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”…

Oops!

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.

Going Back In Time

Jim Croce sang once about “… if I could save time in a bottle…” – and I just wonder where time goes…  Yes, it’s been a LONG time since you’ve seen the crazed writings I create on these pages. 

Has the silence been golden?

Of have you been secretly pining away for more wit and wisdom from the one and only; is it writings from this one that you have been yearning for…?  Or do you really just not care one way or the other and you’re just about to go read something else…?  I guess I’d better get to the topic, huh?

I know its ground I’ve covered before, but it’s still a fertile field to … darn, what’s a good word for plow that starts with an “F”…?  How about farm…?  It’s still a fertile field to farm…  There.  I got some alliteration in.

But I’m rambling on (again?) about changes and not doing things the “new” way because it’s too difficult.  Or it requires us to think of a different way of doing things that maybe – just maybe – we don’t want to think about.  It’s about adapting to change and dealing with the change that comes along as newer (and better?) ways of doing things come along.

OK… since the last time we talked, the economy has tanked and slid way down the scale… Retail sales are way off from just a few years ago and some retailers have gone the way of the Eagle and the Plymouth – they’re gone and not forgotten, a lingering memory of their products still firmly entrenched in the minds of many.

By the way – the retailer I work for is not doing horribly bad in this economy sink… Mind you, our sales aren’t growing – much – but we were only down about 4% from last year…  Some days we’re up, some days we’re down, but we’re certainly not out of the game…  Truly, if we can last out this recession, we’ll be doing pretty well.

There’s this one vendor of ours that we buy a LOT of stuff from.  And I’m not just talking about the quantities we buy from them, but even across the product lines.  We have thousands of SKUs that we buy from this vendor.  And they’re shipped directly to the stores.  We use a module within our merchandising system that can track sales and generate POs based upon last year’s sales trends.  From that data, we can create POs – one for every store – that are pretty accurate.

“How does this pertain to EDI?” you’re probably asking.  And I’ll tell you.

Each of those orders we’d generate for each of the stores was sent via EDI to the vendor, who would then fill each and every of those orders and ship the products (generating an ASN for each) and then even (now) invoice us for each of those orders.  On a monthly basis, that could save the “manual” creation of about 400 Purchase Orders.

Good stuff, eh?

But now, it seems, we’re no longer doing that.  Instead, that vendor is going into each and every one of our stores and seeing what’s needed on the shelf and stocking those shelves and then sending us a list of the items they put on the shelves and we then generate the PO (after the fact) and send the vendor the PO number (but not the actual PO) so that they could update their system (manually) with the PO number so that they could then process the invoice.

All the wonders of our working system – with minimal manual intervention – are now buried and – poof, they’re gone.

We’ve gone from that super economical, safe and efficiently powerful car of the current decade and we’re driving some 50’s era heap without even the comforts of a radio or air conditioning, let alone all those safety advances of the last 50 years…

And why?

That’s what I’m spending a lot of time today trying to figure out…  Why did we abandon this system that was working well for a number of years and go back in time to a manual process that lends itself too well to errors, mistakes and “oops” events?

Isn’t that one of the key benefits we’ve all used to push EDI into our companies and grow our EDI programs by adding new documents and vendors to the system…?  One of the key goals of processing orders via EDI has been that it helps to eliminate much of the possibility of wrongly keyed data…  If there’s an error, we know it’s probably going to be before the document was sent via EDI.  It was keyed in the beginning and then was never caught and flowed through the process from start to finish.

*sigh.  It’s just so … negative … and so disheartening to the way I’ve been thinking and working over the past few years.  To see all those positive changes being swept away and all of these negatives taking their place.  It’s like watching the past 8 years of the Bush Presidency all over again, but on a smaller scale.

OK, that was a cheap shot across political lines – but it can be viewed as a valid analogy.  But I’ll let it slide and not really give you the details of the way I’m thinking.

But, again, here we are, creating orders and getting errors in return.  Wrong PO numbers, wrong store number entries, wrong items sent and other errors.  And who’s to blame; is it our fault or the fault of the vendor?  Probably a bit of both; but I’m the retailer, so I’ll blame them.

I’m still trying to figure out from the buying department why they’ve changed their processes…  But I don’t want to sound like some whiner…  So I’m taking “other” routes – using different people in different departments – to do that dirty work.  I’d like the guy that’s now taken over that automatic process we were doing before to “suggest” the orders and create the POs from; I’m asking him to find out why they’ve stopped with the process.

And I want to know why we’re not sending those orders via EDI anymore.  I mean, if it’s because the vendor would end up “doubling” the order, since they’d already supplied it to the store, then it’s really on the vendor to make the changes in their system – to get the list of EDI POs and find that they already exist in their system and change those existing orders to use the POs we’ve sent over via EDI.

I mean, somebody is already taking those existing orders and modifying them to add the PO number in their system so that they can send us the ASN and the Invoice via EDI.  So why would it be difficult for them to take the EDI generated orders and NOT ship them and populate some table or file in their system, generate a report from that data and then manually process those changes…?  Or even handle it through a program that would go and search that file that they populate from our EDI data for a “key” bit of information – such as the store number – and then change their order to add the PO number.

