Modern EDI is EDI, B2B, EAI and MFT

Back in the good old days when I first stated in the world of EDI, EDI was just EDI.  The world has changed, so has technology, business and the software and tools available.   EDI morphed from supporting your standard transaction sets onto XML, CSV, Application files, API’s via Web Services,  Cloud services / SaaS, and eventually on to application to application integration within the organization. When you look for software and services today you have to consider a solid B2B middleware that will support all of your integration needs.  Modern integration suites support everything such as FTP, FTPS, SFTP, AS2 via MFT  (managed file transfer) as well as Web Services (Rest and SOAP), Cloud service integration, and File system monitoring (folders). In addition, if not obvious, Any-To-Any translation and having the ability to build business processes with complex business logic support are absolutely essential.

Long story short EDI is not just EDI and it hasn’t been for some time.

Over the next few months we hope to dive into a few options, some of the industry leaders (depending on time & company participation) such as:

  • Extol Business Integrator – EBI
  • IBM Sterling B2B Integrator – SI / SBI
  • Liaison’s Delta and Contivo with ECS
  • OpenText TrustedLink (Inovis)
  • OpenText BizManager (GXS)
  • Informatica B2B Data Exchange and Data Transformation

What are you using for your modern EDI / B2B Integration Software and what is your strategy? (Tools / Software / Managed Services)

penny wise, pound foolish…

The old saying used as a title for this blog relates back to an earlier and simpler time – before EDI, that’s for sure – and relates to British currency.  They have the Pound and the Penny and even a Half-Penny, too.  But this was all brought about by topic in the Inovis Trusted Link group (over on Yahoo!) that got Me to thinking about AS2 and costs and related things – again.  Not that I think about AS2 a lot, but…

But what being “penny wise and pound foolish” means (basically) is that your so concerned with the pennies and how they’re being spent, you kind of lose sight of how you’re spending your pounds.  Or dollars and cents…  It’s all pretty much the same.  But it’s all about being so concerned with the small stuff – the petty details – that you lose sight of the BIG picture – the final outcome.

Anyway, the original poster over there was wondering on where he could receive some “AS2 training” – and everybody then kind of went off into the “oh, we use ______ for our AS2 connection and love it!” kind of comments – but very few seemed to offer an answer to the poster about his question – AS2 TRAINING.

Like there is such a thing!

“But, wait!” You say.  “What does this have to do with being ‘Penny wise and pound foolish’?”  I’m getting there, I’m getting there.

Seriously, though, let’s take a look at what AS2 really IS.  It’s a method of communications.  It’s a way to connect.  In a nutshell, AS2 is (from Wikipedia):

“Applicability Statement 2 (AS2) is a specification about how to transport data securely and reliably over the Internet. Security is achieved by using digital certificates and encryption.”

I kind of liken AS2 to DSL/broadband connectivity for surfing the net vs. the “old” dial up that is BSC.  It’s connecting to our trading partners via the same protocol that governs the Internet – the place we surf, download and blog – Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

And did you really need any kind of “training” when you started using your DSL – or your wireless broadband or your cable modem or your ____ connection to the internet…?  Nope.  There’s not really a whole heckuva lot to learn.  Other than a “how to hook up your new AS2″, there’s not a much there.

Data goes in, data goes out…  Just like the Itsy Bitsy Spider…  Or the waves, crashing to shore…

But back to AS2 and what it’s all about.  AS2 is just a way for us to send data over the internet connection (HTTP) from one system to another.  No muss, no fuss, no bother.  And in some cases – or as many would lead you to believe – at no cost.

But, wait a minute!  Hold on there!  There ARE some costs involved in AS2 communications…!

When it comes to communications – sending our EDI information back and forth – so many people seem to focus solely on the concepts of the “per KC charge” or fee structure for trading data.  Inovis, GEIS, AT&T, Sterling, ICC, and all the rest, charge us (generally) a flat fee for each KC we send or receive.  Depending on how you’ve set up your contract, you may get a flat fee – say, $4000.00 a month – for a flat amount – say 50,000 KCs – of data you send or receive.  Then, after that, they charge you an “over-limit” fee of 5 cents a KC – or more or less – depending upon your contract.

