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.

I’ll buy that for a dollar!

If you’re old enough (or have an extensive enough Sci-Fi DVD/movie collection), you may remember the film RoboCop from 1987.  It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who later became famous for that fantastic piece of cinematic achievement – Showgirls!  But he also gave us the Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger classic “TOTAL RECALL”, and another classic of camp cinematic achievement “Basic Instinct”.

RoboCop was a futuristic view of life in the US – specifically in Detroit, MI – where violent crime is the norm – much like today?  Throughout the movie, there are glimpsed scenes of a sitcom TV show (later identified as “It’s Not My Problem”) where a major character uses the catch phrase “I’ll buy that for a dollar!

This wonderful ditty of a catch-phrase came to Me over the past few days when I was reading a post on the EDI-L Yahoo! group about “What is a decent price/cost per EDI message?” and everybody started weighing in with replies – some giving us examples of how much it costs per message at their company (about 50 cents per message) and others going down the “I pay 20 cents per KC” and others talking about the varied costs of the VANs per KC charges.  The poster suggested something about “32 cents per message” – a flat fee.

But here’s where the logic of the question – and the answers – falls apart.

Think about the documents – the messages – which you work with everyday in your EDI system…  Some are POs, some are ASNs, and some are Invoices.  You may be also sending or receiving catalog data, revised POs, acknowledgements, and more.  And now think about the SIZE of those messages.  The 997 Functional Acknowledgement (FA) can be a very short document or message – maybe just a hundred characters long.  It takes 10 of those to make a single KC…  Well, it takes 10 and nearly a quarter to make that KC – there are 1024 characters in a KC.

And then look at a BIG record – the 832 Price/Sales Catalog – and how many KCs are included.  It’s probably a few hundred KCs long – at least.

Or just think about a simple set of transactions:

     ·         A PO for a single line item
     ·        
The FA
     ·        
An ASN
     ·        
Another FA (for the ASN)
     ·        
An Invoice
     ·         Another FA

So we’ve got 6 documents.  But now let’s say that the PO is for 15,000 units of the single item.  It, too, will be a small document – we’ll say its 1 KC of data.  Above, I show an FA at about 1/10th of a KC.  The Invoice will also probably be a short document – as it’s for just the single item – so another single KC of data flow.  In just 5 documents, we’ve got less than 3 KCs of data.

But that ASN; now there’s a big document to trade…  Let’s say that the vendor packages those items being ordered – My famous WIDGETS! – at 10 units per carton.  With 15,000 units, that’s 1500 Cartons!  And if your ASN is a carton level detail, that’s 1500 line items – actually 3000 lines (2 for each carton) – plus the data for the Shipment level and the Order level loops.  Now we’re talking SIZE.  Of course, we may still only be talking about – maybe – 10,000 characters – 10 KC.

But the concept of paying per message – now that’s not really quite fair is it…?  You’re paying 32 cents for that ASN, but you’re also paying 32 cents for the FA.  Big price difference…! 

For that 10 KC document, you’re spending 3.2 cents per KC.  But for that FA at 100 CHARACTERS, you’re spending – what – $3.20 per KC…?  Or is it $32.00….?  And if it’s just that 1 KC PO or Invoice, it’s .32 cents per KC.

Let’s take that comparison out of the EDI world for a second; let’s think about houses.  Assume that a new program comes down the pike where EVERY house will cost the same.  Size, location, amenities, all the rest – doesn’t matter.  It’s all about a unit – the house.  And each house will sell for $250,000.  The problem is that you can have small shacks of 500 square feet selling for the same price as one of the big, 5000 square foot mansions in Beverly Hills or a Malibu Beach house.  A 400 square foot studio “condo” in “the ghetto” selling for the same price as a huge 8000 sf penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Can you see the problem with this logic?  Using the same concepts I used above on the KC scale, let’s go to the unit of measurement for buildings – the square foot.  In that 500 sf shack, you’re spending $500 per square foot!  But that mansion?  You’re only spending about 50 bucks a square foot.  It’s 10 times the cost for the smaller space, once broken down to the square foot level.  The studio is $625 per foot and the penthouse is just $31.25 per square foot.

Which place would YOU rather have…?  Where’s the bargain…?  Would you buy that concept for a dollar?

It’s the same problem in “per message” pricing vs. “per KC” pricing.  You’ve got these tiny little messages costing as much as the huge monster messages.  And your figures are skewed.  Now, since it costs as much to send the FA as it does to send the Catalog, you might get trading partners that balk at sending the FA for the traded documents.  Then you’ll get trading partners using charge-backs to enforce that FA compliance.

Suddenly, the “low cost per message” now starts to have a lot of other costs involved.  Charge-backs and the human hours required to track down messages – if they’ve been received by your trading partner – and more.  All to save – what, a few cents?

And that’s really one of the problems I’ve often talked about – especially on those groups – in that you can’t just look at the basic cost – the per KC charge – and base your decision off of that fee.  If you do, you’ll likely end up costing yourself a LOT more money in the long run.  Suddenly, that cheap 2 cents per KC rate you worked so hard to get is really costing you an extra 5 cents per KC in other features and benefits that maybe were included in the 6 cent per KC quote you got from that other VAN or SaaS provider you also heard from.  That cut rate deal maybe isn’t such a deal anymore.

There is another catch-phrase that comes to mind – Caveat Emptor; Latin for “BUYER BEWARE”.  It basically means you should look into what you’re buying – and all the aspects of it – and not just buy something without thinking.  Another “Look before you leap” comes to mind.

I’ve said it before – maybe in a blog, maybe in our forums, maybe on EDI-L or some other EDI related group.  But I’ve mentioned how – every once in a while – I’ll get a call or an e-mail or … something … from a VAN or network provider promising Me that they can save Me “50% of your VAN costs!” – expecting that I’m just going to JUMP right onto their wagon and sign up to save a few pennies.  But then again, what about the possible down time?  Or the archival storage?  Or any of the other features I get from My current VAN provider that aren’t included in that “50% off” cost…?

You get what you pay for – there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch – and everything has strings attached and other aspects of the deal to consider.

Yep, I’ll buy that for a dollar, indeed!

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/