Going Back In Time

Jim Croce sang once about “… if I could save time in a bottle…” – and I just wonder where time goes…  Yes, it’s been a LONG time since you’ve seen the crazed writings I create on these pages. 

Has the silence been golden?

Of have you been secretly pining away for more wit and wisdom from the one and only; is it writings from this one that you have been yearning for…?  Or do you really just not care one way or the other and you’re just about to go read something else…?  I guess I’d better get to the topic, huh?

I know its ground I’ve covered before, but it’s still a fertile field to … darn, what’s a good word for plow that starts with an “F”…?  How about farm…?  It’s still a fertile field to farm…  There.  I got some alliteration in.

But I’m rambling on (again?) about changes and not doing things the “new” way because it’s too difficult.  Or it requires us to think of a different way of doing things that maybe – just maybe – we don’t want to think about.  It’s about adapting to change and dealing with the change that comes along as newer (and better?) ways of doing things come along.

OK… since the last time we talked, the economy has tanked and slid way down the scale… Retail sales are way off from just a few years ago and some retailers have gone the way of the Eagle and the Plymouth – they’re gone and not forgotten, a lingering memory of their products still firmly entrenched in the minds of many.

By the way – the retailer I work for is not doing horribly bad in this economy sink… Mind you, our sales aren’t growing – much – but we were only down about 4% from last year…  Some days we’re up, some days we’re down, but we’re certainly not out of the game…  Truly, if we can last out this recession, we’ll be doing pretty well.

There’s this one vendor of ours that we buy a LOT of stuff from.  And I’m not just talking about the quantities we buy from them, but even across the product lines.  We have thousands of SKUs that we buy from this vendor.  And they’re shipped directly to the stores.  We use a module within our merchandising system that can track sales and generate POs based upon last year’s sales trends.  From that data, we can create POs – one for every store – that are pretty accurate.

“How does this pertain to EDI?” you’re probably asking.  And I’ll tell you.

Each of those orders we’d generate for each of the stores was sent via EDI to the vendor, who would then fill each and every of those orders and ship the products (generating an ASN for each) and then even (now) invoice us for each of those orders.  On a monthly basis, that could save the “manual” creation of about 400 Purchase Orders.

Good stuff, eh?

But now, it seems, we’re no longer doing that.  Instead, that vendor is going into each and every one of our stores and seeing what’s needed on the shelf and stocking those shelves and then sending us a list of the items they put on the shelves and we then generate the PO (after the fact) and send the vendor the PO number (but not the actual PO) so that they could update their system (manually) with the PO number so that they could then process the invoice.

All the wonders of our working system – with minimal manual intervention – are now buried and – poof, they’re gone.

We’ve gone from that super economical, safe and efficiently powerful car of the current decade and we’re driving some 50’s era heap without even the comforts of a radio or air conditioning, let alone all those safety advances of the last 50 years…

And why?

That’s what I’m spending a lot of time today trying to figure out…  Why did we abandon this system that was working well for a number of years and go back in time to a manual process that lends itself too well to errors, mistakes and “oops” events?

Isn’t that one of the key benefits we’ve all used to push EDI into our companies and grow our EDI programs by adding new documents and vendors to the system…?  One of the key goals of processing orders via EDI has been that it helps to eliminate much of the possibility of wrongly keyed data…  If there’s an error, we know it’s probably going to be before the document was sent via EDI.  It was keyed in the beginning and then was never caught and flowed through the process from start to finish.

*sigh.  It’s just so … negative … and so disheartening to the way I’ve been thinking and working over the past few years.  To see all those positive changes being swept away and all of these negatives taking their place.  It’s like watching the past 8 years of the Bush Presidency all over again, but on a smaller scale.

OK, that was a cheap shot across political lines – but it can be viewed as a valid analogy.  But I’ll let it slide and not really give you the details of the way I’m thinking.

