t care), I live in Southern California.  However, I live in the desert regions of Southern California – near the resort areas of Palm Springs.  And, as you might imagine, it can be HOT there.  Like 115 degrees in the shade – if you can find the shade…  OK, maybe it’s not THAT bad, but even in September – on the 15th – just a week shy of the first official day of autumn – we can still be in the 100 to 110 degree range.  But it’s nice, as the humidity is only 12%.  What’s the old adage?  It’s a DRY heat…?

Well, to help combat the heat of the desert, we all tend to have multiple ways of keeping cool – from centralized AC systems, window and portable AC systems to this wonderful device called the Evaporative Cooler.  Or the Swamp Cooler, if you so desire.  I like Evaporative better…  It’s got a bit more … class … and style.  Evaporative coolers are simple enough – they’re a big box that is attached to the side of your house.  Inside, there are few moving parts – a pump, a motor, and a fan.  On the three exposed sides – the fourth side is attached to your house – you have intake vents that are lined with pads.  These pads are made from different materials, but think of them as being big sponges – lots of little crevices and holes for air to pass through.

The concept is simple enough – if you add some moisture to the air, it will “feel” cooler and help to cool the air inside your home.  The mechanicals are pretty simple too.  A motor turns the fan, which sucks air in through the vents and the pads.  The pump in the bottom of the unit takes water and moistens the pads that the air flows through.  The fan then pushes the air into your home through a hole in the wall.

Are they effective?  You bet!  Just ask anybody that lives in a desert climate – or even through the swampy hot and humid Eastern Seaboard!

Evaporative coolers can drop the temp by (usually) at least 10 degrees and even as much as 20!  That’s nice…  And it’s cheaper to run than your central AC, and it’s operating on lower voltage current.  There are some drawbacks, however.  They DO use water – some can use as much as 5 to 10 gallons PER DAY of precious H2O.  And the more humid it is outside, the less effectively the cooler works.  There’s a thing called “DEW POINT” which greatly impacts the ability of the cooler to work properly.  It’s some strange formula that takes the humidity and the temperature and the concept of “moisture in the air” and combines it all together and creates a DEW POINT that’s expressed in degrees.

Now, I rely on My evaporative – OK, that’s just getting TOO long to type over and over…  I rely on My Swamp cooler to keep My house cool and comfy on those hot summer days (and nights!)…  As I said, it’s cheaper to run than A/C and does a great job…

Well, Sunday night, My swamp cooler was having problems – BIG problems.  The fan would bind up and stop, causing the motor to overheat and shut down.  So no motor, no spinning fan, no air flow and cool air…!  YIKES!  Not a good scene, at all.

Woke up early on Monday and started to see if I could figure out what was wrong.  HA!  Everything LOOKED normal.  The fan WOULD turn (at least by hand!) and the motor would kick on.  The pump was working, water was there…  All should be working.  But it wasn’t.  Called in “the professional” – an HVAC company that works with the coolers – to take a look and tell Me what’s wrong…  And he found nothing.  He suggested oiling the bearings some more, and playing with the fan to spin it and get the oil all over the bearing and lubed up.

No luck.  Still it would kick on, work for about 30 seconds and shut down.

Called another guy; he came and took a look – and noticed that the belt – the simple rubber belt that connects the drive motor to the fan – seemed a bit … too tight … and was looking a bit worn.  This is the same kind of rubber fan belt you have under the hood of your car.

Turns out, that the last time somebody serviced the cooler, they noticed the belt was slipping.  Of course, this was because the belt was wearing out and needed replacement.  But instead of spending a few bucks on a new belt, they just pulled the motor back a bit and tightened the belt.  However, the extra “snugness” of the belt would put too much friction on the motor and the fan and the fan would stop and the motor would stop and … well, you know what happens – no air flow.

An hour or so later, a new belt is in place, the fan is spinning, the motor is running and the water is pumping and the air is cooling.  Now, even though it was up to 93 degrees INSIDE My house, the cooler quickly dropped the temp to about 83 and then it continued down to an overnight drop to 68 degrees!  AH, now THAT is nice and cool!

Of course, I was panicked, thinking I would have to replace the whole unit – the entire cooler – because of one bad part.  “Don’t let one bad apple…”…

Now, what does all of this have to do with EDI…?  Stick with Me, the payout is on the way…

Take a look at your EDI system and program.  It’s there, working away, providing comfort to your users and your trading partners.  Everything is cool.  But then somewhere along the line, somebody does something – tweaks a library, changes a communication setting, deletes a record – something – and now you’re “PRODUCTION DOWN” – “Another one bites the dust… and another one gone and another one gone, another one bites the dust… – data is not flowing, documents are not trading and people are not happy.

