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You spent big bucks a few years ago on a translator, faithfully paid yearly maintenance fees, and applied upgrades. There's still something you need the software to do that it can’t. What’s there to do about it?

Looking at EDI translators from the early 90s through today, I’ve yet to one that didn’t require ‘tweaking’ of some sort. Sometimes it involved configuration or building business processes using the standard functionality of the package, but at other times it required something beyond that. I mentioned in an earlier blog that to extend your package’s functionality, your options might be to build, buy, or wait for the vendor to add the capability to a future release. Let’s talk about the first two alternatives.

Our technical team had a wide range of skills that allowed them to build sophisticated processes outside the translator, so we could often lean on that strength to do the work ourselves. We also used 3rd party software, like Kirix Strata, to build complex reporting processes. We evaluated other companies, like Adept Engineering, that offered pre-configured solutions to gaps in our software’s capabilities. Those approaches are all valid, but if you’re a small shop or one that has only used ‘vanilla’ packages in the past, you need a lot of information before you can select a direction. Where can you turn for help? Here are a few resources to utilize:

  • Your own team. Talk to fellow users; they may be familiar with something a previous employer did or may have a suggestion on an alternative involving mapping instead of a more complicated approach.
  • Your company’s ERP experts. Perhaps there’s functionality within your ERP that can address the issue. We successfully leveraged SAP capabilities on a couple occasions for problems we originally considered programming around.
  • User groups. Sterling has a Chicago area group in which we participated and sponsor more across the country. Other packages may support groups as well. Some user groups are geographically focused (New England, Dallas, Minneapolis, etc.), while others are topic-oriented (ie. EDI Standards). Members are usually good sources for information and can be sounding boards for approaches you’re considering.
  • Former instructors or consultants. We’ve all taken classes in the past, and instructors are usually good about answering follow-up questions, as are former consultants with whom you’ve maintained good relationships . If you’ve kept in touch or are otherwise comfortable contacting them, see if they can offer advice. Since they deal with clients from a wide range of businesses, they may have visibility into methods or approaches you haven’t considered.
  • Use the Web. There are a few sites where you can post questions and expect answers in return. Yahoo’s message board (EDI-L) has been around for awhile, and others, for example the IT Knowledge Exchange, are also useful.

So, do your homework before you make a decision on whether to build or buy. The other option of having functionality added by the vendor will be addressed in my next blog.

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