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.

It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.

One of the things you may have noticed about Me when I blog, is that I tend to find a quote or a saying or a song lyric or a … something … that makes sense and drives My thinking.  The title of this blog comes from the 1995 film by (and starring) Mel Gibson called “BRAVEHEART“.  For those that don’t know, it’s the story about fighting for freedom in Scotland in the … 1500s?  One of the more “famous” quotes is when Mel Gibson yells out something about how they may kill them (the Scots) but they’ll never take their freedom!

Freedom, however, in something as strict and regimented as EDI may seem like a far fetched notion, but it’s there.  Sure, we’ve got those lovely guides – those HUGE books – of standards and “rules” for the data we’re sending – depending on the document – that tell us what we can send and how it should be formatted and all the rest.  Those standards tell us we should send this information in this loop in this segment in this element and it should be between 2 and 30 characters in length.

But in that rigidity – in that structure – there’s still some freedom.  Just look at the last sentence in the above paragraph – we’re given some freedom in the data – that it can be between 2 and 30 characters.  So there’s some freedom right there.  Then there’s is such a plethora of data and information we can include – information and data that just may not seem like it belongs in the document we’re using.  But we can include it.

We can even have some freedom in what we use to separate our data – whether an element seperator, a segment terminator or whatever.  We have a choice of characters we can use and put into the data flow to show where this piece of data ends and the next begins.

Then, of course, we have a wonderful MSG segment – in which we can include all sorts of “free form” data that can be anything we want to include.  Again, more freedom.  More abilities and places to put information that doesn’t “fit” any one of the stricter and defined elements and segments of the document.  We can send anything – and I mean ANYTHING – in an MSG segment that may be of use to us (as the sender) or to them (our trading partner – the receiver)…  It could be a “please pack in pretty pink boxes” or “have a happy Friday” or “this information is solely for the use of the receiver” or … well, you get the idea. 

And that freedom is an important part of EDI.  Just as freedom is an important part of nearly every aspect of our lives – from where we live, what we do for a living, who we love, what we drive, what we wear and so on.  However, there are times that those freedoms can be curtailed.

Maybe your employer enforces a dress code – you can only wear dark colored slacks, white shirts and simple, mono-chromatic ties.  You can’t have facial hair.  You have to wear black shoes.  You can’t have any personal stuff on your desktop.  Shades of “9 To 5” – an 80’s-era gem of a movie with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton…  Where the workers rebel against their boss and take control of the division and suddenly life is good and it’s a better place to work!  Ties back into that freedom that William Wallace (Gibson’s character in “Braveheart“) wanted so desperately for his fellow Scots.

These attempts at conformity can truly alter – and not always for the best – the way that the job can function.  If, for example, that MSG segment wasn’t allowed in EDI – and if it was confining and restrictive – we wouldn’t be able to send some of the information to our trading partners that ARE important.  For example – we request that many of our vendors apply pricing stickers to our products.  And we request a certain format and that they include certain information – such as our internal CLASS of the item – on that price tag.  And we use a MSG segment to get that information across to them.  We send, in the PO Item loop a MSG segment with that class number as the data – and we even use another MSG segment to let them (our trading partners) what that MSG segment contains – the data needed for “TICKET ID”.

Sure, I could probably find something in the PO1 line item that I could use to get that data transmitted from My side to theirs, but it’s just … easier … to use the MSG segments, instead.  Maybe there’s not a perfect fit in the existing standards that will “match” up to our CLASS code.  There may be similar things – but maybe I’d rather have the freedom to use that element or data code later on.  Maybe I’ll suddenly have to start sending some other piece of data that the “similar” element was originally intended for.  Where’s the freedom in that?

By putting forward too many restrictions – too many rules – too many standards – you limit what you’re able to do.  You limit what can be done with the data or what you’re sending.  You limit your ability to effectively communicate – and to effectively work – and to effectively get your ideas and points across.  What if I wasn’t able to use movie quotes and song lyrics in My thought process?  You’d not be reading this blog – or – worse yet – it would be boring, dry and as exciting as a textbook on “Analyzing Algorithms about Data Trends in Modern Day Accounting” or something just as … exciting.

Some people have claimed that XML is the “NEW FUTURE” for EDI and that we don’t need standards and we don’t need rules and governing … committees … to tell us what we can and can’t send and how to format it.  They see EDI standards as … constricting … and they can’t see the freedom that is allowed them.

There is freedom all around us in EDI.  The trick is to find it and take it.

“It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom!”

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
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