Implementing EDI, and subsequently ensuring that a company’s EDI remains compliant, almost always falls upon a company’s IT department, because all of the surface elements of EDI are directly tied to the company’s computer network. Making sure EDI actually streamlines order processing and delivery, however, requires a lot more than installing software and ensuring the network is running smoothly.
At first glance, EDI compliance seems simple: make clean, stable network connections with your customers. However, IT must understand that the data transferred via EDI includes requirements, and other details of orders, that need to be properly translated to your company’s internal formats. Errors in translation, even minor ones, can cause failures, like a failure to automatically send required documents back to the customer as the order makes its way through your company.
In order to minimize – or avoid – such problems, the IT department needs to be aware, at all times, that while EDI (or, more specifically, EDI-X12) is a formal specification of a data format, a great deal of latitude is baked into the specification. While the idea of a customizable standard may seem oxymoronic, the fact is because every business and company is unique to a certain extent, the data exchanged is almost always also unique, in at least some ways.
Each company that issues the EDI 850 Purchase Order, a standard document, defines its own version based on its requirements, which will naturally correspond to the product being made as well as the purchasing company’s way of doing business. How a company wants to order, and how its fulfillment processes work, may even differ from other customers ordering the exact same product.
Keeping up with updates
After translations are created, they need to be tested (and probably modified and retested). But even after orders start to flow, the IT department’s work is far from done. Customers can, and will, make changes. Some make changes often, others rarely – and only when necessary. Some customers give their suppliers lots of time to make necessary translation changes, while others issue tight deadlines. In any case, the IT department has to keep up. Deadlines can cause delays, which can cause your company to be out of compliance.
The IT department’s biggest tasks after installing EDI, therefore, are to properly install and maintain EDI translator programs that fits the customers’ setups. It must also be always vigilant in keeping up with subsequent changes requested by purchasers. Both jobs require both wide awareness, to keep track of multiple partnerships, and great attention to detail. These are big challenges – but they bring great rewards. This initial task – which must be performed with every new partnership -- requires great attention to detail.