Things are NOT cool.

Now, it COULD be something easy to see and right there in front of your eyes.  For example, if My cooler’s belt had broken, I’d know – QUICKLY and EASILY – what needed to be done to fix the problem.  Same with EDI – somebody unplugged a modem line or the T1 or whatever you use to communicate over.  Easy fix – plug it back in!

But now, what if somebody did something else – cleared a record, moved a library, changed a comm. setting or port…  Now the broken part isn’t right there – it’s not easy to spot and fix.   It’s the same as My slipping belt being tightened and putting too much pressure and friction on the fan bearings.  Somebody did something minor – and not visible to the naked eye – and now you’ve got nothing…  No data flow and nothing good is happening.

And yet, just a simple fix – a new fan belt – a new comm. port setting – and you’re back in business and things are working.  The point is, that even with a major production down scenario, it could just be a simple fix – a single, simple part – that needs to be looked at and put back into place.

Now you can be singing “I’m Alive” (by ELO or Celine Dion, take your pick!) again and you’re too cool for school!

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator

Read more about Craig here: http://editalk.com/contributors/


Tim, the Tool Man says – “MORE POWER!”

If you were alive and watching TV through the 90s, you probably saw – or at least heard of – ABC’s long running “Home Improvement” – starring Tim Allen – and giving a start to Pamela Anderson (Lee) – whose career nearly EVERYBODY should know.  It was a show about “Tim ‘the tool man’ Taylor” and his family.  Tim was the “host” of a TV Show called “TOOL TIME” – a fictitious handyman show that was sponsored by the equally fictitious Binford Tools.

But one of the things that Tim was ALWAYS looking for was “MORE POWER!” from his tools – and just about everything else in his life.  Tim’s tinkering with tools would often lead to disastrous results – with an over-powered tool that did far more than it should and was usually pretty destructive.

The other day, I wrote a bit about the power of DETAILS in our EDI world.  But this morning, I was reminded that – even with all the details in the world – we’re nothing without the tools to use them.  And how our actions and all the details we can monitor and provide, how they’re for nothing if the users don’t use the tools we provide them.

This concept of TOOLS and how we should use them was pushed to the forefront of My head this morning, on My drive in to work.  Here in California, we have a newly enacted law that requires the use of “hands free” devices for your cell phone when you’re driving.  Doesn’t matter if you use the phone’s built-in speakerphone abilities (if applicable), a wired headset that plugs in or one of the wonderful Bluetooth devices – whether an ear piece, a clip-on speaker or the one installed in your car (if you’ve got it).  I know that a lot of the “high-end” car companies offer this option in their models.  Lexus, Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW and more have a Bluetooth “kit” built into many of their cars.

Well, this morning, driving on I-10, making My way from Rancho Mirage (home) to Riverside (work) – about a 50 mile trip – I was being passed by a recent generation Lexus LS – the top of the line sedan.  After the Lexus passed Me, I noticed that she started slowing down and … jiggling … a bit in her lane.  When I pulled alongside (she’d slowed by about 5 to 10 MPH), I could see that she was doing something with her arms – moving them around quickly.  Then, a half-second later, into her hand comes her cell phone.

Now, we all know that cell phones are tools – and can be very good tools; very useful when used properly and to our benefit.  Of course, like a 3 year old with a hammer, sometimes tools are abused – like when some … youthful … person is texting messages to their pals – all the while driving down the road at some speed and (obviously) not paying attention to the details of driving. 

But here’s a great instance of a wonderful tool that’s not being used.  The Bluetooth (or other hands-free device).  If that driver in the Lexus had used the device she’s got – and chances are, she’s got SOMETHING to use her phone hands-free – she wouldn’t have had to fish around in her purse or a pocket or wherever her phone was and her attention to the details of her driving wouldn’t have suffered.  She wouldn’t have nearly swerved into My lane.

There are a lot of other tools we can use in our EDI daily lives, too.  And there are great tools we can provide to our users – those accounting clerks and supervisors, those buyers, those warehouse receivers, and all the others.  We can provide them with EDI Invoices, EDI Purchase Orders, EDI Shipment Notices.  We can provide them with records and forms and documents and other forms of data that can be used by them to help make their jobs just a little easier…

We have other tools in the shed that can be used to great benefits by us, our users and even our trading partners, vendors and suppliers.  We can offer solutions for nearly any question or problem – from changing a PO automatically in the system (the 860 in X12-world), provide activity/sales information (the 852), and more.  All of these tools can help us – and our users – to make work easier, better, and – very importantly – more accurate and with less errors.

