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…

“bring a teddy bear to work” day

I’d heard that today was “BRING YOUR TEDDY BEAR TO WORK” day and wish I’d known in advance.  I’m a collector of Teddy Bears – even having one of the first ones that I had as a kid.  He’s now in his 30s and still sits on My bed at home.  Teddy Bears have also influenced another hobby of Mine – My PT Cruiser and car shows.  If you’ve seen a lot of the custom PT Cruisers on the roads out there, you’ll notice that a lot of them – maybe as many as half? – are customized and personalized – with flames, as woodies, as old surfer wagons, with 50s or 40s or even 30s motifs and all sorts of other styles.

Of course, there are just as many that are simple, plain and unadorned.  Simple economy cars – even if they’re not too good with the MPG.

But I would have loved to have brought one of My Teddies to work today… Maybe the 5 foot tall polar bear.  Or the one My mom got Me for My 40th birthday from Vermont Teddy Bear Company – with custom clothing and My name embroidered on his back.  Or maybe the one from My youth…?  Could even go with current events and bring in the Banker Bear a pal gave Me for Christmas a few years ago.

I use My  teddies in the “theme” of My PT Cruiser – and take quite a selection of them with Me to the shows I attend and use them as … well … props.  PT Bearnum (My PT Cruiser) is festooned with bears of all shapes and sizes.  And then there are all of the bear paw prints on the car; a very cohesive look.  I’ve won a few awards and was a runner up in “Crowd Favorite” at a show a few years back.

But it’s this customization – this personalization of the Cruisers that comes to mind with My comments today.

Over on the EDI-L yahoo group, somebody had posted about how a semi-non-technical person was hired to fill a supervisory position (a contractor, really) over and above the regular employees that had been working for the company for a while and have major amounts of experience in IT and with EDI.

Somewhere in the thread, one poster commented on how upper management (the ones making the hiring decisions) seem to feel that “non-tech” people make for better employees than “tech” people – at least when it comes to management – or business skills.  And I had to disagree.  Where I work – our 1st level support positions generally tend to come to us from the stores.  They understand how we do things, why we do things and the way things work at the store level – they’ve BEEN THERE.

In the original post, it could be that our poster got his feelings a bit hurt because he’d wanted the job and they hired this outside source.  But maybe the upper management wanted some new ideas – some new ways to take what they’ve got – a functioning EDI program – and make it better.  Make it different.  Customize it, personalize it and make it a much slicker program – something more in-tune with a changing philosophy, a changing business landscape, a changing world.

If you’ve ever been to a custom car show – whether a PT Cruiser show or the Japanese Imports (Rice Rockets) or hot rods from the fifties and sixties – you’ll notice that there are many cars that are similar to others, and yet are completely their own creation and often very unique and different from the others.  Even if they’re the same make and model of car – the Chrysler PT Cruiser, for example – you can have so many different ideas and concepts and projects and looks and feels and … you get the idea, right?

Same can be said of our MIS/IT departments and our EDI programs.  We all don’t use the same documents, we all don’t require the same data segments and elements.  We all use the documents and the data that will best suit our own needs.  And our own business practices.  It’s what fits US.

Just like My PT Cruiser – PT Bearnum – fits ME.  It’s something from My world and My desires and My tastes – My Bears – and it’s put onto a similar “medium” as the guy that’s into Winnie the Pooh characters…  Or a fan of RC model planes… or hot air balloons, Betty Boop, Charlie Brown and his pals, Disney villains, Little Red Riding Hood, or even Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra and the “Rat Pack”…  not all themes work together and all are unique and different approaches to the same vehicle.  And then there are the PT Cruisers with the “factory” flames or the “factory” woody look or whichever.  There are the unique – and not-so-unique – flaming paint jobs.

And these are just like some of our EDI programs.  Some of use the EDI application we do right out of the box; with no changes, alterations or customizations needed.  Some of us use EDI applications that are custom made for us – based on a box stock application – but fully customized and personalized to suit out own business needs.

Same can be said of the hiring practices above.  The company may have found that it would better suit their needs to hire an outside source – with a different background and experience than our poster – and bring him on to manage the group and maybe – just maybe – point them in a new direction or down a different road.  Maybe take their fine running system and finely tune that engine to really make it roar and get and give more bang-for-the-buck – balancing and blue-printing the engine, super-charging it, adding performance enhancers and features – all to really make it GO!

And maybe – just maybe – it was easier to hire somebody with that “new way of thinking” as a leader, rather than promoting the “same old thinking” to leader and bringing in the “new way” as an underling and causing strife and discord from the start.

Often times, it seems that a trained monkey could do many of the IT jobs out there.  You just train them to push button A when light B goes off or throw lever C at 12:15 PM.  It’s not rocket science.  But then again, even rocket scientists had to be trained SOMEPLACE.  Maybe they were the monkey earlier on.

So maybe hiring the outside guy rocked the boat and made some people … less than pleased.  Maybe they wanted a really special look and feel to their program that they weren’t getting from the guys that just wanted that PT Cruiser with the factory flame package…  They wanted some OOMPH and something stupendous and unique – they wanted flames – and fireworks – and maybe even some bears…  maybe even “Da Bears!”…

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