But, again, here we are, creating orders and getting errors in return.  Wrong PO numbers, wrong store number entries, wrong items sent and other errors.  And who’s to blame; is it our fault or the fault of the vendor?  Probably a bit of both; but I’m the retailer, so I’ll blame them.

I’m still trying to figure out from the buying department why they’ve changed their processes…  But I don’t want to sound like some whiner…  So I’m taking “other” routes – using different people in different departments – to do that dirty work.  I’d like the guy that’s now taken over that automatic process we were doing before to “suggest” the orders and create the POs from; I’m asking him to find out why they’ve stopped with the process.

And I want to know why we’re not sending those orders via EDI anymore.  I mean, if it’s because the vendor would end up “doubling” the order, since they’d already supplied it to the store, then it’s really on the vendor to make the changes in their system – to get the list of EDI POs and find that they already exist in their system and change those existing orders to use the POs we’ve sent over via EDI.

I mean, somebody is already taking those existing orders and modifying them to add the PO number in their system so that they can send us the ASN and the Invoice via EDI.  So why would it be difficult for them to take the EDI generated orders and NOT ship them and populate some table or file in their system, generate a report from that data and then manually process those changes…?  Or even handle it through a program that would go and search that file that they populate from our EDI data for a “key” bit of information – such as the store number – and then change their order to add the PO number.

Of course, there’s another way that we could do this, too.  We COULD receive an EDI document – like the 852 – and process it into an order that is then turned around as the 850 back to the vendor.  I mean, that’s what we’re doing manually as it is – we’re taking their suggested stock levels and numbers and creating a PO off of a file (usually an excel spreadsheet) they send us.  What’s the difference if it’s sent as and 852 via EDI or sent as a flat file as an e-mail attachment?

The times, they are a-changing and we’re not going “Back To The Future” – but we’re going back in time, to the land that time forgot.

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

right hand, meet left hand… now… who’s doing what..?

In some recent readings on other websites – geez, you’d wonder if I actually have a job with all the reading and blogging I do – there have been recent posts, blogs, commends, entries and more, about how it seems like the old adage about the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing is still alive and well and with us today – no life support needed…

Over on the EDI-L board, one of our own forum members, Earl, was discussing – well – venting – about his current client and some issues with testing through one of those 3rd party EDI providers (won’t mention any names!)…  But if you read it, you know.  Anyway, part of this goes back to the trading partner of his client – we’ll call them ABC COMPANY, INC….  So, in good faith and in following with the concepts of implementation, Earl’s been working to complete the testing for his client to trade with ABC Company.  Now it turns out that the division at ABC Company that they’ve been testing for has been sold off to another company – XYZ, LLC.  And now testing is no longer needed.

Forget about the costs that the client has encountered in testing with the EDI provider.  Forget about the costs that have been incurred in paying for Earl and his services…  Forget about all the OTHER trading partners (like Earl’s client) that have also been testing…  And let’s not forget that mergers and acquisitions don’t happen overnight in the world of big business.

How does this relate?  Well, if the EDI department at ABC had KNOWN that this division was to be sold off, why where they so hot-n-heavy about testing and compliance…?  Why was ABC forcing all these possible trading partners – remember, the tale was from Earl – through this fairly expensive testing program…?  And, from what I’ve heard – this provider does have one of the most expensive testing programs out there.  But still, why was the EDI group forcing the testing when the division was in the process of being sold and testing would no longer be needed until XYZ, LLC, takes over and decides what THEY want to do…

It’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

On another site, a blogger was commenting on the differences between the “sides” of EDI – the Technical vs. the Business.  In other words, how, in days gone by, an EDI Coordinator – or manager or whatever – needed to grasp both the Technical side of EDI – how to format the data and make it get to the trading partner – and the Businessside of EDI – understanding how the different groups or departments would be using the data…  They had to attend business meetings with those departments to find out how the data was going to be used – in or outbound.