Of course, there’s another way that we could do this, too.  We COULD receive an EDI document – like the 852 – and process it into an order that is then turned around as the 850 back to the vendor.  I mean, that’s what we’re doing manually as it is – we’re taking their suggested stock levels and numbers and creating a PO off of a file (usually an excel spreadsheet) they send us.  What’s the difference if it’s sent as and 852 via EDI or sent as a flat file as an e-mail attachment?

The times, they are a-changing and we’re not going “Back To The Future” – but we’re going back in time, to the land that time forgot.

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

Holiday EDI Volume

Author: Joey Adami
EDI OPTIONS, Inc.
55 Herricks Rd
Garden City Park, NY 11404

After spending some time with our client support technicians, it seems that
in the rush of the holiday season, our clients not only face shorter

deadlines and shipping volume but unique EDI issues as well.At holiday time, clients ship a much higher volume of goods, which can
complicate every aspect of shipping logistics. From packing a much higher
number of boxes and labeling to creating multiple invoices for stores or
distribution centers. Holiday logistics can become exponentially more
complex.

“During the holiday season many issues for support are easily fixed with
features that are already built into their EDI systems”-Tech Support

With a variety of EDI capabilities & customization, each client has the
ability to attain an automated EDI operation. Within software systems, there
are tools for everyday business and tools that might only be used during
this season when business traffic is high.

For example clients found themselves learning how to easily edit or even
delete items off an ASN.  Others discovered new reports to track
invoices, ASNs or any transaction inbound and outbound that was sent or
received from any given time frame even though these activities were easily
performed manually during periods of low activity they would be impossible
to perform during the holiday season without high level tools.

For business, especially in the wake of current economic challenges, it is
imperative to manage every order to insure compete and timely fulfillment.
The strength of an EDI system must mimic these goals allowing your EDI
operation to be, productive & robust.

An EDI solution that is flexible & powerful is one part of managing holiday
volume. Combine that power with knowledgeable staff, backed up by on call
support & the result is a solution with all of the necessary tools to tackle
a tough holiday season!


edi is so scary!!! BOO!

It was a dark and stormy night…  The wind howled through the skeletal branches of the trees…  ghosts, goblins and other monsters scampered along the street…  the full moon shone brightly, yet all the streets seemed dim and darkened and you were wary about what might bump into you in the night…

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  OK, so it’s warm, a bit breezy and mostly sunny.  At least it is in most of Southern California.  But it seemed just wrong to start off a blog on Halloween with something so … so … cheerful.

I was thinking, on this warm and sunny October day – that Halloween is the PERFECT version of the supply chain.  Honestly, think about it…  And think about how many different supply chains may be involved…!

But the basic one – “TRICK OR TREAT” – the art of hitting up the neighborhood – is a perfect example of a simple – yet WILDLY effective – supply chain.

The breakdown:

*             you put on some clothes (a costume),

*             you walk down the street,

*             you ring a doorbell and yell “TRICK OR TREAT!” ,

*             and the person gives you some candy (or other great treat)…!

How much simpler and easier is that supply chain?!?  Nothing to do but get dressed up on some costume – whether a simple sheet with some eye-holes – boo!  I’m a ghost! – or something more … frightening – like a vampire, or a witch – or even more elaborate – donning a fully body suit of hair and becoming a werewolf.  Simple.  Easy.  Effective.

Then, of course, there are a number of other supply chains involved, as well.  There’s the candy that you get from each house – somebody had to buy that at some store…  And that store had to buy it from some candy maker.  And they had to buy the ingredients to make the wonderful confection from someplace.  There’s the costume you wear – that store had to buy it…  and the rest is just like the above.

But Halloween is a perfect example of what a supply chain SHOULD be – simple – easy – effective.  Not a lot of fuss and bother to contend with.  Sure, you can get elaborately fancy and create a foam-rubber body suit that turns you into Godzilla (or some other monster) or you can do the easy simple “sheet-over-the-head” trick and be a ghost.  You can make your own “home grown” solution – pulling parts and bits from the closets and drawers – or you can buy the cheap, moderate or expensive solution from the dealer down the road.

So, thinking about it that way – do you see the similarities between Halloween Trick-or-treating and your supply chain…?  Which did you choose – simple or … elaborate?

But, unlike Halloween, the supply chain needs to be in place and working every single day.  Halloween just comes once a year.  But, Halloween can also have some … difficulties … in that supply chain.  There’s the house without candy… or where they just ran out…  Or there’s the “healthy house” that hands out toothbrushes or boxes of raisins (oh, yeah, THEY’RE really popular!)…  There’s your problems with the supply chain – out of stock of what you’re ordering – or not giving you the product you really want and order. 

Then there are the … wardrobe malfunctions (thank you Janet and Justin!) … that puts an end to your night’s joys of candy and treats.  And those can also manifest themselves in your supply chain – maybe your communications fail… or your translation adds odd-ball characters… or the data is … corrupted…  There are a number of ways where your supply chain can malfunction and all … hell … breaks loose.

So, simple or complex; smooth and easy or fraught with horror, peril and malfunctions; Halloween may just be the best example of the supply chain outside of the supply chain.

So, to all you goblins, ghouls, bats and witches, I wish you a safe – insane – Halloween.

Oh, yeah.  “Unpleasant dreams!” (many thanks to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for that!)

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