With AS2, those KC charges all go far, far away…  But, what so many seem to forget – or if they’re selling – want you to forget – are the OTHER charges that can be and are associated with AS2.  Depending on what system(s) you may use to translate and transmit your data, there could be some licensing fees associated with setting up AS2.  Maybe, just maybe, your software provider allows one AS2 connection for “free” but charges a license fee for each and every AS2 connection over and above that “freebie”.  Some may not even have AS2 built into their system and you need to “add” programs or modules to your EDI application to get AS2 connectivity.

Then you get to think about the wondrous wonder of the Internet and connectivity – BANDWIDTH.  If you have a narrow “band” for your Internet connection, then this additional data may clog that tunnel.  Just think of the scenes from “Independence Day” and how Will Smith’s girlfriend (fiancé?) was caught in the tunnel as Los Angeles was being blown to bits by the invading alien horde and her and her kid and the dog were trapped in the tunnel as the fireball of alien laser energy was blowing LA apart.

Now, while your bandwidth may not be as limiting as a 2 lane tunnel in LA, it can still have some limits.  And congestion in your tunnel may not be as dire and deadly as it was in “Independence Day” – lives may not be wiped out in seconds.  But it can cause you problems with your ISP if they only give you a limited bandwidth per month.  Now you’re over and you’re getting charged for that overage.

Then there’s the concept of labor…  And right after Labor Day, too.  But there is the cost of the man-hours (or woman-hours!) it takes to set up those connections and maintain those connections.  It may only take a few minutes to set up those AS2 connections and maybe a few more to test that connection, but there are still some costs involved.  And then what if Jane AS2 Master quits and you hire Joe EDI Master who knows NOTHING of AS2 and has to learn by the seat of his pants, on the fly, as he goes along?

Plus, here’s another wrinkle in the smooth fabric of cost – wrong, bad, or error data…  Let’s say that ABC Company’s newest shipping clerk created a shipment (and, therefore, generated the ASN) for a shipment, but missed an entire pick-sheet of cartons in the truck or container.  Once he’s hit send (or whatever) and that shipment notification is generated, he can’t go and fix it – without RESENDING that ASN – corrected, of course.  So now you’ve got 2 documents – one is missing information that the other document contains.  Sure, if the EDI system at ABC Company is set up correctly, that new ASN is sent out as a replacement, but how does YOUR system handle it…?  Does it just delete the old record and rewrite the new record?  Or do you have 2 records in your system…?

So many people and companies seem to focus on the pennies of the situation those darn “per KC charges” and then lose track of the big bucks of the EDI process and programs and all of the other systems that EDI touches.  They’re so focused on the small things and the smallest cost, and they lose track of the overall costs of the project or system.  They’re so concerned with the “per KC charge” that they forget (or lose track of, anyway) the other associated costs with what they’re doing.

Don’t get Me wrong – the small stuff matters, too.  Like those “per KC charges”…  But if you’re so focused on that small figure, what happens to your bottom line costs when you take into consideration the other costs (as suggested above)…?

Penny wise and pound foolish.

It’s the same when you get that sales call from some network or VAN claiming they can save you up to half of your VAN costs!  WOW!  Sign Me up!  But, wait a minute!  What about those other costs…?  Beyond those pesky KC charges?  Don’t they matter, too?

The sales folks at those other VANs and providers aren’t thinking about your total dollars – they’re just hitting you with the easiest cost to argue – the KC charge.  They know it’s a high-profile cost of EDI.  It’s one that you have to justify every time the contract comes up or the bill needs approval.  But what of those other costs…?  The costs of downtime – what happens when the network is down…?  What about the time you’ll have to spend on trading partner notifications?  What about the time you may have to spend on reconfiguring your communications systems – or even worse – the translation set up.

So, basically, the concepts of just saving a few cents here or there on KCs are very Penny Wise, Pound Foolish.

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

Ch-ch-changes…

Ch-ch-changes… Turn and face the strange…” – David Bowie belted out back in 1972.  Well, 1971, actually, but the song wasn’t released until 1972.  And, as usual, I digress in the details.  But still, some of the lyrics are quite appropriate today.  And especially in the world of EDI.  Good ol’ Ziggy Stardust (aka Bowie) sang out:

                                   “Still don’t know what I was waiting for..

