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.

Alphabet Soup…

I was reading another blog or two.. yes, it was over at the Inovis blog site.. Anyway, I’d taken a week of vacation and needed to catch up on My reading..

Over there, I found blogs about SaaS (Software as a Service) and GDSN (Global Data Synchronization Network) and more and more… Then I was thinking about EDI and GTIN and UPC and SKU and all the other acronyms and alphabet soups we all have in our lives and our jobs and careers.

But it made Me also think of another group of letters that used to be used in the MIS/IT industries – back when it was Computer Science – and it was GIGO.. Do you remember GIGO..?

Garbage in, garbage out….

I’m wondering how many of us deal with end users that seem to forget that the computers we use – no matter how fancy and new and no matter how much RAM we’re using or Ghz the processor can process at; no matter how many mbps/kbps we can download at, the computer is nothing more than a giant calculator.. It’s just taking the stuff WE input and processing it to get to the output we desire. It’s still all just strings of Ones (1) and Zeros (0) that we’re pushing through, getting to our final destination.. Bits and bytes in packets, being sent here and there and everywhere, doing the things WE tell it to do – with new and fancy or old and plain programs.

But the problem is, the data that’s put out is only as good as the data we put in.. Our output is only as good as our input.. If we put Garbage data in, we get garbage data back out. This ties back to the Global Data Synchronization in that if we’ve got bad data that we’re supplying to that network, well, then we’re going to be getting bad data back out. Garbage in, garbage out. But the point more of that GDSN posting (called Question of the Week) was also about some of the concerns of GDSN – such as how the “existing standards and processes” will not be used in this new network. So now we’ll have yet another source of information to access. And THAT thought led to another old acronym from the days of yore: K I S S.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Ah, now THERE’S and oldie and a goldie! But it still holds true today; as true as it was however many decades ago it came to life. The more sources you have for information, the more options you’re going to be able to consider, the more complex your information becomes and the more places you have for a potential break-down. Remember, though, how I said “POTENTIAL” in that last one. And the less and less instances you’ll have of the information being the same for Me and for you and for the next guy.

Think of the last time you were in a Starbucks (or fill in your favorite haunt for coffee and other hot drinks). The person in front of you may have ordered a venti, half-caf, half-fat, non-fat, sweet coffee with ice space. Then you get up there and order a grande iced choco-latte espresso, extra foam. The person behind you orders a tall hot chocolate with a shot of espresso. And so on. By the end of the day – maybe even just the hour – there have been more versions of hot coffee sold from that coffee shop than there are cars available at the local car dealer!

Whatever happened to the day of the only choices for coffee were with or without sugar and with or without cream? Regular or Decaf?

In a previous post, I mentioned how Chrysler had used a program of limiting the options for a few car lines and it added up to a far simpler car to build, sell and deliver. This can also be held to our lives in EDI or GDSN or GTIN or _____ -whatever alphabet soup of an acronym you’ve got going on.

While having more options is always nice when you’re hitting the auto mall, and you want this but not that, it’s making it more difficult for the factory to turn out that car and can lead to mistakes. Years before I got into MIS/IT and EDI as the job, I was a manager of a car rental agency in Northern California. Our rental fleet averaged a little over 100 cars on a regular basis. Because of all of these options, however, we did have a bit of confusion – and this can tie directly back to My mention of Chrysler above and in the other post.

We had as our “mid-size” cars the current year Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant sedans. Now for those that are less than eighties-era car saavy, the Aries and Reliant were virtual twins. The only differences were the texture of the tail-lamps, the grill insert, the wheel covers and the names on the trunk lid and dashboard. Other than that, they were nearly impossible to tell apart. Same colors, same interiors, same options.

Now imagine you rented one of these cars. Actually, let’s drill down into the data a bit more – you rented a white Plymouth Reliant from the rental car outfit I managed. Now, not being a car nut, you probably just see the Aries for what it is – a rather plain, simple and average 4 door sedan. Now, you go out to the parking lot to discover that your Plymouth Reliant isn’t around, but a Dodge Aries is. What had happened to this one car in our fleet – and, thankfully, only once – is that it was built as a Dodge Aries. It was labeled a Dodge Aries. But the rental agreement, the registration, the VIN, our key tags and more, all label the car as a Plymouth Reliant. Some of the different trim between the Aries and the Reliant was also garbled in the production – we had an Aries grill, but Reliant tail-lamps; Aries wheel covers, but Reliant badging on the dashboard; Aries nameplate on the trunk, but Reliant on the registration. Confused? So were some of our rental customers. Of course there were many others that just saw the car as a white 4 door sedan of a certain size and never noticed the errors.

But this was a case where too many options – even simplified and scaled down options – as it was an “America” trim level of the car – can cause confusion. Remember the Starbucks visit above? Think about how many times you get the right drink, every time. And then think of the possibility of getting the wrong drink. The reason Starbucks has this down to a nearly perfect science? They lable EACH and EVERY cup they sell with a name and a size and a type of coffe and any options you add. Who is going to do this with GDSN and the other bits of data we flow with every day? What about all possible errors that don’t get noticed, don’t get seen and don’t get caught or corrected?

Chances are, we all have our EDI service provider – whether Inovis, SPS Commerce, ICC, DI Central, TrueCommerce or _______ – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some kind of connection to our provider’s competition. For example, I’m an Inovis customer. I use the InovisWorks network, Inovis Trusted Link i-Series, and the Inovis Catalogue. But then again, I’ve got a few dozen trading partners that use SPS Commerce and some on TrueCommerce and DI Central and ACTData and so on… So I’ve also got some relationships with those other EDI providers.

But now, imagine how difficult it could be for Me to do My EDI transmissions if I had to send this PO to this provider, these other few to that provider and this other set to these guys over there. Suddenly, with too many options, life becomes complicated. I have to manage all of these different sources I’m sending information to. Then, when I’m getting the ASN back, again, I’ve got to manage all of these sources of data on My inbound side. Then I go on vacation – like I did last week. Now somebody ELSE has to manage all that information and get it in and out of the system while I’m away.

I am the EDI Department for My employer. We’re a fairly large retailer (over 350 stores in the Western US and have over 700 vendors up and running on EDI) with sales in the high hundreds of millions of dollars anually. One of the reasons we can keep just Me, Myself and I doing all the EDI processes for the company – with thousands of POs sent out on a weekly basis – is that I kind of subscribe to the KISS way of thinking. Why make it more difficult and complex to trade documents back and forth? Why make it harder to do My job?

In My job, I also deal with with the GIGO aspects, too. If our buying department puts wrong data into our system, it often comes to My desk to find the issue and get the correct information and fix it, or get them to fix it.

We keep adding new acronyms and strings of letters together as we keep moving forward in our lives – personally and professionally. At what point do we begin to say “ENOUGH!” and drop some of those letters trailing our names and our lives..? I wanted to end this blog with a little quip from some old “Schoolhouse Rock” or commercial jingle or something – having to do with the alphabet. But My mind is so muddled by all the acronyms in My head, all I can think of is Shirley Temple belting out “animal crackers in my soup”..! Another dated reference..

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
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