We can use the 832 – Vendor Catalog – or one of the outsourced catalog website (Inovis and SPS Commerce both have them) to download and – even – automatically update our product management system with the latest and greatest information from our vendors and suppliers – size runs, color availability, UPCs, style numbers and more.  We can keep our systems up to date with product information and changes.

Another example is that it’s often important for a retailer to provide some kind of reporting to their suppliers and vendors as to how a certain product or line is doing in their stores.  These days, it’s become even more important for a buyer and a seller to work more closely together and “fine tune” the product mix in the stores and carried on the shelves and stored in the warehouse.  Retailers are having to pay more attention to their bottom line and the big picture and keep inventories to a more controlled size so they’re not saddled with left-overs come the end of a selling season.

In house, we have a reporting system (called The Eye) that can help our buyers look at trends and see how products are doing, based on sales history and comparisons of different sales periods – whether weekly, monthly, yearly or for a specific advertised sale.  However, because of the large number of products we carry – over 10000 active SKUs and many thousands more that may no longer be carried and in stock – and the large number of stores – over 400 in 10 states – tracking all of that history creates some VERY large databases for The Eye to keep track of.  So we limit some of the levels of detail available to be viewed – we don’t track each item, for example, to the store level, but keep track of the classes.  Or at the Style level of merchandise, we only can see how well that style is doing over the entire chain.

Kind of limited tools.  These tools need “MORE POWER!”

Additionally, our buyers may want to work more closely with a vendor rep on some products or lines and need to provide them with the information on how Widget X is doing in our chain and what we can do to maximize sales and limit overstock levels and all the rest.  And there are many ways that we can get that information – tools we can use – to share that with our suppliers.

If we want to do just the EDI route, we can use the 852 Product Activity document.  By creating this document and trading it with our suppliers, we can provide them with a snapshot of how well the product(s) are doing in our stores and provide them with the appropriate data that they need – and data that we can see, too – so that we can come to a better understanding of our needs and how they can help us to meet those needs.

We could also just send paper reports – or e-mails – to the rep and do it that way, as well.

There are also a number of 3rd party sources that we can use to give access to that data.  Tools that we can provide to our suppliers and that we can use with them to better understand how well a product is doing.

We recently started using Edifice as a 3rd party provider for POS Activity data reporting to our vendor community.  Every week, we compile reports on how well products are selling – or not! – in our stores and the stock levels we have and send the information – via FTP – to Edifice.  They then work with that data and create reporting that our vendors and suppliers can access (if they subscribe) to view that very same information.  Additionally, we can view that same reporting that they’re viewing, so that our buyer and the company rep can be looking at the exact same numbers and data.  They can be comparing apples to apples instead of grapes.

It’s a great tool.  And it’s got “MORE POWER” than our in-house system because Edifice can give the detail down to the size and color – the individual item or SKU – and also down to EACH store in our chain.  And the reporting compares this year to last year, and can also compare seasons and months and a lot of other points of interest.

Right now, about 2 dozen of our suppliers are subscribed to this reporting from Edifice.  And our buying department can see that exact same data.  But here’s where it all falls down – like a house of cards in a strong breeze.

Remember My tale about the Lexus driver and how she didn’t use a great tool – her Bluetooth (or similar)…?  Well, it was a case of not using a tool that can make life better.  Well, the same can hold true for this kind of Activity Data reporting – it’s a great tool – but only if the buyer – and the supplier – can open up that tool box and pull it out!  And, of course, they have to use that tool, too.

That’s really something we all can relate to in the world of EDI.  As I’d mentioned earlier, we have some great tools in our shed that we can provide to our users.  We’ve got some great ways of trading data back and forth with our vendors and suppliers – some great tools – but it’s getting our users to actually use those tools that will suddenly reap the benefit and the rewards from that hard work.

MORE POWER, indeed.

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

“I’m Too Sexy for … EDI?”

With all due respect to Right Said Fred, I’ll take a bit of their song and use it…

But, let’s face it – EDI isn’t sexy. It’s not glamorous… We’re not going to get many invites to black-tie-and-beaded-gown-red-carpet-fancy events. There are no EDI “Oscars” or “Emmys” or “Tony Awards” or anything like that. There’s just data. And details. Lots and lots of details.

And they do say that “the devil is in the details”…

And do I know a thing or two about details! I’ve often been told that I sometimes put in TOO much detail. When I was taking some creative writing courses in college, one teacher was always fascinated and enthralled by the amount of details I’d provide in a story and another always warned Me about too much detail – to let the reader create the image in their mind, of their experiences. If you’ve read much of My work on EDI Talk (or My latest blog over at Inovis), you’ll know I do tend to go into some details – and, yes, sometimes get a bit off track with them…

Now, where were we…?

