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/