That’s something we hear a lot in the EDI world – once somebody finds out how well EDI can help them.  They don’t know what they waited for – or balked against – when given the option of EDI.  Once they’ve seen-the-light, it suddenly becomes a no-brainer.  But at the time, it was strange and unknown and a change.  And we all know what people can be like when it comes to change.. Don’t we?

  • Change is hard!
  • What’s wrong with the way we’ve always done it?
  • Oh, great!  Now what do I have to learn?

Right now, I’m working with our Accounting group in getting them to embrace and accept the 810 EDI Invoice.  And, for the most part, I’m lucky that they’re open and willing to “face the strange” and go with it..  However, where it’s making My life a living hell is that they expect everything to be done.  Now.  2 Minutes ago.  Yesterday.   ASAP.  Jump!  Jump!  JUMP!!!

Think about the time that you first began to become a part of the EDI world  You probably came from some kind of MIS position – either an operator or a programmer or an analyst or .. Or, you came from another group that your EDI program touches – either the accounting group or the buying group or the warehouse group  or .. Well, you get the picture.

                                        Embrace the change..

And think about the changes (Ch-ch-changes) that you encountered along the way.  Think of how you had to ch-ch-change the concepts that you held and others kept of the way things were and how they were going to be.  Think of how you and others in your organization had to ch-ch-change the way you did things – things that had been done “that-way” for years (or even longer?)..

Some of the pods of flesh on this planet are pretty adept at change.  Others – well, not so much.  No, they’re like the stubborn mule in the old Western-Comedy, leaning back, digging in their heels and not budging.  It takes a lot of force to get that immovable object to take that step forward and “embrace the change”..

Then you sometimes have to try and keep up with those changes..  In recent articles, we’ve touched on many of the changes coming to and infecting EDI as a concept.  Things like AS2, XML, E-Catalogs..  Ch-ch-changes, indeed. 

But are any or all of these changes going to help or hurt you..?

And how good are you at accepting and going with change..?  How good are you at accepting change and working with it and finding the solution to the newest ch-ch-change coming at you..?  Think about your daily commute to and from work.  There’s an accident at this highway and that street.. or the road is closed because of “police activity”..  Or there’s some guy protesting ________ (the war in Iraq, China’s hosting of the Olympic Games, gays in the military, our government’s failed policies, the new Wal*Mart coming to town, whatever – fill in the blank) from that bridge, hanging a sign over the highway..  How quick are you to think – “hmmm.. I can detour here at Main Street, go down 3 blocks to Fifth Avenue, hang a left and be back on the freeway beyond that problem”..?  Or do you just sit there with a bunch of other commuters, waiting for your turn to squeeze through the half open lane to pass by the wreck, not willing to deviate from the norm?

How well you handle change means a lot – both professionally and personally.  Change is an integral part of life.  It’s something that creeps up on us on little tiny quiet feet or comes barrelling into the china shop and disrupting lives all around.  But change is inevitable – just like death and taxes.

And change is big in EDI – no matter how static and stable the platform and concept may be.  There are – and will always be – changes to the way we do things.  Standards are often being updated.  Segments are added or deleted from the document specs.  Suppliers and buyers are often requesting new information to be sent or received.  New applications are added to your back-end systems and now you have to map this segment/element to this other file and record over there.   The PO box you use to receive payments or invoices has been altered, and the data in your documents (POs, Invoices) must reflect that new alteration.  You’ve adjusted your factor or payment “lock-box” location or service provider.  You’ve signed up with a new VAN/Network and have a new qualifier and ID..  All of these are ch-ch-changes.

               “I watch the ripples change their size But never leave the stream..

These are just a few examples of the ch-ch-changes you may face.  And there will be many more, too.  I’ve had our EDI program up and running – well – WE’VE had our EDI program up and running since the very late 90s.  About 5 years ago, we changed our translator (upgrade) and then added a new document (the ASN) and added and expanded our trading partner count by .. well .. multitudes.  Then we added some information to our PO (requested by some of our suppliers) and changed a terms code and .. well, you get the idea.

Ch-ch-changes are important and everyday.  Expect them, plan for them and implement them.  And do not be afraid of them. 

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