Not only did I have to get on a plane to get back to New Jersey for the VCF Conference (which I wouldn't miss for the world)... but my plane was delayed for 4 hours, leaving me to sit and think about the state of our industry.  I get a bit sensitive about questionable practices that I see in my travels. 

Can't we all just get along?

Not only did I have to get on a plane to get back to New Jersey for the VCF Conference (which I wouldn't miss for the world)... but my plane was delayed for 4 hours, leaving me to sit and think about the state of our industry.  I get a bit sensitive about questionable practices that I see in my travels. 

I was just starting to think through my pet peeves like testing fees and mandated service providers when the airline announced an additional 2 hour delay for my flight.  So if this sounds a bit harsh, consider my general state of mind. But rather than stew in my own discontent this time, I decided to let you in on my current rant.  So, here you have it.

The EDI, B2B EC, Business Integration, eCommerce ASP, or whatever you want to call this industry, is destroying itself. Any time that we put agreements in place that limit OPEN STANDARDS based access between trading partners, we slow down the process of getting trading partners online efficiently. The mission of the eC-BP.org is to end these bad practices and to get competitors to agree to some base tenets which will benefit the providers as well as the users, and therefore grow the industry more aggressively.

The Culprits:

  • >Testing fees slow down the process
  • >Mandating a single provider and not offering other communication options slows down the process. EDI providers who try to lock out connections that are not on their own network are the perpetrators here.   And trading partners who go along with this approach are their conspirators.
  • >Not following standards slows down the process.
  • >Promoting the use of fax.  Are you promoting the use of EDI/Fax?  Are you sure?  Over 2 million new fax machines were purchased last year. How can you blame businesses for staying low-tech by passing paper?
    Small businesses are faced with the choice
    • >>Buy a $50 fax machine and a phone line and send orders the way they always have at the lowest possible cost.
    • >>Spend thousands of dollars in software, training, VAN charges, testing fees, and consulting to send orders "easily."

How can we expect them to choose the digital option when we keep adding costs?

Best Practices:

  • >There is nothing wrong with charging reasonable non-EDI compliance fees. Encourage your partners to get you the correct data in the correct format.
  • >There is nothing wrong with outsourcing your EDI to one source. But don't force all of your trading partners to use or pay for your single EDI outsourcer.

Cases in point:

  • >Outsourcing your EDI?  Sure
  • >Charge your partners $1,000 for the privilege of connecting to you electronically.  Wrong
  • >Help management understand how to implement a business integration strategy that doesn't interfere with enabling the business processes.

Are there successful roll models?

Look at the Wal-Mart example for eCommerce advice. Does it seem logical to expect the best pricing from your suppliers when you add costs to the supply chain?  The issue here is REDUCING costs and ELIMINATING the barriers to entry.  If you need a new profit center, find one.  But don't try to extract it from a cost reduction strategy.

  • >Focus on the goal and do your best.
  • >Focus on getting as many companies connected as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

We are still barely scratching the surface of our market. If we don't change these bad practices quickly, maybe Microsoft will change it for us.  Is it possible that a company like Microsoft has the focus, capital, infrastructure, and market presence to make EDI simply a subset of Instant Messaging?
Or maybe enough companies will follow Kroger's lead and outsource their IT departments to India, and India will end up becoming the electronic commerce capital of the world. Then it won't be Cecil T. Wulfe reporting, it will be Raj Dabar.

Stop implementing bad practices. Stop destroying the future of our industry! As GXS would put it, let's all get on the grid.

Cheers!
Cecil.

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