These days, our blogger contends, with the plethora of outsourcing of EDI functions, it seems that one side of the equation isn’t being met.  The technical aspect is being taken care of by the EDI outsourced provider, but the Business side of the equation is now being handled by … who?  Obviously, somebody at the company is handling it – but who?  An accounting clerk?  A buying clerk?  Some secretary..?  Or how about a shipping or warehouse manager or clerk?  There’s a point in there about the disconnect.

It’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Another blogger on that same site talks about the “800 lb gorilla” in EDI – generally, the “hub” or, in My case, the retailer, that’s calling the shots.  I’ve talked about that gorilla before.  But this blogger talked about how the company, a retailer, was requiring a specific EDI document – the 846 – and how they (the supplier – the company our blogger was working with/for) was getting hit with a ton of chargebacks because one data element was wrong.  We’re then told of the trials and tribulations – and 3 week timeframe – of trying to solve the issue and complete testing the fix.

What I don’t understand, however, was how the error was missed during the initial testing for the document to begin with.  But I’m digressing.

Turns out that our blogger finds a phone number (after hunting and searching through the wilderness of the hub) and gets in contact with an overseas (outsourcing!) “tech support” – and the 1st level support has no idea about what EDI is.  They finally get in contact with 2nd level support (which has some rudimentary EDI concepts and knowledge – and they’re given the contact information for the EDI testing coordinator.  They call this other person – only to find out that he/she is out of the office for “a few days”…  Now they are weeks into trying to get this resolved – and the supplier is STILL receiving and paying these chargebacks for a wrong format for a data element.

A case of the right hand and the left hand, not knowing what the other is doing.

Even in non-EDI concepts this can be true.  My own company is building some new offices… Or, rather, they’re tearing some out to build more.  But instead of – oh, I don’t know – scheduling the work for times when there would be a limited number of people around, it’s happening right now.  And a major connecting hallway is closed off for a few hours.  Which means that the employees need to go outside, through one door, come back in through another, only to bypass this hallway that has the work being done.

Or the issue of printers – taking them down for repairs or maintenance – or even changing printer servers – and not letting anybody know.  Instead, an employee prints out some important document – an e-mail, a 200 page report his boss needs, something – only to find that the printer he was printing too is no longer online and is now installed on a different server.  Now he’s got to go back and re-create that report or e-mail and print to the new printer – only after, of course, it’s been mapped to be used by his system…

More cases of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

We can see this concept in everyday living, too, just by reading/watching/hearing the news or driving down the road, or shopping in a store and more.  We can see many times when somebody doesn’t know what somebody else is doing…  Or how, through somebody’s in-action – lack of action – causes somebody else to have problems and negative impacts abound.  Somebody forgets to clean up a spilled soda and somebody else slips and falls…  Somebody is yakking on a cell phone and doesn’t realize the light is red and slams into somebody else… 

All cases of not knowing what’s being done by the other.

How can we help to solve these issues?  Maybe by communication?  Maybe by sending messages to each other – right hand to left hand – letting somebody know what somebody else is doing.   Maybe by paying attention to what’s going on, as well.  Taking some of that responsibility of knowing what that somebody is doing – or observing that situation – and not blindly walking (driving) into that situation…

Maybe, in Earl’s case, it could have helped if he’d been reading the news about ABC Company and read that they were selling that division to XYZ, LLC….  That might have helped him….    Maybe if our blogger’s companies were paying more attention to the concepts of Business and Technical sides of the argument, or were making sure that they were not using a wrong format – maybe that could have helped them?

Sometimes, in life, we have to think outside of the box – think outside the bubble we’re in – and realize that there are others out there and we may have to interact with them outside of the scope of our box or bubble…  We have to take off the blinders of a project and look at the broader impact of our actions – or reactions – and how they’re going to affect what’s going on.

If our left hand is wildly wielding a hammer, it’s probably a good idea for the right hand to pay attention to the path of that hammer and stay out of the way – lest the right hand gets a smashed thumb…

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