OH! Yes. Details. And not the men’s fashion magazine!

Truly, however, it is just those details and our attention to them that can make or break our EDI career. How well we provide those details to our trading partners in our outbound documents and how concise we can make our EDI Document specs, the better documents we can receive from our trading partners in return.

In a lot of ways – whether related to our work, our homes, our personal relationships, our cars, whatever – if we do not pay attention to the details, we can lose track of something that can – and usually and probably will – create havoc a bit later on. Take the driver on their cell phone… They’re so into that conversation, that they seem to neglect the details involved in driving… So they don’t stay in their lane; they run that red light or stop sign; they sideswipe some car on the road or cause some other kind of accident.

True, it doesn’t happen all the time. But the opportunity is there for disaster. That recipe has at least an ingredient or two and just needs a few more to be complete.

The daily newspaper and the evening news always have stories of issues or disasters or problems – and oft times you can see that if somebody had just paid attention to a detail or two, the situation may never have gotten out of control. Remember the bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007? How about the plane exploding just after take-off in Madrid in 2008? These disasters – and may others – may have been prevented if somebody had just paid attention to the details.

Years ago, I was taking a Carribbean Cruise. 10 wonderful days aboard the SS Rotterdaam, in the Holland America fleet. I was living in Northern California at the time and had to fly to Fort Lauderdale to meet the cruise. And, of course, the travel agent couldn’t seem to find space on a non-stop flight and so I had to swap planes in Dallas-Fort Worth. At the time, DFW Airport had 2 sets of runways – one for all Eastbound flights and one for all Westbound flights.

So, here I am, all snug in My 727 as it’s zooming down the runway and beginning to lift off. Now, if you’ve ever flown on a 727, it’s an experience, as they tend to build up all of their speed on the ground and – seemingly – LEAP into the air, with a quick and very angled climb. Only then, after they’re so many feet into the air, do they begin to level off. Back to My flight, the nose was lifting and you knew it was just a second or two before the back wheels would lift and we’d be in the air…

Just a milli-second before the rear wheels left the ground, a warning light flashed on the dash and the pilot put us back down, stopped us and turned us around and headed back towards the terminal. He told us, as we were heading back, about the light and how he wanted to get it checked out so to be sure it was nothing.

An hour later, we all find out that the bulb socket is what caused the problem and it wasn’t related to the systems it covered. Never did know what system it covered… But a new socket was installed and the light bulb replaced.

Of course, now that we’re an hour later, there’s a stormfront moving in from the west and the Eastbound runway is backed-up with other planes on their way out. Luckily, our pilot talked to a tower controller and got permission to fly out Westbound – where there was far less traffic – and turn around and head east. We were up and flying again in minutes, rather than sitting on the tarmac, waiting in line to take off.

That pilot was paying attention to the details. Because of his attention to details, we were only marginally late in arriving in Florida, but we also all arrived safe and sound. Never knew if the warning lamp COULD have been a big issue and could have resulted in a disaster. But because of a detail oriented pilot, disaster was averted.

Hmmm… where was I…? RIGHT! DETAILS…! DISASTER…! Aversion therapy…


But truly, it’s those details that keep us going. By getting the right information to our vendors and suppliers and customers, we can avert disaster. Or, in the very least, we can avert some problems and issues that could arise later on.

One of the things I’ve always mentioned – in blogs and comments here and on other sites – is how wonderful EDI is at helping to curb errors and mistakes. You don’t get keying errors from an AP clerk or a Customer Service clerk that types in the wrong information and your order for 100 widgets becomes 1000 widgets. Or the invoice for $568.00 becomes 5680…  You miss the errors where somebody wasn’t paying attention to the details and “Oops!” – an error happens.  Hopefully somebody catches that error, but…

And what about the details of our translation specs..?  They matter a lot too.  It makes much more sense if we put an “order quantity” (from the PO1 segment of an X12-850 Purchase Order) into the correct field in our ERP, rather than just put it any ol’ place.  It matters that we pull the total dollar value of the invoice – the amount we’re looking to get paid for the productds or services we’ve rendered – from our accounting application and put that in the TDS segment of the Invoice (or similar, based upon the standard you’re using!) so that when the customer gets the invoice, they pay us the right amount.

Those details matter. Those details can be the difference between “No problemo!” (Terminator 3) and “Houston, we’ve got a problem!” (Apollo 13). 

Those details make it so we have the right information in our systems and can do the right thing with that information; from filling an order to creating that order; paying an invoice to setting up items to be ordered to be put on that invoice.  Details are truly important cogs on the gear wheels we use in every day life.

Details are not sexy. 

Details are plain, dull and ordinary. 

But details matter; details get the job done.

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