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…

EDI & Vendor Partnerships and Relationships – Take 2

Just recently, I had responded to a post over on the EDI-L Yahoo! group, and this set off a “chain-reaction” e-mail chain between our esteemed “admin” John Burmeister and Myself about collaboration… of course, we were talking about the EDITalk blog-site and a book deal – co-authored by him and I… Mind you, that’s just “pie-in-the-sky” kind of thinking, but it got Me thinking more about COLLABORATION and what it can mean to our EDI partnerships.

It probably should be mentioned that our admin and I share a trading partner relationship. He’s the EDI guy over at one of the vendors that we buy from. We also, obviously, share the EDI-L Yahoo! group, as well. When we discussed collaborating on the book (HA!), we bandied about a few titles – including “EDI DONE RIGHT! A Perspective From a Vendor and a Buyer“… Of course, I also likened it to the reputed “Rap Wars” between the East and West Coasts – and I was thinking about how we both use the same basic EDI formats and standards and data, but to different results…

Late in 2007, I went to the Inovis Roadshow Training event when it swung through Southern California. Again, as I am an Inovis user and customer, I found it to be a very helpful conference/seminar to attend. One of the things that made it great, for Me, anyway, was to be in some of the same training sessions and groups with some of My trading partners that also use Inovis products. One of the trainers likened Me to the “800 pound gorilla in the room”, as, in most cases in the EDI world, it is the buyer – the hub – that dictates what EDI documents will be used and what segments and elements and data is required to be there, what data is optional and what data we will not accept nor send.

Having Me, the 800 pound gorilla, helped with those that were there that are suppliers – either Mine or somebody else’s – gain some insight into “WHY” we send and require what we do on the documents we trade. And being able to discuss some of the issues that we have with the data we trade with each other helped us to understand a little better the why we do what we do. It’s not just because I thought the segment looked cool. There’s actually a reason for that MSG segment or that ISS segment.

Another aspect of collaboration that is kind of front-and-center for Me is a data collaboration with many of our vendors. Often times, it is beneficial for a supplier to receive some sales and stock and order level information about the products we buy, have bought and are planning on buying from them, so that they, in turn, can be sure to have the products on-hand for our orders, or at least have the ingredients – the stuff, if you will – to make the products we’re going to be ordering in time for our orders.

In this regard, there are a number of SAAS solutions out there – from big and small providers – to fill that need. We’re looking at one and working with one of them to create that data flow to provide the history of the item(s) we buy from them, our sales history and trends and allow them to possibly forecast what we’re going to be buying in the future, so that they can better plan their own levels of stock – those ingredients – from their own suppliers. This will help them to better serve our needs, which, in turn, will help us better serve our customer’s needs – the general public.

Nike (or Reebok or Adidas or UnderArmour or _________) will be able to look at the sales and inventory history for their products we carry and sell and better be prepared to fulfill our orders. Or maybe they can see that SOC (Some Other Company) is selling that same product in the same area and is just kicking our butt and maybe help us to rethink the way we do things. Maybe we’ve got too many SMALL sizes in an area that is rife with MEDIUM and LARGE sized folks. And our SMALL folks are unable to find anything besides MEDIUM and LARGE in their stores. Of course, our own buying group will be able to look at this same data and figure that out too, except for the data of how our competition is doing it.

Collaboration is an important thing in our lives – professional and personal – and works hand-in-hand with the concept I’ve covered before – about partnerships and relationships – and allows us all to prosper and grow our business. By sharing needed information, we can better help those that help us to actually help us. They can be better helped by those that help them, as well.

Wow, that was a nifty bit of alliteration, eh?

But, let’s take that collaboration thought to another level. Over on that Inovis blog, they also posted about No Supplier Left Behind and how something called MMOG/LE (read their blog!) is being used in the Automotive Industry to try and streamline the automakers processes – so that maybe it will help them with some of the issues that they’ve been facing of late. It’s hoped, at least from what I read, that this program (MMOG/LE) will help to cut costs and automate a lot of that effort between the automaker and their supplier. I’d commented about how, back in the late 80s, Chrysler had worked with some of their suppliers to create the “America” car program. It was applied to 2 different car lines – The Omni and Horizon compacts and the Aries and Reliant mid-size – over at Dodge and Plymouth. It was a program to work with suppliers to cut the costs of many of the parts used in building those cars, and also by Chrysler limited the options available on those cars, thereby eliminating the need for some parts that may have been slow moving options, anyway. The cars came equipped decently at a great price and had only a few option groups available.

This concept – this collaboration between Chrysler and their suppliers – created a program that worked pretty well for the manufacturer, as well as for the dealers and the final consumer of the car. It also helped the suppliers of the parts, in that maybe that seat fabric that they supplied now only had to come in 2 colors, instead of 6.

There are dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of ways that collaboration can be used in the world of EDI and in our lives in general. Think of the different documents that could be traded between EDI partners – the 846 Inventory Inquiry/Advice or the 852 Product Activity Data both come to mind – that could allow vendors and buyers to better understand the products they have on hand 0r need. The products that they have too much of or not enough of. Think of the concepts of using a 3rd party provider (Edifice and AfterBot come to mind) that allows a supplier/vendor to see the product history – taken in many cases directly from a retailer’s POS data – and see how well those widgets are selling and what colors are selling better in what stores.

Collaboration is yet another tool that we can use to enhance our Trading Partner Relationships, as well as our business relationships, to better serve our own needs and our own customers. And isn’t that one of the primary goals of EDI?

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