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…

got plan?

The above is with all due respect to the Milk Advisory Board and their advertising campaigns.  But, the other day, I came across this wonderful bit of news online… And I thought – wow…  Take a read…


 Bank Robber Hires Decoys on Craigslist, Fools Cops

By Caroline McCarthy, CNET News

In an elaborate robbery scheme that’s one part The Thomas Crown Affair and one part Pineapple Express, a crook robbed an armored truck outside a Bank of America branch in Monroe, Wash., by hiring decoys through Craigslist to deter authorities.

It gets better: He then escaped in a creek headed for the Skykomish River in an inner tube, and the cops are still looking for him. “A great amount of money” was taken, Monroe police said, but did not provide a dollar value.

It appears to have unfolded this way, according to a Seattle-based NBC affiliate: Around 11:00 a.m. PDT Sept. 30, the robber, wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a blue shirt, and a respirator mask went over to a guard who was overseeing the unloading of cash to the bank from the truck. He sprayed the guard with pepper spray, grabbed his bag of money, and fled the scene.

But here’s the hilarious twist. The robber had previously put out a Craigslist ad for road maintenance workers, promising wages of $28.50 per hour. Recruits were asked to wait near the Bank of America right around the time of the robbery–wearing yellow vests, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and preferably a blue shirt. At least a dozen of them showed up after responding to the Craigslist ad.

“I came across the ad that was for a prevailing wage job for $28.50 an hour,” one of the unwitting decoys, named Mike, said to the NBC station. As it turns out, they were simply placed there to confuse cops who were looking for a guy wearing a virtually identical outfit.

Authorities eventually found the getaway inner tube (a getaway inner tube!) and suspect that accomplices may have picked up the robber in a boat. According to the NBC affiliate, police hope to track him down by figuring out who posted the Craigslist ad in the first place.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark was not immediately available for comment.

Now, My thinking of “WOW!” was because of how – well – how much thought and effort this guy did in setting up this crime….  I mean, he planned his escape route, put out an ad to “hire decoys” so that he’d blend into the crowd and not be caught…  Kind of like “The Thomas Crown Affair” – the remake – in which he blends in with the crowd and nobody suspects that he’s got a multi-million dollar piece of artwork rolled up in his briefcase.  Instead, he looks like any regular art patron, stopping by on a break or between meetings…

And it’s that kind of planning – and forward thinking – that can mean the success of any project we’re considering or working on – whether of criminal intent or just something simple and easy as EDI.

“Simple and easy as EDI…?  Did he really just say that…?”

Yes.  Yes I did.

But on the planning front, how good or bad our projects turn out can easily be related to how well planned and thought out our project is.  Do we have plans for possible flaws in our plans?  Do we have back-up contingencies?  Have we thought of any possible negative impacts or issues that may occur?

Or are we just going up to the armored car and saying “stick ‘em up!” without any kind of plan or escape route….?

EDI is not something we can just do “off the cuff” without thinking and planning and follow-through.  We can’t be the Elle Woods that Professor Callahan thinks said “I think I’ll go to law school today!” (from the movie “Legally Blonde”).  We have to be the Elle Woods that actually THINKS about what we’re doing and PLANS for what we want to accomplish.  We have to but some work into it and think it through.

True, in “Legally Blonde”, Elle does change her plans – from merely trying to recapture her boyfriend – to truly learning something and becoming more than what she seems on the surface.  And while EDI may never be THAT exciting, well…  It did show, however, how Ms. Woods was able to change her plans and her goals and still have a successful outcome – even if her original plan was no longer a viable option for her.

Think about the first time your company decided to “go EDI”…  They had these grand notions of … well, doing whatever it is that they had those notions to do.  But, along the way, there have been changes and additions; problems and hurdles; solutions and outcomes; and your EDI program is where it is today.  We learned some lessons, sure.  But we had some basic and solid plans to begin with.

And it’s that planning that probably had a lot with how successful the EDI program we’re working has been.

For example, when I started with EDI with My current job, it was a small program.  We traded only 1 document (the 850 PO) and had about … 30 trading partners.  Not a huge program… Especially for a fairly large retailer.  At the time, we had more than 300 stores in 10 states… True, we’re not Wal*Mart or Target or Costco – but we’re not Mom & Pop Store, with only 1 or 2 locations in one town, either…  “OH, Spud!  I’m a chain!” (from “Steel Magnolias”)…

But now, we’ve got well over 800 trading partners; we’re processing the 850, 856 and the 810; and about 85% of all the POs we write are sent via EDI.  We send and receive a few thousand documents per month.  And we’re pretty successful at it, too.

And we got there by planning…  But also a bit by … well, having good trading partners.  Just like our bank robber (above) probably had some good accomplices that he’s splitting that bag of loot with.  People that met him at the river and took him to their hide-out…  And even the “un-witting” accomplices that answered the ad on Craigslist and showed up in the requested outfit.

Planning and forethought can really make – or break – anything we do.  And it’s also true that all of the planning in the world may not always work out as we … well … planned … but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Hmm… “I think I’ll go to law school today!”  Or, rather, “I think I’ll tackle some EDI today!”  Yeah, that’s better!

Got plan?

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

 

 

 


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:
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/